A furnace is a device that produces heat. Not only are furnaces used in the home for warmth, they are used in industry for a variety of purposes such as making steel and heat treating of materials to change their molecular structure. Central heating with a furnace is an idea that is centuries old. One of the earliest forms of this idea was invented by the Romans and called a hypocaust. It was a form of under-floor heating using a fire in one corner of a basement with the exhaust vented through flues in the walls to chimneys. This form of heating could only be used in stone or brick homes. It was also very dangerous because of the possibility of fire and suffocation.
Furnaces generate heat by burning fuel, but early furnaces burned wood. In the seventeenth century, coal began to replace wood as a primary fuel. Coal was used until the early 1940s when gas became the primary fuel. In the 1970s, electric furnaces started to replace gas furnaces because of the energy crisis. Today, the gas furnace is still the most popular form of home heating equipment.