Types of Home HVAC Systems
HVAC is short for heating ventilation and air conditioning, and while both the heating and cooling elements are grouped together as a system, they may employ vastly different methods for regulating your home’s temperature. For instance, in your live in a northern climate, you may have a full ducted heating system, but rely solely on a scattering of window units for your AC. Meanwhile, if you live in the south, a full central air system is a better option, as it can heat and cool the entire home more efficiently. Generally, however, HVAC units fall into four types:
Split System: Units are described as “split systems” when they have portions of the unit installed in the exterior and interior of the home. The air conditioning unit will be used in combination with a furnace, making it an ideal choice if you already have a gas furnace installed in your home and are looking to upgrade to central air. The outdoor part of the unit generally contains a fan, condenser, and compressor, while the internal unit houses the fan and evaporator.
Pros: Fairly energy efficient, can be retrofitted to an existing furnace.
Cons: Units are more expensive because the installer must work inside and outside of the home.
Hybrid Heat Split System:
Heating oil can be expensive, depending on price fluctuations, and it’s not really all that efficient, either. That’s why hybrid systems use both an electric heat pump and a furnace—the heat pump option allows you to rely on electrical heating, a much more energy-efficient alternative, and only switch to gas on extremely cold days. This makes them a great choice for homes in temperate climates, but heat pumps also work hard in warmer weather, too. They help cool and dehumidify interiors, as well. Beyond those distinctions, hybrid systems have a structure similar to split systems, with components housed indoors and out.
Pros: Heat pump option makes them more energy efficient, all year round. A good choice for homes in warmer regions, hybrid systems can also be manually operated to control the heating source
Cons: Although domestic gas may cheap now, don’t expect those prices to continue forever. If you’re really looking for maximum energy efficiency, switching solely to a heat pump might be a better option.
Duct-Free Split System: Most HVAC systems use a network of ducts to spread heated or cooled air throughout your home. However, this system isn’t efficient, ideal, or even possible, especially in parts of your home off the main building (think garages and additions). Ductless systems rely exclusively on a heat pump, and don’t suffer from the heating and cooling losses common with duct leaks, so they’re much more energy-efficient. The indoor components are mounted directly on the walls, with no vents or ducts to worry about.
Pros: Increased energy-efficiency—Just one of the benefits of a ductless system is that it could save the average homeowner $875 a year in lowered energy costs, per the US Department of Energy. Ductless systems also offer a more flexible alternative to traditional ducts, and can be more readily installed in a home since there’s less work to do. And if you’re an allergy sufferer or just like things to be extra clean, the absence of ducts means less dust, pet hair, pollen, and other irritating substances are distributed through the air in your home. They’re also safer, since they’re combustion-free and won’t give off carbon monoxide.
Cons: Some HVAC professionals feel that heat pumps aren’t an ideal choice for colder climates. Additionally, duct-free systems will require more frequent maintenance and replacement since the heat pump’s components are working year-round.
Packaged System: Packaged HVAC systems are ideal for small homes that are too confined to separately house interior components. All parts of both the AC and heating systems are installed outdoors, saving you space.
Pros: Space-efficiency and less expensive than HVAC split systems, since components are installed in one place.
Cons: Generally, these HVAC systems are not as efficient as split system units.