HVAC Systems: Everything you need to know

The HVAC system is key in keeping your house’s temperature regulated; knowing the different types and parts can be important in the long run.
Written by Claire Beaney
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
HVAC, or heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, is the system that regulates the temperature in your home. Understanding the types of HVAC systems and their standard parts can be helpful in the long run.
You rely on the furnace portion of the HVAC system in the winter, while the air conditioning side keeps you comfy and cool through the summer.
If you know which system you have in your house, and the various parts that it’s composed of, then it’s much easier to stay on top of repairs and maintenance for your HVAC.
Every type of HVAC system has its own pros and cons, so knowing which type is best for you can also be helpful if you ever have to make a full replacement and need to know which to choose.
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Types of HVAC systems

You may not have given much thought to the various types of HVAC units available, but each has its own set of advantages and disadvantages.
There are four main types of HVAC systems you should be familiar with.

Heating and cooling split systems

Heating and cooling split systems are the most common types of HVAC systems. The system is divided into two primary units, one for heating and one for cooling, as the name implies.
The exterior cooling system employs refrigerants, compressors, and coils to chill the air. The interior heating system uses a gas heater in the basement to heat the house, and a fan to circulate the air.
  • Usually come packed with purifiers and humidifiers, so you’re guaranteed comfort no matter the weather
  • Indoor units are built to be noiseless
  • Unobtrusive and inconspicuous appearance 
  • Rather expensive to install (is more of an investment for the long-term)
  • Requires professional installation, which can take some time
  • Mainly suited for larger homes (not apartments or tall buildings)
  • The outdoor units can be pretty noisy

Hybrid split system

While hybrid split systems are comparable to split systems, there are some major differences. These systems will automatically respond to changing temperatures when heating or cooling a home. 
It uses a heat pump instead of an air conditioner, conserving fuel, and hybrid heat can function with both gas and electricity.
  • Homeowners can choose whether they want their house to be heated with gas or electricity
  • Hybrid systems operate best in warm climates where homeowners can use electric heat during mild months
  • All the advantages of a heating/cooling split system, with the added bonus of saving energy and lowering utility costs
  • When the weather drops below freezing in the winter, your home may become chilly and uninviting
  • A hybrid split system does not completely eliminate carbon emissions, as it still requires fossil-fuel-powered boilers
  • While you may save money in the long-run, hybrid systems have pretty steep upfront costs

Duct-free (mini-split) system

A mini-split or duct-free HVAC system is distinct in that it consists of individual units in each room, giving you complete control. 
The indoor units are often installed on walls and connected to an outdoor compressor.
  • Work best for heating and cooling individual rooms, making them excellent for garages, expansions, and/or other buildings
  • Easy to install
  • Give ​​you complete control over the unit
  • Work well in small residences and apartments
  • Since they only heat specific rooms, duct-free systems conserve energy
  • Expensive to install and repair
  • More obvious and obtrusive appearance
  • Requires regular, intensive cleaning and maintenance
  • May not provide the same level of consistency as other systems

Packaged heating and air system

A packaged HVAC system combines the compressor, condenser, and evaporator into a single unit that is typically installed on the roof or close to the foundation. 
This one component is able to meet a home's cooling and heating requirements.
  • As a single unit, it’s a good space saver
  • Easy to repair as all the components are in one place
  • Minimum indoor noise
  • Since this system can be placed outside, it’s susceptible to harsh weather damage
  • Installation into a roof can be complicated
  • Not as efficient in heat distribution compared to its split counterparts.
Key Takeaway Every type of HVAC system has its own unique sets of pros and cons; be sure to research which will suit your home best before you make a decision!

Parts of a standard HVAC system

Now that you have an idea of the various types of HVAC systems on the market, it’s equally important to know the different parts and tools that keep your system running.
Though specifics will differ between models, there are a number of common parts:
  • Furnace and blower motor: Distributes heated or cooled air through the system and is typically kept in a basement, utility room, or attic.
  • Heat exchanger: Rapidly warm the air that is taken into the furnace from outside of the home or through the ductwork. 
  • Condensing unit: Located outside the residence, contain refrigerant gas that is cooled and converted to a liquid. The liquid is then transferred to the evaporator coil, where it cools the air.
  • Evaporator coil: These coils are located on the furnace and cool the air that circulates throughout the home.
  • Refrigerant lines: Made of copper or aluminum, these transport liquid from the external condensing unit to the internal furnace.
  • Thermostat: Regulates the temperature in your home by alerting the system to cool or heat to the desired temperature.
  • Ductwork: These hidden components are in charge of air distribution. Ductwork is normally installed in the walls or ceiling.
  • Return and supply registers: These cover ductwork openings and can be found in the ceiling, wall, or floor—try and keep at least 80% of your supply registers open.

Does home insurance cover HVAC systems?

Finding out what your
home insurance
will cover when it comes to your HVAC system can save you from freezing in the winter or sweating it out in the summer. 
A typical homeowners insurance policy covers HVAC systems if they are damaged by a
named peril
, such as a fire.
However, if your HVAC unit fails due to an accident or regular wear and tear, your insurance provider is unlikely to cover your claim.
Homeowners can purchase additional coverage if they want their HVAC system, and other appliances, covered.
Many home warranty programs include a set price for HVAC repairs, and insurance add-ons like equipment breakdown coverage can help cover the costs. These alternatives may come with additional fees, so be sure to ask about them before you sign anything.

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Whether or not your HVAC system is covered by your
home insurance
depends on your specific policy. If you’re not pleased with your current policy’s coverage, or how much it’s costing you, your first step should be to download the
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There are four main types of HVAC systems available to homeowners:
Heating and cooling split systems
Hybrid split system
Duct-free (mini-split) system
Packaged heating and air system
They can be! While boilers heat water, they can also provide warmth by circulating this hot water through your home via pipes and radiators.
Boilers are classified as HVAC since they are designed to provide heat (rather than merely hot water).
People often use the terms boiler and furnace interchangeably—remember that if you have ductwork, you have a furnace, and if you have radiators, you have a boiler.
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