The water heater is a highly used but often underappreciated appliance in our homes. It provides the hot water we need for drinking, cooking, cleaning, bathing, and doing many other household chores.
Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they account for 14-18 percent of energy consumption in our homes. Money-wise, American homeowners spend $400-$600 annually on water heater-related expenses.
How Life Was Before the Water Heater Was Invented
Human beings have always had a way of getting around things. And before water heaters were invented, most people relied on their stoves or fireplaces to raise the water temperature.
Water was placed in pans or metallic containers and heated to scalding or boiling point temperatures before being transferred elsewhere. And one such place was the bathtubs. Another alternative was to tap into hot water springs for hot water.
And as time passed, more and more advancements came to pass. A noticeable one was the advent of boilers, commonly used to generate steam in ships and locomotives. As much as this was an area full of untapped potential, the system was unsuitable for private home use.
The invention of the Water Heater
There’s a debate over who invented the first true water heater, but most would agree that it was Benjamin Waddy Maughan. In 1868, Benjamin Maughan, an English painter from London, invented the “Gas Gersey” instantaneous water heater. The appliance got its name as it used gas to heat the water instead of solid fuel.
In his 1868 patent, Maughan showed that his invention made cold water flow through pipes heated by hot gasses at the bottom of the appliance. One would then tap and direct the hot water to flow to a sink, container, or bathtub. However, Maughan’s invention excluded one important factor; safety. The design was dangerous as it had no flue to vent the gas vapors from the bathroom.
In 1889 (21 years later), a Norwegian-American mechanical engineer, Edwin Ruud, invented what was the true and closer version of the modern-day water heater. His design was superior to Maughan’s as it used a temperature-controlled valve in addition to the bottom gas heater.
Ruud then went on to form his company, Ruud Manufacturing, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The company focused on manufacturing and popularizing industrial, home, and commercial water heaters. He then went on to improve the design and filed for an Automatic Water Heater patent in 1897, which was granted in September 1898.
Afterward, Ruud went on to invent the Ruud Instantaneous Automatic Water Heater, which became popular across the US and Canada. The design allowed a user to instantaneously heat water on demand, saving fuel when the appliance was not in use.
However, boilers faced a lot of infrastructural shortcomings all over the nation. By 1920, only 1% of American homes had proper electricity and indoor plumbing that could support the water heaters. By the 1940s, the establishment of standardized plumbing codes paved the way for safer indoor plumbing that could accommodate storage water heaters. And, it has gotten better ever since.
Over the decades, we’ve witnessed the development and uptake of tankless water heaters, indirect water heaters, heat pump water heaters, and sustainable solar water heaters.