If you’re looking for HVAC questions, you’re getting warmer…

Published December 22, 2023

Eric Keihl is the managing editor for Questionist’s parent company, Geeks Who Drink. Each week, he will accept a reader challenge to write a entire, quiz-ready trivia round on some tricky or obscure subject. You can challenge Eric here.

This week’s theme is “HVAC,” suggested by QM Glenn Burr and the team “Three and a Half Men” at Irish Times in Brookfield, Illinois. Thanks Glenn et al.!

I don’t usually do this, but I’ve gotta quote Glenn’s original request for this theme: 

“This actually came from one of my quizzers who said, and I quote, ‘Why aren’t there any HVAC questions? Betcha none of these mother!#%ers know s@^! about HVAC.’”

Well, I’ve got news for you, anonymous quizzer(s)… you’re mostly right. But you’re not entirely right, because:

  1. I once replaced my furnace’s burned-out draft inducer (the part that keeps your gas burning efficiently by drawing in combustion air) with help from only YouTube tutorials and a phone consult with my cousin’s husband, who owns a successful HVAC business in Western New York. 
  2. I know a historical thing about air conditioning: President James Garfield was fatally wounded in July 1881, and then spent 11 weeks in a White House sickroom during the doggiest days of a swampy Washington summer before he finally died, quite possibly because doctors kept rummaging around in his guts with germy fingers. To make him marginally more comfortable, Navy engineers rigged up an electric blower to push air through a box covered with waterlogged sheets. The makeshift AC pushed temperatures down to an almost-bearable 80 degrees. All right! 
  3. I researched this whole round on fascinating HVAC facts that don’t even involve the White House. Er, okay, the sixth one does, but still: Not so smug now, are ya, valued customers in Illinois?

On with the round…

1. Not cool, bro: The U.S. uses more energy for air conditioning than what continent of 1.4 billion people uses overall? Africa

Don’t worry, China’s going to pass us in AC energy expenditure soon, if they haven’t already. Actually, uh, maybe do worry.

2. It’s good for pretty much everything else, but California’s building code ironically bans sealing the “joints and seams” of your HVAC systems with the basic version of what tape? Duct tape

There are valid reasons: Basic duct tape isn’t made to withstand shifting temperatures or condensation, so it’ll fall right off your ducts. Oh, and apparently it was originally called “duck tape,” after the duck cloth it was made of, so the “duct” thing is just word mutation. Bottom line, seal your ducts with foil tape. This concludes our public service announcement.

3. Though the film has an ice-cold ending, it’s a faulty boiler that kills Jack Torrance, the Overlook Hotel, and poor Lloyd the ghost bartender in what Stephen King novel? The Shining

Fun fact: The snow covering the hedge maze at the end of the Shining film was a combo of salt and crushed styrofoam. Funner fact: The snow in The Wizard of Oz was pure asbestos. Apparently none of the Munchkins represented OSHA.

4. Allergy-like symptoms and gnarly spots on your air vents might be a sign you’ve got Stachybotrys chartarum, the toxic mold that’s pretty much synonymous with what color? Black

Humans can inhale up to 10 billion fungal spores a day. Have you thanked a T-cell lately?

5. The Roman emperors Nero, Trajan, and Agrippa all put their names on thermae, AKA what sex-segregated facilities heated by underground furnaces? Baths

The largest Roman baths, the Baths of Diocletian, took up a whopping 32 acres, or about ¼ of a Mall of America. And it probably smelled four times better.

6. Never good at reading the room, what sucktastic president dropped 30 grand on an Oval Office AC system right after the Great Depression started? Herbert Hoover 

To be fair to Hoover, it was part of a bigger renovation necessitated by a Christmas Eve fire. The blaze started when bad wiring ignited thousands of stored pamphlets dating back to the Teddy Roosevelt administration. Oh, and the building wasn’t insured against fire, even though it’d already been burned down once in rather dramatic fashion

7. Water heaters and AC condensers are common hot spots for what extra-nasty form of pneumonia that was first diagnosed at a veterans’ convention? Legionnaires’ disease

As in the American Legion, not the French Foreign, Roman, or Of Doom. If you’re worried about Legionnaires’ in your water system (which you probably shouldn’t be), UV light has been shown to be a fairly effective solution. One more justification for your tanning chamber!

8. Troy learns he’s the “Truest Repairman” prophesied by Greendale’s well-funded Air Conditioning Repair School, in the season three of what sitcom that’ll get its movie any year now? Community

The head of the GCC Air Conditioning Annex (played with the usual John Goodman verve) brags that his school’s job placement rate is five times higher than the rest of the college combined. Indeed, the market for HVAC jobs is expected to grow steadily in the next decade. Don’t pooh-pooh the trades, kids!

Community S3E1, 2011

Bonus: A high-tech “furnace” in the Pyrenees uses 10,000 mirrors to heat an area the size of a pasta pot to 5,000 degrees, with the power of what clean energy source? Solar

That’s the Odeillo Solar Furnace, used by the French National Center for Scientific Research for fun stuff like testing spaceship heat shields and melting steel just for the fun of it. You just know James Bond is gonna be almost-killed with this thing some day.