Heating and Lighting In the 18th Century

Essay, 2018

4 Pages, Grade: 1.7



Western Europe is the cradle of modern civilization, and most heating and lighting systems were developed out of the need for comfort in their households. Before the advent of buildings based on scientific research, house construction and design were based on traditions that went back many centuries, accumulated knowledge evolved into distinct house formations relative to the local climate. Where there were extreme outside, the people had to find means of creating and providing some comfort for the human beings within a reasonable range. During the cold seasons, it was necessary to find means of producing heat and retaining it. In the hot climates, it called for the removal of heat from the housing. In Italy and the countries near the Mediterranean, natural lighting was called for; thus, the buildings were constructed with low sun angles. Even with energy conserving features, the provision of appropriate cooling, heating, lighting, and adequate ventilation was difficult and time consuming for the homeowner. Thus, the principal aim of this paper is to discuss heating and lighting in the eighteenth-century European households.

Eighteenth Century Household Heating

Early Western Europe households were designed with the knowledge gained from persistent trials and error going back to a long time. The energy features were so important that they helped determine the regional house designs and styles of houses. According to Witold Rybczynski (2001), the distinct house forms were as a response to trying to achieve comfort in different types of climates. The kitchen with its open hearth and the stoves was the focal point in the evenings. The fire provided the house with warmth. The fire was either from firewood, coal or cow dung depending on what the family could afford (Rybczynski 46). The house was built with a compact plan accommodating low ceilings, a small opening, and small opening with solid shutters. In Western Europe, most buildings were located away from the winds, often on the southeast slope of the hill. The plan helped make the house energy efficient during the cold weather (Palmer and West 38). The houses were fitted with a central chimney assisted by many fireplaces to provide heat into the rooms many hours after the fires were extinguished for the night. The central chimney and the fireplaces kept the heat source removed from the walls, consequently, avoiding of heat through the exterior walls (Schoenauer 22).

For the poor people, their houses were stripped to the most essential function. The poor lived in slums in the city or cottages in the countryside. In the rural areas, the livestock could be brought in the house at night for additional warmth. The cottages were warmed with firewood while hot bricks wrapped in flannel were used to warm the beds. The lighting was provided from homemade candles mostly by a rush wick and fat. The rush wick were dipped in the fat and put on a metal holder to give rush light (Rybczynski 35).

Advance in Heating Technology

Before the advent of technology, most households depended on firewood or charcoal. The nineteenth century introduced new technology in the design of dwelling places. The advanced technology introduced the attitude that any heating problem could be solved through a powered device. The faith in technology was encouraged by several breakthroughs which affected the public and consequently the energy consumption through central heating, gas lighting, balloon framing, and incandescent lighting (Palmer and West 40). Historians have observed that the thermal comfort which was the preserve of the rich became the accepted norm. The cost, measured in absolute terms was minimal. Schoenauer (2003) observed that as the thermal comfort improved there were also savings in labour because when a homeowner used coal instead of wood, the homeowner saved on the time spent gathering wood. In the same spirit, when coal was replaced by gas, the furnace became fuelled continuously without incurring the cost of labour on the homeowner (Rybczynski 39). As the amount of time required to warm a house reduced, so did the interest of the dwelling owner interest in energy saving; however, there were significant labour saving relative to the increased energy consumption. Consequently, the widespread acceptance of the new technology increased, mass production of energy further reduced the cost of heating and lighting energy (Schoenauer 59).

Lighting System

Lighting was a significant aspect of the eighteenth-century dwelling, and significant investment was made on new technology. During this period, candles and oil lamps were the only sources of lighting until late eighteenth century. However, these lighting systems were not effective, especially in large dwelling spaces. The cost of these lighting systems was tremendous even for the wealthy land owners. To the poor, it was simply prohibitive (Sarti 19). The first lighting innovation was the argand oil lamp which was invented in 1780. The lighting system used a wick covered by a glass chimney to produce enough light equivalents to almost ten candles. These lighting systems were supplanted in cities by gas lighting as from the first decade of the nineteenth century. In the field of household lighting, the problem was that there were no controllable lighting systems or centrally positioned; however, it was not considered as of significant concern (Sarti 25). It was common for the families to handle round the oil lamp in the evening, especially in middle and lower income families, in order to get some warmth; however, the well to do families could afford to have several lighting systems in every room. The lighting problem gave rise to other problems especially when the lighting source was far away from where the light was required (Rybczynski 29). It is, therefore, observed by historians that the coming of the argand became a sensation especially in outdoor lighting such as street lights and lighthouses. The argand lighting system was replaced by gas lighting in the eighteenth century. The gas lighting system offered a better lighting system at a lower cost and removed the foul smelling residues. The evolvement of lighting technology came up with small lighting systems that could be used in individual households (Schoenauer 63).

Candle lighting

Up to the beginning of the nineteenth century candles were the main sources of indoor lighting in most Western Europe household, or what is referred to as artificial lighting in Western Europe. Most candles were made from animal fat or tallow. The tallow candles were smelly and smoky compared to the latter beeswax candles (Schoenauer 67). The beeswax candle came to be associated with the wealthy while the poor made their candles from rushes. Most poor families spent their evening stripping reeds which would then be dipped in tallow oil which would have been gathered as a by-product of meat (Rybczynski 35). The quality of candle improved towards the end of the eighteenth century. New technology in the form of moulding processes and plaited wicks improved the efficiency of the candles. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, oil was introduced as a source of lighting services the oil was produced from rapeseeds commonly known as the colza oil (Rybczynski 39). It is reported that it did burn well compared to the tallow candles.


In conclusion, the heating and lighting systems commonly uses in the eighteen century Europe were rudimentary compared to the latter gas and electrical systems. The basic lighting systems were candles made either from fat or wax. The poor families used the poor lighting and smelly tallow while the rich families used the rare but better beeswax candles. The discovery of gas system and later electricity were hailed as revolutionary.

Works Cited

Jones, Owen. Lighting for the Home and Garden. London: Owen Jones. n. d. Print.

Palmer, Marilyn and West, Ian. Nineteenth-Century Technical Innovations in British Country Houses and Their Estates. Engineering History and Heritage 166.1(2013): 36-44. Print.

Rybczynski, Witold. Home: A Short History of an Idea. New York: Pocket Books, 2001. Print.

Sarti, Raffaella. Europe at Home: Family and Material Culture, 1500-1800. New York: Yale University Press, 2004. Print.

Schoenauer, Norbert. 6,000 Years of Housing. New York: W. W. Norton, 2003. Print.


Excerpt out of 4 pages


Heating and Lighting In the 18th Century
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
451 KB
heating, lighting, century
Quote paper
Caroline Mutuku (Author), 2018, Heating and Lighting In the 18th Century, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/429862


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Heating and Lighting In the 18th Century

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free