A Brief History of Air Conditioning: From Ben Franklin to Variable-Speed Coolness

Did Benjamin Franklin invent the air conditioner? One of America’s founding fathers, and a great inventor, did conduct experiments with evaporation and alcohol to attain freezing temperatures, but the person credited with inventing the first modern air conditioner was a different American.

In 1902, engineer Willis Haviland Carrier began experimenting with the laws of humidity control to solve a problem for a printing plant in Brooklyn, NY.  Mr. Carrier’s system sent air through coils filled with cold water, cooling the air while at the same time removing moisture to control room humidity. 

American engineer Willis Haviland Carrier, inventor of modern air conditioning.

In 1933, the Carrier Air Conditioning Company of America developed an air conditioner using a belt-driven condensing unit and associated blower, mechanical controls, and evaporator coil, and this device became the model in the growing U.S. marketplace for air-cooling systems.

Today’s air conditioners, while operating on the same fundamental science as Carrier’s 1933 system, incorporate advancements in vapor compression, diagnostics and controls, electronic sensors, materials, and energy efficiency. 

In fact, energy efficiency standards set by the U.S. Department of Energy are driving improvements in air-conditioning systems. Minimum efficiency standards for a/c systems have progressively increased, increasing popularity while decreasing cost.

To meet today’s standards, air-conditioning manufacturers have successfully increased the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) to exceed the DOE’s efficiency benchmarks. Some high-end models are rated up to 21 SEER, further aiding the environment while enabling energy cost savings for customers.

Two new types of air conditioning, the Inverter Air Conditioner and the VRV or VRF Air Conditioning systems are showing the way to the future.

Inverter Air Conditioning Could Be Just Your Speed

An Inverter Air Conditioner is an air conditioner with variable cooling speed. A traditional air conditioner either runs at 100% capacity or at 0%. In simple terms, this means that you’re always running your air conditioner at its highest capacity. Imagine if your car ran at two settings—either 150 mph or standing still in park. Not very functional. Variable speed is important for your air conditioning system as well.

Sometimes you don’t need full-blast cooling. An inverter air conditioner provides the services that you need. They can use more power at startup but then ease down to the  desired temperature. The inverter air conditioner’s variable operation also makes it a lot easier on the earth’s ecosystem.
Inverter AC units might be more expensive than the constant speed air conditioners, but this is balanced by lower energy bills. The payback time is approximately two years depending on the usage.

VRV/VRF Technology Spreads the Coolness Around

VRV stands for “Variable Refrigerant Volume,” while VRF stands for “Variable Refrigerant Flow.”  Guess what? They actually mean the same thing! VRV is the term copyrighted by Daikin, one of the true industry leaders in HVAC equipment and technology. VRF refers to the same basic technology used in those systems manufactured by other companies. The terms VRF/VRV indicate the ability of the system to vary and control the refrigerant flow through multiple evaporator coils to provide individual temperature control in various comfort zones.

These multi-split systems use multiple indoor units installed throughout a house or building and modulate their refrigerant flow to meet the unique needs of each specific area or zone.  A system with heat recovery can simultaneously heat and cool different parts of a building. 

Similar to ductless multi-split systems, which can also connect 1 outdoor section to several evaporators, VRF/VRV systems are different in one important respect. Unlike multi-split systems, which turn on and off depending on whether the room to be cooled is too warm or not warm enough, VRF/VRV systems constantly modulate the amount of refrigerant being sent to each evaporator.

The benefits of VRV/VRF systems have been shown to outweigh the initial costs. In fact, the results were proven at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Like inverter air conditioning the variable speed of the systems keeps energy usage right one target and on budget. Built-in controls include self-diagnostics and monitoring to keep the efficiency of the unit at optimal performance. 

VRF systems use R-410A refrigerant as the heat-transfer fluid and the working fluid, achieving a very high energy efficiency ratio (EER) of 15 to 20 and integrated energy efficiency ratio (IEER) of 17 to 25.

A Quality Heating air conditioning consultant is available to meet with you in your home and explore the different options and cost-savings to keep you cool this Spring and Summer. We can even help you save more “Benjamins” on your cooling costs, both up front and over time. [QHEAC]

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