HVAC systems are a part of our everyday lives. But do you have a good understanding of what your HVAC system actually does and how it works? Do you know what HVAC stands for? Your HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) system’s primary jobs are to keep your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer, as well as maintaining the highest possible levels of air quality in your home. Understanding your HVAC system’s key roles and how it operates is important as a homeowner, allowing you to get the most out of your system without “breaking the bank”.
The bitter cold and snow has arrived in many parts of the country, so our HVAC systems are working hard to provide us with the heat and comfort we need throughout the cold days and frigid nights. Since this system is working overtime, knowing how your furnace works can help you to better troubleshoot problems if something does go wrong. According to the Department of Energy, heating accounts for around 45% of energy bills in the United States, so the more we know, the better.
It is the heating component of your HVAC system that provides the warmer climate for your home in the cold months. Most homes have a forced air heating system, but you may have a different type of system, such as a heat pump, broiler or active solar heating. Heating systems that utilize radiators and heat water are called boilers. Heat pumps function like an air conditioner, only working in reverse. Many furnaces run on natural gas, but not all of them. You may have an electric furnace or one that runs on heating oil or propane. No matter what the system your home has, all of them create heat at a central source and disperse the warm air throughout your home by different means.
- Forced Air: With a forced air system, a furnace is used to heat the air, which is then distributed throughout your home through the duct-work and in-room vents.
- Radiant Heating Systems: With radiant heating systems, a boiler or heating stove is used to disperse the heat throughout your home by way of hot water tubing or electric heating coils that are installed in the floors or ceiling.
- Geothermal Heating: With geothermal heating, a heat exchanger is used to generate heat from the sun’s rays that are absorbed into the ground.
When working properly, your HVAC system should improve your home’s IAQ (indoor air quality) by removing dust, dander, dirt, and other debris and by controlling the humidity in your home via ventilation. When your home is properly ventilated, contaminated air and excess humidity are vented out of your home year round. Just like the heating element of your HVAC system, this can be done a multitude of different ways depending upon the age of your home and the system you have. Some ventilation is mechanical, while other times the system may rely on fans and windows, or use a combination of the two.
If you have a forced air system, air is passed through an air filter that traps volatile organic compounds (VOCs), airborne particulates, mold, dust and allergens. Improving air filtration is the most beneficial thing that can be done to reduce the effects of poor indoor air quality. Air filtration provides us with a means to attain the desired level of indoor air quality. Air filters were originally intended to simply shield the components of your expensive HVAC system, thus protecting it from harmful dust build-up and extending its life. As the manufacturing process of air filters evolved over the decades, filtration media became more refined and specialized which allowed us to go beyond system protection into cleaning contaminants, allergens, and other bothersome particles from our air using high-efficiency pleated air filters. This has allowed a significant improvement in indoor comfort and cleaner air in our homes and businesses.
If your home does not have a forced air system, filtering your air can also be done by the use of air purifiers, humidifiers, air cleaners, and dehumidifiers. No matter what, having a good understanding of how your home is ventilated and properly filtering your air is an important step to figuring out any allergy or breathing issues you or your family may be experiencing throughout the year.
Lastly, but certainly not least, in addition to heating and ventilating your home, your HVAC system is also responsible for keeping you cool during the warm summer weather. As with heating and ventilation systems, there are many different types of AC units. Central air is the most popular and is used in conjunction with your forced air system. There are also window AC units, portable AC units and split or ductless AC units, all which use a similar process to cool your home.
Your AC system uses a refrigerant that, as it is circulated, changes from a gas to a liquid as it traps the heat from your home and expels it. The warm vapor refrigerant is passed through the compressor where it turns into hot refrigerant vapor and moves into the condenser. The air of the condenser fan cools the hot vapor and as it passes over the finned coils it turns into a hot liquid. As the hot liquid is passed through an expansion valve, a low pressure, cool liquid mist is created which runs through the evaporator coil. As this mist evaporates, it absorbs the heat from the air inside your home and is then returned to the compressor, starting the process over again. The heat that is absorbed is pushed outside by your AC system, therefore cooling the air in your home.
As you can see, there is a lot that goes into your HVAC system. Now that you have a better understanding of how all the components work, you can be better prepared to maintain your system and/or know when to call a professional in for help.
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