The 1970s were a dynamic period for the hvacr industry. Government regulation swooped in aggressively to become a permanent part of the business landscape. “Energy crisis” and “energy conservation” became common phrases.
In the decade, a deadly new illness — Legionnaires’ disease — would be linked to cooling. Solar energy would be promoted as one way out of the nation’s energy problems. And nuclear power, once seen as one of the country’s most promising energy sources, would suffer a serious setback from which it has never recovered.
‘Going to be Great’As the 70s began,The Newsnoted that equipment shortages had plagued much of the industry in 1969. No one had anticipated the strong increase in business that occurred. In fact, unitary air conditioner shipments jumped 30% in 69.
Although 1970 was expected to be slower, editor Frank J. Versagi wrote, “There is nothing which can reasonably be expected to slow the long-range growth of the air conditioning industry.… The 70s are going to be great.”
Teamster strikes in several cities in April 1970 had an impact on the hvacr business. A compressor plant was forced to close temporarily because it couldn’t get steel, and other plants had their deliveries and shipments slowed. The strikes also affected the supply lines to some wholesalers and contractors.
In July, the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI) and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) announced that they would jointly sponsor an annual industry show starting in 1972, instead of separate biennial shows.
On August 28, the Air-conditioning and Refrigeration Wholesalers (ARW) and a present and former officer were indicted by a federal grand jury on criminal charges of conspiring to monopolize the sale of refrigerant. A companion civil antitrust suit also was filed against ARW and six refrigerant manufacturers. The civil case sought to dissolve the association and order the sale of refrigerant to any buyer in the U.S.
Late in 1970, the Environ-mental Protection Agency (EPA) set up shop and the act establishing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was signed into law. These two agencies would soon have a lot to say to the industry.
Unitary air conditioner shipments for the year were down about 2%. Heat pumps were level. Chillers were down 7%.
In 1971, at the last industry show to be sponsored solely by ASHRAE, 20,000 visitors and exhibitor personnel were in attendance. The News reported that rooftop units were the growth area of the show, with several companies introducing their first models and others exhibiting improved units.
It was also noted that variable air volume, a once tried and rejected system approach, was getting renewed attention.
Early in 71, Whirlpool Corp. (Benton Harbor, MI) announced that it was suspending production and sales of its gas air conditioners and recalled all units from its distributors and dealers.
On July 29, the Commerce Department recommended that the U.S. switch all of its measurements to the metric system within 10 years. A report prepared by the National Bureau of Standards called for a “deliberate and careful” change to metrics.
In August, President Nixon decided to apply wage and price controls in an effort to slow inflation.
Not a Nuclear AgeANewseditorial on the “nuclear age” noted, “Nuclear power plants are much fewer than predicted. Their growth remains slow because of both technological and economic factors.” It concluded that “Nuclear bombs aside, this isnota nuclear age.”
Unitary air conditioner shipments for 1971 rose a solid 13%. Packaged terminal air conditioners increased 10%. Commercial refrigeration unit shipments were basically flat.
According to a report from the Census Bureau, 38% of new one-family homes built or started in 71 had central air conditioning. By region, the percentages were: South 52%; West 36%; North Central 27%; and Northeast 11%.
From January 24-27, 1972, the first International Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Exposition (AHR Expo) jointly sponsored by ARI and ASHRAE was held in New Orleans. About 9,000 people attended.
Alabama Power Co. decertified certain heat pump models due to excessive maintenance and repair costs. Only 41 of 76 split-system models were still approved; 56 of 60 packaged models remained approved.
Shipments of unitary air conditioners for 1972 jumped 23%. While overall unitary sales were rising, gas air conditioners dropped 33%. Heat pumps increased 15%, with its enthusiasts predicting a strong comeback for the units. Commercial refrigeration fixtures also climbed 15% for the year.
In 1973, the screw compressor was being touted by some industry experts as a “growing force in the refrigeration field.” Supporters said that it would take over a large share of the 100- to 1,500-hp refrigeration market supplied by centrifugal compressors.
