Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) is the use of various technologies to heat, cool, purify, replace, circulate, and control the humidity of the air in an enclosed space. Its goal is to provide thermal comfort and acceptable indoor air quality. HVAC system design is a subdiscipline of mechanical engineering, based on the principles of thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, and heat transfer. “Refrigeration” is sometimes added to the field’s abbreviation as HVAC&R or HVACR, or “ventilation” is dropped, as in HACR (as in the designation of HACR-rated circuit breakers).
HVAC is an important part of residential structures such as single family homes, apartment buildings, hotels, and senior living facilities; medium to large industrial and office buildings such as skyscrapers and hospitals; vehicles such as cars, trains, airplanes, ships and submarines; and in marine environments, where safe and healthy building conditions are regulated with respect to temperature and humidity, using fresh air from outdoors.
Ventilating or ventilation (the “V” in HVAC) is the process of exchanging or replacing air in any space to provide high indoor air quality which involves temperature control, oxygen replenishment, and removal of moisture, odors, smoke, heat, dust, airborne bacteria, carbon dioxide, and other gases. Ventilation removes unpleasant smells and excessive moisture, introduces outside air, keeps interior building air circulating, and prevents stagnation of the interior air. Methods for ventilating a building are divided into mechanical/forced and natural types.
The three major functions of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning are interrelated, especially with the need to provide thermal comfort and acceptable indoor air quality within reasonable installation, operation, and maintenance costs. HVAC systems can be used in both domestic and commercial environments. HVAC systems can provide ventilation, and maintain pressure relationships between spaces. The means of air delivery and removal from spaces is known as room air distribution.
In modern buildings, the design, installation, and control systems of these functions are integrated into one or more HVAC systems. For very small buildings, contractors normally estimate the capacity and type of system needed and then design the system, selecting the appropriate refrigerant and various components needed. For larger buildings, building service designers, mechanical engineers, or building services engineers analyze, design, and specify the HVAC systems. Specialty mechanical contractors and suppliers then fabricate, install and commission the systems. Building permits and code-compliance inspections of the installations are normally required for all sizes of buildings.
Although HVAC is executed in individual buildings or other enclosed spaces (like NORAD’s underground headquarters), the equipment involved is in some cases an extension of a larger district heating (DH) or district cooling (DC) network, or a combined DHC network. In such cases, the operating and maintenance aspects are simplified and metering becomes necessary to bill for the energy that is consumed, and in some cases energy that is returned to the larger system. For example, at a given time one building may be utilizing chilled water for air conditioning and the warm water it returns may be used in another building for heating, or for the overall heating-portion of the DHC network (likely with energy added to boost the temperature).
Basing HVAC on a larger network helps provide an economy of scale that is often not possible for individual buildings, for utilizing renewable energy sources such as solar heat, winter’s cold, the cooling potential in some places of lakes or seawater for free cooling, and the enabling function of seasonal thermal energy storage. By utilizing natural sources that can be used for HVAC systems it can make a huge difference for the environment and help expand the knowledge of using different methods.
HVAC is based on inventions and discoveries made by Nikolay Lvov, Michael Faraday, Rolla C. Carpenter, Willis Carrier, Edwin Ruud, Reuben Trane, James Joule, William Rankine, Sadi Carnot, and many others.
Multiple inventions within this time frame preceded the beginnings of the first comfort air conditioning system, which was designed in 1902 by Alfred Wolff (Cooper, 2003) for the New York Stock Exchange, while Willis Carrier equipped the Sacketts-Wilhems Printing Company with the process AC unit the same year. Coyne College was the first school to offer HVAC training in 1899.
The invention of the components of HVAC systems went hand-in-hand with the industrial revolution, and new methods of modernization, higher efficiency, and system control are constantly being introduced by companies and inventors worldwide.