HVAC: A Brief History of Heat, Cooling, and Air Conditioning

One of the nicest things about our modern society is the comfort our technology provides us. We surround ourselves with the latest advances modern science has to offer. Our televisions have a higher definition, our phones connect us to more people, and our computers are at a level science fiction writers only dreamed about.

But arguably the best thing about our modern society is the thing that we take most for granted: air conditioning. For centuries, mankind has tried to make their dwellings safe, pleasant places to live. From the most primitive cave fires to using renewable energy to heat our homes, HVAC systems—or heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems—have come a long way.

To fully appreciate our modern HVAC systems, we must first understand the purpose of HVAC systems, their history, and recent technological advances.

What is HVAC?

The two primary reasons to use an HVAC system are to keep people safe and comfortable.

Stay Safe

Your heating and cooling system takes advantage of a filtration system that helps it run smoothly and eliminates airborne contaminates. The level of filtration will depend on the quality of filter used and the efficiency of the system installed. Most filters will at least limit the amount of dust circulating through the air, while the more advanced filters will reduce and remove:

  • Odors
  • Bacteria
  • Allergens
  • Contaminates

Stay Comfortable

A functional HVAC system will keep your living space between 73 and 79 degrees Fahrenheit during hot summer months, and between 68 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit during cold winter months. Those in the HVAC trade refer to these temperatures as optimal comfort zones.

Heating and cooling systems also limit humidity. Too little or too much humidity in any given area can create discomfort. HVAC systems keep humidity between 25 and 45 percent to create an optimal living environment.

One of the last ways HVAC systems create comfort is by circulating the air in a given space. When the air stops moving, it can become stale and unpleasant. These systems maintain constant air movement, which keeps air fresh.  

A Brief History of HVAC

Now that you understand the purpose of HVAC systems, you must understand the history of the system. Even early civilizations created ways for their citizens to enjoy conditioned air.

Ancient Rome

Rome was one of the first cities to influence the air within buildings. Rome’s hypocaust system was primarily used to heat the public bathhouses and saunas. A hypocaust would push heated air through a system of air ducts and under raised floors to heat a room.

Ancient China

The Han Dynasty introduce the mechanized rotary fan. A single person could manually cool an entire room using large wheels which engaged a series of interconnected fans.

Early America

Wood burning stoves helped warm early American homes beginning in the mid-1600s. In 1744, Benjamin Franklin created his own version of the cast iron stove. This new stove was more efficient than its predecessor and spread across America as settlers moved west.

Advances in HVAC technology continued to improve the way we use conditioned air, and as the years passed, these developments have increased exponentially.

Advances in Green Energy

Since the first fire heated the first cave, mankind has come up with more energy efficient ways to heat and cool homes. While there are a number of green energy sources used to condition air, the three most common HVAC systems that harness renewable energy include geothermal, solar, and wind.


Just below the surface of the Earth, water remains a constant temperature year-round. Through a series of pumps and tubes, a geothermal HVAC system can move coolant from wells buried underground to heat or cool the inside of a home. On cold days, the coolant in the underground wells absorbs the Earth’s heat and transmits it into the home. On warm days, the coolant absorbs warmth from the home and cools it via the underground wells.


Solar HVAC systems warm homes with natural heat provided by the sun. Passive solar heating systems use a forced-air system to push thermal heat through the home. The heat is stored and released in the home’s floors, walls, and windows.

Active solar heating systems use solar cells to convert the sun’s energy into electricity. The electricity is then used to power HVAC systems.


Wind heating systems harness wind power to run HVAC systems. The wind creates a magnetic force that in turn creates heat. As the magnets move, water pumps into a heated pipe. The heated water then moves throughout the home to create a comfortable environment.


Advances in climate control and conditioned air technologies make the HVAC industry one that is constantly in demand. If you have an interest in learning more about the HVAC industry, or you would like to become an HVAC technician, contact an HVAC technical institute in your area.