Underfloor Heating Has Been Around For Centuries: The Story Of The Greco-roman Hypocaust.

Certain inventions, at times, seem to us to be the technological achievements of recent times, likely to arouse wonder and admiration, convinced that progress has again taken a step towards the future. This is often the case, but it is not always true.

Take the example of underfloor heating: it is a system that is more and more widespread in the most recent constructions, even if its origins are in fact much older than one might think. Its invention even dates back to ancient Greece and although over the years builders have often chosen other means of heating the air in the house, the concept has come down to us, and it is truly fascinating to rediscover its history a little.


image credit: Wikimedia Commons

The most popular system for this type of heating today is the radiant panel system. Under the floor (or on walls or ceilings) pass pipes that circulate hot water. Thanks to the radiation, the heat can spread evenly in the rooms , without necessarily concentrating where the traditional radiators are located, to the benefit of the efficiency and the aesthetic result.

Back in the days of ancient Greece, however, things were a little different. To heat the spaces and special tunnels placed under the surfaces of the rooms, hot air was used. This system, called ” hypocaust “, from the Greek “burn under”, was mainly used for baths and thermal baths, and was designed by brilliant minds who lived thousands of years ago.


It is taken almost for granted, in light of the evidence that has come down to us and the life they led, that this invention was subsequently used extensively by the Romans . So much so that the hypocaust, among them, was the most common. In imperial times, it was possible to find it almost everywhere, under the floor of public baths and thermal baths, duly heated and therefore made more welcoming.


image credit: Valdavia/Wikimedia

The Roman villas also used it. The technicians and engineers of the time, thanks to an empty space supported by small brick columns , created a compartment in which penetrated the heat produced by a large oven located nearby. In this way, the cavity warmed up, spreading the heat.


image credit: AntonioS81/Wikimedia

The thermal baths of Kladéos in Olympia, Greece, are the earliest documented example of a hypocaust. In the famous city, anyone who used the baths could warm up in an environment made comfortable thanks to this system, which was then perfected by the Romans. The hypocaust was very popular, so much so that it was also used in medieval times.

Since then it has not been so widespread, but we can say that today, choosing underfloor heating, we are following in the footsteps of those who long before us had distinguished themselves with their genius and innovation. Did you know the story of the hypocaust?

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