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Floor Heating: From The Romans to Wright

That's right. Radiant floor heating has been around since the days of the Roman Empire. Ancient buildings were heated from underneath by quick burning fires tended to by servants who would constantly be feeding the fire while clearing out embers. The heated air would move through ducts in the floor and then up through the walls where it would finally escape through chimneys.This system was known based on a heating system known as a hypocaust.

The word hypocaust literally means heat from below. As this was a very costly addition to a building, only the very rich could afford floor heating. Less than wealthy citizens could only experience this luxury at villa parties and bath houses. As time went by, these hypocausts pretty much disappeared, along with the empire.

In the Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern lands underfloor heating remained prevalent into the Medieval era. It is believed that during this time, the methods similar to the floor heating used in modern times were invented. However, these ideas were not introduced to the New World in large scale until far more recently. Also, it is from an even different source that the idea of floor heating reached the United States.

From times as early as 36BC, the Korean practice of ondal has continued to be in use even into the present day. Translating literally to �warm stone,� ondal is quite similar to the Roman hypocausts although used on a smaller scale. The main heating source was the kitchen stove. The stove was located on a lower level than the living space allowing the heat to rise and heat the floor above. Ondal became such an important part of the culture that even after Western forced air systems had become prevalent there was a resurgence in the heating method and it remains very popular while taking advantage of modern floor heating designs.

The practice of ondal also spread to Japan where in the early 1900's, legendary American architect Frank Loyd Wright was exposed to the practice. Wright described the experience as "The indescribable comfort of being warmed from below" and immediately decided to incorporate it into his designs. Wright brought together all of the old ideas of floor heating and took the first steps in creating the type of radiant floor heating designs that we see today.