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What are the Different Types of HVAC Equipment?

Carol Francois
Carol Francois

There are several different types of HVAC equipment available at the residential and commercial levels. Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment is available in a variety of styles and methods, but are all designed to manage the internal temperature of a space. The type of equipment used varies according to the requirements of the user and the options within the space.

Radiator systems are among the oldest of all the types of HVAC equipment. Commonly found in older houses and industrial buildings, the system runs hot or cold water through pipes built into the structure. The ambient temperature of the water either heats or cools the space. This type of HVAC equipment relies upon a completely closed system. Any leaks or breaks in the system will cause the water to escape.

A programmable thermostat.
A programmable thermostat.

Air-based HVAC equipment uses a fan to move the heated or cooled air through a series of ducts that release the air into the different rooms. The air is heated by passing over a heated coil on a furnace or a cooler in an air conditioner. The air is forced to circulate through the space by the fan, changing the air temperature.

A heat pump is a very common type of HVAC equipment and is typically found in homes. The heat pump has an outdoor compressor and an indoor handler. Electrical power moves the heat from one space to another. It is then circulated through the space with the use of fans. This same pump is used to cool a space by removing the heat from the home and pumping it back into the atmosphere.

A radiator.
A radiator.

Gas furnaces and air conditioners are two different pieces of HVAC equipment used in climates with a large temperature spread. The gas furnace uses either natural gas or propane as the primary fuel. Heat is generated through the controlled combustion of the gas, heating the air. The same process is used for cooling the air, except the air is forced over a cooling coil instead of a heating coil.

A vent cover leading to an HVAC system.
A vent cover leading to an HVAC system.

A dual fuel system combines a heat pump and gas furnace. An external thermostat is used to provide information about the ambient temperature. The system then uses this information to either pull in the outside air, push out the inside air, or use the furnace to heat the air. This type of HVAC equipment is slightly more expensive, buy can result in lower heating and cooling bills in the long run.

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Discussion Comments


What is a swamp cooler and how does one work? I am looking at a house in Arizona and it does not have an AC unit. Instead, it has a swamp cooler, but I have no idea what it is and how it works. The agent showing the house said a swamp cooler is practically the same as an air conditioner, so not to worry about it. I was told that the swamp cooler would keep my house cool in the hot desert summers, while being more efficient than a traditional HVAC unit.

Is the agent telling the truth, or is she just trying to sell the house? This is my first time buying a home, and I really like the house. It is older, quaint, but in really nice shape. I do know however that a new air conditioner unit is expensive, and even finding used HVAC equipment can be costly. I do not want to buy this house, only to find out next summer that I need to purchase an air conditioner at the peak of the summer.


When I designed my house, I designed air columns to help move ambient air as well as designed water features into the interior of my home. I live in California where energy is some of the most expensive in the country, and I hardly have to use supplemental heating and cooling. Granted I live in a temperate zone that does not have wild temperature swings, but design can significantly reduce the amount of energy that goes into the home.

Another option to look into would be geothermal heating and cooling. This system is much more efficient because it uses the earth's ambient temperature to heat and cool the air in your home. These systems are limited in their efficiency based on your climate, so you will need an energy analysis to see if the investment will be worthwhile.

I would suggest you go to the library and check out a few green building books. Contrary to popular belief, many of the techniques used for energy efficiency will not cost more than building in a conventional manner. You may discover that for your region, you may not need to install that new Trane or Carrier HVAC equipment.


I used to work in HVAC equipment installation in Arizona and the one thing that stood out to me on the buildings I installed HVAC units on was the poor building sealing and orientation. Conversation with customers almost always involved the expense of replacing their old inefficient air conditioner for a new, more efficient unit. I would often hear complaints that the units lead to huge electricity bills, and hopes for reductions in bills after the new system is installed.

Anyway, the cheapest and most effective way to save money on heating and cooling all has to do with the way a home is oriented and how well it is sealed.

You can take advantage of natural heating and cooling by orienting your home longitudinally east and west. On the south side of the home, longer eaves, and adequately insulated windows will prevent excess heat from entering the home in the summer months. The winter sun is lower, so the extended eaves will have no effect on the amount of light or heat allowed in during the winter months. Much more can be done to save energy on heating and cooling, especially since your home is a new construction. Do some research on passive energy design; it should help.


Which one of these HVAC systems is the most energy efficient? My wife and I are building our first home, and energy consumption is a big concern for us. We are still in the planning phase, but we are hoping to break ground in a few months.

Our architect told us that the majority of our energy expenses would come from heating and cooling, so I want to be sure that the HVAC system is appropriate for the house and learn about any new, more efficient technologies that may be available.

I also do not want mammoth HVAC equipment hanging off the roof or stuck to the side of the house. The less the equipment is seen, the more satisfied I will be.

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    • A programmable thermostat.
      By: Bill Bradford
      A programmable thermostat.
    • A radiator.
      By: John M
      A radiator.
    • A vent cover leading to an HVAC system.
      By: vlorzor
      A vent cover leading to an HVAC system.
    • Exterior wall vent leading to an HVAC system.
      By: Tony Baggett
      Exterior wall vent leading to an HVAC system.
    • Air conditioning equipment is often part of an HVAC system.
      By: AndG
      Air conditioning equipment is often part of an HVAC system.
    • Heat pumps, gas furnaces, and air-based systems are among common types of HVAC equipment.
      By: ArenaCreative
      Heat pumps, gas furnaces, and air-based systems are among common types of HVAC equipment.
    • A gas furnace is a type of HVAC equipment.
      By: scaliger
      A gas furnace is a type of HVAC equipment.