Air conditioning

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Air conditioning condenser units outside a building 2008-07-11 Air conditioners at UNC-CH.jpg
Air conditioning condenser units outside a building
Window mounted air conditioner for single room use Mevrouw Klaasesz controleert de airconditioning in het koninklijk vertrek, Bestanddeelnr 252-2507.jpg
Window mounted air conditioner for single room use

Air conditioning (also A/C, air conditioner) is the process of removing heat and controlling the humidity of air in an enclosed space to achieve a more comfortable interior environment by use of powered 'air conditioners' or a variety of other methods including passive cooling and ventilative cooling. Air conditioning is a member of a family of systems and techniques that provide 'heating, ventilation, and air conditioning' (HVAC).


Air conditioners, which typically use vapor-compression refrigeration, range in size from small units used within vehicles or single rooms to massive units that can cool large buildings. [1] [2] Air source heat pumps, which can be used for heating as well as cooling are becoming increasingly common in cooler climates.

According to the IEA, as of 2018, 1.6 billion air conditioning units were installed which accounted for an estimated 20% of energy usage in buildings globally with the number expected to grow to 5.6 billion by 2050. [3] The United Nations called for the technology to be made more sustainable to mitigate climate change using techniques including passive cooling, evaporative cooling, selective shading, windcatchers and better thermal insulation. CFC and HCFC Refrigerants such as R-12 and R-22 respectively, used within air conditioners, have caused damage to the ozone layer and HFC refrigerants such as R-410a and R-404a which were designed to replace CFCs and HCFCs, are instead exacerbating climate change. Both issues happen due to venting of refrigerant to the atmosphere such as during repairs. HFO refrigerants, used in some if not most new equipment, solve both issues with an ozone damage potential (ODP) of zero and a much lower global warming potential (GWP) in the single or double digits vs. the three or four digits of HFCs.


Air-conditioning dates back to prehistory. Ancient Egyptian buildings used a wide variety of passive air-conditioning techniques. [4] These became widespread from the Iberian Peninsula through North Africa, the Middle East, and Northern India. [5] Similar techniques were developed in hot climates elsewhere.[ further explanation needed ]

Passive techniques remained widespread until the 20th century, when they fell out of fashion, replaced by powered A/C. Using information from engineering studies of traditional buildings, passive techniques are being revived and modified for 21st-century architectural designs. [6] [5]

An array of air conditioners outside a commercial office building ACFujitsu2.jpg
An array of air conditioners outside a commercial office building

Air conditioners allow the building indoor environment to remain relatively constant largely independent of changes in external weather conditions and internal heat loads. They also allow deep plan buildings to be created and have allowed people to live comfortably in hotter parts of the world.[ citation needed ]


In 1558, Giambattista della Porta described a method of chilling ice to temperatures far below its freezing point by mixing it with potassium nitrate (then called "nitre") in his popular science book Natural Magic . [7] [8] [9] In 1620, Cornelis Drebbel demonstrated "Turning Summer into Winter" for James I of England, chilling part of the Great Hall of Westminster Abbey with an apparatus of troughs and vats. [10] Drebbel's contemporary Francis Bacon, like della Porta a believer in science communication, may not have been present at the demonstration, but in a book published later the same year, he described it as "experiment of artificial freezing" and said that "Nitre (or rather its spirit) is very cold, and hence nitre or salt when added to snow or ice intensifies the cold of the latter, the nitre by adding to its own cold, but the salt by supplying activity to the cold of the snow." [7]

In 1758, Benjamin Franklin and John Hadley, a chemistry professor at University of Cambridge, conducted an experiment to explore the principle of evaporation as a means to rapidly cool an object. Franklin and Hadley confirmed that the evaporation of highly volatile liquids (such as alcohol and ether) could be used to drive down the temperature of an object past the freezing point of water. They conducted their experiment with the bulb of a mercury-in-glass thermometer as their object and with a bellows used to speed up the evaporation. They lowered the temperature of the thermometer bulb down to −14 °C (7 °F) while the ambient temperature was 18 °C (64 °F). Franklin noted that soon after they passed the freezing point of water 0 °C (32 °F), a thin film of ice formed on the surface of the thermometer's bulb and that the ice mass was about 6 mm (14 in) thick when they stopped the experiment upon reaching −14 °C (7 °F). Franklin concluded: "From this experiment one may see the possibility of freezing a man to death on a warm summer's day." [11]

