HVAC is an acronym that refers to heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. An HVAC system controls the temperature, cleanliness, and sometimes humidity of the air inside a building. There are many different types of HVAC systems that transport air between the outdoors and indoors. Out of all the HVAC systems, a residential AC system is the most common. A residential AC system controls the temperature, humidity, and ventilation inside of a residence and is typically used to maintain a cool temperature in a warm climate. Air conditioning is beloved for keeping you cool on a hot summer day, but there is much more to it than that. Here is your guide to residential AC systems.

The Different Types of Air Conditioning

When it comes to a residential AC system, there are many different types of units that can be utilized inside of the home. If you know the difference between these types of air conditioning units, you will be more informed and better able to make decisions regarding what type of air conditioning services are right for your home.

Central Air Conditioning

Residential central air conditioning is the most common type of residential AC system, especially for larger homes. Central air conditioning is the most widely used and popular because it is the best system for cooling large areas efficiently, which may increase the value when selling your home. A 2013 study conducted by Houzz research found that 54% of homeowners make home improvements to improve the value of their homes. However, a new air conditioning system is not the simplest to install. Because the size of the area is critical to the central air system functioning properly, it requires a lot of planning and preparation to install and you will need to work with experienced professionals in order to do it.

Window Air Conditioners

While window air conditioners are viewed as an antiquated choice, they are still used in many homes today. This type of air conditioning unit cools a single room by pulling in warm air and blowing cool air back out into the room. Windows units are commonly used in smaller homes, apartments, or other living spaces because they are more effective at cooling a single room, rather than an entire home.

Ductless or Mini Split

Ductless or mini split air conditioning units are commonly found throughout many different parts of a home. Just like a central air system, ductless or mini split systems have indoor handling units and outdoor compressors. Because a ductless or mini split system can contain up to four different handling units that all connect to the outside unit, this allows you to cool individual rooms throughout your home much more easily and efficiently. A ductless or mini split system is also a great choice for cooling rooms that have been added on to an existing home.

Portable Air Conditioners

Recently, portable air conditioners have been increasing in popularity, so much that they are viewed as the next generation of window units. Portable air conditioning units take air from the room, cool it, and then blow it back into the room. These units also vent warm air from the outside through an exhaust hose located in the window. One downside of portable air conditioners is that they are only designed to cool one room. However, they are versatile, affordable, and easily installed.

Hybrid Air Conditioning

Hybrid air conditioning is a rather unconventional method of air conditioning that uses heat pumps with a wide range of functions. For power, a hybrid system switches between using electricity and fossil fuels. The hybrid system will choose between the two options accordingly to save energy and money.

Geothermal Heating and Cooling

Geothermal technology is another method of heating and cooling that has been increasing in popularity recently. This increase in popularity is likely due to geothermal’s efficiency, sustainability, and lifespan. Geothermal technology is a method through which the energy in the ground is transferred into your home. During the winter, geothermal technology takes the heat from below the ground’s surface and pumps it into your home through coils installed deep below the ground. This is possible because the temperature of the ground is consistently 55 degrees all year, no matter the temperature of the atmosphere. Geothermal technology can be used as a means of cooling as well as heating.

All Water Systems

An all water HVAC system disperses cold and warm water to conditioned spaces from a central system. An all water system is much smaller compared to other systems, mostly because they use pipes for distribution. In addition, the water used in these systems has a higher heat capacity and density than the air. Therefore, the lower volume transfers heat. An all water system is usually installed on the floor and not mounted on the ceiling.

Air and Water Systems

An HVAC system that uses air and water combines the benefits offered by both an all water and all air system. In this system, the water carries the thermal component throughout the cool and warm water, while the air conditions everything else. A combined air and water system offers benefits such as a reduced volume and outdoor ventilation properly conditioning the desired zone.

Choosing an HVAC System

Before deciding on an HVAC system, you should consider all the costs involved, such as installation and maintenance. Depending on the size of your house, a new HVAC system can cost anywhere from 3,000 to 30,000 dollars. There are a few other factors that affect the cost, such as the length of the ductwork, efficiency of the equipment, and the residential area. To increase the chances of a more successful installation, opt for respected HVAC contractors to install your residential AC system. A system that has been installed improperly will cost you large sums of money in AC repairs later on down the road. Since a new HVAC system will contribute significantly to your energy bill, make sure your home is properly insulated and airtight before you even think about having a new residential AC system installed.

