HVAC History

The history of HVAC can be traced back to several centuries in the past. While it should not be expected that these ancient civilizations employed state of art HVAC systems, there have always been methods that closely resembles their modern advanced counterpart. The quest for comfort is probably one of the most characteristic qualities of the human race. Since ages, humans have been trying to modify their immediate environment to adjust and accommodate themselves in any environment. And thus, our history is replete with instances of civilizations working towards the development of thermal comfort. Listed below is the timeline of HVAC development right from the ancient times up to the modern age:

1000-1400 CE

Dominated mostly by the Greek, Roman, Chinese, Egyptian and Indian (referring to Aryans) civilizations, this period witnessed the use of several innovative methods of regulating thermal conditions, ranging from the man-powered fans of the Egyptians to the rope tied fans of Indians. However, the most interesting of all these technologies was perhaps the Hypocaust. It was a central heating system developed by the Romans, comprising a hollow space under the floor of the building into which hot air was directed. Using this furnace in the basement and the flues for distribution, the heat would then be radiated to the rooms in order to provide comfort. Though not technologically advanced, the Hypocaust was definitely a stepping stone towards the development of the modern advanced system that we use today. Another interesting innovation of this period was Leonardo da Vinci’s water-driven fan which was used for ventilation purposes.

1500-1600 CE

As the dates suggest, technology made significant progress during this era, especially in the fields of ventilation and thermal heat management. In France, for instance, ventilating machines were employed in the mines, details of which can be found in French manuscripts such as De Re Metallica by Agricola. These machines had a series of fans with blades which used to direct fresh air into the mines. This period also marked the beginnings of houses with chimneys- an idea which traveled across the Atlantic from Europe to America. The most widely used fuels for the purpose of heating used during this time was wood and coal. A great change came over the continent when Galileo invented the thermometer circa 1603. Also known as the thermoscope, it changed the ways in which temperature could be measured, and therefore, controlled. It was one of the most important inventions of the century and it highly influenced the study of thermal conditions. Based on his ideas, and developing from them, Ferdinand II, the Grand Duke of Tuscany invented the sealed glass thermometer which could work independently of air pressure.

1700-1800 CE 

This era was one of the most important periods in the development of technologies that would later contribute to or help in the development of the HVAC system. One of the major inventions made during this time include the mercury thermometer invented by Fahrenheit. The first ventilator using the centrifugal fan was also developed around this period. Further, Benjamin Franklin invented the first stove and it was the pioneer of all steam heating technologies in the world, and the invention of the steam engine by James Watt decidedly marked the progress of technology thereon.

Several important concepts such as that of Latent Heat was also developed during this period by physicists such as Joseph Black, and the studies on thermodynamics by Carnot and Joule changed the way in which the concept of Heat was perceived by the people. The heat was now recognized as an Energy and the laws of thermodynamics came into existence.

1900s

It was the twentieth century that actually witnessed the evolution of what we call the HVAC system today. Furnace system with centrifugal fans, high-pressure steam heating systems, massive fan systems and high-speed centrifugal fans and axial flow fans with small electric motors were widely used. A company called the Buffalo Forge made the first fan coil dehumidifying system. This company also made the first spray type air conditioning device, while another firm called the Sturtevant devised the first railway and air conditioning system.

It was around this time that the first HVAC system was used. Hydronic circulatory pumps and radiators started to be used, and the first refrigeration technique with compressors was made. Ever since several advancements have been made and are continually being made in this field to yield better and more productive results.

Thus, it may be concluded that components of the HVAC are technologies that have existed for a long time in the history. It is through the development of these primitive technologies that the modern system that we have today was developed.