Willis Carrier, who is credited with coining the term 'air conditioning' Willis Carrier 1915.jpg
Willis Carrier, who is credited with coining the term 'air conditioning'

The 19th century included a number of developments in compression technology. In 1820, English scientist and inventor Michael Faraday discovered that compressing and liquefying ammonia could chill air when the liquefied ammonia was allowed to evaporate. [12] In 1842, Florida physician John Gorrie used compressor technology to create ice, which he used to cool air for his patients in his hospital in Apalachicola, Florida. He hoped to eventually use his ice-making machine to regulate the temperature of buildings [12] [13] and envisioned centralized air conditioning that could cool entire cities. Gorrie was granted a patent in 1851, but following the death of his main backer he was not able to realise his invention. [14] In 1851, James Harrison created the first mechanical ice-making machine in Geelong, Australia, and was granted a patent for an ether vapor-compression refrigeration system in 1855 that produced three tons of ice per day. [15] In 1860, Harrison established a second ice company and later entered the debate over how to compete against the American advantage of ice-refrigerated beef sales to the United Kingdom. [15]

Electricity made development of effective units possible. In 1901, American inventor Willis H. Carrier built what is considered the first modern electrical air conditioning unit. [16] [17] [18] [19] In 1902, he installed his first air-conditioning system, in the Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing & Publishing Company in Brooklyn, New York; [20] his invention controlled both the temperature and also the humidity which helped maintain consistent paper dimensions and ink alignment at the printing plant. Later, together with six other employees, Carrier formed The Carrier Air Conditioning Company of America, a business that in 2020 employed 53,000 employees and was valued at $18.6 billion. [21] [22]

In 1906, Stuart W. Cramer of Charlotte, North Carolina was exploring ways to add moisture to the air in his textile mill. Cramer coined the term "air conditioning," using it in a patent claim he filed that year as analogous to "water conditioning", then a well-known process for making textiles easier to process. He combined moisture with ventilation to "condition" and change the air in the factories, controlling the humidity so necessary in textile plants. Willis Carrier adopted the term and incorporated it into the name of his company. [23]

Domestic air conditioning soon took off. In 1914, the first domestic air conditioning was installed in Minneapolis in the home of Charles Gilbert Gates. [12] Built in 1933, Meadowmont House is believed to be the first private home in the United States equipped with central air conditioning.[ citation needed ]

Additionally, car manufacturers began exploring ways to use air conditioning in vehicles, and 1933 was also the year in the first automobile air conditioning systems were offered for sale. [24] In 1935, Chrysler Motors introduced the first practical semi-portable air conditioning unit. [25] In 1939, Packard became the first automobile manufacturer to offer an air conditioning unit in its cars. [26]

Innovations in the latter half of the 20th century allowed for much more ubiquitous air conditioner use. In 1945, Robert Sherman of Lynn, Massachusetts invented a portable, in-window air conditioner that cooled, heated, humidified, dehumidified, and filtered the air. [27] By the late 1960s, most newly built residential homes in the United States had central air conditioning. Box air conditioning units during this time also became more inexpensive, which resulted in greater population growth in the states of Florida and Arizona.[ citation needed ]

As international development has increased wealth across countries, global use of air conditioners has increased. By 2018, an estimated 1.6 billion air conditioning units were installed worldwide, [28] with the International Energy Agency expecting this number to grow to 5.6 billion units by 2050. [3] Between 1995 and 2004, the proportion of urban households in China with air conditioners increased from 8% to 70%. [29] As of 2015, nearly 100 million homes, or about 87% of US households, had air conditioning systems. [30] In 2019, it was estimated that 90% of new single-family homes constructed in the USA included air conditioning (ranging from 99% in the South to 62% in the West). [31] [32]

Types of air conditioner

Mini-split and multi-split systems

Evaporator, indoor unit, or terminal, side of a ductless split-type air conditioner GALANZ II.jpg
Evaporator, indoor unit, or terminal, side of a ductless split-type air conditioner

