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How Heating & Cooling Systems Work: The Basics

Whether it’s the sweltering days of summer of the cold and frosty days of winter, it would be hard for us to get through it without our heating & air conditioning systems. Sure, there are natural ways to warm up (building a fire) or cool down (open the window, go outside); our heating & cooling systems go a long way in keeping us at equilibrium so we can go about our days. But it’s also important to know how these HVAC systems work so you don’t overuse energy and you don’t waste money.

All climate-controlled devices are made up of three essential components. First, there’s a source of warmed or cooled air, which pours into your home when necessary. Next, there’s a means of distributing the air to the rooms being heated or cooled. Finally, there’s a central control used to regulate the system, otherwise known as a thermostat. This helps you keep your home at a specifically regulated temperature, and when the air reaches that temperature, the system shuts down to save electricity, and ultimately money. The warm air source is often a furnace, while the cool air source could be an air conditioner. If you have a central cooling or heating system, the cold and hot air likely flows through the same distribution path.

How Heating & Cooling Systems Work

Now, while it’s important to know what makes a heating & cooling system work, it’s also important to know what the signs are if your system starts to malfunction. If things are starting to not work properly, any one of the previously mentioned components could be causing a problem. Remember, furnaces and heaters put heat in the air to make your home warmer, while air conditioners remove the heat, which in turn makes your home cooler.

Not many people know the specifics on how central heating & air conditioning systems work, but that’s what we’re here for! Let’s start with air conditioning systems. The best air conditioner is the one you don’t even want to give a second thought to. When that temperature reaches a certain point in your house, it should click on and do the rest. Of course, if nobody is home, the settings should be altered so you conserve precious electricity. There’s no reason to waste money, although it is certainly nice to come home in the summer to a cool house.

Here’s how the refrigeration cycle works with an air conditioning system. As it uses electricity as its power source, the refrigerant flows through a closed system of lines between the inside and outside unit. Warm air from the outside is pulled by a motorized fan into the ductwork. The refrigerant is then pumped from the exterior compressor coil to an interior evaporator coil. Then the cool air is pushed to the connecting ducts and is distributed throughout the home. In short order, the hot and steamy conditions that may have preceded will be a thought of the past.

On the flip side of the equation, here’s how a central heating system works. In layman’s terms, it creates a cycle of increasing the temperature of air that was previously cool. How does this happen? Well first, burning propane or natural gas generates heat in the burner of the furnace. Next, the heat passes through the heat exchanger, which makes it nice and hot. Once that’s complete, the air from the home’s ductwork is blown over the heat exchanger, causing the air to rise in temperature. After a little time, the air is evenly distributed throughout the home, making what was a cold and frosty situation — which probably required a lot of blankets — into a nice and cozy home you’re comfortable in.

Now, whether you’re dealing with a cooling system or a heating system, ventilation is super important. That portion of your HVAC system is made up of return and supply vents, ductwork, filters and a circulating fan. If any one of those starts to act up, you may have to have someone come in and service your system because it will not operate at optimal performance.

When something goes wrong with the system, don’t immediately assume it has to be serviced by a professional. That could be costly, and in the end, unnecessary. First, check for a tripped breaker or dead batteries in the thermostat. It sounds silly, but a solution that’s so simple can save you the money.
It’s important to be diligent with your thermostat and keep the temperature at a point that’s comfortable for everyone in the home. Also, be conservative when you can. Obviously, the higher you have the heat, or the more you use the air conditioning element, the more electricity you use, and ultimately, the more money you’re going to spend. So, if you’re going out for a majority of the day, turn off the heater or air conditioner. With modern systems, it doesn’t take them long to get going once you return.

In the end, it’s good to be informed, so you know what you’re getting yourself into, whether you’re moving into your first house or just investigating possibly getting a new system to install into your home.

When in doubt, call the experts to come in and assess your home for all of your heating and cooling needs. Also, do your research because you want to make sure you have somebody you can trust. In the end, you want your home to be nice and cozy…and that should be the way it is 12 months per year.