Once you are all set and know what type of air conditioning you want, there are a few other factors to consider:

Square Footage

Your home’s square footage is the first thing you should consider when deciding on an air conditioning unit. Your air conditioning system should have the output capacity to cool your entire home. Residential central air systems typically range from 1.5 to 5 ton units. For example, a home that is 1,600 square feet will usually require a 3 ton air conditioning unit to effectively cool the entire home. Any system over 5 tons is usually considered to be a light commercial HVAC system. If your home needs an air conditioning unit of 5 tons or more, you may have to install multiple units to work in tandem. If you are building a home, your custom home builder can help choose the right system for you.


If budget is your largest concern, the cheapest air conditioning option is a portable or window unit designed to cool a single room. However, this is also one of the least versatile options. A portable or window unit will cool a space like a ceiling fan will, but not much else. The second most cost effective option is a ductless system. Although, this is only the case if you are looking to cool a few rooms. If you want to install a ductless system for the entire home, it can become quite an expensive feat.

If budget is less of a concern for you, a central air conditioning unit is your most effective and durable option, since they tend to last much longer than a window or portable unit. Your most expensive option available is a geothermal unit, but its greatest upside is that it will likely last the rest of your lifetime.


A major sign of a good HVAC company is the warranties they offer. A good system should last 20 years or longer. While a longer warranty is preferable, it is also important to consider what the warranty covers. Just because a unit comes with a lifetime warranty, that does not mean it covers the cost of labor or may only cover labor for the first year. Warranties generally have different time frames for various components and parts, so it is important to understand what a warranty covers and what it does not.

Saving Energy

Energy saving features in air conditioning systems are relatively new. The features to look for are:

  • Variable speed motors: This feature allows the system to operate at different speeds depending on the need.
  • Automatic fan delay switch: This feature pushes out any remaining cold air in the system after each cooling cycle.
  • Thermal expansion valves: Based on the amount of cool required, the valve will increase or decrease the flow of refrigerant in order to reduce energy consumption while still keeping your home cool.
  • Two stage cooling: This feature involves a compressor with two cooling settings, low and high. Depending on the temperature on a given day, the low or high setting will be used in order to consume less energy or keep up with the demand.

Knowing Your Residential AC System

There are many parts that go into making up a standard residential AC system. For many homeowners, cooling the home is number one priority. However, a residential AC system contains many other components that perform other tasks, such as filtering and removing particles in the air, regulating the humidity levels, and monitoring the temperature of the air through a thermostat. The seven components that make up a standard residential AC system are:

  • Evaporator: This part is where the cooling coils remove heat and humidity from the air by way of refrigerant.
  • Blower: The blower continuously moves air through the evaporator and distributes the cold air.
  • Condenser: In this part, warm coils collect heat and release it into the outside air.
  • Compressor: A compressor pumps refrigerant to the condenser and the evaporator to cool the air indoors.
  • Fan: The fan blows air through the condenser to help remove the heat from the outside.
  • Filter: An air conditioning unit’s filter removes particles in the air that would otherwise enter your home.
  • Thermostat: This component is one of the most important parts of your entire residential AC system. A thermostat gives you complete control over the temperature of your home and the amount of cold air that circulates throughout the home.

Understanding SEER Ratings

Knowing the SEER rating is crucial to understanding your residential AC system. You would not buy any other household appliance, such as a dishwasher or refrigeratorr, if you knew the make and model had terrible ratings and reviews. The same applies to SEER ratings and a residential AC system. SEER stands for seasonal energy efficiency ratio.

A residential AC system’s SEER rating measures its cooling capability compared to the amount of power it requires over one cooling season. The higher the SEER rating is, the more efficient is the air conditioning unit. A seer rating can be anywhere between 13 SEER and 24 SEER. HVAC services recommend that people who live in hot and humid climates have an air conditioner with a SEER rating of at least 15. The experts also note that if your system is older or has a rating of 10 or less, upgrading to a SEER 15 model can reduce your energy bills significantly.

Oftentimes a homeowner faces the difficult decision of shelling out the extra money for a more efficient and higher quality residential AC system. When faced with this dilemma, do not forget to look into any local tax credits or manufacturer rebates. These can significantly reduce the cost of a higher rated SEER system.

Maintaining Your Air Conditioner

An important part of ensuring that your residential AC system is working properly is to have regular maintenance checkups. This route is much preferred to simply waiting until something in your air conditioning unit malfunctions. Regular maintenance and air conditioner repair by an HVAC professional is one of the best ways to guarantee a long life for your system and its parts.

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