Ductless systems (or mini-split) systems typically supply conditioned and heated air to a single or a few rooms of a building, without ducts and in a decentralized manner. [33] Multi-zone or multi-split systems are a common application of ductless systems and allow up to eight rooms (zones or locations) to be conditioned independently from each other, each with its own indoor unit and simultaneously from a single outdoor unit. The main problem with multi-split systems is the length of the refrigerant lines for connecting the external unit to the internal ones.[ citation needed ]

The first mini-split systems were sold in 1954–1968 by Mitsubishi Electric and Toshiba in Japan, where its development was motivated by the small size of homes. [34] [35] [36] Multi-zone ductless systems were invented by Daikin in 1973, and variable refrigerant flow systems (which can be thought of as larger multi-split systems) were also invented by Daikin in 1982. Both were first sold in Japan. [37] Variable refrigerant flow systems when compared with central plant cooling from an air handler, eliminate the need for large cool air ducts, air handlers, and chillers; instead cool refrigerant is transported through much smaller pipes to the indoor units in the spaces to be conditioned, thus allowing for less space above dropped ceilings and a lower structural impact, while also allowing for more individual and independent temperature control of spaces, and the outdoor and indoor units can be spread across the building. [38] Variable refrigerant flow indoor units can also be turned off individually in unused spaces.[ citation needed ]

Ducted central systems

Split-system central air conditioners consist of two heat exchangers, an outside unit (the condenser) from which heat is rejected to the environment and an internal heat exchanger (the fan coil unit or evaporator) with the piped refrigerant being circulated between the two. The FCU is then connected to the spaces to be cooled by ventilation ducts. [39]

Central plant cooling

Cooling towers used in a central chilled water plant using liquid-cooled chillers Industrial air conditioning unit (DFdB).JPG
Cooling towers used in a central chilled water plant using liquid-cooled chillers

Large central cooling plants may use intermediate coolant such as chilled water pumped into air handlers or fan coil units near or in the spaces to be cooled which then duct or deliver cold air into the spaces to be conditioned, rather than ducting cold air directly to these spaces from the plant, which is not done due to the low density and heat capacity of air which would require impractically large ducts. The chilled water is cooled by chillers in the plant, which use a refrigeration cycle to cool water, often transferring its heat to the atmosphere even in liquid-cooled chillers through the use of cooling towers. Chillers may be air or liquid-cooled.[ citation needed ]

Portable units

A portable system has an indoor unit on wheels connected to an outdoor unit via flexible pipes, similar to a permanently fixed installed unit (such as a central air conditioner).[ citation needed ]

Hose systems, which can be monoblock or air-to-air, are vented to the outside via air ducts. The monoblock type collects the water in a bucket or tray and stops when full. The air-to-air type re-evaporates the water and discharges it through the ducted hose and can run continuously. Such portable units draw indoor air and expel it outdoors through a single duct.[ citation needed ]

Many portable air conditioners come with heat as well as dehumidification function. [40]

Window unit and packaged terminal

The packaged terminal air conditioner (PTAC), through-the-wall, and window air conditioners are similar. PTAC systems may be adapted to provide heating in cold weather, either directly by using an electric strip, gas, or other heaters, or by reversing the refrigerant flow to heat the interior and draw heat from the exterior air, converting the air conditioner into a heat pump. They may be installed in a wall opening with the help of a special sleeve on the wall and a custom grill that is flush with the wall and window air conditioners can also be installed in a window, but without a custom grill. [41]

Packaged air conditioner

Packaged air conditioners (also known as self-contained units) [42] [43] are central systems that integrate into a single housing all the components of a split central system, and deliver air, possibly through ducts, to the spaces to be cooled. Depending on their construction they may be outdoors or indoors, on roofs (rooftop units), [44] [45] draw the air to be conditioned from inside or outside a building and be water, refrigerant [46] or air-cooled. Often, outdoor units are air-cooled while indoor units are liquid-cooled using a cooling tower. [39] [47] [48] [49] [50] [51]


Operating principles

A simple stylized diagram of the refrigeration cycle: 1) condensing coil, 2) expansion valve, 3) evaporator coil, 4) compressor Heatpump.svg
A simple stylized diagram of the refrigeration cycle: 1)  condensing coil, 2)  expansion valve, 3)  evaporator coil, 4)  compressor