At the 1973 AHR Expo, The News reported that energy conservation received a lot of attention, “some of it real, some promotional.” Rooftop units were more in evidence, and the use of computers to select components and determine energy costs was being pushed “more vigorously.”
According to Arthur D. Little, Inc. (Cambridge, MA), the first U.S. office building to be both heated and cooled by solar energy would be constructed in Lincoln, MA. Little served as energy consultant on the project.
Publication date: 04/30/2001
Running On EmptyThe Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) jolted the U.S. later in the year, drastically raising oil prices and imposing the Arab oil embargo (see related article, page 98).
The installed value of unitary a/c equipment in 1973 increased by 17.4% over 72, ARI reported. Commercial applications totaled $1.4 billion while residential installations were $2.3 billion.
Federal regulations that went into effect on January 14, 1974 put petroleum allocation and price regulations in place. In the February 4, 1974 issue, The News called for a comprehensive national energy policy, not just emergency legislation.
An industry executive told a Senate panel that price controls were causing material shortages. Manufacturers were limiting or eliminating production of certain products because price controls had made them unprofitable. In April, the federal Cost of Living Council removed many of its price controls, and in July, President Nixon abolished the council.
At his company’s 1974 annual meeting, the chairman of Westinghouse Electric, Donald C. Burnham, called the electric heat pump the “home product with the most exciting future.” He stated that “After many years of development and improvement, the heat pump is ready to take its place as the workhorse of residential heating and cooling.”
A major issue discussed in a 74 News editorial was competition between contractors and manufacturers. Contractors were concerned about losing service work to manufacturers. They contended that some manufacturers were preventing even the installing contractor from getting service jobs, sometimes by making parts difficult or impossible to get.
Manufacturers argued that they wouldn’t refuse to sell to anyone, including owners, and that they regularly sold maintenance contracts.
The News noted that this competition for service work had been going on for years. However, localized problems were now gaining national attention. It was suggested that legal action by contractors might be inevitable if negotiations couldn’t resolve their differences.
“Industry moving with caution toward heat pumps,” said a page-one headline in the August 5, 1974 issue. Equipment manufacturers told The News that they were being cautious about the development and introduction of new heat pumps, so they could avoid the “heat pump fiasco” that had happened a decade before.
It was reported that 74 saw a 13% drop in shipments of unitary air conditioners. This was only the third decline in 21 years. During this period, there were 10 drops in housing starts and nine drops in auto sales, so the air conditioning industry was doing quite well comparatively.
A News survey found that flexible duct had “come into its own.” Sales were increasing steadily each year and were expected to continue to grow. One manufacturer estimated the growth rate at 20%.
An 11-year-old ban on the use of heat pumps in military housing was lifted by the Department of Defense (DOD). A May 12 DOD memorandum withdrew restrictions going back to 1964.
The ban was originally ordered, said the memo, because of “the severity of maintenance problems experienced, and particularly because of the high failure rate of compressors.” After an intensive research program and development of a new heat pump standard, DOD decided to renew use of the equipment.
A multi-part series beginning in the September 8, 1975 issue of The News discussed “The contractor and the computer.” It asked: Why do you use a computer? The answer: to be a better manager. At this time, the “minicomputer” was in vogue. (The personal computer had just been invented in 74.)
Across the board, 1975 turned out to be a difficult year for the hvacr industry. Unitary air conditioner shipments plummeted 32%. Chillers declined 16%. Commercial refrigeration fixtures dipped 24%. Forecasts for 1976, however, called for a much better year.
At the 76 AHR Expo, the Fedders rotary-powered heat pump was dubbed a “sensation” by The News. The company said that its rotary compressor solved problems long associated with heat pumps. One dealer remarked, “I went in curious and came out convinced.”
Solar energy equipment made a strong showing at the Expo. One exhibitor said he saw about twice as many solar exhibits as he expected.
Antitrust Suit EndedIn May, the Justice Department filed a proposed consent decree to end the six-year-old antitrust suit against ARW and six refrigerant manufacturers. The decree stated that the defendant manufacturers were required to sell refrigerant to any reseller, and that ARW must create a new membership class open to resellers. The decree was approved by a U.S. district judge in October.
