THE HVAC STORY
History highlights and the market
The HVAC industry stands for Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning. The evolution of the heating and cooling systems started with the predecessor of the furnace, a cast iron Franklin stove that was invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1742. Most homes were heated by wood-burning fireplaces up until 1885 when cast iron radiators (coal-fired boilers that delivered steam from the hot water to radiators in every room) were invented. Bringing in an exciting new advancement era for heating was the electrical contributions made by Thomas Edison in the beginning of 1882. By 1905, Albert Marsh constructed a heating element 300 times stronger than others on the market thanks to his discovery of metal chrome. These heaters pushed an electrical current through a metal heating element, which converted electricity to distributable heat. To this day electrical heating technology has changed very little and is still produced the same way.
The first American central heating system was invented and patented in 1919 by Alice Parker. These provided more substantial heat and better temperature regulation throughout homes. Parker’s invention gave way to the first forced-air furnace that was introduced in 1935, distributing the coal-heated air through the home’s ducts using electric fans, offering an array of fuel and warmth sources from natural gas, oil, electricity and even geothermal technologies and heat pumps. Thanks to apps and Wi-Fi programmable thermostat technology, today’s thermostats are now capable of more fine-tuning of household’s temperatures and even more convenience and ease-of-use.
Air conditioners can be considered to be one of the most important inventions of modern times. Cooling systems for businesses and homes alike are now critical to our world. Heat-related deaths in the United States were 80 percent lower between 1960 and 2004 than in the previous 59 years and a major factor to those reduced numbers was the use of Air conditioning. In the beginning, in order to relieve residents of "the evils of high temperatures", an inventor and physician in the 1840s, Dr. John Gorrie of Florida, suggested an idea of cooling cities. Gorrie believed that cooling was the key to making patients more comfortable and avoiding diseases. However, his simple cooling system for hospital rooms required huge blocks of ice from frozen streams and lakes in the northern U.S. to be shipped to Florida. Gorrie then experimented with refrigeration and came up with a machine that used horsepower to make the ice which involved wind-powered sails or steam. For this ice-making machine he was granted a patent in 1851 but it never made it to the marketplace. However, his work laid the foundation for modern-day air conditioning.
Fast forward to 1922 in Los Angeles with Carrier as the first company to install the first well-designed cooling system for the public, into the city theaters. The cool air was pumped through higher vents for a cooling that was more equally distributed. A breakthrough happened on Memorial Day in 1925 for HVAC inventions at New York’s Rivoli Theater when Carrier introduced the first centrifugal chilling system. Even though the system was less costly and more reliable than previous systems, it was still too big and expensive to be used on a wide scale. AC units became cheaper and more compact after 1947 in which 43,000 systems were in use. Most new homes in the U.S. were built with central air conditioning by the 1960s as the electric air conditioner window units (aka “window shakers'') went down in price from the early days making them much more affordable. The Energy Information Administration reported that approximately 100 million homes, 87 percent of all American households, were using air conditioning by 2009.
Conservation standards for manufacturers of residential heat pumps and central air conditioners were issued by the Energy Department by 1992. In 2006, the standard passed and is anticipated to result in avoiding 369 million or more metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, and approximately $70 billion in energy bill savings from 2006 to 2035. The program has already driven huge efficiency improvements as new AC units today use about 50 percent less energy than they did in 1990. “Right now, the program is working on the next big thing in air conditioning: non-vapor compression technology, which doesn't use HFCs that harm the environment, ushering in a new era of cooling”. Non-vapor compression technologies are estimated to reduce energy consumption by 50 percent. (Lester, P. 2015)
Lester, P. (July,20 2015) History of Air Conditioning. US Department of Energy. https://www.energy.gov/articles/history-air-conditioning
Nagengast (Nov 6, 2001) An Early History of Comfort Heating. The Air Conditioning, Heating, & Refrigeration News. https://www.achrnews.com/articles/87035-an-early-history-of-comfort-heating
Coyne College (2020) A Brief History of HVAC. Coyne College. https://www.coynecollege.edu/a-brief-history-of-hvac-air-conditioning/