Cooling in traditional AC systems is accomplished using the vapor-compression cycle, which uses the forced circulation and phase change of a refrigerant between gas and liquid to transfer heat. The vapor-compression cycle can occur within a unitary, or packaged piece of equipment; or within a chiller that is connected to terminal cooling equipment (such as a fan coil unit in an air handler) on its evaporator side and heat rejection equipment such as a cooling tower on its condenser side. An air source heat pump shares many components with an air conditioning system, but includes a reversing valve which allows the unit to be used to heat as well as cool a space. [52]

Air conditioning equipment will reduce the absolute humidity of the air processed by the system if the surface of the evaporator coil is significantly cooler than the dew point of the surrounding air. An air conditioner designed for an occupied space will typically achieve a 30% to 60% relative humidity in the occupied space. [53]

Most modern air-conditioning systems feature a dehumidification cycle during which the compressor runs while the fan is slowed to reduce the evaporator temperature and therefore condense more water. A dehumidifier uses the same refrigeration cycle but incorporates both the evaporator and the condenser into the same air path; the air first passes over the evaporator coil where it is cooled [54] and dehumidified before passes over the condenser coil where it is warmed again before being released back into the room again.[ citation needed ]

Free cooling can sometimes be selected when the external air happens to be cooler than the internal air and therefore the compressor needs not be used, resulting in high cooling efficiencies for these times. This may also be combined with seasonal thermal energy storage. [55]


Main article: Heat pump

Some air conditioning systems have the option to reverse the refrigeration cycle and act as heat pumps, therefore producing heating instead of cooling in the indoor environment. They are also commonly referred to as "reverse cycle air conditioners". The heat pump is significantly more energy efficient than electric resistance heating, because it moves energy from air or groundwater to the heated space, as well as the heat from purchased electrical energy. When the heat pump is in heating mode, the indoor evaporator coil switches roles and becomes the condenser coil, producing heat. The outdoor condenser unit also switches roles to serve as the evaporator and discharges cold air (colder than the ambient outdoor air).

Air-source heat pumps are more popular in milder winter climates where the temperature is frequently in the range of 4–13 °C (40–55 °F), because heat pumps become inefficient in more extreme cold. This is partly because ice forms on the outdoor unit's heat exchanger coil, which blocks airflow over the coil.[ citation needed ] To compensate for this, the heat pump system must temporarily switch back into the regular air conditioning mode to switch the outdoor evaporator coil back to being the condenser coil, so that it can heat up and defrost. Some heat pump systems will therefore have a form of electric resistance heating in the indoor air path that is activated only in this mode in order to compensate for the temporary indoor air cooling, which would otherwise be uncomfortable in the winter.

The icing problem becomes much more severe with lower outdoor temperatures, so heat pumps are commonly installed in tandem with a more conventional form of heating, such as an electrical heater, a natural gas, oil or wood-burning fireplace or central heating, which is used instead of the heat pump during harsher winter temperatures. In this case, the heat pump is used efficiently during the milder temperatures, and the system is switched to the conventional heat source when the outdoor temperature is lower.


The coefficient of performance (COP) of a air conditioning system is a ratio of useful heating or cooling provided to work required. [56] [57] Higher COPs equate to lower operating costs. The COP usually exceeds 1; however, the exact value is highly dependent on operating conditions, especially absolute temperature and relative temperature between sink and system, and is often graphed or averaged against expected conditions. [58] Air conditioner equipment power in the U.S. is often described in terms of "tons of refrigeration," with each approximately equal to the cooling power of one short ton (2,000 pounds (910 kg) of ice melting in a 24-hour period. The value is equal to 12,000 BTUIT per hour, or 3,517 watts. [59] Residential central air systems are usually from 1 to 5 tons (3.5 to 18 kW) in capacity.[ citation needed ]

The efficiency of air conditioners is often rated by the seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) which is defined by the Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute in its 2008 standard AHRI 210/240, Performance Rating of Unitary Air-Conditioning and Air-Source Heat Pump Equipment. [60] A similar standard is the European seasonal energy efficiency ratio (ESEER).[ citation needed ]


