Plumbing & Heating originated during ancient civilizations (such as the Greek, Roman, Persian, Indian, and Chinese cities) as they developed public baths and needed to provide potable water and wastewater removal for larger numbers of people. Standardised earthen plumbing pipes with broad flanges making use of asphalt for preventing leakages appeared in the urban settlements of the Indus Valley Civilization by 2700 BC. The Romans used lead pipe inscriptions to prevent water theft. The word “plumber” dates from the Roman Empire. The Latin for lead is plumbum. Roman roofs used lead in conduits and drain pipes and some were also covered with lead. Lead was also used for piping and for making baths.
Plumbing reached its early apex in ancient Rome, which saw the introduction of expansive systems of aqueducts, tile wastewater removal, and widespread use of lead pipes. With the Fall of Rome both water supply and sanitation stagnated—or regressed—for well over 1,000 years. Improvement was very slow, with little effective progress made until the growth of modern densely populated cities in the 1800s. During this period, public health authorities began pressing for better waste disposal systems to be installed, to prevent or control epidemics of disease. Earlier, the waste disposal system had consisted of collecting waste and dumping it on the ground or into a river. Eventually the development of separate, underground water and sewage systems eliminated open sewage ditches and cesspools.
Most large cities today pipe solid wastes to sewage treatment plants in order to separate and partially purify the water, before emptying into streams or other bodies of water. For potable water use, galvanized iron piping was commonplace in the United States from the late 1800s until around 1960. After that period, copper piping took over, first soft copper with flared fittings, then with rigid copper tubing utilizing soldered fittings.
The use of lead for potable water declined sharply after World War II because of increased awareness of the dangers of lead poisoning. At this time, copper piping was introduced as a better and safer alternative to lead pipes.
One of the most basic human needs is warmth. Without it, bodies cannot thrive. Thanks to advances in technology and home heating systems, achieving comfortable temperatures is as simple as flipping a switch. Ancient civilizations didn’t have it as simple. For those who migrated to the world’s cooler regions, the sun did not provide enough warmth to live. Through sheer ingenuity, humankind’s early ancestors learned how to harness the power of fire, as well as use the Earth and sun to heat their homes and kingdoms. Using the principles that these forefathers established, humans have developed heating systems that keep families comfortable through even the most frigid winters. Photo of an old woodstove with a fire inside.
Timeline of Home Heating Systems 1,900,000 BC: Humans begin using fire to cook food. Archaeologists believe that humans may have used fire in a controlled fashion around this time, but evidence of such only dates back to about 100,000 years ago. In the oldest arrangements discovered, humans created central fires in homes that had openings in the roof for smoke to escape. 42000 BC: Neanderthals in the modern day Ukraine build hearths using mammoth bones. 7500 to 5700 BC: Neolithic Çatalhöyük settlements in Turkey use open hearths in homes and buildings. 3000 BC: Romanian settlers use braziers to heat homes. 2500 BC: Greeks in ancient Rome develop central heating using radiant heat. In the excavated Temple of Ephesus, archaeologists discovered flues in the ground that circulated heat produced by a fire. There is also evidence that the Roman Empire used central heating systems, as some buildings, baths, and upper-class homes had hypocaust furnaces that heated empty spaces under floors that connected to pipes in the walls—the first form of radiant heating. Different cultures also developed similar furnaces, which became more efficient with time. AD 400: After the fall of the Roman Empire, heating methods reverted to more primitive-style fireplaces. AD 800: Stoves made of clay make their first appearance. AD 1200: Cistercian monks in Christian Europe revive central heating using river diversion and wood-burning furnaces. The first chimneys also appear at this time. AD 1400: Masonry stoves appear and become common by the 1500s, which is also when chimneys become more refined. AD 1624: Louis Savot of France invents the circulating fireplace with the creation of a raised grate that promoted airflow. Early 1700s: Individuals in England use combustion air from an outside duct. Around the same time, Russia’s Peter the Great enjoyed the earliest hot water, air-heating systems in his Summer Palace. AD 1741: Benjamin Franklin invents the Franklin stove, which was more efficient than other stoves used at the time. Late 1700s: James Watt of Scotland develops the first working steam-based heating system for his home using a central boiler and a system of pipes. AD 1805: England’s William Strutt invents a warm-air furnace that heated cold air. The heated air traveled through a series of ducts and into rooms. Around the same time, homes in France used firetube hot air furnaces. AD 1883: Thomas Edison invents the electric heater. AD 1855: Russia’s Franz San Galli invents the radiator, the first major step toward modern central home heating systems. AD 1885: Warren Johnson patents the first thermostat. Early 1900s: Albert March discovers Nichrome, the filament wire to toast bread, becoming “the father of the electrical heating industry.” AD 1919: Alice Parker patents the first central heating system. AD 1935: Scientists invent forced convection wall heaters that use a coal furnace, electric fan, and ductwork throughout a home. Late 1940s: Robert C. Webber creates the direct exchange ground-source heat pump. AD 1990: SolarWall invents solar air heating. AD 2000: The advancement of “smart” technologies allow homeowners to regulate heat in their homes remotely using electronic devices.
