Commercial Air Conditioning – Glimpsing the Rise of the Machines

As with most modern conveniences, the luxury of in-home air conditioning arises from the demands of past commercial requirements. Beginning in the late 19th century, American engineers launched the first wave of commercial air conditioning equipment. Designed to control the quality of indoor air in humidity-sensitive industrial environments, early U.S. air handling devices came with incredible price tags both for installation and operation.

However, the potential of regulated heating and cooling quickly burst free from the confines of industrial-only application. By the 1920s, the usefulness of air conditioning technology had secured a place in the commercial comfort market.

Commercial Indoor Air Management Quickly Shifts Into the Comfort Zone of Indoor Air Quality

Shortly after the initial development for industrial purposes, the core concepts of commercial indoor air regulation captured the attention of retail industries, the indoor movie theaters and commercial landlords. Retail department stores also leaped in to reap the benefits of comfortable indoor living. Any business that could promote greater consumer spending by providing better consumer comforts acknowledged the growing value of air-conditioned structures.

But the cost was high. For forty-plus years, the benefits versus the installation and operational costs limited the mass use of residential HVAC applications. Commercial landlords running large apartment complexes could justify the expenses and an increase in rental fees. They dominated the A/C market – even over industrial users. Fifty years of commercial and retail control over indoor air quality management usage shaped the technical development, marketing practices and pricing of the heating and cooling industry.

Regional demand and the size of the available marketplaces established the rate of diffusion. Economic conditions clearly defined the primary force behind the development and deployment of air conditioning technology. A focus on short-term profits often overshadowed the profit potential associated with modern residential HVAC sales, installation and services.

In a 2010 white paper released by Jeff E. Biddle from Michigan State University, the author presents three economic factors that played a major role in the diffusion of commercial air conditioning equipment. The issues, according to Biddle are as follows:

  • Factors directly pertaining to a firm’s concept of how air conditioning could influence consumers to place a preference on said vendor’s products or services
  • Profit margins when aligned with market and industry characteristics that promote an increase in product or services demand
  • And the costs for HVAC installation and operation.

In the pre-1960s, the acquisition of retail, industrial or commercial air conditioning equipment involved a serious balance between expense and the practical relationship between the goods or services being delivered. In essence, business installation of heating and cooling equipment set a heavy focus on how long a consumer could actually enjoy the benefits of managed indoor air quality. Thus movie theaters, restaurants and commercial housing developments gained the greatest return on investment.

Climate – A Driving Force Behind the Growth of Residential Heating and Cooling

As written in a 2009 report prepared by The Edison Foundation, the U.S. consumption of electric energy has quadrupled since the first study performed in 1940. Furthermore, the study defines electric energy as a “key driver of economic growth and productivity.”

By taking advantage of the data collected via the 1940 Edison Electric Institute survey, Biddle crafts a convincing argument concerning the relationship between demographic characteristics, economic conditions and regional climate. The correlation between the growth and application of modern day air conditioning and global warming cannot be ignored. Furthermore, the expansion of HVAC installation directly relates to the previous and current cost of electrical energy.

It began as an industrial project, but commercial air conditioning has given rise to a new type of machine. It’s not a terminator of people, but rather a terminator of rising energy costs. When installed correctly, modern HVAC equipment can reduce your electric bill, provide better heating and cooling services at lower costs, and reduce the environmental damage that continues to create extraordinary global climate changes.