Health effects

In hot weather, air conditioning can prevent heat stroke, dehydration from excessive perspiration, and other problems related to hyperthermia. [61] Heat waves are the most lethal type of weather phenomenon in developed countries. Air conditioning (including filtration, humidification, cooling and disinfection) can be used to provide a clean, safe, hypoallergenic atmosphere in hospital operating rooms and other environments where proper atmosphere is critical to patient safety and well-being. It is sometimes recommended for home use by people with allergies, especially mold.[ citation needed ]

Poorly maintained water cooling towers can promote the growth and spread of microorganisms such as Legionella pneumophila , the infectious agent responsible for Legionnaires' disease. As long as the cooling tower is kept clean (usually by means of a chlorine treatment), these health hazards can be avoided or reduced. The state of New York has codified requirements for registration, maintenance, and testing of cooling towers to protect against Legionella. [62]

Environmental impacts

Refrigerants have caused and continue to cause serious environmental issues, including ozone depletion and climate change, as several countries have not yet ratified the Kigali Amendment to reduce the consumption and production of hydrofluorocarbons. [63]

Current air conditioning accounts for 20% of energy consumption in buildings globally, and the expected growth of the usage of air conditioning due to climate change and technology uptake will drive significant energy demand growth. [64] [65] Alternatives to continual air conditioning include passive cooling, passive solar cooling natural ventilation, operating shades to reduce solar gain, using trees, architectural shades, windows (and using window coatings) to reduce solar gain.[ citation needed ]

In 2018 the United Nations called for the technology to be made more sustainable to mitigate climate change. [66] [67]

Economic effects

Air conditioning caused various shifts in demography, notably that of the United States starting from the 1970s:

First designed to benefit targeted industries such as the press as well as large factories, the invention quickly spread to public agencies and administrations with studies with claims of increased productivity close to 24% in places equipped with air conditioning. [70]

Other techniques

Buildings designed with passive air conditioning are generally less expensive to construct and maintain than buildings with conventional HVAC systems with lower energy demands. [71] While tens of air changes per hour, and cooling of tens of degrees, can be achieved with passive methods, site-specific microclimate must be taken into account, complicating building design. [5]

Many techniques can be used to increase comfort and reduce the temperature in buildings. These include evaporative cooling, selective shading, wind, thermal convection, and heat storage.[ citation needed ]

Passive ventilation

The ventilation system of a regular earthship. Earthship-ventilation-cooling-tube-schematic.svg
The ventilation system of a regular earthship.
Dogtrot houses are designed to maximise natural ventilation. John Looney House.jpg
Dogtrot houses are designed to maximise natural ventilation.
Passive ventilation is the process of supplying air to and removing air from an indoor space without using mechanical systems. It refers to the flow of external air to an indoor space as a result of pressure differences arising from natural forces. There are two types of natural ventilation occurring in buildings: wind driven ventilation and buoyancy-driven ventilation. Wind driven ventilation arises from the different pressures created by wind around a building or structure, and openings being formed on the perimeter which then permit flow through the building. Buoyancy-driven ventilation occurs as a result of the directional buoyancy force that results from temperature differences between the interior and exterior. [72] Since the internal heat gains which create temperature differences between the interior and exterior are created by natural processes, including the heat from people, and wind effects are variable, naturally ventilated buildings are sometimes called "breathing buildings".

Passive cooling

A traditional Iranian solar cooling design Wind-Tower-and-Qanat-Cooling-1.svg
A traditional Iranian solar cooling design
Passive cooling is a building design approach that focuses on heat gain control and heat dissipation in a building in order to improve the indoor thermal comfort with low or no energy consumption. [73] [74] This approach works either by preventing heat from entering the interior (heat gain prevention) or by removing heat from the building (natural cooling). [75] Natural cooling utilizes on-site energy, available from the natural environment, combined with the architectural design of building components (e.g. building envelope), rather than mechanical systems to dissipate heat. [76] Therefore, natural cooling depends not only on the architectural design of the building but on how the site's natural resources are used as heat sinks (i.e. everything that absorbs or dissipates heat). Examples of on-site heat sinks are the upper atmosphere (night sky), the outdoor air (wind), and the earth/soil.
A pair of short windcatchers or malqaf
used in traditional architecture; wind is forced down on the windward side and leaves on the leeward side (cross-ventilation). In the absence of wind, the circulation can be driven with evaporative cooling in the inlet (which is also designed to catch dust). In the center, a shuksheika
(roof lantern vent), used to shade the qa'a below while allowing hot air rise out of it (stack effect). Malqaf.svg
A pair of short windcatchers or malqaf used in traditional architecture; wind is forced down on the windward side and leaves on the leeward side (cross-ventilation). In the absence of wind, the circulation can be driven with evaporative cooling in the inlet (which is also designed to catch dust). In the center, a shuksheika (roof lantern vent), used to shade the qa'a below while allowing hot air rise out of it ( stack effect ).


