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In Perfect Condition: Fun Facts About Air Conditioning

cartoon man under AC

What’s keeping you cool this summer? Frequent dips in the pool? Frozen treats like ice cream and sno-cones? Your favorite icy beverage, perhaps?

These are all great indulgences, but if we had to guess what’s really keeping you cool this summer, we’re gonna have to go with your hard-working central air conditioning system.

Almost 90% of U.S. homes have air conditioners. We use them daily when the temperature starts to climb, and if something goes wrong, we call our air conditioning repair service immediately.

But how much do you really know about this modern convenience?

To celebrate the innovation that makes summer bearable, we’ve compiled some facts you might not know about your good friend, the air conditioner.

In the Beginning

Originally, air conditioning was not designed with people in mind.

It was actually designed for paper.

A publishing company was having issues with printing due to the humidity in the room, which adversely affected the consistent application of ink to paper. Willis Carrier solved the issue by reversing the process of using steam to heat things up. He passed air over cold coils instead of hot, which helped remove moisture from the air, allowing the ink to set properly.

Cooling the air in the room was just a side benefit — controlling the humidity was the real goal.

Luckily, it was quickly noted that a cooler work environment helped improve employee productivity in addition to solving printing problems.

Movie Mania

One of the first public places to put air conditioning into widespread use? Movie theaters!

The perfect combination of crowds of people, heat-generating equipment, and the inability to open windows to circulate air made air conditioning a wise investment for these businesses.

When the summer heated up, people would escape to the theaters as much for the cool air as for the onscreen entertainment. The film industry capitalized on this captive audience, saving their biggest releases for the summer months.

This trend continues today and is the origin of the term “summer blockbuster”.

Air Conditioning Hits Home

Charles Gates, heir to a barbed wire fortune, was the first man to install central air conditioning in his home — a Minneapolis mansion built in 1913. Unfortunately, he died in a hunting accident before construction was completed, so he never got to enjoy the finished product.

America’s most famous home, the White House, got air conditioning during the presidency of Herbert Hoover, who spent $30,000 to install it in the Oval Office (during the Great Depression, no less!).

Air conditioners became less expensive (and thus, widely used by the general public) in 1947. Over one million units were sold in 1953. Today, 95% of new construction homes in the U.S. have air conditioning.

Air conditioning has also affected common architectural details of homes. Before the rise of central AC, features like breezeways, sleeping porches, and high ceilings were often incorporated to help the occupants stay cool. Once air conditioning became commonplace, architects were less inclined to include these elements.

Gimme That Old Time Religion

When air conditioners first came on the market, a significant number of people weren’t interested for a reason we might find surprising today: they believed air conditioning to be immoral.

In their view, God had made the heat for a reason, and it should not be within our power to try to change or control it. To have this kind of power, and especially for it to be put in the hands of a machine, was considered sinful and wrong.

Interestingly, there does not seem to have been a similar strong reaction to things like fireplaces and central heat.

Perhaps the initial expense associated with air conditioning felt too indulgent for those with a strong Puritanical streak? Or perhaps they considered the summer heat a good reminder of (and deterrent to) the eternal fires of hell that potentially awaited them?

When your air conditioner needs repair in the summer months, it certainly doesn’t feel like Heaven.

To Your Health!

Air conditioning not only keeps us comfortable — it also impacts our health in a variety of important ways.

First, in addition to cooling and removing moisture from the air, air conditioners filter out a number of allergens, helping us to breathe easier.

Air conditioning has also impacted the medical industry. A wide variety of medicines would not have been created or discovered without it — many drugs require a cool environment for study and testing, and to function properly when administered.

Take a look at your own medicine cabinet and note the number of drugs that should be stored at “room temperature”. Room temperature is generally agreed to be between 68 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit, although in actuality temperatures up to 86 degrees should still be safe. Medications kept at over 86 degrees for long periods of time can become significantly less potent.

Finally, air conditioning really does save lives.

According to researchers, as AC has become more prevalent over the past 50 years, the chance of dying from heat-related causes has dropped by 80%, meaning it’s more important than other to keep your air conditioning system in good repair.

By the Numbers

A few facts and figures to further educate you:

  • Originally, an air conditioner’s power was measured in “ice power” — that is, how many blocks of ice would have to be added to the room to achieve the same cooling effect. The measurement’s name was later changed to the less creative “AC units”.
  • The U.S. uses approximately the same amount of energy each year to power our air conditioners as Africa uses to power their entire continent.
  • The price of an air conditioner when they first became popular in the 1950s was approximately $350. Adjusted for inflation, that would be around $3500 today. This is close to the actual low end cost for an air conditioner today; on average, they range anywhere from $3500 to over $7000.

Keepin’ It Cool

Now that you’ve got enough AC facts to last you through your next trivia night, let’s get down to some practical advice.

Your air conditioner is an important piece of equipment designed to improve your quality of life during a long, hot summer — take good care of it.

Provide it with regular maintenance checks to keep it running smoothly. If something is wrong, even if it seems minor, call your air conditioning repair service right away. Ignoring a problem often results in more expensive repairs down the line.

Indulge yourself with plenty of swimming and sno-cones, but don’t even think of spending the summer without your favorite cooling device! Keep your AC well-maintained and ready to work.

Contact our skilled Austin HVAC technicians to schedule a service today! 

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