HVAC is synonymous with forced-air home comfort systems. These heating and cooling systems have been the standard for decades. They perform well, are simple to install and operate, and offer a whole-home solution.
Forced-air home comfort systems purify the air in your home as they heat and cool it. After air conditioning became more affordable, forced-air systems became even more popular because ducts were easy to add onto furnace packages.
These new HVAC systems have their pros and cons. The final decision, however, is up to your home's specific needs.
Energy efficiency is the most common reason for switching away from forced-air. By using air ducts, between 30–40% of the energy used to heat or cool your home is lost before the air reaches your living environment. Traditional forced-air furnaces lose roughly another 20% of energy because of removed exhaust fumes from the chimney.
Radiant floor heating systems heat your home by running hot water or air under the floors. This heats the entire living space (rather than the air in it). These systems take longer to operate but save on efficiency because 100% of the energy is going toward heat.
Heat pumps also use electricity to move air and heat and cool it. Because no exhaust needs to be removed, these systems run at near 100% efficiency. Yet, they have similar losses to furnaces if ducts are used. Mini-split/ductless pumps offer the most efficient heating experience.
If you have a gas (natural or propane) energy source, a traditional furnace might be better depending on the fuel cost. Other methods use electricity, but this can also mean higher energy bills. Choose which energy source meets your needs, and then pick which heating and cooling system works best.
Upfront cost is a big factor in new construction and remodeled homes. Choose the type of heating and cooling control you prefer. Whole-home heating and cooling is a system that controls the temperature of your entire home from a few thermostats (usually one per level).
Zoned heating allows you to control the temperature of individual rooms or zones in your home. It allows you to pick and choose which areas of your home receive more temperature and which can be left alone.
Although forced-air systems can be calibrated for zoned heating, most homes use it as a whole-home solution. Creating a zoned system can cost extra in the installation phase.
Radiant systems are very expensive to install because they require removal and reinstallation of flooring. They're also complex systems with high labor costs. Also, radiant flooring only works in zoned applications.
Heat pumps and mini-splits are easy and inexpensive to install, but the units are costly. Also, one compressor unit powers up to only four mini-splits. If your home needs more than four heating zones, you need to invest in more than one compressor.
For heating, radiant flooring provides the most comfortable experience. The entire zone using this system is heated evenly. Unlike forced-air systems, the air temperature around the floor is a similar temperature to the air around the ceiling. The downside to radiant flooring is that it takes more than an hour to heat a room.
Heat pumps, mini-splits, and forced-air systems all feel similar because they heat the air in a room. Depending on the placement of the vents or the units, the comfort will vary.
When air conditioning is a factor, however, these systems excel. Radiant systems can't cool at all and need a separate air conditioner.
Which system works for you? It depends on your needs and preferences.
Forced-air systems are standardized, inexpensive to install, and produce quality comfort. They offer heating, air conditioning, and filtering functions and are flexible with energy sources.
Radiant heating has higher installation costs and doesn't provide air conditioning or filtration. It does provide the best heating experience and is energy-efficient.
Heat pumps are more energy-efficient than a furnace and use electricity. They provide heating and air conditioning functions.
Mini-splits offer the benefits of heat pumps in a zoned environment. They use electricity, are small, and install with ease.
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