Can you imagine life in Texas without air conditioning? With our high temperatures and increasing humidity levels, keeping your cool is one of the most important considerations for living and working here. Yet it often goes unnoticed until there is a problem or when it is time to pay your electric bill.
Air conditioning has been around the Tarrant County area since the early 1900s. Some might remember theatres with signs advertising "air conditioned" as a way to entice patrons to comfortably enjoy a movie on a warm day. Historically though, air conditioning was first used in 1902 to increase productivity and quality in several industries.
The first real breakthrough was in the printing industry. The name Carrier may ring a bell when talking about air conditioning. Willis Carrier invented one of the first successful cooling systems for Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing Co. in Brooklyn, N.Y. His invention kept the printing of multi-color ink in alignment because the paper no longer would shrink or expand with temperature and humidity changes.
Early successes at smaller-scale air conditioning could be found in downtown Fort Worth in 1936. People walking by the open storefront of Webb Brothers Barber Shop would be greeted by the cool breeze flowing out of the shop. Horace Webb created an evaporative cooling system that provided comfort for those needing a haircut and those passing by who might now consider getting a haircut just to enjoy the cooler climate. From that time, Webb Air Conditioning was started and is operated by the third generation of the Webb family.
My story is similar. My grandfather was involved in the war effort working with the War Production Board to streamline manufacturing. He used his knowledge after the war to start building attic fans with the help of my then teenage father in their west Fort Worth garage. They installed them along with floor furnaces in existing homes built in the 1920s. True refrigerated cooling came to the market in the 1950s with larger homes being retrofitted with these new systems.
In the 1960s, homebuilders began to offer central cooling and heating at an affordable price. The idea of increased comfort became standard equipment for homes. When first designed, air conditioning was more of a luxury and we were not as concerned with what it cost to operate as long as it was comfortable indoors.
Today, things are different. Energy costs have increased and more consideration has been given to conserving energy to reduce utility costs and lower emissions from power plants to improve our environment. Additionally, energy providers don’t want to build new power plants or increase their power distribution systems due to costs involved. This has resulted in increased monitoring. The U.S. Department of Energy oversees the regulation of efficiency levels requiring manufacturers to meet those standards in their equipment offerings.
New energy saving advancements are gradually coming into the HVAC industry. As an example, Lennox Industries has designed an A/C system that operates using solar power. This system consists of a typical high efficiency A/C unit along with a solar power system in a packaged arrangement. While separate solar power systems are available, the unique integration Lennox has developed allows for better monitoring of energy usage and the ability to put unused generated power back into the grid to supply other household appliances and lighting. Others have used solar power to operate smaller loads such as window A/C units, but this marks the first central air-conditioning system to be marketed as solar powered. Solar power seems to be the most accepted renewable energy source currently being used with increased development taking place from HVAC engineers, designers and manufacturers.
Other technologies such as wind and gas turbine powered equipment may be on the horizon. In the early 1990s, York designed and tested a natural gas-powered engine driven compressor unit. The York Triathlon system provided quite favorable efficiency levels for the time, but the maintenance requirements and other mechanical issues with the engine resulted in its demise and subsequent removal from the test market. Further refinement may find these units back on the market in the future.
The heating, ventilating, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVACR) industry is a highly technical field that is challenging and rewarding. With this emerging technology comes the need for increased knowledge and skill level from the technicians installing and servicing this new equipment. Like anything, if it is not operating properly, it could harm the equipment, use more energy than it should and may not deliver the comfort expected. As many current HVAC technicians are aging and retiring from the industry, it is predicted that the shortage of qualified technicians will increase.
Education is the key to remaining current with today’s technology and that of the future. The job market is vast for technicians that have those skills and work to stay on top of technology. Younger generation students can find a lifelong career in many different areas of the industry, whether it be residential or commercial as well as design, sales, installation, service or repair. As with any field, knowledge is power and results in higher compensation.
Since its beginning from the late 1960s, the TCC Heating, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Department has had pride in knowing that many of the current and former technicians from across Tarrant and surrounding counties came through our program. Now, with the last fall's opening of the new South Campus Center of Excellence for Energy Technology, we look forward to sharing knowledge and helping train many more new and returning former students in the technologies that exists today and will be developed in the future. We invite members of the community and the industry alike to come by and get a look at this state-of-the-art facility.
The job opportunities are and will continue to be endless in energy technology because one thing we know is that we all want to be comfortable. In Tarrant County and in the state of Texas, it is hard to feel that way without properly operating air conditioning.