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Air Conditioning: History, Technology and Energy Trends

Changes in global weather patterns are causing it to heat up for longer periods of time, which means that in most parts of the United States, air conditioning is in bigger demand.  If you are in the process of thinking about building a new home, then you may have wondered if there are any new technologies in cooling.  After all, it might affect your house plan in some way, right?


Historically air conditioners had only been around since 1902 when Carrier created technology that inspired what we know as the modern air conditioning today. But prior to that, when President James Garfield was assassinated on July 1881, a makeshift cooling unit was engineered by some Navy officers to keep him cool and comfortable. Filled with a water-soaked cloth and a fan that blew hot air overhead to keep the cooler air closer to the ground, this makeshift device lowered the room temperature by up to 20 F. But it failed, because, in two months, it uses a half-million pounds of ice.


Carrier’s version blew air over cold coils to control room humidity and temperature, and by 1931 H.H. Schultz and J.Q. Sherman invented a room air conditioner situated on a window ledge—a design that's since been used in apartment buildings. Back then, only the wealthy could afford them at between $10,000 and $50,000.


During the post-World War II economic boom, air conditioning for homes became more mainstream with 1 million units sold in 1953.  The 1970s introduced central air in homes, consisting of units with a condenser, coils, and a fan, with a refrigerant called Freon-12. By 1994, Freon is banned due to concerns about ozone depletion, so Carrier and Honeywell developed coolants like R134a that were more environmentally acceptable. By 1965, 10 percent of U.S. homes had air conditioning, and by 2007, more than 86 percent of the population enjoyed the benefits of air conditioning.


Most modern homes use central air conditioning systems, the premium solution for cooling a home. They are the quietest, comfortable and best performing in terms of energy usage. Making sure that the system you choose is sized appropriately for your home is important for best performance.


Some of the major manufacturers and brands for central air conditioning systems include (alphabetically):

  • Carrier, (Bryant, Payne, and Tempstar)
  • Goodman (Amana and Janitrol)
  • Lennox, which owns Armstrong, Concord, Allied,  Ducane, and AirEase)
  • Rheem, (Maytag, Frigidaire, Kelvinator, Ruud Nortek Global HVAC, Westinghouse, and others.)
  • Trane,  (American Standard)
  • York, (Coleman and Luxaire)


Trends in Energy Consumption and HVAC

Today, energy costs are soaring, and although people consider air conditioning more of a necessity than a luxury, many scientists are seeking new modes of energy to keep us warmer, cooler, and to use for traveling around.  There are also serious concerns about carbon emissions and energy consumption. Subsequently the top trends in heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems involve increased integration with other systems, inclouding lighting and access control; smart thermostats and some new regulations affecting the air conditioning industry.


Due to the carbon dioxide being given off by HVAC systems, legislation and regulators aim to improve their efficiency. One new law went into effect on Jan. 1, 2015, changing the heating and cooling efficiency standards in our country: In the northern states, manufacturers will only be allowed to sell furnaces at an annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) rate of 90 percent.


In the southern states all air conditioners sold after January 1, 2015, must meet a rating of 14 seasonal energy efficiency ratios (SEER) while furnaces in the south just need an AFUE of 80 percent.


Furthermore, according to this new report entitled, “Global Air Conditioners Market Forecast & Opportunities, 2020,” the worldwide air conditioner market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 8.5 percent during 2015-20. The report claims that an introduction of energy-efficient air conditioners and ones with in-built air purifiers is projected to boost future air conditioner sales.


Last, if you have been reading any environmental science news lately, here is another new theory released in a report from experts at energy think tank, the Rocky Mountain Institute, about a new way of doing things in so far as the energy we use in our homes. It is called “demand flexibility” and “flexiwatts” that refer to the ability for homeowners to determine exactly when during their home’s energy spikes occur. Writer Chris Mooney of The Washington Post sums it up neatly in his recent article entitled, “There’s a big change coming to how we power our homes — and it isn’t about solar or batteries.”

The report notes that implementation of demand flexibility “could save 10 to 15 percent of potential grid costs, and customers can cut their electric bills 10 to 40 percent with rates and technologies that exist today.”



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