Chimney Engineering:
The Origin and Future of the Chimney

Origin Through the Middle Ages


Conisbrough Castle

Conisbrough Castle

At first thought, you may think chimneys are an invention as old as the first wheel . . . but did you know that the first chimney we know of came only during the Middle Ages? In ancient times, smoke from fires built in huts would simply escape through the roof or holes in made in the ceiling. Of course, the Romans were the first to later develop structures in their walls to vent smoke out of their buildings. Beyond that, the first known working chimney in a house was constructed in 1185 in Conisbrough Castle in England. That’s a lot of history and years of struggling with smoke in the house!

Into the 17th century, heat was thought of as a fluid and much science, discovery, and work needed to be done to properly get smoke to ventilate through chimneys while retaining heat. Louis Savot, a French architect, stood up to the plate and developed a fireplace that was able to distribute heat in a room while ventilating smoke outwards through the use of “passages under the hearth and behind the fire grate” . . . and a “grill in the mantel.”1 Since then, for the most part, chimneys, just like the first wheel, have not undergone much change in engineering.

The Industrial Revolution

Industrial smokestacks were later introduced during the industrial revolution and were a culprit of noxious fumes and air pollution of cities. This was solved by making the chimney’s 500 feet tall or higher. From fires venting smoke out of huts, we’ve come a long way, literally. Now, although this method reduces pollution concentrations locally, it does not actually reduce total emissions. Which brings about our latest needs in engineering and development. As societies develop into more complex organisms, so do their carbon footprints. There comes an increased need for science and engineering to solve new problems. Where we used to struggle with smoke and pollution right over our heads, we now struggle with the same on a larger scale and much farther above us.


Manchester from Kersal Moor, 1852

Manchester from Kersal Moor, 1852

The Green Future of Chimney Engineering


Throughout history, humanity’s needs, or problems, seem to force about a solution. Something we see in the very development in chimneys. One of the biggest culprits to solutions seems to be fear of change and the very giving of attention to such problems. The conversations surrounding global warming and the effects of pollution on the earth is certainly a controversial one! Yet history has proven that the minds of engineers are capable of solving some of the most difficult and longstanding problems. For instance, there are recent developments being made to capture carbon before it enters the atmosphere. This method has been published by Nature Energy called, “Electrochemical upgrade of CO2 from amine capture solution.”2 Through thoughtful and ongoing conversations and considerate engineering, the goal of bringing chimneys up to standard with our world’s needs is not only helpful, it is inevitable.

1. Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/technology/fireplace#ref250646
2. Nature Energy: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41560-020-00735-z

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Donald Perry 10/01/2019 Latest Technology

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