Next time you adjust your thermostat, consider what the Physick family had to do in order to stay warm and toasty as the days grew colder.
The original heating system in the Physick house was, most likely, a gravity hot air system. The coal furnace was located in the basement and the coal stored around the perimeter of the basement, in the front and on the east side, in areas between the outer walls and an inner wall. It was moved to the heater in a coal cart (still in the basement) which would have been wheeled between the storage area and the furnace. Without electricity, an automatic stoker was not possible, so the fire would have been fed by hand, most likely by one of the male workers. At night, the coals would have been banked for slow burning.
To heat the house, hot air from the furnace would rise into a maze of ductwork in the basement, which led to various rooms in the house. The temperature in the firebox was controlled solely by the amount of air introduced into the firebox (more air, hotter heat) and dampering the flue pipe. The amount of heat introduced into each room would be controlled by dampers in the air grates, located at the sides of the fireplaces in each room. At the top of each grate is a wheel which controlled the heat coming into that room. Above most of the grates, built into the wall, is a circular, depressed area, with a small push-pull knob, which controlled the internal dampers and regulated the heat going into the room above the control. By manipulating the knob pull, the damper could be closed off in the duct, preventing air from rising to the floor above, forcing more heat into the room in which the control was located. There were no thermostats. There were no means of controlling the temperature except by manual operation.
Normally, hallways were unheated, and they served as the “return” area for cold air returning to the furnace.
As time progressed, the owners of many Victorian homes added a second heating system, usually hot water radiation. The original systems were designed to heat just the main living spaces of the house and, as needs changed, homeowners desired more comfortably heated areas. Why radiation? One theory is that it was probably the most convenient method of the time. The areas of the Physick House which have radiation are those areas that would not normally have required heat originally (halls, kitchens, sunporch), areas where the family required additional heat (family parlor), or areas that underwent modernization (new bathrooms).
Today, the house has a forced air heating system. This type of system requires a generator, or electricity to run the circulator, and therefore probably would not have been introduced into the house until it was electrified.