Heat Distribution Within The Home: Dealing With The Future by Learning From The Past


Going through some old documents I found a few photographs of my late great-grandparents. They lived in Devon, in a chocolate box cottage, thatched roof and stable doors that was built some 700 years before I was born. There was no electricity, no domestic gas or running water, by modern standards it was rudimentary at best.

One thing it was though was always warm.

I know the three-foot thick wattle and daub walls helped, but there was no double glazing and the only heating was from a range, and a small one at that. Even upstairs was always nice and warm, even when the thick wooden doors that separated the stairwell from the living room were closed. Seeing the pictures brought the memories of the old place flooding back, and one of the strongest memories was about how warm the place was even in deepest winter.

A quick call to one of my elderly uncles provided the answer as to why, and I’m sure this may have applications for homes where the only heat is a single wood burning stove. As soon as he mentioned the grills in the living room ceiling I recalled the ones in the bedroom floors, which of course were the same ones as in the ceiling below, and everything fell into place.

The grills were made of metal and were about the size of a house brick about 9 x 4 inches. The ceilings at the cottage were simple affairs, the ceiling of the lower room was the floor of the upper room, there were no spaces between the floors to accommodate pipes and wiring as there are in most modern homes.

The grills quite simply allowed the heat to pass from downstairs to the upper rooms. If it got too hot upstairs you just opened a window. I asked my uncle if he had ever seen ice on the inside of the single glazed windows.

“Not once, I never saw ice inside windows until I got married and moved into a modern house” he said. “In really hot summers though grandfer (grandpa) would put brown paper over the grills to stop the heat moving up, they still had the range going for hot water and cooking so upstairs got too hot to sleep, the paper helped stop the heat going through”

The gaps between my current ceiling and the underside of the upstairs floor are around 10 inches. The space is full of wires and water pipes, but there are areas that are pipe and wire free. A simple box, without a top or bottom, placed above a lower room grill and below an upper room grill would allow heat transfer between two floors. As I have two fireplaces, under two different bedrooms this would be a way of moving heat around the house passively. The heat does its thing and rises and keeps the bedrooms above freezing point.

I think being able to move heat around the house effectively without the need for a boiler, furnace or fan would be a Godsend in a prolonged grid-down scenario.

A prolonged emergency or collapse the situation is stressful enough, everyone being cooped up in one room because it’s the only warm place would make it much more so.

For youngsters, in particular, being able to play and sleep in their rooms would help maintain a sense of normality and would make the situation far less stressful for them.

This simple age-old fix could make far more of the house useable in cold weather emergencies or collapse scenarios and even retro fitting wouldn’t be that much of a problem in many homes.

Take care,


4 thoughts on “Heat Distribution Within The Home: Dealing With The Future by Learning From The Past”

  1. Hi Liz

    We have a similar setup here as what your great-grandparents. Of course the house is much newer with double glazed window and lots of insulation. The original owner of our house had a chimney built through the centre of the house. He had a wood burning stove in the basement that he used to heat the house even though he had a modern oil furnace. When he moved out he took the stove with him.

    Eventually we had a hybrid wood stove installed, although I would have preferred a real old fashioned cook stove. Our new wood stove has a proper cooktop which is unusual. It was the only model available of any brand that came that way. And best of all, it was locally made so we can get parts for it.

    In an extended grid down situation, I can disconnect the ducts from the forced air furnace and let the warm air go upstairs to the main living areas through the existing duct openings in the floor. The old couple who had the house built sure were smart. A lot of time, old technology trumps new.

    Take care.


    1. Evening KK

      Totally agree. we live in whats commonly called a Vicky…a Victorian house built about 1890, the bedrooms have working cast iron fireplaces, which we use for decoration but in a pinch I just roll back the carpet and the base fire brick is there and they’re ready to go. As well there are two wood burners downstairs so, both central pipe/flue but with enough space to fit a pan if need be. Actually they aren’t wood burners, they are multi-fuel stoves that can take anything, coal, smokeless coke, wood…I like to hedge my bets lol.

      well time to go, school holidays, fetched the grandkids down for a week today and they are shattered, bedtime calling.

      Catch you later x

      1. Hi Liz

        Lucky you! I had searched for a coal/wood stove for a long time but couldn’t find one. I had one in my old house but we only used wood in it. My plan was to stockpile bags of washed coal for it but life changes and I ended up divorced.

        I’m currently trying to figure out if I can burn coal in my wood stove. I know that I’d need a grate and luckily the air source for this new stove is below the firebrick which is a requirement for burning coal. At least that’s what I was told so many years ago. Not even sure coal is still available here anymore.

        Have someone check the chimneys of your cast iron fireplaces before you need to use them. Would be a nasty surprise if they weren’t safe to use when you need them. Just sayin’.


        1. Hiya KK

          The bedroom chimneys are cleaned each year when the downstairs ones are done. Yes the issue with burning coal in a wood stove id the higher heat can burn through the bottom, keeping the coal off the base of the burner is the thing to do, a cast iron fire basket in the bottom would do the job, thats all a grate is after all. Ours came with a b built in grate but I have friends who have just sat a fire basket inside and so far all is well and it’s been a few years.

          We can still get coal here and I actually live in one of the very few areas of the country that is n to a smokeless zone.

          One thing to remember though I am sure you know is that coal and wood should never be burned at the same time. Unless the wood is literally bone dry it releases moisture when burned. Coal releases sulphur when burned. add the two together and you get sulphuric acid which will eventually eat through any chimney liner and even corrode brick chimneys.

          Take Care

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