Many homes have a forced-air HVAC system. Both the heating and the central air conditioning units share a ductwork system where they either push in or pull out warm or cooled air. There are also heating and cooling systems that don’t require ductwork — such as ductless mini-splits — but work on the same principles of heat exchange. The national average to hire an HVAC specialist is $2,920-$3,670, with costs varying depending on the work you need done and the equipment you are installing.
Free cooling systems can have very high efficiencies, and are sometimes combined with seasonal thermal energy storage so that the cold of winter can be used for summer air conditioning. Common storage mediums are deep aquifers or a natural underground rock mass accessed via a cluster of small-diameter, heat-exchanger-equipped boreholes. Some systems with small storages are hybrids, using free cooling early in the cooling season, and later employing a heat pump to chill the circulation coming from the storage. The heat pump is added-in because the storage acts as a heat sink when the system is in cooling (as opposed to charging) mode, causing the temperature to gradually increase during the cooling season.
An air conditioning system, or a standalone air conditioner, provides cooling and humidity control for all or part of a building. Air conditioned buildings often have sealed windows, because open windows would work against the system intended to maintain constant indoor air conditions. Outside, fresh air is generally drawn into the system by a vent into the indoor heat exchanger section, creating positive air pressure. The percentage of return air made up of fresh air can usually be manipulated by adjusting the opening of this vent. Typical fresh air intake is about 10%.
Consequently, this water must exit the air handler—typically through plastic pipe or a drain tube. That drain tube goes directly outside, often terminating near the compressor, or to a floor drain or to a small electric “condensate pump” located by the air handler. Where a condensate pump is used, it connects to a 1/2-inch vinyl or rubber tube that exits outdoors or to a drain.
DIY: Most DIY installations go smoothly. The major brands have compatibility checkers to see which of their models will work with the wiring your old thermostat is using. Potential problems involve the need for a C-wire, or common wire, when the existing bundle doesn’t include one. There are solutions discussed in our Thermostat Buying Guide, linked to below.
The letters in HVAC stand for heating, ventilation and air conditioning. An HVAC system enables you to regulate your home or building’s internal temperature (thermal control) for comfortable living and working. You can bring heat levels down in the summer and up in the winter, keeping your home or office livable year-round. HVAC systems can also help with humidity levels and regulate indoor air quality in a home or office. There are many types of HVAC systems and technologies available.
If you are using existing ducting, it will have to be inspected. Proper ducting loses around 2% to 5% of your energy. Old, leaking ducts can lose 50% or more. A contractor will need to have the ducts inspected and replace any parts ahead of time. If you are changing the size of your HVAC system because of significant changes to your home, you might need to replace the ductwork regardless.
Consider what kind of heating and cooling system you want installed for the square footage of your home. Do you want a full system with a thermostat or a specific machine for the summer like a swamp cooler? Do you need a new furnace just for the winter? For any of these projects, the cost will vary depending on the quality, style and machine size you choose. If you have a tight budget, think of going smaller and upgrading over time. For example, if you can't afford to convert your entire home to solar power, you may want to consider only utilizing it to heat your water. Some other types of heating systems are:
An important component of natural ventilation is air change rate or air changes per hour: the hourly rate of ventilation divided by the volume of the space. For example, six air changes per hour means an amount of new air, equal to the volume of the space, is added every ten minutes. For human comfort, a minimum of four air changes per hour is typical, though warehouses might have only two. Too high of an air change rate may be uncomfortable, akin to a wind tunnel which have thousands of changes per hour. The highest air change rates are for crowded spaces, bars, night clubs, commercial kitchens at around 30 to 50 air changes per hour.
DIY: We don’t recommend a DIY approach. Depending on the system, working with gas, electricity and refrigerant create dangers. Beyond that, it is essential that split system components be selected for compatibility. DIY installation of an HVAC system will void the warranty of most brands. The manufacturers won’t stand behind the warranty when anyone other than a certified installer does the work. This is true since improper installation is the main cause of poor system performance and mechanical breakdowns.
Clean the condenser fan blades before the start of the cooling season. Brush any dust or debris off gently and then uncover the condenser coils, gently cleaning the dirty side. Then wrap the motor and other electrical components in plastic bags and gently spray from the inside with a hose. Now check the base pan under the unit and clear it out of any debris that has gathered.
It's always changing: Some newer thermostats take advantage of wireless technology. You can adjust your thermostat remotely so that if you leave and forget to adjust it, or if you are going to be home later than you thought, you can adjust it via your smartphone. Some can even give you reports on how efficient your system is performing based on usage. These are very efficient models, but they are also very expensive with some costing over $250.00.
Reinstall the access panel and disconnect block. Turn on the circuit breaker and furnace switch. Then set the thermostat to a lower temperature and wait for the AC to start (see “Be Patient at Startup,” below). The compressor should run and the condenser fan should spin. If the compressor starts but the fan doesn't, the fan motor is most likely shot. Shut off the power and remove the screws around the condenser cover. Lift the cover and remove the fan blade and motor (Photo 7). Reinstall the blade and secure the cover. Then repower the unit and see if the fan starts. If it doesn't, you've given it your best shot—it's time to call a pro.
AC air handler squealing or grinding noises. Though most air handlers have direct-drive motors, some older units may be belt-driven. Squealing sounds from a belt-drive air handler generally occur when the belt that connects the motor to the blower slips. In most cases, the belt is improperly aligned or worn and needs replacement. Follow the instructions above under Air Conditioner Not Blowing Air and refer to your owner’s manual.