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Common types of HVAC systems: differences, advantages and disadvantages

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HVAC systems are responsible for cooling and heating residential and commercial buildings. During cold seasons, HVAC systems allow people to stay warm. In warmer climates, these systems generate cold indoor air, thus facilitating a relaxing environment. In short, HVAC systems ensure that the indoor space always has the right temperature to promote productivity or relaxation.

HVAC stands for heating, ventilation and air conditioning. The main components of an HVAC system include coils, filters, exhaust outlets, ducts, compressors and blowers. 

Apart from heating and cooling, HVAC systems ensure good indoor air quality. These systems use filters to prevent dust and other allergens from flowing into the house. As a result, HVAC systems can help you avoid respiratory-related health conditions like asthma.

HVAC systems also have humidifiers to eliminate damp conditions and inhibit mold growth, which could otherwise damage your property.

In this article, we will look at the most common types of HVAC systems, including their advantages and disadvantages. We will also highlight the key things to consider when shopping for an HVAC system.

 

Split HVAC system

Split HVAC systems contain outdoor and indoor units responsible for holding the condenser, compressor, evaporator coil and duct systems. The outdoor and indoor units connect via copper tubes.

A split air-conditioning system cools a room in the following ways:

First, a refrigerant gas pushes through the condenser. The gas cools and forms a liquid as it passes through the condenser.

Second, the liquid refrigerant pumps into the evaporator. Upon reaching the evaporator, the refrigerant comes in contact with a hot surface and turns into gas. It’s then redirected back to the condenser. 

Third, the air inside the house pumps into the air-conditioning unit, passes over the evaporator and loses heat. This process repeats to attain a certain room temperature.

When it comes to heating, the indoor unit has a furnace that produces heat by burning gas or propane. The system sucks cold air from the room and pushes it through a heat exchanger. The warm air is then pushed back into the indoor space.

A split system is suitable for both small and large homes. However, paying attention to size is important to ensure that the unit fits in your home perfectly.

The average installation cost for a split system is between $3,000 and $9,000.

Pros of split HVAC systems

  • High energy efficiency. Most central heating systems lose heat due to complicated pipes and ducts. Split HVAC systems feature a ductless design, allowing them to save significant energy.
  • Better security. Split HVAC systems have outdoor and indoor units connected by copper tubes through a small hole in the wall. 
  • Quiet operation. Split HVAC systems are some of the quietest air-conditioning units. These systems allow you to concentrate on other chores without major noise interruptions.
  • Zoning. Split HVAC systems can have multiple thermostats, which allow you to set varying temperatures for different rooms.

Cons of split HVAC systems

  • Compressor noise. Though the indoor split system is relatively quiet, the compressor unit outside the house can make loud noises that could be distracting.
  • High initial costs. A split cooling system costs more than traditional cooling and heating units. Therefore, split HVAC units may stretch the budget for small-home owners.
  • Installation and maintenance. You’ll need to hire professionals to install and maintain a split HVAC system. The installation and maintenance costs can prove to be expensive in the long run.

 

Hybrid HVAC systems

Hybrid HVAC systems, also known as dual-fuel systems, are similar to split HVAC systems, with one major difference: Hybrid HVAC systems can use electricity as an alternative energy source to propane and natural gas.

In other words, a hybrid cooling unit can change from fuel to electric automatically, or the homeowner can trigger this functionality manually. Hybrid heat systems use an electric furnace or heat pump when the indoor space is warm and will transition to an oil, propane or natural gas furnace when the temperature drops or the room becomes colder.

Though hybrid HVAC systems have high initial costs, they can allow the homeowner to save significantly. In the long run, a hybrid HVAC system can lower energy costs by between 30% and 50%.

