A large portion of success in the history of air conditioning is thanks to Herbert Hoover, the 31st US president, who served from March 1929 to March 1933. In his first few months, he suffered under a blisteringly hot summer. He took the decision in 1929 to spend $30,000 on a new air conditioning system for the Oval Office, even though only months before the Stock Market Crash of 1929 happened, starting the Great Depression. So at least his four years in office were cool.
Still very much a luxury in the 1930s, despite being popular.
The first single-room air conditioner was invented in 1931 by H.H. Schultz and J.Q. Sherman. It sat on a window ledge and vented through the window opening. It was initially eye-wateringly expensive, costing at the time between $10,000 and $50,000. That’s the equivalent of $120,000 and $600,000 (£97,000 – £490,000) today!
In 1939, the American luxury car company Packard invented the first automobile with air-conditioning. To activate the air-conditioning, the driver had to stop the engine, open the hood, and disconnect a compressor belt. It wasn’t the most consumer-friendly design, but it worked.
By the 1950’s these small domestic units were far more affordable and became a common sight across the United States. Once these cheaper units were developed, it only took three years for more than one million units to be sold.
They are now so prevalent that they are one of the biggest users of energy in the entire country. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Americans spend more than $22 billion per year and use more than 183 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity just to cool their homes every year.
This is clearly a lot in any currency, but to put that into some form of context, this energy consumption for air conditioning alone is equal to the amount of energy Africa uses every year to power the entire continent.
Bigger isn’t always better, but newer invariably is..
In the same way that we don’t use a chainsaw to crack a nut, it’s important to specify an air conditioning system that is appropriate for the space it’s trying to cool. If you choose an air conditioning unit that is bigger and more powerful than the space it is operating in, you’ll use more energy than necessary. This principle applies to all types of air conditioners in any type of environment. The system of choice should be in proportion to the size of the room it is being installed in.
Check out our guide on how to choose an air conditioning system for your business.
Efficiency is everything. A newer system replacing one that’s as little as seven years old will be far, far more efficient. In the average home or office, over half of the energy costs are spent on heating and cooling. It doesn’t take a genius of economics to understand that a newer system could pay for itself many times over just in the savings in running costs within its design life.
Designed to Dehumidify.
As Willis Carrier found in his early experiments, the benefit of air conditioning isn’t just in the cooler and more controlled air, but also the dehumidifying effect that came with it.
Cool air can’t carry as much moisture as warm air, so the act of lowering the temperature of a room also draws the moisture out of it. While air conditioning isn’t as effective as a purpose designed dehumidifier, it will help reduce moisture and therefore the control of mould and mildew growth. This promoted various uses of and yet another stepping stone in the history of air conditioning.
Saving lives with air conditioning.
As far-fetched as it sounds, this cooling and dehumidifying effect also makes it perfect for advanced lab research, where controlled conditions are essential. This has allowed more advanced experimentation and ultimately life-saving drug production that would not have been possible without it.
But it’s helping us all in the heat too. American researchers found that the chance of dying on extremely hot summer days has fallen more than 80 percent over the last 50 years. The research team put this huge advance down to the rise in the prevalence of air conditioning.
At the same time, AC has made us all less tolerant of heat too. Previous studies have shown that the prevalence of air conditioning has reduced our natural tolerance for heat. Meaning a hot summer’s day seems much more amplified than it did a few generations ago.
Imagine life in Dubai without air conditioning? Even the oldies who could cope so easily in the heatwave in summer 1976, will be seen scurrying for air-conditioned cars and shops to get away from the heat. And can you even imagine living in a 40-degree Summer day heat in Dubai without air conditioning? No, us either.
They do help reduce allergies.
Air conditioning systems and their extraordinary filtration will also remove allergens and other small particles from the air. So if you are particularly prone to allergies then life in an air-conditioned environment will make your life a whole lot easier and keep the summer sneezing at bay.
What this also implies is that air conditioning maintenance is absolutely essential too. Something as simple as a dirty filter will reduce operating efficiency and require more energy to run as well as reduce its ability to filter out allergens. Find out how often should you change your air filters.
The rise of air conditioning allowed some of the US states that would have otherwise been considered too hot, to become far more easily habitable. In the United States, the historical powerhouse was the Northeast in New York and Washington. As Air Conditioning worked its way across the states, so did the economies begin to boom in the hotter, southern states such as Arizona, Nevada, Florida, and Texas.
The history of air conditioning in Dubai and the Gulf States is fascinating. These geographical locations have built their economies on the spending power of oil and the cooling power of air conditioning. Without the benefit of cool hotels and offices, Dubai would have remained a non-starter for anyone but the bravest of travellers.
Influence in architecture.
Before air conditioning, homes and buildings were designed with higher ceilings, external passageways between buildings to allow airflow and even screened external porches to allow sleeping outside in the warmer months. They often used natural landscaping to create shadows and harnessed the benefits of the stack effect throughout their designs, to naturally ventilate them, so that homes and their owners would stay cool.
As air conditioning grew in popularity, architects stopped building for these natural cooling effects and in many ways, architecture became less dramatic. The building norms it set, meant that without natural ventilation, they were entirely dependent on air-conditioning. A modern building without it, quickly becomes stuffy and hot.
As we move towards the future however, with more passive house and office design, natural ventilation is again being designed into structures to support air conditioning systems and minimise energy usage and energy wastage. Of course, ventilation has returned to priority level for buildings due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the crucial effect that indoor air quality has on the wide spread of this virus in indoor environments.
New buildings are being created that can breathe more naturally, use louvres and overhangs to keep the sun and its heat at bay in the summer and harness the warmth of the lower sun in the winter. They work in tandem with air conditioning and natural ventilation systems, which when designed properly, deliver exceptional living and working spaces.