What the Heck is HVAC? *An Unsexy (But Necessary) Blog*

You’ve seen the letters: HVAC; but, what exactly does it mean? HVAC stands for Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning. When someone says HVAC, they are basically referring to the machines and technology that are used throughout homes and commercial spaces to regulate the environmental factors that provide thermal comfort and acceptable indoor air quality. Pretty important, right?! And while we will all probably agree that the topic isn’t exactly “sexy,” knowing the facts about HVAC should get your attention. 

Why is Understanding HVAC Systems Important? 

HVAC systems are responsible for the continuous regulation of the environment surrounding you, your loved ones, and all of your assets (electronic equipment, furniture, etc.). As the outside weather changes, the environment in which your coveted property is housed will change as well. For your comfort and well-being, as well as the care of your belongings, it is important to protect the home from overheating, freezing, or exposure to moisture.

The ABC’s of HVAC Components

Heating: This component provides a warm climate for your home in the cooler months of the year.  Today the most popular type of system is the forced air system, but many homes also use radiant heat systems and geothermal heating systems, among others.  In all the systems, heat is created at a central source and distributed throughout the home via different means and can be fueled by gas or oil.

Forced Air uses a furnace to heat the air and then disperse it throughout the house via ductwork and in-room vents.  Radiant heating systems use heating stoves or a boiler to disperse heat through the house via a network of electric heating coils or hot water tubing installed in the floor or ceiling. Geothermal heating systems use the constant temperature of the ground created by absorption of the sun’s rays to generate heat for your home via a heat pump or other direct use geothermal technologies to create electric heat.

The Heat Pump is another system. However, it uses all electric power from an external source and provides both heat and air conditioning.  They are common in areas where winter weather is not very severe, like Richmond.  Essentially, a heat pump transfers heat energy from a source of heat to what is called a thermal reservoir or heat sink. Heat pumps move thermal energy in the opposite direction of spontaneous heat transfer, by absorbing heat from a cold space and releasing it to a warmer one. The most common design of a heat pump involves four main components – a condenser, an expansion valve, an evaporator and a compressor. The heat transfer medium circulated through these components is called refrigerant. Today’s heat pumps are extremely efficient and work FAR better than those of decades ago.

Ventilation: A key component for maintaining your home’s indoor air quality. Ventilation helps circulate and purify air, control moisture levels, remove unwanted smells, and prevent air stagnation. Depending on the age of your home and its HVAC system, this may be done either mechanically, naturally (via fans and windows), or through a combination of the two. Forced air systems, discussed above, pass the air in your home through an air filter to keep airborne particulates, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and allergens out of your home. If you do not have a fixed air system, this can also be done using tools like air cleaners, air purifiers, humidifiers, and dehumidifiers. 

Understanding how your system keeps your home ventilated is the first step to addressing any breathing or allergy issues you and your family may be experiencing. 

Air Conditioning: Here in Richmond, some would say this has become a necessity several months of the year! Indeed, this component of the system is also in charge of keeping you cool during the warmer months.  There are several different types of AC units, each with their own pros and cons. Whether you have central air (used in conjunction with forced air systems), split ductless AC units, window AC units, or portable AC units, the process that each system uses to cool your home is similar. 

Your AC system circulates refrigerant that changes from gas to liquid, via a compressor, as it collects and expels heat from your home. As the cooler liquid mist evaporates, it absorbs heat from your house’s inside air and returns it to a compressor (restarting the process).  This absorbed heat is pushed outside by the system, resulting in a cooler home.  When it’s 102 degrees….there really isn’t anything sexier!

Whether you’re buying or selling your home, there are important factors regarding HVAC systems that can influence the selling price of a property.

HVAC technology, just like other technologies, has life cycles. A time comes when newer technologies have to replace the older ones. If the HVAC system is more than 10 years old, you might want to consider upgrading/replacing it.  The new innovations coupled with the depreciation of an older system, make replacement a necessity if you intend to retain the extra value an HVAC system provides. Even sexier, a new system can bump up your home’s value by up to 10%!

While an HVAC system comes with expensive upfront and recurrent costs, it can add considerable value to your house.  

However, there are several factors involved in getting that extra value…

• Energy Efficiency and Environmental Friendliness

The more money that new homeowners can save on HVAC costs, the more value they’ll place on an HVAC system when considering your home. You can increase HVAC value by making your system more efficient. For example, you could add a heat pump for more economical electric heat in milder winters, or give your unit an excellent supporting cast, which includes well-sealed ductwork, properly programmed thermostat, energy-efficient windows, and adequate insulation.

Environmental factors are becoming increasingly significant to home buyers. An HVAC system is more valuable if it has positive effects on the environment. For instance, modern refrigerants are much “greener” compared to older ones that produce more diffuse greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.  

• Proper Installation

Improper installation cancels out any benefits you might expect from upgrading your HVAC system. Always use only a licensed and reputable HVAC specialist (a good realtor will always have a few trusted names in her phone) to install HVAC components to ensure they are installed carefully and diligently, thus guaranteeing value addition.

• Maintenance

An HVAC unit requires regular maintenance to operate at peak efficiency and prevent its quality from prematurely depreciating. A poorly maintained system can hurt your home’s value. Be sure to provide your system with the maintenance it needs in order to guarantee optimal performance and, subsequently, better value for your property. Many service companies offer a twice yearly maintenance program and will even send you reminders.

Remember: If your HVAC system is valuable, then the value of your home improves.




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