Today’s home heating systems are based on ideas and designs that date back to the planet’s most ancient civilizations. Thanks to forward thinkers throughout history, safe, effective heat is only as far away as the thermostat or a smartphone. At AB Plumbing & Heating, we want to make sure your home is as comfortable as possible throughout the year. Contact us today to learn more about the home heating systems available.
A condensing boiler is a modern, high-energy-efficient boiler that incorporates an extra heat exchanger so that the hot exhaust gases lose much of their energy to pre-heat the water in the boiler system.
Since 1st April 2007, it has been a legal requirement that all gas boilers installed in England and Wales must be condensing boilers
When condensing boilers are working at peak efficiency, the water vapour produced in the combustion process condenses back into liquid form releasing the latent heat of vaporisation. A side effect is that this water, known as condensate, which is slightly acidic, has to be piped away to a drain or soak away.
This photo shows a cutaway combination condensing boiler. It is mounted on a wall and the exhaust gases will rise through the plastic flue in the top left corner. Hot water is provided by a small storage tank on the right. The tank (which is covered by insulating foam) has been cut open to show the tightly wound quick refresh coil inside it. At the bottom of the photo are a number of pipes going into the boiler. One carries the gas for the burner and there are two (in and out) for the central heating system. The plastic pipe on the right carries the condensed water vapour produced by burning the gas. This water contains dissolved oxides of sulphur and nitrogen, making it slightly acidic.
A combination boiler, or combi boiler as it is typically known, is a boiler which provides the heat for both the radiators and the domestic hot water outlets in the home. Combi boilers are the most common type of boiler in the UK, accounting for around 70% of central heating system configurations in British households.
The most distinguishing aspect of a combi boiler is that it eliminates the need for a hot water cylinder and for water cisterns in the loft space. This is because the water for the central heating is supplied via a temporary connection to the mains, instead of a feed and expansion tank. As for the hot water for the taps, there is no need for a boiler to heat water in a hot water cylinder – a combi boiler heats water from the mains on demand. Without the need for a hot water cylinder, there is consequently no need for a cold water storage cistern.
Combi boilers are fuelled by natural gas or oil. Common manufacturers include Ideal, Vaillant, Vokera, Potterton, Baxi, Glow-worm and Worcester Bosch. Gas combi boilers are usually wall-mountable, while oil-fuelled ones are often free-standing. It is illegal for an engineer or indeed any individual who is not on the Gas Safe Register to work on a gas-fuelled combi boiler.
Combi Boiler History
The combi boiler was invented in the 1960s by Vaillant, the German heating, cooling and engineering giants based in Remscheid, Germany. Despite their ground-breaking invention, there was little reason to even import combi boilers to Britain, as UK water regulations did not permit either domestic hot water or central heating systems to be directly connected to the mains – hence the use of tanks in the loft.
However, combi boilers got a huge leg up in the British market in the 1980s, when water regulations changed to allow central heating systems to be filled up via a temporary connection to the mains.
Coal gas is a flammable gaseous fuel made from coal and supplied to the user via a piped distribution system. It is produced when coal is heated strongly in the absence of air. Town gas is a more general term referring to manufactured gaseous fuels produced for sale to consumers and municipalities.
Coal gas contains a variety of calorific gases including hydrogen, carbon monoxide, methane, ethylene and volatile hydrocarbons together with small quantities of non-calorific gases such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen.
Prior to the development of natural gas supply and transmission—during the 1940s and 1950s in the United States and during the late 1960s and 1970s in Great Britain and Australia—virtually all gas for fuel and lighting was manufactured from coal. Town gas was supplied to households via municipally owned piped distribution systems.
Originally created as a by-product of the coking process, its use developed during the 19th and early 20th centuries tracking the industrial revolution and urbanization. By-products from the production process included coal tars and ammonia, which were important chemical feedstock for the dye and chemical industry with a wide range of artificial dyes being made from coal gas and coal tar. Facilities where the gas was produced were often known as a manufactured gas plant (MGP) or a gasworks.
The discovery of large reserves of natural gas in the North Sea off the English coast in 1965 led to the expensive conversion or replacement of most of the UK’s gas cookers and gas heaters, except in Northern Ireland, from the late 1960s onwards.
The production process is distinct, both physically and chemically, from that used to create a range of gaseous fuels known variously as manufactured gas, syngas, hygas, Dowson gas, and producer gas. These gases are made by partial combustion of a wide variety of feed stocks in some mixture of air, oxygen, or steam, to reduce the latter to hydrogen and carbon dioxide although some destructive distillation may also occur.
In 1959 the Gas Council in Great Britain demonstrated that liquid natural gas (LNG) could be transported safely, efficiently and economically over long distances by sea. The Methane Pioneer shipped a consignment of LNG from Lake Charles, Louisiana, USA, to a new LNG terminal on Canvey Island, in the Thames estuary in Essex, England, and customers there were converted to use the new fuel. A 320-mile (510 km) long high-pressure trunk pipeline was built from London to Leeds.
