Solar is a great source of passive heating and can be used actively for electricity and in ways such as hot water panels that circulate water to heat the house. These solutions don’t always work in a given situation but when they do they can be very attractive.
One common heating method in the past (and still used a fair amount) is oil tanks. Before that we had coal heating for houses. The house I grew up in had such a system (taken out long before I moved in, but remnants of it were still visible) where coal was poured down a shoot, at ground level, into a basement room with the furnace.
Then the coal was heated and I believe water was heated and sent to radiators to warm the house. This was no longer in place, so I am guessing; when I moved in the house had a furnace using gas to heat air and that was sent to warm the rooms upstairs. I remember sitting by the vents where the air would be warm.
Removing oil tanks and especially underground tanks can be quite a challenge and requires special attention to potential environmental issues (leaking oil). This clip from This Old House shows an old system being removed and replaced by a new oil tank.
Normally oil tanks are used for heating in areas that don’t have natural gas utility lines available. That is often rural areas but also areas that just never had gas lines put in. Heating using house-hold oil tanks is quite common in the North East United States even today. Delivery trucks connect to the house and pump in oil – very similar to what old coal delivery truck did (and in many houses in the North East they probably had trucks delivering coal before converting to oil).
This Frequently asked questions on oil tanks (from Commtank – the company in the video), provides lots of useful information, including:
Why should I consider removing my Underground Storage Tank (UST)?
Approximately 50% of 275-gallon 12 gauge steel tanks are estimated to develop leaks within 15 years, according to the American Petroleum Institute. Many older underground home heating tanks were never designed to withstand long-term exposure to soil and water. Even steel tanks that were specifically designed for underground use can leak if they do not have adequate corrosion protection. Home heating oil storage tank leaks can be very damaging to the environment and leaking petroleum products may contaminate the groundwater. Toxic ingredients such as benzene, toluene or xylene threaten human health by poisoning the environment and may require costly cleanup.
Related: Using Algae Filled Window Panes to Provide Passive and Active Solar – Con Ed has been piping steam (a byproduct of creating electricity) to heat buildings throughout lower Manhattan since 1882 – Do It Yourself Solar Furnace for Home Heating