Hand fans have existed since prehistory. Large human-powered fans built into buildings include the punkah.

The 2nd-century Chinese inventor Ding Huan of the Han Dynasty invented a rotary fan for air conditioning, with seven wheels 3 m (10 ft) in diameter and manually powered by prisoners. [77] :99, 151, 233 In 747, Emperor Xuanzong (r. 712–762) of the Tang Dynasty (618–907) had the Cool Hall (Liang Dian涼殿) built in the imperial palace, which the Tang Yulin describes as having water-powered fan wheels for air conditioning as well as rising jet streams of water from fountains. During the subsequent Song Dynasty (960–1279), written sources mentioned the air conditioning rotary fan as even more widely used. [77] :134, 151

Thermal buffering

In areas which are cold at night or in winter, heat storage is used. Heat may be stored in earth or masonry; air is drawn past the masonry to heat or cool it. [6]

In areas which are below freezing at night in winter, snow and ice can be collected and stored in ice houses for later use in cooling. [6] This technique is over 3,700 years old in the Middle East. [78] Harvesting outdoor ice during winter and transporting and storing for use in summer was practiced by wealthy Europeans in the early 1600s, [7] and became popular in Europe and the Americas towards the end of the 1600s. [79] This practice was replaced by mechanical compression-cycle ice-making machines (see below).

Evaporative cooling

An evaporative cooler Evaporative cooler, CO, IMG 5681.JPG
An evaporative cooler

In dry, hot climates, the evaporative cooling effect may be used by placing water at the air intake, such that the draft draws air over water and then into the house. For this reason, it is sometimes said that the fountain, in the architecture of hot, arid climates, is like the fireplace in the architecture of cold climates. [4] Evaporative cooling also makes the air more humid, which can be beneficial in a dry desert climate. [80]

In very dry climates, evaporative coolers, sometimes referred to as swamp coolers or desert coolers, are popular for improving coolness during hot weather. An evaporation cooler is a device that draws outside air through a wet pad, such as a large sponge soaked with water. The sensible heat of the incoming air, as measured by a dry-bulb thermometer, is reduced. The temperature of the incoming air is reduced, but it is also more humid, so the total heat (sensible heat plus latent heat) is unchanged. Some of the sensible heat of the entering air is converted to latent heat by the evaporation of water in the wet cooler pads. If the entering air is dry enough, the results can be quite substantial.[ citation needed ]

Evaporative coolers tend to feel as if they are not working during times of high humidity, when there is not much dry air with which the coolers can work to make the air as cool as possible for dwelling occupants. Unlike other types of air conditioners, evaporative coolers rely on the outside air to be channeled through cooler pads that cool the air before it reaches the inside of a house through its air duct system; this cooled outside air must be allowed to push the warmer air within the house out through an exhaust opening such as an open door or window. [81] These coolers cost less and are mechanically simple to understand and maintain.[ citation needed ]

See also

Related Research Articles

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning Technology of indoor and vehicular environmental comfort

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) is the technology of indoor and vehicular environmental comfort. 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.

Heat pump Device that heats buildings

A heat pump is a device used to warm and sometimes also cool buildings by transferring thermal energy from a cooler space to a warmer space using the refrigeration cycle, being the opposite direction in which heat transfer would take place without the application of external power. Common device types include air source heat pumps, ground source heat pumps, water source heat pumps and exhaust air heat pumps. Heat pumps are also often used in district heating systems.

Dehumidifier Electrical appliance which reduces and maintains the level of humidity in the air

A dehumidifier is an electrical appliance which reduces and maintains the level of humidity in the air, usually for health or comfort reasons, or to eliminate musty odor and to prevent the growth of mildew by extracting water from the air. It can be used for household, commercial, or industrial applications. Large dehumidifiers are used in commercial buildings such as indoor ice rinks and swimming pools, as well as manufacturing plants or storage warehouses.

