Enjoying a hearty breakfast on a cold morning in AustriaA traditional tile stove19th C Postcard 'Bliss in the Corner'

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A History of Traditional Masonry Tile Heaters


600 Years of 'Kachelofen' tradition†††††††††††††† BACK†

The following text describes the history of the popular central European tile heater or 'Kachelofen', a type of energy-efficient heater found in Austro-Hungary, Germany, Switzerland, Bohemia, Northern Italy and Scandinavia. Tile heaters are less known in Anglo-Saxon countries such as the US or Britain, where cast iron heaters became popular in the Victorian age. However, masonry and tile heaters did gain some popularity in the US in the 1970s.

A History of Traditional Tile Heaters

 

Apart from open fireplaces, the tile heater is probably the oldest type of heater. It is certainly the heater with the longest tradition.

The precursor of todayís tile heaters was probably the pilework heater of the Bronze Age, around 2,500 BC. This early prototype, which developed in the German and Austrian Alps, consisted of a fireplace, which was built up with stone and loam. Even then, the stones took on the role of retaining the heat.

The further development of the tile heater also took place in the Alps. Fired clay pots were pressed into the heaterís main building material of soft loam, in order to increase the heat-radiating surface.

 

The actual tile heater, the shell of which is made up solely of tiles, wasnít viable before potters developed square tiles with a ridge from the pots they were previously using. This development can be traced back to the 14th century. Since then, the tile heaterís exterior has followed the styles of the various periods, from Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Classicism, Biedermeier (a German-Austrian Folk style) and Art Nouveau through to the present day. The tile heaterís heyday was in the 16th and 17th centuries.



Probably be the oldest existing tile heater, built in a style still being practiced today, is to be found in the Electoral Princeís residence in Meran (South Tyrol, northern Italy). It was built in the 15th century. Art historians are of the opinion that the Romans were probably involved in the development of the tile heater. At least the term "caccabus" seems to imply this. A caccabus was a hollow cylinder with an opening on one side. They were lined up in rows and thus formed domes for kilns and other types of ovens. Itís probable that the German word ďKachelĒ, meaning heater tile, is derived from the word "caccabus".

The development of the tile heater progressed logically from pressing individual tiles into the soft loam to the tile shell. People soon realized that the tiles, made by the heater-fitter/potter, offered a suitable surface for artistic decoration. Not only princes, but also peasants now had their tile heaters custom built.

These days, stylistic periods can be traced back via the many preserved tile heaters of past centuries.

Apart from the surface embellishments the tile heater was also developed technically in those periods. Thus tile heaters may be considered traditional, but modern at the same time - traditional because they are built mainly according to tried and tested methods, and modern, because they utilize most sources of energy and heating techniques available to us today.

 

Today, a tile heater could utilize wood, coal, gas, solar hot water or solar hot air. It may even have a separate cooking / baking compartment attached, according to individual tastes and ideas.

 

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Article in parts courtesy of HAGOS, the German Society of Tile Heater Makers:†

http://www.hagos.de/.