Mechanical, lighting and plumbing systems improved
significantly with the coming of the Industrial
Revolution. The 19th century interest in hygiene,
personal comfort, and the reduction of the spread
of disease were met with the development of central
heating, piped water, piped gas, and network of
underground cast iron sewers. Vitreous tiles in
kitchens, baths and hospitals could be cleaned
easily and regularly. The mass production of cast
iron radiators made central heating affordable
to many; some radiators were elaborate and included
special warming chambers for plates or linens.
Ornamental grilles and registers provided decorative
covers for functional heaters in public spaces.
By the turn of the 20th century, it was common
to have all these modern amenities as an integral
part of the building.
The greatest impacts of the 20th century on mechanical
systems were the use of electricity for interior
lighting, forced air ventilation, elevators for
tall buildings, exterior lighting and electric
heat. The new age of technology brought an increasingly
high level of design and decorative art to many
of the functional elements of mechanical, electrical
and plumbing systems.
The visible decorative features of historic mechanical
systems such as grilles, lighting fixtures, and
ornamental switchplates may contribute to the
overall historic character of the building. Their
identification needs to take place, together with
an evaluation of their physical condition, early
in project planning. On the other hand, mechanical
systems need to work efficiently so many older
systems, such as compressors and their ductwork,
and wiring and pipes often need to be upgraded
or entirely replaced in order to meet modern requirements.