13 Common Types of Home HVAC Systems

You know you need a new heating and air conditioning system, but you're not sure what you need. Maybe you've been researching air conditioners online, but you still have questions about how all these different systems work. Don't worry, we can help. We're going to cover 13 common types of home HVAC systems so you can get a better handle on the various options out there and choose an option that makes sense for your home or business.

HVAC Systems Terminology

HVAC systems can get a little complicated, so let's start with a few basic explanations:

  • Air conditioners cool and dehumidify indoor air.
  • Heat pumps cool, dehumidify and also heat.
  • Furnaces heat via natural gas, propane, oil and many other natural fuel options, like wood.
  • Electric heaters provide radiant heat using electricity.

These are the most important things to know, but there are also other components you may see come up that are helpful to understand:


In an air conditioner or a heat pump, a compressor is the system's beating heart. It pushes the refrigerant through the coils to cool or heat, depending on the setup. Basically, every good air conditioner or heat pump will have a good compressor.

Condenser Coil

Every air conditioner uses a condenser coil as part of their normal operating cycle. It's the job of the condenser coil to expel the heat gathered from inside. On HVAC systems that use them, this coil is typically housed in the same cabinet as the compressor.

Evaporator Coil

Often part of an air handling unit or electric furnace, an evaporator coil is the part of the air conditioner that absorbs interior heat. Because it's absorbing the heat, the air leaving the evaporator is cold. A nearby fan is responsible for blowing that air, usually into ductwork, to cool your home.


HVAC systems need fans to move air. If you find an air conditioner, heat pump, or furnace that doesn't come with a fan or blower, you shouldn't buy it, unless you're looking for simple radiant floor heating or space heater options.


If the compressor is an air conditioner's heart, then refrigerant is the blood. Refrigerant flows through the coils, moving heat around. Without refrigerant, the foundation of modern HVAC systems would not exist. The current refrigerant du jour is R-410A.


Modern heating and air conditioning is great. Being able to tell your system what temperature you want your home is even better. A thermostat lets you do just that. We recommend them. Technically, you could operate different HVAC systems without a thermostat, but that would require more effort.


To heat or cool a large building with one heating and air conditioning unit requires ductwork. An air handling unit or blower can use the ducts to move conditioned air to every corner of the building. Strictly speaking, air ducts are not required for large-scale cooling or heating applications, but it makes them much more efficient.

Heat Exchanger

Every furnace has a heat exchanger it uses to heat the air. Without the heat exchanger, the heat the furnace creates through the combustion process could not be distributed by the blower fan. Typically speaking, the better the heat exchanger, the better the furnace.


On a furnace, the ignitor is the device that ignites the burner used in the combustion heating process. Older furnaces use pilot lights as the ignitor, but modern models tend to use hot surface ignitors.

Air Filters

Your heating and air conditioning system pulls air in, heats or cools it, then blows it into your home to heat or cool your home. When it pulls in dirty air, some of that dirt sticks around. The dirtier the inside of your heating and air conditioning system, the worse the efficiency. Use a good filter to clean the air going into your system.

Now, let's look at each cooling and heating system, how it works and the pros and cons of that option so you can make an informed decision.

1. Central Air Conditioner Split Systems

Have you been in a typical residential home in the United States? Then you've almost certainly seen a central air conditioner split system. It's called a split system because it's split between an outdoor component and an indoor component, which are connected via communicating wires and refrigerant lines. The outdoor component is a cabinet that contains a condenser coil and a compressor, and the indoor component is an air handler that contains an evaporator coil and blower.

These HVAC systems are used mainly for cooling, but electric resistance heat strips can be added to provide minor heating as well. This system uses ducts to blow the conditioned air through registers throughout your home.

A central air split system is one of the most popular systems out there, so it's a good choice for many residential homes. If your home does not have ductwork, however, getting a central air system also means installing ductwork throughout your home, which adds substantially to the labor and overall cost.

central heat pump hvac system

2. Central Heat Pump Split Systems

A central heat pump split system is much like an air conditioner split system in that it includes an outdoor and indoor component for cooling your home. Unlike an air conditioner split system, however, a heat pump also provides cost-effective heat through the use of a reversing valve. A reversing valve works by reversing the flow of refrigerant, so rather than moving the heat from inside to outside, it moves the heat from outside to inside.

This function makes a central heat pump split system more versatile than a central air split system. If you live in a warmer climate where colder seasons only call for a little heat to keep your home comfortable, then a heat pump split system may be all you need for your cooling and heating needs. For most homes, you'll still need a dedicated heating system, but it won't have to work as hard.