Due to the increasing popularity of solar systems, states began to develop solar equipment standards. Also, a subcommittee of the Northamerican Heating and Airconditioning Wholesalers Association (NHAW) established six objectives to help its members get involved in the solar market. Plus, ARI created a new solar hvac section.
A page-one story in the News’ July 12, 1976 issue reported that private and government scientists working on the problem of what effect fluorocarbons may have on the atmosphere seemed to agree that no one knew enough on the subject at that time to warrant any immediate legislation or regulation that would stop the manufacture or prohibit the use of the chemicals.
Later in July, at an American Legion convention in Philadel-phia, PA, the first reported outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease occurred (see related article, page 98).
Convenience stores became the fastest growing refrigeration market sector in the 70s, integrating refrigeration systems for ice cream, beverages, dairy products, and frozen foods.
After two down years for cooling, unitary air conditioner shipments for 76 bounced back with a huge 46% jump. Heat pump shipments, however, dwarfed that number with a 96% spike; their shipments started to increase rapidly late in 75 and continued to escalate in 76.
In 1977, a report to the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress concluded that solar energy “is widely feasible throughout the continental U.S.”
In August, Lennox Industries, Inc. (Dallas, TX), introduced a high-efficiency heat pump line with energy efficiency ratios (EERs) as high as 8.4, said to be the highest in the industry.
The Department of Energy (DOE) was activated on October 1 of that year, assuming the responsibilities of the Federal Energy Administration, the Energy Research and Development Ad-ministration, the Federal Power Commission, and parts of several other agencies.
OSHA announced in December that it was taking steps to revoke 1,100 standards “that have no direct or immediate effect on worker health and safety.” It was noted that many of these standards overlap other, more specific standards.
Unitary air conditioner shipments for the year increased by 13.5%, a second straight year of healthy increases. Heat pump shipments remained extremely strong, with a 52% increase.
The News’ 1978 AHR Expo report noted that the show included a number of solar systems and components. Exhibitors saw the market as growing, but fuel prices, federal grants (or the lack thereof), and the general energy situation could change that.
UTC Eyes CarrierIn September, United Technologies Corp. (Hartford, CT) launched an attempt to take over Carrier Corp. (Syracuse, NY). Carrier initially rejected and fought the offer. In November, the Justice Department stepped in and filed a civil antitrust suit to block the takeover, but it was denied in U.S. District Court.
Helped by a strong new home market, unitary air conditioner shipments grew by 8.5% in 78. It was a third straight year of unitary increases. Heat pump shipments also continued on the upswing, increasing 16%. Gas air conditioners, on a downward slope from the late 60s through 77, recorded a small increase of 4%. After three years of declines, commercial refrigeration fixtures came back with a 14% increase.
Early in 1979, following its loss in district court, the Justice Department took its case to block the takeover of Carrier to the U.S. Court of Appeals — and lost again. Carrier then agreed to negotiate a merger with United Technologies.
In March, an accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant caused a major scare and put a damper on nuclear power (see related article, page 93).
Also in March, Carrier and United Technologies announced an agreement in principle to merge, which would make Carrier a subsidiary of UTC effective in July.
The Census Bureau released data showing that the saturation of central air systems from 1970 to 77 jumped from 10.7% to 22.4% of occupied homes — more than doubling in seven years. The saturation of homes with some type of air conditioning, central or room unit, grew from 35.7% to 51.6% — a 45% gain.
Unitary air conditioner shipments for 79 had a slight (1%) decline. Heat pumps also registered a small decrease of 2%. Unit shipments of commercial refrigeration fixtures increased by 3%.
Adapting and ThrivingOverall, as the energy landscape changed, the hvacr industry adjusted to its vagaries and came up with various energy-conserving measures. Heat pumps overcame earlier problems and experienced a boom time.
Solar became the energy darling, garnering a lot of research, government awards, and scattered field applications. Nuclear energy finished the decade with a big mistake.
And air conditioning kept on saturating the nation.
