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Air Conditioning History and HVAC Industry Growth

Man’s attempts to stay cool and comfortable during extreme summer heat are well documented. Historical evidence shows attempts by several individuals to control indoor temperatures. For example, the Ancient Romans utilized the aqueduct system to circulate cool water through the walls of their homes. The emperor Elagabalus built a mountain of snow in the garden next to his villa to keep cool during the summer.

1800s: Cooling Devices and Innovations

Throughout history, individuals used hand-held fans to create a breeze and stay cool. A Chinese inventor built the first room-sized, but hand-powered, rotary fan. Another innovation in cooling indoor spaces included building homes with windows facing away from the sun. Builders also installed ‘wind towers’ onto large buildings to catch and circulate the breeze. And to be comfortable in the sweltering heat of Washington, D.C., President Garfield used an awkward device to blow air through cotton sheets doused in ice water.

1900s: Developments in Electricity and Motors

The development of electricity and motorized power led to air conditioning and the HVAC industry as we currently know it. Using alternating current motors, Nikola Telsa invented oscillating fans. In 1902, Willis Carrier invented the first air conditioning system. Originally intended to control humidity in a printing plant, Carrier’s mechanical unit sent air through water-cooled coils to produce cold air. In 1922, Carrier invented the centrifugal chiller, adding a central compressor and reducing the size of his industrial refrigeration system.

In 1925, the Rivoli Theater introduced air conditioning to the public. The air-conditioned theater started the summer blockbuster tradition, as people went to see movies to escape the heat. Starting in the 1930s, air conditioning spread to department stores, rail cars and offices. In 1945, Robert Sherman invented a portable, in-window air conditioner that cooled, heated, humidified, dehumidified and filtered the air. Eventually, residential homes and buildings started adding air conditioning and HVAC units. According to the Carrier Corporation, 10 percent of homes had air conditioning in 1965.

Today: HVAC Market and Products

Many different types of units exist in the HVAC market. Price, functionality and purpose tend to determine the type of AC or HVAC unit installed. The type of building being cooled also factors in to what type of AC or HVAC unit is used. Learn about the most common types of air conditioning systems below.

Domestic Air Conditioners

  • Room Air Conditioners: Room air conditioners mount in windows or through walls to cool a room while the compressor is located outside. Room air conditioners are sized to cool just one room, so many may be required for a whole house.
  • Ductless Mini-Split Air Conditioners: Mini-split systems use an outside compressor/condenser and indoor air handling units. To be cooled, each room or zone uses its own air handler. Each indoor unit connects to the outdoor unit via a conduit carrying the power and refrigerant lines. Indoor units typically mount on the wall or ceiling.
  • Central Air Conditioners: Central air conditioners cool an entire house. In each system, a large compressor unit located outside drives the process; an indoor coil filled with refrigerant cools air that is then distributed throughout the house via ducts.

Commercial & Industrial Air Conditioners

  • Split System Air Conditioners: Small commercial buildings use single split air conditioning systems. They provide heating and cooling to individual rooms, making them ideal solutions for small offices, server rooms, shops, and cafés.
  • Multi-split System Air Conditioners: Multi-splits work the same way as single splits but connect indoor units to one outdoor unit. Places like restaurants, offices, doctor’s surgeries and shops frequently use multi-split systems.
  • VRF or VRV Air Conditioning: VRF stands for variable refrigerant flow, while VRV stands for variable refrigerant volume. Medium to large applications, including hotels, retail spaces, larger officesand mixed-use buildings use VRF/VRV air conditioning. Efficiency, reliability and controllability make these systems capable of meeting larger buildings’ complete heating and cooling requirements.

Future: Advancements in the HVAC Industry

In America, most homes and buildings have some form of air conditioning. Advancements in technology make air conditioning and HVAC units widely used. Consider HVAC and industrial refrigeration skills and repair if you are interested in pursuing a trade career. The following topics cover the basics of the HVAC and refrigeration industry:
  • Major Home Appliances
  • Basic Refrigeration
  • Domestic Refrigeration
  • Commercial Refrigeration
  • Commercial Air Conditioning
  • Advanced Commercial Refrigeration
To understand more about the HVAC industry, learn about the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration program at Apex.

*Apex Technical School and its instructors are licensed by the State of New York, New York State Education Department.

Disclaimer: Apex Technical School provides training for entry-level jobs. Not everything you may read about the industry is covered in our training programs.