As with all central air systems, you need ductwork for a central heat pump split system. If you want a cooling unit that can also heat your home, especially if you live in a warmer climate, a central heat pump split system is a great choice.

3. Central Air Conditioner and Gas Split Systems

The air conditioner and gas moniker refers to a package or central split system installation that uses an electric air conditioner to cool and a gas furnace to heat. Though this system includes a separate air conditioner and heating system, the two HVAC systems work together, so you can control the heating or cooling in your home from one thermostat.

Central air conditioner and gas split systems are a great option for homeowners who want cooling, but also need powerful heating capacity to make it through winter, especially in places where temperatures can often reach or fall below the single digits.

As with other central air setups, this system requires ductwork. A gas furnace also requires a gas line to your home. If you don't currently have natural gas lines to your home, this adds considerably to the cost to install a gas furnace. However, depending on your local utility prices, you may save money when you use gas instead of electricity to heat your home.

4. Central Heat Pump and Gas Split Systems

A central heat pump and gas split system, oftentimes referred to as a dual fuel or hybrid system, is a fantastic choice when you want to maximize heating efficiency. These air conditioning systems combine the energy-efficiency of a heat pump and the power of a gas furnace — preferably, one with a high AFUE — to provide all-year air comfort.

The heat pump offers both cooling and primary heating, while the gas furnace assumes the role of a secondary or backup heating source when extremely cold winter weather hits. This system is an ideal fit for homes in climates where a heat pump can handle most of their heating needs, with the exception of the harshest weeks or months of winter when a furnace is necessary. When you put less demand on your gas furnace, you can experience energy savings.

In other words, if you love the idea of a central heat pump split system, but you're worried about those extra cold winter days when a heat pump won't cut it, you can get the best of both worlds with a central heat pump and gas furnace split system.

Package Unit HVAC System

5. Package Units

In terms of installation, packaged units are one of the simplest heating and air conditioning systems available. Whereas with split systems, you have indoor and outdoor components, with a package unit, everything needed to provide heating and cooling is self-contained inside one single cabinet or "package."

For instance, the cabinet may contain a gas furnace alongside air conditioning equipment. Packaged heating and air systems is a broad category. You can get package units in all the same configurations as the central split systems mentioned above.

The main advantage of package units is their convenience. All you or your installer needs to do is place the package unit on your roof or a slab outside your home, attach the ductwork, connect the wiring and fuel line if applicable, and it's ready to go. These units are a great option for people who don't have a basement or another convenient place for a furnace inside their home. In addition to residential homes, package units can work well for small commercial buildings.

6. Space Heaters and Portable Air Conditioners

Not all heating and cooling solutions are permanent. If you need temporary heating and cooling in a space, a portable air conditioner or space heater is a great way to go. Portable units typically have casters or wheels on the bottom, so they're easy to roll out and move around as needed.

With a portable air conditioner, though, you'll need to position it near a window so you can run the hose through the window. Most portable AC units will also have a drainage hose you can hook up for dehumidifying. Some units will collect moisture in a reservoir you need to empty periodically. Other models will channel most of the moisture through the air duct. Space heaters use electricity or a fuel like propane to heat up. The heat warms the room through convection.

If your air conditioner or furnace quits, a portable air conditioner or space heater can be a quick fix that keeps your home comfortable while you're getting your permanent HVAC system fixed. To make them portable, these units compromise on efficiency, so don't plan to rely on them long-term, or you can expect your utility bills to spike.

7. Ductless Split Systems

Central heating and air conditioning HVAC systems use an air duct network to distribute conditioned air throughout a building. Ducts are effective, but not always an option. In these instances, duct-free HVAC systems are a reliable, and increasingly efficient, alternative.

A ductless split system, also known as a ductless mini split system, typically consists of a compressor outside and a unit you mount to the wall inside. If you would otherwise be installing a window AC unit and baseboard heating, a ductless split system is a great alternative to consider. These HVAC systems are less invasive, quieter and more secure.

If you're renovating an older home without a duct network, you can use ductless split systems, though in some cases, you may want to install a system of ducts so you can have central air. Some of the best scenarios for installing a ductless split system is when you have a small space you need to heat and cool that doesn't include ducts, such as a home addition, garages, workshop or grow room. A commercial application is a server room, where you need concentrated cooling.

8. PTAC Units (Hotel Style)

Package terminal air conditioner (PTAC) HVAC systems are commonly found in hotels, apartments, hospitals and other buildings that need individualized air control in multiple, relatively small spaces. PTAC units are designed to be simple, compact and effective. These units provide both heating and cooling.