Sidebar: Margaret Ingels — 1892-1971Born in Paris, KY, on October 25, 1892, Margaret Ingels was a female pioneer both in engineering and in the hvacr industry.
She was the first woman to graduate in engineering from the University of Kentucky and the second woman to receive an engineering degree in the United States. She was also the first woman in the country to receive a graduate engineering degree.
Ingels worked with two of the most famous people in the hvacr field: first with noted educator and researcher F. Paul Anderson at the American Society of Heating and Ventilating Engineers (ASVE) laboratory, and later as a long-time associate of Willis Carrier.
She published 45 articles in various technical publications and authored a book on Carrier called Willis Haviland Carrier: Father of Air Conditioning.
In 1940 she was honored as one of 100 women in the U.S. who had entered careers not previously open to women. In 1957, the University of Kentucky awarded her an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, and in 1965 the school named her to its Hall of Distinguished Alumni.
Ingels died on December 13, 1971. She was posthumously inducted into the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Hall of Fame in 1996.
Sidebar: Nuclear Generates the Wrong Kind of RadiationIn the 1970s, proponents of the nuclear industry asserted that nuclear power could solve the country’s energy problems and help bring energy self-sufficiency to the United States. That promise faded by the end of the decade.
On March 28, 1979, an accident occurred at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, PA. Equipment problems had caused operators to shut down the reactor’s pumps because the water pressure appeared to be too high. Without cooling water flowing through the system, the reactor then overheated.
The reactor core was heavily damaged but, fortunately, there was no meltdown, averting a potential catastrophe. Some radioactive gas was released into the atmosphere and more than 140,000 people were evacuated from the area. The situation was brought under control by April 9.
The radioactive waste cleanup at the plant is reported to have cost more than $1 billion. The health effects of the radioactive gas that was discharged are still being investigated.
The Three Mile Island facility was never reopened and nuclear power subsequently came under close scrutiny. Construction of new plants slowed considerably after this incident.
Legionnaires’ Disease Rears its Deadly HeadFrom July 21-24, 1976, the Pennsylvania division of the American Legion held a convention in Philadelphia, PA. On the second day, two of the attendees became sick with what looked to be pneumonia. Soon, however, Legionnaire after Legionnaire fell ill.
Within a week after the event, the Pennsylvania Department of Health received a number of calls reporting severe cases of a pneumonia-like illness, and a mounting number of deaths, among those who had visited Philadelphia. Before long, the total reached 221 people infected with this mysterious, new disease, and 34 dead.
The illness was named Legionnaires’ disease because of its connection with the American Legion convention. Months later, scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) isolated the bacteria that caused the outbreak and called it legionella.
Investigators then determined that the bacteria was present in a cooling tower at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel, where the convention had several hospitality suites. They concluded that the hotel’s air conditioning system had transported the bacteria into the hospitality suites, infecting the people present.
Some experts, however, disagreed, saying that this scenario was never actually proven. One, in fact, called it a “modern myth.” But air conditioning has been forever linked with this first recorded outbreak, with many more to come.
Sidebar: Oil Embargo Halts the FlowAlthough it was formed in 1960, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), made up mostly of Middle East nations, had little impact on the rest of the world until the 1970s. Then it had a resounding impact.
In 1973, OPEC raised the price of oil by 70% because of its reported unhappiness over U.S. and Western support for Israel in its ongoing struggles with Arab countries. Then, due to the Yom Kippur War in October, an oil embargo was imposed on the U.S. and prices were hiked another 130%. An energy crisis was created.
The price of oil and gasoline skyrocketed in this country, and with short supply, long lines at the gas pump became the norm. The short-lived embargo was lifted in March 1974 but high prices remained. Energy conservation and limiting dependence on foreign oil were quickly primary topics of discussion.
Although much of the country suffered, the embargo had a positive effect on the oil companies. The world’s largest oil companies are reported to have seen profits increase an average of 93% during the first half of 1974.
The huge jump in prices generated inflation problems for the U.S. economy. Additional oil price increases were instituted by OPEC in 1975, 77, and 79.