How HVAC Systems Work

Your heating and cooling system keeps your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer. But there's more than temperature when it comes to home comfort. Your HVAC system can purify and enhance the air within your home, maintain optimal humidity levels and much more.

Understanding how HVAC systems work requires a look at the primary components that make up your system. Check out our HVAC Glossary to better understand these components and how they deliver comfort and value to your home.

Next, let's take a look at the different types of HVAC systems.

Types of HVAC Systems

The type of HVAC system used in your home is dependent on the configuration of your home's ductwork and type of energy supply. Each system typically includes either a furnace or electric heat pump to deliver heated air, an air conditioner to provide cooled air, ductwork to allow warm and cool air to travel throughout your home and a thermostat to control system functions.

How these components work together is where each system differs. Residential heating and cooling typically falls into one of the following system categories.

Heating and Air Conditioning Split System

A split system, also referred to as a forced-air HVAC system, involves an air conditioning unit or heat pump installed outside your home and a furnace or air handler installed inside. Heated or cooled air is forced through the home's ductwork via a mechanical blower. The conditioned air travels through ducts and is controlled through your home thermostat.

Hybrid Heat Pump HVAC System

In this HVAC system, an electric heat pump is used in conjunction with a furnace. The furnace is used to heat the home when outdoor temperatures are colder. During milder temperatures, when indoor heating is still needed, the heat pump can be an efficient, supplemental heating source. Additionally, the heat pump can also be the source of cooling when air conditioning is needed. Balancing the flow between components is automated by the control of your thermostat.

Duct Free Mini Split HVAC System

For some homes, ductwork (or lack thereof) can be an obstacle. In these instances, homeowners may rely on window unit air conditioners. A duct-free, mini-split system is an ideal solution for older homes that are not equipped with HVAC ducting or single rooms, such as a renovated attic or garage, that were not originally fitted with ductwork.

Duct-free, mini-split units are installed directly into the areas of the home that require heating and cooling. Typically, one unit will manage the comfort of a single room, or zone, in your home. Depending on the configuration of your home and the system capabilities, units may be wall-, ceiling-, or floor-mounted – and in some instances, ducting may be incorporated to provide multi-zoned comfort from one unit.

Packaged Heating and Air Conditioning System

Residential packaged HVAC systems are compact and efficient. The system design consolidates all the components of a traditional, split HVAC system into a single unit that sits outside your house. This is an ideal fit for homeowners without a basement or who require a rooftop solution.

Additional Considerations

Beyond heating and cooling, there are several additional factors to consider when understanding how an HVAC system works. These factors can impact your energy costs and influence the health and comfort of your home.

Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency is an important consideration. Finding a system that is the ideal size for your home plays an important role in ensuring just the right amount of energy is being used. Additionally, ENERGY STAR® ratings make identifying efficient heating & cooling units easy.  ENERGY STAR®  is a standard created by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In the case of HVAC systems, this label denotes products that save at least 15% to 25% more energy than standard products.

Energy-efficient HVAC products are not only good for the environment, but they can also provide significant savings on your utility bills. Learn more about HVAC energy savings with this simple guide.

Indoor Air Quality

Your HVAC system is responsible for regulating and circulating airflow around your home, so improving indoor air quality (IAQ) can provide significant improvements to both the comfort and health of your home.  Integrating IAQ products, such as ventilators, humidifiers, dehumidifiers and air cleaners can be helpful in homes with pets or those with allergies, asthma or concerns related to airborne viruses, bacteria or mold. Find more tips to improve indoor air quality in this article.

Thermostats and Smart Home Controls

Your thermostat is the command center of your HVAC system. In addition to controlling indoor temperatures, some thermostats integrate smart home features into your HVAC system. Programmable thermostats are proven to improve HVAC system efficiency and reduce energy costs. YORK® takes this a step further by integrating voice control using Amazon Alexa, and remote access and monitoring via a smart device (including Apple Watch®) in some communicating thermostats. Plus, some YORK® thermostats include service alerts and optional remote dealer monitoring and access to ensure your HVAC system provides outstanding home comfort for years to come.

It's important to understand how HVAC systems work when you are considering a system repair or replacement. Our YORK® Certified Comfort Expert™ Contractors are here to help you determine which system is best for your home and lifestyle. Find a YORK® dealer near you using our Dealer Locator.

HVAC system types differ depending on the configuration of the ductwork and heat source in your home.

Types of HVAC Systems

  • Split system/forced air
  • Hybrid heat pump system
  • Duct-free, mini-split
  • Packaged heating and air conditioning