Past, Present, & Future: HVAC

Nov. 2, 2006
HVAC is the biggest impact on the way buildings are designed, built, and occupied

HVAC systems have changed the way buildings are designed, built, and occupied. “It started in phases with the invention of heating the building beyond a fire in a fireplace or a stove that burned wood or coal,” says Brad Bolino, division president at John J. Kirlin Inc.’s mechanical services division, Rockville, MD. “It allowed us to build bigger buildings without hearths and fireplaces.” But, Bolino notes, the development of air-conditioning brought about the biggest changes. “It allowed people to build bigger, taller buildings, particularly in the south,” he says. “We could now ventilate them and fully condition the air.”

Electronic Evolution
The mechanical aspects of air-conditioning development moved at a lightning-fast pace throughout the first half of the 20th century; electronics have taken center stage since then. “Computers have given manufacturers a way to design equipment a little more intelligently and to allow us to do weather modeling of buildings to accurately determine heating and cooling loads,” says Bolino.

Electronics in equipment have made HVAC systems smarter, smaller, and more efficient. They have reshaped how the systems are installed, how they are maintained, and how they operate. Consider the widespread use of electric motors and drives, microprocessors, and increased automation: “It’s not just the electronics we install in the buildings, but all electronics,” Bolino points out. “It has affected how we design systems and how we manufacture them; how we design, build, and operate buildings; and how we monitor their performance.”

Energy Guides the Future
In terms of where HVAC systems are today and where they are going, one word best sums it up: sustainability. “Never has it been more exciting than it is right now,” says Kent W. Peterson, president-elect at Atlanta-based ASHRAE. “Sustainability rules the impact of buildings on the environment.”

Peterson, a principal at P2S Engineering Inc. in Long Beach, CA, notes that buildings in North America use about 40 percent of the energy consumed on this continent. Of that total, 40 percent of that consumption is from HVAC. Things such as LEED and the green-building movement are driving the way systems are specified.

“We will see larger improvements in energy efficiency over the next 15 years than we have ever seen in the history of air-conditioning - not just in peak-load improvements, but in energy efficiency throughout the year,” Peterson says.

The changes will be holistic - not only technological changes to HVAC systems themselves, but also to how buildings are designed and built. How a building is sited and its windows, insulation, and lighting will also come into play. “The value of energy is going up,” Bolino says. “It’s going to require more-efficient systems and different power-generation and -distribution methods. The economics of all that is changing.”

Peterson predicts that, when comparing building-efficiency levels to 2000 numbers as a benchmark, there will be a 70-percent increase in efficiency in relation to code requirements by 2015.

HVAC Milestones

  • 1861 - William Siemens introduces the first electric furnace.
  • 1885 - Fayette Brown patents the blast furnace charger.
  • 1901 - Alfred Wolff designs a 300-ton cogeneration HVAC system for New York Stock Exchange cooling and humidity control.
  • 1902 - Willis Carrier designs a spray-type temperature- and humidity- control system for the Sackett-Wilhelms printing plant in Brooklyn, NY.
  • 1906 - North Carolina textile engineer Stuart Cramer coins the term “air-conditioning.”
  • 1922 - Carrier Corp. invents the first centrifugal chiller.
  • 1938 - A study of Detroit Edison workers shows that productivity increases 51 percent after comfort cooling is installed.
  • 1944 - Four U.S. patents are issued for Carrier Conduit Weathermaster systems, which made efficient air-conditioning of skyscrapers possible.
  • 1989 - Updated ASHRAE Standard 90.1 sets new minimum requirements for energy-efficient design of buildings
  • 1990 - Clean Air Act is imposed.
  • 1995 - Deadline imposed by Clean Air Act to cease manufacture of CFC-based chillers.
  • 1998 - Carrier Corp. introduces Puron™ refrigerant

SOURCES: ASHRAE Centennial: 100 Years of Progress timeline, Carrier Corp.’s Innovation Timeline, “Carrier Historical Firsts,” “The History of Ventilation and Temperature Control,” ASHRAE Journal, September 1999.

Robin Suttell, based in Cleveland, is contributing editor at Buildings magazine.

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