Air Conditioning Overview

If you live in the south, air conditioning is probably your favorite modern invention, and rightfully so! Air conditioning has been touted as one of the most important modern developments in America. After World War II, air conditioning systems began to become more affordable and found their way into the homes of average Americans. The 1950’s saw a surge in the development of the Sunbelt Cities – places such as Phoenix, Miami, Houston, and Santa Fe. It is very likely that these cities would not have seen such a rate of growth without the invention of modern air conditioning systems.

Early manufacturers were successful selling units to their corporate clients when they credited air conditioning as improving work conditions and quality of work. There have been entire books written about the effects of air conditioning on the economy. In Losing our Cool , Stan Cox wrote about how the invention of air conditioning forever changed the American economy.

History of Air Conditioning

In Ancient Rome, the wealthy class fought the battle against rising temperatures in their homes through the use of their ingenious aqueduct system, which brought cool water through their homes. Some Emperors ordered snow to be brought down from the mountains and situated on their garden grounds in an attempt to circulate cooler air. Other than that, the Chinese invented the first hand-powered room-sized fan, and in the Middle East, citizens attempted to cope with the heat via architecture. They simply made sure to cut windows in their homes that did not face the sun, and built wind towers.

In the mid-1800’s, ice-cooled systems began to materialize. One enterprising ice cream vendor was credited to have figured out a way to cool a hotel dining room on Staten Island in 1880 by figuring out a piping system that blew air through pipes that were contained within a concoction of salt and ice. At this point, comfort cooling was too expensive for most people. Ice-cooling was an amazing development at the time, but the major problems that came with it were the obvious fact that you could not control how much the temperature dropped, and you could never seem to get a grasp on the excessive humidity and moisture problems that resulted from the ice block system.

By 1902, Willis Carrier, a New York engineer invented the air-conditioner as we know it today. He was inspired to create a system that controlled the heat in the printing plant he was employed in. Here in Savannah, our very own Lucas Theatre lays claim to being the first building in town that offered air-conditioning in 1923. It was seen as a novelty, and the theatre referred to the first row of the balcony as “lawyer’s row,” an area where the businessmen would come in and sleep after lunch! Ever hear the term “summer blockbuster?” Many people trace the origins of this term to Hollywood simply recognizing a trend when Americans flocked to movie theatres in the summer – not to see movies, but to escape the heat! This time period did go on to be known as the Golden Age of Hollywood, after all.

How We Have Moved on From Ice Block Cooling Systems

Mechanical refrigeration is the name of the game for air-conditioning systems as we know them today. Centralized air-conditioning systems utilize a series of ducts to provide controlled cooling throughout entire homes and commercial buildings. Think of the system as similar to your refrigerator, but without the box! The main components of your air-conditioning system are: a compressor, a fan, condenser coil, evaporator coil, and a refrigerant. Many of our customers have the belief that air conditioners work by pumping cool air into their homes. Actually, the systems work by removing the warm air inside the home and cycling it back through as cooler air. The unit will continue cycling through this process until the temperature finally matches the number you programmed into your thermostat.

Hydrochloroflurocarbons (“HCFSs”) are the refrigerants used, and the most common two found in residential units are R-410A and R-22. These refrigerants share the characteristic of their ability to transfer back and forth very quickly from liquid to gas, which is what provides the cooling effect.

Here is how the main components work together to keep your home nice and cool:

The compressor compresses the cool refrigerant, which causes it to become hot, high-pressure gas. The hot gas runs through a set of coils so it can dissipate its heat, and is condensed into a liquid. Next, the liquid travels through an expansion valve, and in doing so, evaporates to become cold, low-pressure gas. The cold gas runs through a set of coils that allow the gas to absorb heat and cool down the air inside the home. Fans work to keep the air blowing over the evaporator coils.

More Than Just Keeping You Cool

Besides working to keep your home comfortable and cool, your air conditioning system is also working to dehumidify your space. This may be evident to you if you have ever looked at your outside unit on a particularly humid day and noticed the visible pools of water around the unit. Most systems, however, are not designed to obtain the levels of desired dehumidifying that we see in south Georgia. Humidity can be a real problem for homes near water. If not monitored, high humidity levels inside a home can lead to mold and pest problems.