Articles - homeCOMFORT
A History of AIR Conditioning
By Pauline Mitchell
From broadway to your house – Willis Carrier's invention of air conditioning 110 years ago changed our lives.
Today, when the temperature soars and the humidity becomes unbearable, heat alerts routinely advise the public to stay inside in the cool comfort of air conditioning. Crowds flock to malls, theatres and other public spaces that offer relief from the summer heat if they don't have air conditioning at home.
We assume today that we'll find "air" in most public buildings and workplaces but it wasn't always so. Many people still remember the signs hanging outside movie theatres, restaurants and department stores luring patrons with the promise of a cool respite from sweltering heat that made doing almost anything at all too much to handle.
John Mandyck, chief sustainability officer at Carrier World Headquarters in Connecticut, says initially, "Air conditioning was all about advancing commerce rather than comfort." He explains that Willis Carrier invented his cooling system in 1902 to improve the printing process at a publishing company in Brooklyn, NY, where heat and humidity swelled paper and ruined many print runs. The first installation in Canada was at Cosgrove Brewing in Toronto in 1914, again, to improve the production process. Famously, it took a test of Carrier's invention at the Rivoli Theatre on Broadway in 1925 to change the course of history. More than 2,000 patrons lined up for the experiment and loved it. Other giant movie houses jumped on the bandwagon as a way to attract summer business even though the cost could run close to $100,000 for an in house refrigeration plant. Within five years more than 300 movie theatres had installed Carrier's climate control technology. Increased business covered the cost. It changed the movie industry, too, and led to the summer blockbusters we know today. According to Mandyck, many people still report today that their first experience with air conditioning was at a movie theatre.
When Time magazine named Willis Carrier as one of the most influential people of the 20th century along with the likes of Henry Ford, Bill Gates and Walt Disney, it acknowledged the global importance of air conditioning in shaping how and where we live, work and play. It made economic development in places like Singapore and Las Vegas possible, and cities in the southern United States owe their growth to the use of air conditioning once it became affordable for homes and businesses.
More than four million visitors experienced the "Carrier Igloo of Tomorrow" at the 1939 World's Fair in New York, getting a glimpse into the future. Window air conditioners for homes started appearing in the 1940s but sales took off in the economic boom of the 1950s, with more than one million units sold in 1953 alone. Central air for homes became popular in the 1970s.
Since ductwork is needed for central air, the growth in central air systems is linked closely to advances in furnace technology.
Today, Manitoba leads Canadian provinces with 80 per cent of homes having air conditioning, while Ontario follows at 74 per cent, mostly in areas with high humidity along the Great Lakes.
Central air systems have come a long way in recent decades due largely to more environmental awareness by scientists, manufacturers and consumers alike. The use of non-ozone depleting refrigerants in systems helps protect the environment, and today many homeowners place energy efficiency as one of their considerations in selecting a new unit.
According to the United States Department of Energy, today's best air conditioners use 30-to-50 per cent less energy to produce the same amount of cooling as those from the mid 1970s. Even if your air conditioner is only 10 years old, you can save 20-to-40 per cent of your cooling costs by replacing it with a new, more efficient model.
All manufacturers now offer high-efficiency models plus a variety of unique features for added comfort and convenience. A SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating) of 13 is the minimum rating sold today and some units available now have a rating up to 21 SEER.
New technologies offer consumers the economic benefit of saving money, the environmental benefits of using less energy and improved performance. Consumers have many choices available. Goodman president Steve Saunders speaks with pride about their unique patent on smaller tubing in condensers that has shrunk the size of outdoor units and their new variable speed inverter compressor that improves the efficiency of ductless and split systems. Lennox has introduced solar-ready technology for air conditioners and heat pumps. Fred Ennamorato, district manager for Lennox, explains it can be easily integrated with solar as part of a home energy system. Carrier recently introduced variable speed Greenspeed technology which Mandyck calls a quantum leap in efficiency and also improves heat pump performance in colder climates.
Since 2000, Carrier has tracked the environmental benefits of their installations online on their CO2NSERVATION meter, and by early this year, more than 105 million tonnes of carbon emissions were avoided, or the equivalent of taking more than 20 million vehicles off the road for one year.