How accurate is the depiction of HVAC in the most critically acclaimed television series of all time? A professional engineer who moonlights as a film critic weighs in.
Editor’s note: Hollywood long has been known for—ahem—taking liberties with the truth (just ask any composite character). In HPAC Engineering’s ongoing series “HVAC in Popular Movies: Did Hollywood Get It Right?," Ron Wilkinson, a professional engineer who moonlights as a film critic, takes a look at movies and television series whose makers may or may not have let HVAC fundamentals get in the way of a good story.
Breaking Bad (Season 1, Episode 4, "Cancer Man") (2008)
In this AMC drama, the most critically acclaimed television series of all time, according to the 2014 edition of "Guinness World Records," Bryan Cranston plays Walter White, a meek, underemployed high-school chemistry teacher who, following a grave medical diagnosis, enters into a partnership with a former student, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), to produce and sell crystallized methamphetamine.
Initially, Walt and Jesse’s laboratory is an old motorhome ventilated by a house fan directed at an open window. Later in the series, they find a business partner who sets them up in an ingenious underground laboratory, the exhaust from which is combined with the exhaust from a commercial laundry at ground level above. It is not the perfect way to disguise the powerful odors of a methamphetamine operation, but close enough. Well done, Hollywood!
Despite its dark and often violent subject matter, the show has moments of levity, such as in Episode 4 (“Cancer Man”) of the inaugural season, when Walt is trying to find a place to hide his ill-gotten gains. The obvious choice? The baby’s bedroom, of course! Removing the grill at the base of the wall, Walt stashes a pile of bills in the duct. Just as he grabs the grill to replace it, the furnace fan starts and blows the money out of the duct and all over him and the floor. Just then, Walt’s teenage son asks through the door what is going on. “Uh, mice in the ducts,” Walt replies, and a multimillion-dollar drug operation takes root.
The odd thing about the duct is that, being large and placed low, it appears to be a return duct, not a supply duct. As such, when the fan starts, the money would be pulled into the exhaust duct, run through the fan, and plastered against all of the supply registers in the house. In fact, this might have made for a better sequence. But it was not to be.
Additionally, the return duct and grill would never be placed in a bedroom, but in a central hall or living area, where the return to the furnace would be shortest and the air movement less likely to cause drafts. At least the baby was not there, avoiding being covered by the first of Walt’s filthy lucre.
Enjoy this trailer for Season 1: