An interesting feature that you will find in many historical, and some current, homes in Korea is a heated flooring system. The Korean hot water flooring, or Ondol (Hangul: 온돌), is a type of underfloor heating system that uses circulating smoke (previously) or currently water to transfer heat. Experts say that it ondol was already used in dwellings during the Neolithic Age around 7000 years ago. The first recorded use of ondol was from the Goryeo Dynasty in the 13th century. Ondol became prevalent during the Joseon Dynasty in 15th and 16th century. In historical Korean homes, gorae is an important component of ondol, which allows smoke from the kitchen to pass under the house. There are also gudeul (wide stones) and a red mud clay layer that prevents the smoke from seeping into the house. Gudeul absorbs the heat from smoke and radiates it throughout the house. This keeps the house warm all night, after the kitchen fire is extinguished before the occupants go to sleep.
Modern Ondol Floor Heating Systems
The old ondol system that used fire and smoke, had a higher risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, especially if the mud layer dried up and cracked after prolonged use. The current Korean ondol system uses electricity and circulating hot water under the floor. Because it’s a closed system, modern ondol is highly efficient, while a typical fireplace transfers only 20% into the inside of the house. Heat is stored longer under the floor after you turn off the system. Recently, many architects and home builders around the world have recognised the efficiency of the modern ondol system. From South Korea, the system has been implemented in Japan, China, Europe, and North America. It’s being recognized as a new alternative in home heating system.
Ondol System Controls
When staying in a modern Korean house during winter, you will likely find an ondol thermostat on the wall. When you turn it on, hot water will flow under the floor within a network of small pipes. There are dozens of ondol manufacturers in South Korea and the basic usage of the system is generally similar. The ondol thermostat has a power button to turn on and off the system. There’s a display to show the current temperature and to indicate whether the system is turned on or off. There are usually temperature pre-sets, such as low, mid, and high. You may also find buttons to manually adjust the temperature in Celsius (not Fahrenheit). The system will turn on and off automatically to meet your preferred temperature level.
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