At the start of the 1970s, less than one quarter of Irish homes had central heating. The most popular systems were oil-fired, followed by gas and electricity. As the 1970s progressed, solid fuel back boilers emerged as the strategic and popular choice for Dublin homes following the upheaval caused by various oil crises.
But all this changed in the 1980s, when Kinsale natural gas got piped into Dublin. Clean and convenient, natural gas became the central heating system of choice for Dubliners and remains so today. Gas now heats over 68% of homes in County Dublin, 14% are electric and 11% use oil. (These CSO figures from the 2016 census also show that Dublin, with 11%, has the lowest percentage of homes using oil in Ireland, compared with Cavan which has the highest at 70%.)
Without central heating it was almost impossible to keep a home warm. The main room could have a roaring fire of coal, slack, turf or wood but the rest of the house remained cold. Families wore layers of clothes, huddled around the ring of the cooker, and tried, with little success, to frugally heat the house using different types of room-heaters.
The classic small, two-bar, electric fire was the most versatile and portable of the lot. Carried from room to room it helped thaw the frost from the inside of windows and was hot enough to keep the chilblains at bay. Its sophisticated bigger model, the electric fire, mimicked a real coal-burning fire through the magic of a red bulb and plastic moulding. “Who says electric firelight isn’t romantic?” asked the Sunflower Electric Fire catalogue in 1967, before describing the fire’s “large, leaping flames weave in a dance of delight.” Invented in 1912, these “blazing beauties” only came to prominence here in the 1960s, yet somehow convinced many families to replace their real fireplaces with them.
In 1970 the Calor Kosangas New Super-Ser became the must-have room-heater. Almost every Irish home and flat, in the 1970s and 1980s, had one. I’m sure some readers will recall the clunk of the switch when firing up, the glow and comfort of its heat and the smell of its burn. The Super-Ser TV advert described it as “…completely automatic, no matches, no trailing wires, no power cuts, just push-button low cost warmth that you can wheel wherever you want it.” Wheel wherever you want? Yes, once it’s on the same floor. Well, at least the Daleks had company, and never went cold.
Words: Brian McMahon, Brand New Retro
1- Sunhouse electric fire catalogue 1967
2 – Irish Shell and BP Central Heating guide 1965
3 – Kosangas New-Super-Ser – advert 1970 Woman’s Way.