Vol. 22, No. 4, Aug. 15, 2002
Early attempts to cool homes involved fans and tons of ice
Mitchell, Arts Editor
(217) 333-5491; firstname.lastname@example.org
As the Dust Bowl swirled in the Plains
states in the summer of 1936, folks in Central Illinois were sweating it out
through the worst heat wave in recorded history.
According to an account by Seichi "Bud" Konzo, published in his book "The Quiet Indoor Revolution," hundreds of residents of Champaign and Urbana, Ill., sought relief from the heat by sleeping in open fields near the University of Illinois football stadium that summer. Konzo, who died in 1992, was a professor of mechanical engineering. In his book, he noted that the temperature in Central Illinois in the summer of '36 surpassed 100 degrees Fahrenheit for 17 consecutive days.
And while Willis Haviland Carrier regarded as "the father of air conditioning" is being heralded this summer for his design 100 years ago of the first industrial air-conditioning system, air conditioning was still a rare commodity in 1936. The only air-cooled facilities accessible to most people were department stores and movie theaters.
But as the residents of Champaign and Urbana struggled to cope with the heat and humidity that summer, Konzo managed to keep his cool. That's because the professor and his family lived in the first air-cooled house in North America. Konzo, his wife and young daughter were tenants of Research Residence No. 1, a two-story Colonial-style home near the Illinois campus, while the professor supervised some of the earliest ongoing experiments involving residential central-air conditioning. The home was built in 1924 as a laboratory for research on home heating and ventilation; the work was conducted by Illinois researchers and sponsored by the National Warm Air Heating and Ventilation Association. By the early 1930s, researchers shifted their attention to home cooling.
"In retrospect the early start in residential cooling was bold and reckless," Konzo wrote. "We were treading new ground, and because we had no preconceived ideas of what might work, we tried almost every conceivable form of cooling that showed some sign of being practical." Some of those ideas were downright "absurd" by todays standards, he noted. They included placing a unit the size of a refrigerator equipped with fans and filled with ice in the middle of the living room. Another test involved dumping two tons of ice daily into a basement storage chamber; cooled air was then distributed throughout the house by means of a separate unit installed in the return-air duct of the homes forced-air furnace system.
The Residential Heating and Cooling Project, begun at Illinois in the 1920s, continued through the 1970s. Today, researchers at the universitys Building Research Council have used that earlier work as a foundation for current research focusing on indoor air quality and humidity and moisture control. "We have a test facility where we continuously monitor temperature and humidity under various conditions: with and without ventilation, with and without vapor barriers, and the performance of different insulation materials," said BRC research architect William Rose.
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