You install a PTAC unit by cutting a hole in the wall and using an external sleeve with an exterior grille to connect the unit to the outdoor air. The control system is right there on the unit. The air conditioning is electric, and the heating can be electric as well. The other option is a heat pump, which is a good option for warm climates where temperatures don't fall below freezing. Some PTAC units use a heat pump with backup emergency heating for colder times.

PTAC units aren't a typical choice for residential homes, but they're an ideal option for any building that calls for individualized heating and cooling systems. Some downsides are that PTAC units require you to cut a fairly large hole in the wall, so installing these units should be a long term commitment. They also tend to cost more than window AC units.

popular mobile home air conditioner hvac systems

9. Mobile Home Heating and Air Conditioning Systems

Mobile homes and manufactured homes tend to have different heating and cooling needs than other types of homes. Having a powerful and efficient HVAC system is a must depending on where you live because mobile homes typically are not as well insulated as stick-built homes. Upsides of cooling and heating mobile homes are that they tend to be smaller, requiring less heating and cooling overall, and that the wall is easier to work with for installation.

Mobile home heating and cooling systems are designed to meet your unique needs. For one, mobile home units are more compact so they don't take up valuable space. We offer a range of heating and cooling solutions for mobile homeowners, including air conditioners, coils, heat pumps and package units.

Some popular air conditioning options for mobile homes include window units, portable units and ductless mini splits. For heating, a heat pump is a great option if you live in a more mild climate. If you live in a colder climate, however, you may need a furnace.

10. Wall Units

Another solution for small or single-zone spaces is a wall unit. Wall units look much like a window unit, but you install them into a wall, making them a more permanent fixture. This means wall units may not be an option if you are a renter. If you are a homeowner, however, you may prefer the look of wall units to window units.

The features of wall units are similar to PTAC units. There are heating and cooling options to choose from, and everything is contained in a single cabinet. The evaporator and controls face inside, and the condenser and drain are located on the exterior side.

Wall units are a good option to consider when you need to cool and heat a small space or when you don't have a duct network in your home. They're also relatively affordable. As with similar options, unit heaters using a heat pump may not be enough for heating if you live in a cold region.

11. Heating and Air Conditioning Window Units

We've mentioned window units already, and you're probably familiar with these units since they're a common feature of many homes and apartments that don't have ducts for central air. In fact, window AC units are the most popular type of air conditioner in the U.S.

Window units are popular for a reason. They're lightweight, easy to install in any standard window and are one of the most affordable options. Like wall units, window units can provide you with both heating and cooling, though some people choose to install window units for cooling only during the summer and use another method for heating their homes during colder seasons.

If you're trying to cool or heat a whole home with window units, you'll need to position multiple units in windows throughout your home. This is one limitation of this option. Some other downsides are that some window unit models are relatively inefficient, and all window units are pretty loud compared to other AC units. This is because the fan and compressor are located inside the unit.

wood stove heating hvac systems

12. Fireplaces and Stove Heaters

If you live in a cold climate where you need extra help with heating or if you only need to heat a small space, a fireplace or stove is an option to consider. Some fireplaces and stove units are intended primarily for looks, but some units can put out some serious heat.

Wood stove heaters require a venting system, which just means you need to cut an opening in your ceiling for the vent pipe. Many fireplaces and stoves are self-contained, though, so they're a great option for renters or homeowners who prefer not to install a venting system.

Besides burning wood, other types of stove heaters and fireplaces use a wide range of fuel types, including electricity, gas, propane and pellets. Fireplaces and stoves are an excellent option for anyone who wants to heat part of their home with an attractive unit that offers that warm glow you don't get with a space heater or other types of heating units. Just remember that these units are intended for small spaces or to supplement your primary heating system. They aren't meant to heat your whole house.

13. Boilers and Chillers

Boilers and chillers tend to work best for industrial or commercial applications. These pieces of equipment are heavy-duty enough for heating large industrial facilities comfortably and for keeping equipment cooled down.

A chiller removes heat from liquid through either vapor compression or an absorption refrigeration cycle and sends the cooled liquid through a system of pipes and coils in air handlers or fan-coil units. There are many different types of chillers to choose from, depending on your needs.

A boiler heats fluid until it becomes hot or even until it vaporizes. The system produces radiant heating that gets distributed through baseboard radiators, radiant floor systems or a coil in the case of hot fluid and through radiators in the case of steam. Chillers and boilers are an option for residential applications, but their most valuable application tends to be industrial facilities.

Contact Us To Learn More

We've covered a lot in this guide, but we understand that HVAC systems are a complex topic. If you still have questions, we would love to answer them. Please reach out to us, and we can provide expert advice to help with buying decisions or any questions you have about HVAC systems. You can also consult the many resources we have available on our site to help guide you through choosing the best heating and cooling hvac systems for your home or commercial facility.

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