In 1902, a young engineer named Willis Carrier was standing on a foggy train platform in bustling Philadelphia and was struck with a sudden inspiration—passing air through water would allow him to both cool and dry it by controlling the amount of moisture in the air. Carrier was mostly concerned with conditioning air to protect documents from moisture damage, but he also went on to invent modern air conditioning as we know it as people realized his invention had serious potential for the consumer market. (And Texans across the Lone Star state have been grateful ever since.) But while today’s homeowners usually count on window-mounted units and whole-home HVAC systems based on Carrier’s invention, folks around the world have long relied on a wide variety of methods to keep cool, including some truly fascinating “alternative AC” innovations that might surprise you.

Air Conditioning is Old School Cool

Of course, while Carrier revolutionized cooling, he wasn’t exactly the first to make the connection between water, air, and keeping things comfy at home. The ancient Egyptians cooled their homes by hanging wet reeds in their windows, where the breeze would pass through them and carry much-needed moisture and coolness indoors. In the Roman Empire, central cooling and heating were accomplished by transporting water through pipes under and inside homes, and the Chinese were firing up fans to push misty air through their palaces since the second century A.D.

In more modern times, the ice industry exploded in the 17th and 18th centuries, as people learned the value of storing winter ice to cool both their beverages and themselves in the warmer months.

It seems pretty likely that, as long as humans have been battling the sticky summer heat, they’ve been looking for, and finding, unique solutions.

Modern Marvels of Alternative AC

Today, humans are still finding uniquely intriguing ways to keep our homes, businesses, and selves cool. Some of the most interesting alternative AC solutions include:

  • Deep-water cooling systems Drawing on the cooling power of the ocean and lakes, high-tech solutions like Toronto’s Enwave system pull water from deep below the surface and use it to provide cooling comfort for thousands of people and places. The Enwave system is particularly noteworthy for avoiding heat pollution by using only water already destined for use in municipal systems.
  • “Earth tube” systems Like deep water systems, earth tube designs rely on natural elements to transfer energy and allow for temperature control. Also known as ground-coupled energy exchange systems, these systems are often paired with geothermal energy systems to provide passive, low-impact cooling (and heating) by dispersing energy into the earth. On a much larger scale, “borehole” systems are used as “batteries” to store cooling and heating energy collected during the appropriate season to be used later as needed.
  • Next-Gen HVAC Scientists and companies across the country and around the world are working on a variety of new methods and materials that will make air conditioning safer, more affordable, and better for the environment.

While you probably won’t be installing a massive underwater exchange or borehole system in your home anytime soon, you can still count on your local HVAC experts to give you the top-notch service and support you need to stay cool and comfortable. Taking a few moments to schedule a service call or consultation can help you make sure you won’t be stuck with only wet reeds or a paddle fan between you and the Texas heat this summer.

The Quirks of Cooling: Alternative AC
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