HVAC stands for heating, ventilation and air conditioning.
What Does HVAC Stand For?
- H – Heating
- V – Ventilation
- AC – Air Conditioning
This HVAC guide begins with a brief introduction to the industry. Then each of the areas of HVAC are explained This includes your equipment options.
Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning
HVAC is usually pronounced H-V-A-C, the letters spoken individually. However, some people in the industry pronounce it H-vac.
The term refers to the industry that manufactures, sells, installs and repairs heating and air conditioning equipment, ventilation equipment and ductwork.
HVAC manufacturers make equipment and sell it to wholesale distributors or directly to large HVAC contractors. Some of the best-known names are Carrier, Trane, Rheem, Goodman and Lennox. There are others, but with heavy consolidation over the last several decades, there are really less than 10 residential HVAC equipment manufacturers.
Wholesalers sell equipment to smaller heating and air conditioning companies. Some brands, such as Goodman, allow wholesalers to sell equipment directly to the public.
Local contractors sell HVAC equipment to the public for residential and commercial use. Most companies specialize either in residential HVAC sales, installation and repair or commercial HVAC. Larger companies have both commercial and residential divisions.
HVAC technicians work for local contractors, and finding a qualified technician is important to having your system installed and repaired properly.
Heating is the most essential type of HVAC equipment in most homes. You have many good options. It makes the most sense to choose one that is best suited to your climate, what fuels are available and you home’s design.
Here are the main types with brief pros and cons.
These units are affordable and produce a lot of heat. They create heat internally and use a blower fan to distribute it through ductwork. Operating costs are higher for furnaces than heat pumps.
- Gas furnaces are ideal for any climate. They come in a range of efficiency options, and the colder your winters are, the higher the efficiency rating should be. Natural gas furnaces are most common. But in rural areas without gas lines, propane furnaces are a good alternative. Full information is found in our gas furnace guide.
- Oil furnaces are popular in the Northeast region of the US. If you have access to natural gas or propane, then we don’t recommend an oil furnace.
- Electric furnaces are suitable for very warm climates where heating is needed infrequently. This is because electric heat is expensive to make.
- Wood furnaces and boilers make sense where wood supplies are abundant and cheap. But they smoke a bit, and you or neighbors might find the smell unpleasant.
The PickHVAC Guide called Types of Furnace: How to Choose Proper Furnace is an ideal place to begin your search for the right furnace.
These units are the most efficient heating equipment. Air source heat pumps provide a tremendous balance between affordability and energy efficiency. Most aren’t effective in very cold weather, but manufacturers are now producing a few models that can supply enough heat in sub-freezing weather.
There are two air-source heat pump types. The third in this list is a ground-source or geothermal heat pump.
- Standard central heat pumps use ductwork and an air handler to distribute heated and air conditioned air. They are the most common for replacement heat pumps, though many new construction homes and additions are heated by them too.
- Ductless heat pumps are great for open areas where a single indoor unit supplies heat. Once you begin to talk about 3+ zones in the house, each with a separate indoor unit, their cost becomes higher than standard split system heat pumps.
- Geothermal heat pumps are the most efficient and the most costly for the equipment. They gather heat from 6 to 100 feet below ground level where temperatures remain a steady 55-60F. It’s easier to extract heat at those temperatures when an air source heat pump is working with outside temperatures of 40F or lower.
Here’s our comprehensive split system heat pump guide. You might enjoy comparing heat pump types by also reviewing our ductless mini split heat pump guide!
A boiler uses gas (mostly), oil or electricity to heat water. Most don’t actually boil.
The hot water is circulated through tubing or pipes to radiate out of radiators or from beneath flooring. They are fairly efficient, quiet and don’t blow dust around your home like a furnace can. There are other differences explained in the guide called Furnaces vs Boilers – Which Is Better?
Many boilers are combination boilers, aka, combi boilers. This means that they heat the air in your home and heat the water in the water tank.
Yes, we skipped the V for ventilation for now, but it made sense to move to AC after heating.
Your four primary options for central air conditioning are:
- (1) Central air conditioners
- Air-source (2) central heat pumps and (3) ductless heat pumps and (4) geothermal heat pumps. They all reverse refrigerant flow in summer to remove heat from your home to provide air conditioning
Heat pumps were described above.
Central Air Conditioners
Central air conditioners cool they air, but don’t heat it. Like all air conditioning, they also dehumidify the air. Their basic design is an outdoor condensing unit that contains a radiator-like coil, compressor, fan and electrical supporting parts.
There’s a coil indoors too in the furnace. Refrigerant lines run between coils. The refrigerant evaporates indoors, absorbing heat just like sweat evaporating takes heat with it and cools you off. The hot refrigerant circulates outside. When it enters the outdoor coil, it is condensed, and the heat is released from it. Heat transfers through the radiator fins of the coil and the fan disperses it.
The only difference with heat pumps, again, is that they have a reversing valve that creates the opposite dynamic in winter.
Central air conditioners are generally paired with a furnace or some type. The furnace has a blower fan for airflow. It should be noted that some ductless models are AC-only.
Note: Room air conditioners like window air conditioners and portable air conditioners can also be valuable assets in any home. We’ve completed in-depth reviews for these units plus guides to the best models available in many sizes and types.
This is an area of the HVAC field that is growing for two important reasons.
- Newly built homes and remodeled homes are being given a very tight envelop – house wrap, foam insulation in gaps, weatherstripping, etc. As a result, inside air isn’t exchanged very often with outside air. The result is high levels of indoor air pollution.
- People are more conscious of indoor air quality (IAQ) than ever. So is the Environmental Protection Agency. This resource is useful. https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq
To make sure you’re getting fresh air, you can install whole-house ventilation equipment that will exchange the air in your home – fresh outside air for stale indoor air.
- Energy recovery ventilators (ERV) are designed for warm climates. They use cool air being exhausted to pre-cool and partly dehumidify incoming air.
- Heat recovery ventilators (HRV) are ideal for cold climates. They use the air they are exhausting to pre-heat incoming air.
While ERVs and HRVs exchange air, they do it without mixing indoor and outdoor air.
While not ventilation, whole-house purification equipment can improve indoor air by filtering out pollutants or using mechanical means to destroy viruses and bacteria. This guide explains your options.
Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning – HVAC!
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