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A Brief History of Air Conditioning

Air conditioning is a modern marvel which has allowed humans to turn our homes, businesses, and other buildings into a refuge from the heat. Many of us take the air conditioner for granted due to its simplicity and ease of use. Where in the past it was once considered a luxury, air conditioning is now an essential technology allowing us to cool homes, businesses, laboratories, data centers, hospitals, and other buildings which are vital to our daily life. In fact, we find indoor temperature so valuable that according to the Energy Information Administration 48% of the total energy consumption of homes in America goes towards heating and cooling.

The idea of artificially cooling buildings started with Dr. John Gorrie of Florida in the 1840s. The initial idea was to bring ice from frozen lakes and streams in the northern United States to Florida. This posed great financial and logistical challenges so Dr. Gorrie began to tinker with ways to create ice artificially. His initial patent which was granted in 1851 and required use of horses and sails to power it, though it never made it to market the foundation was laid for artificial cooling.

It took more than 50 years for further progress but in 1902 engineer Willis Carrier was tasked with solving a humidity problem for a publishing house where the humidity was causing pages to wrinkle. After some experimentation Carrier patented a system to control humidity by using coils which could dehumidify air by cooling it. Carrier did not take long for to realize that controlling humidity and temperature could be of benefit to many industries and the general public. The public got their first taste of mechanical refrigeration at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis where the Missouri State Building was cooled by 35,000 cubic feet of air per minute. Later, in the 1920’s people would converge at movie theatres to beat the heat and see their favorite stars on the big screen.

A/C technology in home units remained cost prohibitive until the 1940’s when advances in size and chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) coolants allowed the development of more compact and inexpensive A/C units. By the end of the 1960’s most new homes came with central A/C installed and window units were cheap enough to help propel population growth in hotter states like Florida and Arizona. Much of the advancement since then has been related to efficiency and coolants. New A/C units today use about 50% less energy than their 1990 counterparts; however, they are still one of the most energy intensive appliances in a home.

While air conditioning is the only option in many climate zones, here in Colorado there are equally as “cool” alternatives such as evaporative coolers and whole house fans which are cheaper and more efficient than many A/C systems. On average, evaporative coolers are 75% more efficient than a central A/C system at half the cost! If you are thinking of purchasing or upgrading a cooling system in your house, be sure to contact Boulder County’s EnergySmart service whose free advisors can help answer any questions you may have and give you some awesome rebates. For all of your homes efficiency and temperature needs call EnergySmart today at 303-544-1000!

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