The average installation cost for a hybrid HVAC system is between $7,500 and $12,000

Pros of hybrid HVAC systems

  • Energy-efficient. A hybrid split system can automatically switch from oil and gas to electricity depending on the indoor temperature, which boosts your energy savings.
  • Environmentally friendly. Hybrid HVAC systems rely on heat and air from the environment to keep your indoor space warm. Drawing warm outside air and pushing it inside the house allows these systems to have a lower carbon footprint.
  • Versatility. You can use hybrid HVAC systems to heat or cool your home. This dual functionality allows you to live comfortably throughout the year.
  • Government incentives. Since hybrid HVAC systems save energy, you might access tax credits by investing in these units.

Cons of hybrid HVAC systems

  • High initial costs. Hybrid HVAC systems are expensive to buy, install and repair. Most homeowners pay about $9,500 for hybrid HVAC systems.
  • Maintenance. Since hybrid HVAC systems typically have more components, they can be challenging or expensive to repair. 

 

Duct-free HVAC systems

Like split HVAC systems, duct-free or mini-split systems also feature indoor and outdoor units. These units connect via electric wires and tubes. 

The indoor unit delivers warm or cold air to a specific area, while the outside unit sucks in air and pushes it inside the house.

Central heaters usually rely on a series of ducts and pipes to push warm air inside the house. In contrast, ductless mini-split systems use fans to pass hot air to indoor spaces.

Installing ductless mini-split systems costs between $5,000 and $28,000.

Pros of duct-free HVAC systems

  • Easy installation. Indoor and outdoor duct-free units have few components and do not require complex ductwork, which allows them to connect or install easily.
  • No extra charges. Since duct-free HVAC systems do not use pipes to pass warm or cool air, you don’t need to redo or repaint your walls after installation.
  • Improves air qualityDuct-free HVAC systems can help promote the health of your family members. These units use multi-layer filtration systems to detect and eliminate allergens, dust and other pollutants. Duct-free HVAC systems are also effective for dehumidifying indoor spaces and preventing mold and algae growth.
  • Personalized comfort. You can install several duct-free HVAC systems in your home. Family members can use these units to set varying temperatures in different rooms. 
  • Energy-efficientDuct-free HVAC systems are more efficient than traditional units because they suffer less heat loss from leaks. They also allow you to save energy by switching off units in unoccupied rooms.
  • Save space. Unlike traditional central HVAC units that are bulky, complex and take up too much space, duct-free HVAC systems are more compact. The indoor and outdoor units easily connect using pipes and electric wires.
  • Low maintenance. Since they lack complex ducts and pipes, duct-free HVAC systems require minor maintenance. Simply clean the air filter and clear the vents to maintain good airflow. As a result, duct-free systems can save you significantly in the long term.

Cons of duct-free HVAC systems

  • High initial costs. Though they provide massive benefits, duct-free HVAC systems are expensive to purchase and install. If you need more comfort in your home, you will need to purchase more units to fit them in different rooms, thus increasing the overall costs.
  • Can disturb the exterior design of your house. During installation, the outdoor unit of a duct-free HVAC system mounts on a wall outside the house. The unit might affect the home's appearance at first but blend in with other objects over time.

 

Packaged HVAC systems

As the name suggests, packaged HVAC systems have all the parts they need to operate in a single metal cabinet and can be placed on the roof or next to a house. Depending on the type of packaged system, the parts can include a compressor, condenser and evaporator coils.

Packaged heating units include packaged dual-fuel, packaged gas-electric, packaged heat pump and packaged central air conditioners. These units have varying configurations and work differently. For example, the packaged air conditioner or A/C unit uses electricity to power its components. The system uses fans to pull warm air from inside the house and pushes it over a cold evaporator coil to cool it. The cool air is then pushed through ducts back into the home.

The cost of packaged HVAC systems varies depending on location, brand, type and size, ranging between $2,700 and $5,000.

Pros of packaged HVAC systems

  • Energy-efficient. Packaged HVAC systems are more energy-efficient than traditional central systems. For instance, Goodman’s packaged gas and electric units have an annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) rating of 80% or higher.
  • Space-saving. Packaged HVAC systems save significant space because they contain all components in a single unit. For example, the air conditioner unit mounted on the rooftop does not require a second system mounted inside the house.
  • Easy installation. Packaged HVAC systems are easy to install because they have fewer components than other units. 

