Life Before HVAC: Short & Unbearable

If you visit Tampa’s historic Fort Brooke in the summer, the first question that will likely come to your mind is, “How did the early explorers stand this heat without air conditioning?”

modern hvac thermostat

There’s a good reason why Florida’s population didn’t explode until the mid-20 th century. Before air conditioning became widespread, the state was simply too hot and muggy to make it a comfortable place to live. Once air conditioning became an affordable technology and HVAC technicians began installing systems throughout homes in the state, Florida was finally able to realize the potential offered by its beaches and (at the time) low land prices.

Air conditioning has had a major impact on human health and development around the world, allowing people to live in previously uninhabitable places and providing the comfort necessary to extend human life and increase productivity. Today’s modern HVAC units aren’t the only way humans have tried to control their climate over the centuries, however. Throughout history, humans living in hot climates have employed a number of technologies to cool their homes and other buildings.

  • Ancient Egypt – Pharaohs of Egypt cooled down thanks to the sweat of others. Artwork from the period shows rulers and other high nobles being cooled by large fans waved by servants. Fans were often made from the feathers of large birds.

  • Ancient China – In second century China, inventor Ding Huan developed a novel method of cooling a room. Huan developed a manually powered rotary fan that incorporated seven wheels into its design. Later Chinese inventors extrapolated on Huan’s design. During the Tang dynasty, Liang Tian developed a water-powered rotary fan system.
  • Ancient Rome – Many wealthy Romans cooled their homes by using water from the city’s aqueduct system to circulate cool water through the walls of their residences. Fabulously wealthy Romans went to greater extremes. The emperor Elagabalus imported tons of snow via donkeys from nearby mountains and piled it up next to his villa to remain cool in the summer.

  • Medieval Persia – In medieval Persia, builders created a novel way of cooling buildings by harnessing the abundant wind resources available there. The towers used windows for capturing winds. Internal vanes inside the towers funneled cooler air into buildings below and pushed warm air out of the buildings. Architecturally gorgeous, many of these towers still stand throughout the Middle East and are still functional.
  • Colonial America – Famed inventor Benjamin Franklin played a role in developing the technologies that later gave rise to the modern air conditioning unit. Franklin and a friend, John Hadley, worked together on experiments involving the evaporation of alcohol and ether to reduce temperatures. Franklin and Hadley evaporated alcohol and ether and lowered the temperature of a mercury thermometer from 64°F to 7 °F. As any HVAC technician can tell you, evaporation of coolants plays a major role in modern cooling units.

ice

  • 1800s America – One of the early applications of electricity was powering rotary fans. Water and steam-powered rotary ceiling fans began appearing in the early 1860s and 1870s in the U.S. In 1882, electric fans began appearing in homes and businesses.
  • 1900s America – By the 1920s, ceiling fans became commonplace in the U.S. By the 1960s, they fell out of vogue as air conditioning became widespread in the U.S., but remained popular internationally, particularly in countries where the electrical infrastructure was not sufficient to support the level of energy consumption required by AC units.

Ceiling fans experienced a resurgence in popularity in the 1980s when energy efficiency became a major concern in the U.S. Today, many homes use ceiling fans along with AC units as an energy efficient cooling solution.

old ceiling fan

The Development of Air Conditioning

What we recognize today as an HVAC unit was developed in the early 1900s by inventor Willis Carrier. Carrier developed a machine that sent air through water cooled coils. Carrier’s machine wasn’t intended to cool homes and buildings—Carrier was trying to control humidity in a printing plant where he was employed.

Carrier saw the potential in his device and made further innovations, and today’s units which use pressurized coolants to remove heat from buildings were the eventual result. Other manufacturers continued refining the concept. Frigidaire developed a split-system room cooler in the 1920s, and General Electric later refined this design, developing a self-contained room cooler.

In the 1930s, manufacturers began combining the concepts pioneered by Carrier with refrigeration technology to create what we recognize today as air conditioning units. General Motors engineers began using chlorofluorocarbon coolants to create a system that cooled buildings by moving heat from inside to the outside.

In the early days of air conditioning, HVAC units were prohibitively expensive and only the very wealthy home and business owners could afford them. In the early part of the 20 th century, people often flocked to their town’s movie theater in the summer months as it was often the only place in town with air conditioning that could accommodate a large crowd.

Time and continued developments in the technology made air conditioning increasingly accessible to the public. In the 1940s, Henry Galson developed a window air conditioner which became the first successful window unit product, selling 43,000 systems by 1947. As the technology continued to develop, new home construction increasingly incorporated central air conditioning into their design. By the end of the 1960s, most new homes had central air conditioning.

commercial air ducts

Today, about 87 percent of homes in the U.S. have air conditioners. The rise of air conditioning has made cities in the South and West more comfortable and contributed to a shift in U.S. population from the Northeast and Upper Midwest.

Work continues to make HVAC more energy efficient and reduces its environmental impact. Today, the average household spends about 48 percent of its monthly power bill on heating and cooling costs. Environmental concerns led to the industry abandoning chlorofluorocarbons, but concerns remain about the replacement coolant, hydrofluorocarbons. Research continues into the use of non-vapor compression technology, which will have less of an impact.

Government regulations have helped to increase efficiency. Since 1992, the U.S. energy department has mandated energy conservation standards. Experts say the standards will result in about $29 billion in energy savings from 1993 to 2023. New standards enacted in 2006 are predicted to yield $70 billion in savings between 2006 and 2035. Thanks to developing technology and the regulatory push, today’s air conditioners use half the energy they did in 1990.

Benefits of Air Conditioning

Air conditioning certainly makes life more comfortable and has allowed people to live and work in parts of the country that were previously not very appealing because of the unrelenting heat. In addition to comfort, air conditioning has some very positive health benefits, including:

  • Easing respiratory symptoms. Many people with asthma and allergies do much better in air-conditioned environments with air filtration systems.
  • Reducing heat-related stress on the body, which is helpful to people with chronic conditions such as multiple sclerosis.
  • Dehumidifying air. Air conditioners can help dehumidify the air in your home, which reduces the likelihood of mold growing in your home. Mold contributes to many respiratory illnesses that can be serious.

When looking for a reliable AC contractor to install and maintain your heating and cooling system, it’s important to find a company with a track record of success.

Air Rescue is a Tampa AC maintenance and repair company. In business since 1946, the company has built a reputation for technical expertise and top-notch customer service. Air Rescue’s staff is highly trained, and the business offers a membership plan that provides customers with two annual maintenance checks, guaranteed response times, and deep discounts on repairs.