The slow death of the town gas industry in the UK was signalled by the discovery of natural gas by the drilling rig Sea Gem, on 17 September 1965, some forty miles off Grimsby, over 8,000 feet (2,400 m) below the seabed. Subsequently, the North Sea was found to have many rich gas fields on both sides of the median line defining which nations should have rights over the reserves.
The Fuel Policy White Paper of 1967 (Cmd. 3438) pointed the industry in the direction of building up the use of natural gas speedily to ‘enable the country to benefit as soon as possible from the advantages of this new indigenous energy source’. As a result, there was a ‘rush to gas’ for use in peak load electricity generation and in low grade uses in industry. The effects on the coal industry were very significant; not only did coal lose its market for town gas production, it came to be displaced from much of the bulk energy market also.
The exploitation of the North Sea gas reserves, entailing landing gas at Easington, Bacton and St Fergus made viable the building of a national distribution grid, of over 3,000 miles (4,800 km), consisting of two parallel and interconnected pipelines running the length of the country. All gas equipment in Great Britain (but not Northern Ireland) was converted (by the fitting of different-sized burner jets to give the correct gas/air mixture) from burning town gas to burn natural gas (mainly methane) over the period from 1967 to 1977 at a cost of about £100 million including the writing off of redundant town gas manufacturing plants. All the gas-using equipment of almost thirteen million domestic, four hundred thousand commercial, and sixty thousand industrial customers were converted. Many dangerous appliances were discovered in this exercise and were taken out of service. The UK town gas industry died in 1987 when operations ceased at the last town gas manufacturing plants in Northern Ireland (Belfast, Portadown and Carrickfergus; Carrickfergus gas works is now a restored gasworks museum). The Portadown site has been cleared and is now the subject of a long-term experiment into the use of bacteria for the purpose of cleaning up contaminated industrial land. As well as requiring little processing before use, natural gas is non-toxic; the carbon monoxide (CO) in town gas made it extremely poisonous, accidental poisoning and suicide by gas being commonplace. Poisoning from natural gas appliances is only due to incomplete combustion, which creates CO, and flue leaks to living accommodation. As with town gas, a small amount of foul-smelling substance (mercaptan) is added to the gas to indicate to the user that there is a leak or an unlit burner, the gas having no odour of its own.
The organisation of the British gas industry adapted to these changes, first, by the Gas Act 1965 by empowering the Gas Council to acquire and supply gas to the twelve area boards. Then, the Gas Act 1972 formed the British Gas Corporation as a single commercial entity, embracing all the twelve area gas boards, allowing them to acquire, distribute and market gas and gas appliances to industrial commercial and domestic customers throughout the UK. In 1986, British Gas was privatised and dismembered and the Government no longer has any direct control over it.
During the era of North Sea gas, many of the original cast iron gas pipes installed in towns and cities for town gas were replaced by plastic.
As reported in the DTI Energy Review ‘Our Energy Challenge’ January 2006 North Sea gas resources have been depleted at a faster rate than had been anticipated and gas supplies for the UK are being sought from remote sources, a strategy made possible by developments in the technologies of pipe laying that enable the transmission of gas over land and under sea across and between continents. Natural gas is now a world commodity. Such sources of supply are exposed to all the risks of any import. There are still substantial coal reserves in the UK and this fact prompts the thought that at some time in the future, coal gas may once again be used as a reliable indigenous source of energy.
Lead dissolving into drinking water from lead pipes can be harmful if it builds up in the body – especially for babies and children, whose development can be affected.
The use of lead in plumbing has been banned in the UK for more than 25 years, and houses built before 1970 are most likely to have lead pipes .
However, newer homes are not entirely safe. Lead solder used for jointing copper pipes as a low-cost alternative by DIY enthusiasts or unqualified plumbers can also put drinking water at risk.
The WaterSafe film supports International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week 2017, which is run by the World Health Organisation. Presented by WaterSafe member and UK Plumber of the Year 2016 Shaun Scott, the film offers clear solutions to ensure homeowners have the correct pipes and fittings.
It provides advice on:
how to recognise lead pipes
why it’s important to use lead-free solder
what your water company will do to help
precautions to reduce lead levels in the short term
using a WaterSafe approved plumber to safely replace lead pipes with copper or plastic ones.
Julie Spinks, director of WaterSafe, said: “The plumbing in homes is the responsibility of the homeowner, so we are urging all households to spend a few minutes today checking if they have lead pipes.
“To safeguard health we would recommend replacing lead pipes that supply drinking water to bathrooms and kitchens with copper or plastic ones. All plumbers on the WaterSafe register are trained in the water supply regulations and are promoted by water companies to keep drinking water safe in homes.
“If you’re replacing pipes within your boundary, make sure you contact your local water company, as they may be able to replace the pipes beyond your house and garden.”
Most water companies can also test the levels of lead in the water and offer advice on replacing the pipes.
The WaterSafe scheme is backed by all UK water companies and the drinking water regulators. It provides an online directory of plumbing businesses in the UK who are trained to meet the strict regulations for installing pipes and fittings that supply drinking water to keep it fresh and healthy.