Evaporative cooler Device that cools air through the evaporation of water

An evaporative cooler is a device that cools air through the evaporation of water. Evaporative cooling differs from other air conditioning systems, which use vapor-compression or absorption refrigeration cycles. Evaporative cooling uses the fact that water will absorb a relatively large amount of heat in order to evaporate. The temperature of dry air can be dropped significantly through the phase transition of liquid water to water vapor (evaporation). This can cool air using much less energy than refrigeration. In extremely dry climates, evaporative cooling of air has the added benefit of conditioning the air with more moisture for the comfort of building occupants.


A chiller is a machine that removes heat from a liquid coolant via a vapor-compression, adsorption refrigeration, or absorption refrigeration cycles. This liquid can then be circulated through a heat exchanger to cool equipment, or another process stream. As a necessary by-product, refrigeration creates waste heat that must be exhausted to ambience, or for greater efficiency, recovered for heating purposes. Vapor compression chillers may use any of a number of different types of compressors. Most common today are the hermetic scroll, semi-hermetic screw, or centrifugal compressors. The condensing side of the chiller can be either air or water cooled. Even when liquid cooled, the chiller is often cooled by an induced or forced draft cooling tower. Absorption and adsorption chillers require a heat source to function.

Active cooling is a heat-reducing mechanism that is typically implemented in electronic devices and indoor buildings to ensure proper heat transfer and circulation from within.

Heat recovery ventilation collective term for the procedere of reusing thermal energy

Heat recovery ventilation (HRV), also known as mechanical ventilation heat recovery (MVHR), is an energy recovery ventilation system which works between two sources at different temperatures. Heat recovery is a method which is increasingly used to reduce the heating and cooling demands of buildings. By recovering the residual heat in the exhaust gas, the fresh air introduced into the air conditioning system is pre-heated (pre-cooled), and the fresh air enthalpy is increased (reduced) before the fresh air enters the room or the air cooler of the air conditioning unit performs heat and moisture treatment. A typical heat recovery system in buildings consists of a core unit, channels for fresh air and exhaust air, and blower fans. Building exhaust air is used as either a heat source or heat sink depending on the climate conditions, time of year and requirements of the building. Heat recovery systems typically recover about 60–95% of the heat in exhaust air and have significantly improved the energy efficiency of buildings.

Refrigerator Household or industrial appliance for preserving food at a low temperature

A refrigerator is a home appliance consisting of a thermally insulated compartment and a heat pump that transfers heat from its inside to its external environment so that its inside is cooled to a temperature below the room temperature. Refrigeration is an essential food storage technique around the world. The lower temperature lowers the reproduction rate of bacteria, so the refrigerator reduces the rate of spoilage. A refrigerator maintains a temperature a few degrees above the freezing point of water. Optimum temperature range for perishable food storage is 3 to 5 °C. A similar device that maintains a temperature below the freezing point of water is called a freezer. The refrigerator replaced the icebox, which had been a common household appliance for almost a century and a half.

Windcatcher Architectural element for creating a draft

A windcatcher is a traditional architectural element used to create natural ventilation and passive cooling in buildings. Windcatchers come in various designs: unidirectional, bidirectional, and multidirectional. Windcatchers are widely used in North Africa and in the West Asian countries around the Persian Gulf, and have been for the past three thousand years.

Air handler

An air handler, or air handling unit, is a device used to regulate and circulate air as part of a heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system. An air handler is usually a large metal box containing a blower, heating or cooling elements, filter racks or chambers, sound attenuators, and dampers. Air handlers usually connect to a ductwork ventilation system that distributes the conditioned air through the building and returns it to the AHU. Sometimes AHUs discharge (supply) and admit (return) air directly to and from the space served without ductwork

Absorption refrigerator

An absorption refrigerator is a refrigerator that uses a heat source to provide the energy needed to drive the cooling process. The system uses two coolants, the first of which performs evaporative cooling and is then absorbed into the second coolant; heat is needed to reset the two coolants to their initial states. The principle can also be used to air-condition buildings using the waste heat from a gas turbine or water heater. Using waste heat from a gas turbine makes the turbine very efficient because it first produces electricity, then hot water, and finally, air-conditioning—trigeneration. Absorption refrigerators are commonly used in recreational vehicles (RVs), campers, and caravans because the heat required to power them can be provided by a propane fuel burner, by a low-voltage DC electric heater or by a mains-powered electric heater. Unlike more common vapor-compression refrigeration systems, an absorption refrigerator can be produced with no moving parts other than the coolants.

