We’re used to thinking about HVAC—heating, ventilation and air conditioning—as a relatively recent invention. After all, how could there be air conditioning before we learned how to harness the power of electricity? However, a look back at history shows us that some form of HVAC has been utilized since humans have been around.
Look at the cavemen. Did you ever wonder why they lived in caves? It’s not merely because it took them a while to invent tools. Caves were a good place to live because their temperature is relatively steady—cool in summer and warm or warmish, in winter.
The problem with caves, though, is that they’re not very well ventilated. You can’t keep a nice toasty fire going in a cave. Which is why many cultures built their homes below ground. The Vikings and some Native American cultures figured out that when your house is partly underground, you have the advantage of the natural coolness of the earth. And you can have a hole or two in the roof for ventilation.
But when it comes to ancient cultures, nobody took care of their creature comforts better than the Romans. It was very common for their buildings to have a heating system called a “hypocaust.” An adjacent furnace would force hot air through spaces in the floors and walls, keeping homes and bathhouses nice and cozy.
They even had a primitive form of air conditioning. Roman viaducts were engineering marvels that used gravity to get water to their towns and cities. Viaducts also brought water into pipes behind the walls that cooled Roman houses.
With the fall of Rome, much of that engineering know-how disappeared for a time. The next significant invention would be the chimney. Before chimneys ventilation was still provided by roof holes, which meant that in colder weather, interiors were smoky. But then some clever person figured out that the smoke could essentially pipe itself out of the house. It seems that the chimney, believe it or not, was not common in homes until around the 12th century.
The Renaissance was a time of experimentation in art, but for Leonardo Da Vinci it was also a time for experimentation in engineering. In 1500, this multitalented genius devised what was perhaps the first mechanical cooling system, a water wheel that sent cool air into a patron’s boudoir. Around the same time, European engineers developed ventilating fans and airshafts to make mining less dangerous.
The Industrial Revolution brought with it significant advances in heating and ventilation (if not yet air conditioning). For example, in the mid-19th century, a British engineer named David Boswell Reid devised a brilliant heating and cooling system for the Houses of Parliament in London. Around this time the steam engine had been developed to the point where it could be used to supply air and for exhaust systems.
In the 20th century HVAC systems start to look more familiar. So much of the technology that we take for granted was invented during this fertile time—giant furnaces and air conditioning systems, fan systems, the air conditioning and refrigeration that literally helped change the world.
With this technological explosion came the realization that carbon emissions are contributing to global warming. More recently, engineers have been developing ways to keep our homes comfortable without the environmental impact. Alternative technologies, like solar and wind power, will likely become more and more common as their costs go down.
But many architects and engineers are looking backwards as well. It’s not uncommon these days for new homes to be built partially underground, which can bring about a considerable reduction in energy consumption. The cavemen may not have been much for hygiene, but when it came to HVAC systems, they were onto something!
For information on how to start your HVAC career, contact Florida Technical College Today!