Understanding the Different HVAC Systems Your Home May Have

HVAC system

When we talk about HVAC systems, it may sound like we’re always referring to a fully integrated heating, ventilation, and air conditioning solution common in many newer homes and businesses—also often called a “packaged system.” But, here in our home service area of northern Lancaster County and Lebanon County, PA, the term “system” is a little less specific.

Especially if your home is older, your home comfort equipment may consist of only integrated heating, such as an oil-fired boiler with baseboard radiators. You may have air conditioning, but it was installed later as a retrofit—or maybe you still rely on portable or window units for cooling in the summer.

Because homes in our area feature such a wide variety of HVAC equipment, we wanted to focus today’s post on some of the most common systems and components that we encounter—and service—here at Garden Spot Mechanical.

Packaged Residential HVAC Systems

Do you live in a newer home with integrated ductwork? Even some houses in our area dating back to the 1970’s—when central AC first came on the scene—have ductwork built-in. If so, your home likely now has a packaged system (even if it didn’t originally) that combines heating and air conditioning capabilities.

Air-Source Heat Pumps

The equipment that heats or cools the air and then distributes it throughout your home via the ducts are usually air-source heat pumps and are part of what’s known as a forced-air system. These systems rely on electricity to fuel them and have become popular because they’re quiet, easy to live with, and have minimal maintenance needs. Often, in today’s well-insulated homes, they are powerful enough to heat and cool without supplementation from space heaters or auxiliary AC solutions, too.

Ground Source Heat Pumps/Geothermal Systems

Note that if you have a heat pump to heat and cool your home, it is possible that it’s part of a residential geothermal system instead of a typical forced-air system. This is much less likely (geothermal systems are still quite expensive to install), though this equipment is gaining in popularity throughout our area, especially in custom-built homes.

In geothermal systems, the ground source heat pump is combined with “loop” piping installed in the ground, which circulates fluid or water to achieve proper heating and cooling instead of relying on air, which can be wildly different temperatures depending on the season. Underground temperatures are relatively constant, and so equipment in geothermal systems doesn’t have to work as hard to produce comfortable interior spaces.

Central Heating Systems (AC is Separate)

Let’s face it—many of the homes in our area were built before central air conditioning was standard—or even before it was invented! In these homes, if they have not been retrofitted with ductwork, you’ll often find an integrated heating system, but perhaps no permanent air conditioning systems at all. Of course, some homes now have ductless mini-split systems for cooling—more on those below and in this previous blog article.

Central heating systems can rely on a range of equipment and heat distribution methods to make your home toasty warm in the winter.

In “country” homes around our area, you’ll often find oil and propane-fired boilers or forced-air furnaces. (Note: forced-air furnaces require some type of ducting to distribute air). These units are still popular today—even though oil and LP gas prices have risen quite a bit in recent decades—because they are reliable, work well, and can help homeowners retain the character of their older homes. Homes that have gas service as a utility can also choose boilers or furnaces fueled by the piped-in natural gas—this is common in newer planned neighborhoods and within borough limits in places like Manheim and Lititz.

Mini-Split Ductless AC Systems

If you rely on a furnace or boiler for heating and do not have ductwork installed in your home, you may have a ductless air conditioning system commonly called a “mini-split” for cooling in the summer. Confusingly, these systems are often also capable of providing heat, too, though their primary purpose is cooling.

As we talked about in our FAQs about ductless air conditioning post, mini-splits comprise a compressor/condenser unit located outside that’s connected via conduit containing power and refrigerant lines to an indoor air handler unit mounted on the wall or ceiling. Each room or “zone” to be cooled and heated requires a separate air handler unit. People like mini-splits because they’re easy to customize—if you need to keep parts of your home at a different temperature, these systems make it simple. Additionally, they work well as a supplemental AC system for spaces not served by a home’s packaged system—think garages, workshops, and new additions.

Less Common Systems & Equipment

Electric Resistance Heating

If your home was built in the mid-20th century (specifically during the 1960s and 1970s), you might have a unique zoned heating system consisting of either electric coils in the ceiling or electric baseboard units in individual rooms. Many people found that these systems required supplementation with other solutions, so they are no longer widely used—at least as a whole-house heating method.

Active Solar Heating

You may notice solar panels on roofs as you drive around our area. These are connected to mechanical equipment inside homes to provide a source of “green” heating. Unfortunately, these systems are expensive and often require the house to have a second heating method, as well. This makes solar a not-very-popular option.

Wood-Burning Appliances

Like fireplaces, woodstoves are a type of space heater, though some homeowners have developed ways to distribute heat from their stove to more than just one room. And there are starting to be wood pellet-burning furnaces on the market, as well. You may enjoy burning a stove in your home, but these are not ideal as a primary home heating source. They require a lot of maintenance and work and can be dangerous and dirty.

Need HVAC System Maintenance or Equipment Repair? Call Garden Spot Mechanical

In Lancaster and Lebanon Counties, Garden Spot Mechanical is your reliable HVAC specialist with the expertise to service and install electric heat pumps, furnaces, boilers, and more.

Get in touch with us today if you have questions about your home’s existing heating and cooling equipment or if you are exploring your options for new equipment.