Vapor-compression refrigeration Refrigeration process

Vapour-compression refrigeration or vapor-compression refrigeration system (VCRS), in which the refrigerant undergoes phase changes, is one of the many refrigeration cycles and is the most widely used method for air-conditioning of buildings and automobiles. It is also used in domestic and commercial refrigerators, large-scale warehouses for chilled or frozen storage of foods and meats, refrigerated trucks and railroad cars, and a host of other commercial and industrial services. Oil refineries, petrochemical and chemical processing plants, and natural gas processing plants are among the many types of industrial plants that often utilize large vapor-compression refrigeration systems. Cascade refrigeration systems may also be implemented using two compressors.

Solar air conditioning refers to any air conditioning (cooling) system that uses solar power.

Absorption heat pump

An absorption heat pump (AHP) is a heat pump driven by thermal energy such as combustion of natural gas, steam solar-heated water, air or geothermal-heated water differently from compression heat pumps that are driven by mechanical energy. AHPs are more complex and require larger units compared to compression heat pumps. In particular, the lower electricity demand of such heat pumps is related to the liquid pumping only. Their applications are restricted to those cases when electricity is extremely expensive or a large amount of unutilized heat at suitable temperatures is available and when the cooling or heating output has a greater value than heat input consumed. Absorption refrigerators also work on the same principle, but are not reversible and cannot serve as a heat source.

Air source heat pump

An air source heat pump (ASHP) is a type of heat pump that absorbs heat from a colder place and release it into a warmer place using the same vapor-compression refrigeration process and same external heat exchanger with a fan as used by air conditioners. Unlike an air conditioning unit, however, it is able to both warm and cool building and in some cases also provide domestic hot water.

Heat pump and refrigeration cycle Mathematical models of heat pumps and refrigeration

Thermodynamic heat pump cycles or refrigeration cycles are the conceptual and mathematical models for heat pump, air conditioning and refrigeration systems. A heat pump is a mechanical system that allows for the transmission of heat from one location at a lower temperature to another location at a higher temperature. Thus a heat pump may be thought of as a "heater" if the objective is to warm the heat sink, or a "refrigerator" or “cooler” if the objective is to cool the heat source. In either case, the operating principles are close. Heat is moved from a cold place to a warm place.

Free cooling is an economical method of using low external air temperatures to assist in chilling water, which can then be used for industrial processes, or air conditioning systems. The chilled water can either be used immediately or be stored for the short- or long-term. When outdoor temperatures are lower relative to indoor temperatures, this system utilizes the cool outdoor air as a free cooling source. In this manner, the system replaces the chiller in traditional air conditioning systems while achieving the same cooling result. Such systems can be made for single buildings or district cooling networks.

HVAC is a major sub discipline of mechanical engineering. The goal of HVAC design is to balance indoor environmental comfort with other factors such as installation cost, ease of maintenance, and energy efficiency. The discipline of HVAC includes a large number of specialized terms and acronyms, many of which are summarized in this glossary.

Variable refrigerant flow (VRF), also known as variable refrigerant volume (VRV), is an HVAC technology invented by Daikin Industries, Ltd. in 1982. Like ductless minisplits, VRFs use refrigerant as the cooling and heating medium. This refrigerant is conditioned by one or more condensing units, and is circulated within the building to multiple indoor units. VRF systems, unlike conventional chiller-based systems, allow for varying degrees of cooling in more specific areas, may supply hot water in a heat recovery configuration without affecting efficiency, and switch to heating mode during winter without additional equipment, all of which may allow for reduced energy consumption. Also, air handlers and large ducts are not used which can reduce the height above a dropped ceiling as well as the structural impact due to smaller penetrations for refrigerant pipes instead of ducts.

The Glossary of Geothermal Heating and Cooling provides definitions of many terms used within the Geothermal heat pump industry. The terms in this glossary may be used by industry professionals, for education materials, and by the general public.


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