Cons of packaged HVAC systems

  • Vulnerable to harsh weather conditions. Most HVAC system components are outside the house, which makes them susceptible to various weather conditions. As a result, the packaged HVAC system could rust or suffer damage to its wiring system, reducing its reliability and longevity.
  • Complex ductwork. Since packaged HVAC systems are outside the house, you have to pass ducts and wires through the house and connect them to the system. This could increase the time to install, leading to higher labor costs.

 

How to choose the best HVAC system for your home

HVAC systems are responsible for heating and cooling your home. They also ensure that your home’s air quality is good. Due to these important roles, it's crucial that you find the best HVAC system to provide comfort and satisfy your other needs.

Here are the key things to consider when determining the best HVAC system for your home.

  • Energy efficiency. When shopping for an HVAC system, pay attention to its energy efficiency or AFUE rating. The higher the AFUE rating, the more energy-efficient the unit. Try to avoid HVAC units with low AFUE ratings because they consume more power and lead to higher utility bills.
  • Cost. HVAC systems come at different prices. Some sellers offer financing options to help you buy specific units. You should consider carefully to avoid overstretching your budget. An expensive unit will not necessarily provide great value. Low-priced units still have valuable features to enhance your comfort.
  • Noise level. HVAC systems produce some noise when operating. The noise level of these machines differ depending on size or brand. Consider quieter HVAC systems if you work from home or desire more peace and calm in your indoor space. Cooling split systems can be a good choice because the unit responsible for producing noise is usually placed outside the house.
  • Installation and maintenance. When looking for an HVAC system, consider the ease of installation. Difficult-to-install units often have high labor costs. You should also consider the maintenance schedule of the HVAC system. Units requiring above-average maintenance can increase your monthly utility costs.
  • Size. HVAC systems come in different sizes. Before settling on a particular HVAC unit, walk around your home and identify where you wish to install it. You can consult a professional to help determine the best location for the HVAC system. Once you have identified your preferred location, choose an HVAC system that’s the right size or can fit well in that particular area.

What is the most common HVAC system?

Standard split HVAC systems are the most common in American homes because they are more affordable, smaller and easier to maintain. They usually feature two units: one outside and another mounted inside the house.

Standard split HVAC systems also have different combinations. For instance, the system can have a furnace and air conditioner. In this setup, the furnace is installed inside the house and responsible for heating the indoor space. The air conditioner is installed outside the house and uses air ducts to regulate the indoor space. Other split HVAC system combinations include a furnace and heat pump, air-handling unit and heat pump, or furnace and air handler.

How much does HVAC system installation cost?

The cost of installing an HVAC system differs depending on the type, dealer and location. However, the average installation cost ranges between $2,500 and $8,000

For an HVAC system that requires ductwork, the installation cost may be between $7,000 and $16,000. The cost of replacing an HVAC system ranges from $5,000 to $11,000.

 

Protect your HVAC from costly repairs with Cinch

Investing in an HVAC system allows you to stay comfortable in your home or other indoor spaces. Apart from heating and cooling your home, HVAC systems ensure good air circulation throughout the house. 

The different types of HVAC systems include split, hybrid, duct-free and packaged. These HVAC systems are different, especially in energy efficiency, noise level, size and installation cost. Evaluating and understanding these systems is important before deciding which one to buy. If you have no experience with HVAC systems, consult a professional to determine which system is best for you.

Once you have purchased and installed an HVAC system, keep in mind that even the best unit can break down if not well maintained. With more than 40 years of experience, Cinch Home Services can help you avoid breakdowns with regular maintenance.

Cinch’s home protection plans include a Built-in Systems plan that covers the cost of repairing or replacing major home systems like HVAC systems due to normal wear and tear. 

Sign up for our budget-friendly Built-in Systems plan today to avoid the burden of hefty repair and replacement bills. Get an instant quote today! 

 

Here are the advantages and disadvantages of different types of HVAC systems to know before deciding which to buy.