The History of HVAC

What Is HVAC?

HVAC is the term for systems that regulate the movement of air between indoor and outdoor areas, and heat and cool the indoor air. In addition to keeping you warm in the winter and cool in the summer, HVAC systems filter indoor air and can maintain a comfortable humidity level to support health.

When Was the First HVAC System Created?

Fireplaces to warm a room are ancient, but other systems to warm rooms have been around longer than you think. The oldest form of HVAC is the Korean Ondol method. Dating back to the Iron Age, it involved an outside furnace, underfloor pipes, and stone that would retain heat well for long periods of time that releases slowly. Essentially, it’s the first form of radiant floor heating and was used by both rich and poor people. It has been refined over the millennia and is still used in South Korea today.

Separately, the ancient Romans developed the hypocaust (Latin: hypocaustum), which is an open area under floors that is heated by gas and smoke from fires below. The warmed floors can heat an entire room. Ancient Romans used them to make buildings their northern territories more comfortable in the winter. They also used them to heat the warm and hot rooms in Roman baths.

Romans used heating systems in areas that are now parts of Germany and England. They could also be built into a vertical flue in the wall of the room to be heated. If they wanted a certain room to be warmer than others, flues would also be built into sidewalls of the same room.

During the Han Dynasty, which began around 206 B.C. in China, early cooling systems were invented. The windmill fan was first created for the military and was later used to thresh grain, though human work was essential for its proper operation. Later in the Tang dynasty, it was incorporated into daily life, and a water wheel was added to power it, allowing it to function automatically to cool homes.

Another design for ancient homes was the self-raining pavilion. It only worked for homes built next to a river, but it combined a windmill and water wheel to pump water to the roof of a building where it then dripped down to form rain curtains that provided a cooling effect.

In the 1600s, Louis Savot invented the circulating fireplace in France. It allowed cold room air to enter at the bottom of the fireplace, be warmed and enter the room through openings above the mantle. In England, a duct from the outside was added to provide air for combustion.

In the 1840s, Dr. John Gorrie of Florida believed that hot weather contributed to illness and believed that cooling was essential to prevent the spread of malaria and other diseases. Cooling methods at that time were difficult and expensive, requiring ice from frozen lakes so he experimented with artificial cooling, eventually designing a compressor powered by steam or horses that could create ice. He received a patent in 1851 but failed to bring it to market when his main financial backer died.

Who Invented Modern HVAC?

The 20th century brought with it a variety of breakthroughs and innovations. Nikola Tesla developed alternating electrical current motors which made oscillating fans possible. In 1902, Willis Carrier, a 25-year-old engineer in New York, invented modern air conditioning that moved air through water-cooled coils. In 1922, he created the centrifugal chiller.

The Buffalo Forge company created the first fan coil dehumidifying system as well as the first spray-style air conditioning. On the heating side, high-pressure steam heating systems were paired with fan systems.

In 1918, the Electrol was introduced as the first oil burner with an electric ignition,. Honeywell designed the first controls exclusively for oil burners in 1924. In the 1930s, General Electric created a “self-contained room cooler” which led to the first modern window air conditioning unit.

Of course, the HVAC industry never stops innovating. Newer, more energy efficient systems are constantly being developed. Only time will tell what breakthroughs will come next in the HVAC industry.

Choose Donnelly Mechanical for All Your Commercial HVAC Needs

For expert commercial HVAC service in New York City, call Donnelly Mechanical at (718) 619-4384. We have experienced teams that can handle all of your service needs. You can also contact us online by filling out our contact form.

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