Foreigners who have had the opportunity to visit Korean homes have probably sat on the floor with their shoes off. This lifestyle of using the floor more than tables and chairs originates from ondol, the unique traditional heating system of Korea.
Ondol is the heating method that funnels the heat from a fireplace and spreads it under the floor. Ondol also means a room or floor that has the ondol system. Ondol is especially good and efficient for Koreans who use it in their sitting and sleeping areas. However, there was a time when ondol nearly disappeared from the Korean home. During the apartment boom of the early 1970’s, Western-style heating with steam boilers almost replaced the ondol system.
But Koreans found this Western form of heating did not fit Korean lifestyle, and before long they returned to ondol. Since then it has been developed into today’s modern style ondol to meet the needs of modern houses and buildings, and nowadays it is considered to be a very important heating system in Korean homes.
Many scholars of the ondol system marvel at its efficiency saying that ondol not only saves energy but it also maintains a consistent rooom temperature. For these reasons neighboring countries such as China are known to import ondol.
Credit: Seoul National University