Which Residential HVAC Option Is Right for Your Home?
You may have heard more about HVAC systems, recently, as offices, hospitals, and campuses upgrade their ventilation systems. What you may not know, though, is that choosing a residential HVAC system is one of the most important choices homeowners will have to make. That is because your HVAC system—which stands for “heating, ventilation, and air conditioning”—has an enormous influence over whether you, your family, and your friends are comfortable in your home, no matter what the weather may be.
Currently, many people are spending more time at home than ever before, so now may be the first time you’ve thought about upgrading or switching your HVAC system for the first time. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed by the amount of information and the number of choices, so at Entek, have tried to make it easier by compiling some important information and advice to help you make the best choice for your home.
What Is an HVAC System?
If you’ve ever heard anyone talk about central air, ductless AC, heat pumps, or furnaces, then you’ve heard people talking about their HVAC systems. Simply put, HVAC systems allow you to control the temperature of your home—cooling the indoors when it’s warm outside and keeping everything toasty in the winter.
There are four main types of HVAC systems: split, hybrid, ductless, and packaged heating/air systems.
- Split system: Split systems simply contain one unit for cooling and one for heating. This is the most common type of HVAC system.
- Hybrid system: Hybrid systems are very similar to split systems, with the benefit of improved energy efficiency.
- Ductless system: In some homes, ducts cannot be used to heat or cool the residence. In this case, you need an air conditioner installed outside for cooling and a heat pump for both cooling and heating.
- Packaged system: If you don’t have a basement or a traditional home with room for a furnace, you can purchase a packaged system, which combines high-quality heating and cooling in one unit and is usually installed outdoors.
Where Do I Start?
First, it may help to think about the things that are important to you. Is price the most important element? What about ease of use? Do you have allergies or health concerns that make air quality your number one priority?
It’s important to think about both the up-front costs of your HVAC system and the long-term costs of using that system. Although it’s important to stay within your budget, a less expensive system that saves you money up front might be a bit of false economy down the line. Less expensive systems may be less efficient (meaning that they use more fuel) or require more maintenance.
The average cost of an HVAC system is determined by the price of the actual equipment, the size of your home, and the installation fees charged by your contractor. Most contractors will provide a free estimate of the expected overall cost. The cost of the equipment and the long-term utility and maintenance bills will also be affected by what type of fuel you choose for heating and cooling.
What Type of Fuel Should I Use?
Choosing the right fuel is important because it relates to the immediate cost of your equipment, the cost of your installation, your utility bills over time, as well as your environmental footprint.
Cooling a home is somewhat simpler than heating a home when it comes to fuel options. Most air conditioning units create cooler temperatures by circulating air over refrigerated coils. Counterintuitively, a heat pump can also cool your home. Heat pumps detect cooler air in the home and circulate it throughout the residence. If you have a chilly basement, a heat pump can use that cool air to make warmer rooms upstairs more temperate. A standard heat pump and a standard AC unit cost roughly the same amount. However, there are heat pumps that use geothermal energy, which is environmentally friendly but will likely cost much more up front (sometimes up to five times more than gas or electric heat pumps).
Heating systems, or furnaces, on the other hand, give you many more fuel options. The least expensive furnaces use natural gas or electricity to heat the home. Furnaces that use oil for fuel, on the other hand, tend to cost slightly more initially. Your choice of fuel can reflect a desire for efficiency, low utility costs, or both. It’s an important consideration that will help you determine what kind of equipment you need.
Electricity is readily accessible, so it’s a fairly common type of fuel in American homes. Something to consider, however, is that the cost of electricity fluctuates more than some other utilities, so you may have difficulty anticipating your heating costs. Smaller homes or homes with good insulation can make electricity an efficient choice. However, larger homes may be more expensive to heat with electricity than they may be with a different type of fuel.
More than half of American homes use natural gas to fuel their furnaces. While slightly more expensive to install, natural gas is a relatively inexpensive fuel. Your utility bill should reflect an overall savings as time goes by, relative to electricity. One drawback, however, is that HVAC systems powered by gas tend to have shorter life expectancies (10 to 15 years), as opposed to the 15 to 20 years that electric furnaces are typically expected to last.
Very few homes in the United States use oil as a heating fuel anymore, fewer than 5 percent in fact. This is likely because owners of oil furnaces need to supply, store, and manage their own fuel supply. And while oil can be very inexpensive, its price also fluctuates a great deal. Oil-burning furnaces are, however, very long-lasting. Many can last up to 30 years. Of the three main fuel options, oil—while efficient—is the least environmentally-friendly option.
A good contractor can help you figure out what type of HVAC system is right for your particular home and your needs. There may even be tax incentives and rebates in your area that could make the choice easier for you. Because HVAC systems are unique to every home, you’re likely to find out all the specific information you need by contacting Entek and setting up an appointment for a free estimate.