Why Old Homes Have a Tiny Iron Door Leading to the Basement

Today it serves merely as decoration, but long ago this door leading to the basement served an important purpose.

Many people choose to live in older homes for their intricate architectural elements and historic charm, but that may mean coming across some fascinating attributes that no longer serve a purpose. Take, for example, that odd metal door on the outside of the house that opens into the basement.

The History

While natural gas is heating fuel of choice for many people today, up until around 1940, most families heated their homes by burning coal.

Coal deliverymen traveled door-to-door to provide people the fuel they needed to power their furnace. They shoveled coal through the small door and down the chute into the basement. Once in the basement, homeowners could shovel the coal directly into the furnace.

Coal Production

Coal was the most abundant fuel in the second half of the 19th century and into the first quarter of the 20th century. It was used both for heating and powering industrial processes. But World War I created significant shortages of coal. By the mid 1930s, fuel oil burners were considered safe and reliable, and they took the place of coal-fired furnaces for residential heating by the onset of World War II.


Today, most of these chutes have been sealed, though you will often still see the iron doors on older homes. What was once a necessary, functional part of the house is now a great conversation starter and history lesson.

Alexa Erickson
Alexa is an experienced lifestyle and news writer, currently working with Reader's Digest, Shape Magazine and various other publications. She loves writing about her travels, health, wellness, home decor, food and drink, fashion, beauty and scientific news. Follow her traveling adventures on Instagram: @living_by_lex, send her a message: [email protected] and check out her website: livingbylex.com