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Let's start at the beginning: HVAC stands for Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning and are the initials often used to describe the industry that produces the equipment that brings comfort to your home.
AFUE - This is a percentage measurement of a furnace's heating efficiency. The U.S. Government's minimum efficiency level is 78%. The higher the AFUE, the more efficient the furnace. The initials stand for Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency.
Energy Star - A voluntary partnership between the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, product manufacturers, local utilities and retailers. Partners help promote energy-efficient products by labeling products with the Energy Star logo and educating consumers about the unique benefits of energy-efficient products. In addition to labeled products, Energy Star offers voluntary partnerships which promote energy efficiency, reduce air pollution, and save money for businesses large and small. Each year, these partnerships save over $1 billion in energy costs while also cutting air pollution. When properly installed, Energy Star labeled products can save consumers 10-40% on heating and cooling bills each year.
SEER - This is a measurement of the efficiency of cooling products. The U.S. Government's minimum-efficiency level is 10 SEER for split systems and 9.7 for packaged units. The higher the SEER, the more efficient the cooling product. SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating.
HSPF - This is a measurement of a heat pump's heating efficiency. There is no governmental minimum rating. The higher the HSPF, the more efficient the heat pump's heating performance. HSPF stands for Heating Seasonal Performance Factor.
A Note About Efficiencies: When you're getting ready to replace an older heating or cooling system, it's very important for you to get a Load Calculation done by your dealer/contractor. The greater the difference between the efficiency of your old system to the new system, the more likelihood that the dealer will recommend a smaller sized unit. This should not cause alarm, as the dealer, by running a Load Calculation, will be able to accurately size the system to the load in your home. It can be quite detrimental to equipment if the units are too large for the load in your home - they can start to "short cycle" (they run often but for very short periods of time, because they are pumping out too much heat/cooling and reach the thermostat's setting too quickly), which can shorten the life of the unit dramatically.
This means that at the lower rating, the furnace is capable of producing 113,000 BTU's of usable heat per hour to heat your home. And, if it ran constantly for one hour, it would consume .85 gallons of oil. If, however, your dealer sets up your oil furnace to operate at the higher rating, it would produce 125,000 BTU's of usable heat per hour, and use 1.00 gallons of oil. Whether your oil furnace is set up by your dealer to operate at the higher or lower rating depends on that all important Load Calculation. By properly sizing the furnace to your home, you will be assured of maximum comfort, energy savings and extended equipment life.
COP - Coefficient Of Performance. A ratio that compares a heat pump system's heating efficiency to that of electric resistance heat. For example, a heat pump system with a COP of 3.0 provides heat at 3 times the efficiency of electric resistance heat. A heat pump's system COP will decrease as outdoor temperatures drop, eventually providing little or no efficiency advantage over electric resistance heat - and that's when your auxiliary heat strips start to heat your home.
Ton - You'll often see this as a measurement of the capacity of an air conditioning system. Don't panic, it doesn't measure weight! Just like gas and oil furnaces, air conditioners and heat pumps are rated in BTU's. One ton of air conditioning is 12,000 BTU's per hour. This means that a "one ton" air conditioning system has the capability of removing 12,000 BTU's of heat per hour from your home.
A Note About Air Conditioning: You've heard the saying "It's not the heat, it's the humidity." Air conditioning systems do more that just cool your home - they remove moisture. The more humid it is outside, the harder an air conditioner has to work. But does that mean that if you get a bigger unit, it will work better? NO. An air conditioning system that is too large will neither cool nor dehumidify properly, and the result will be an uncomfortable, clammy home.
Ambient Temperature - this is the air temperature (usually the outdoor air temperature) surrounding the equipment.
Split System - This describes an air conditioning or heat pump system that is split into two sections - an outdoor section and an indoor section. It won't work without the outdoor section plus an indoor section to move the air.
Condensing Unit - This is the outdoor section of a split system air conditioning system. You'll know it best as the air conditioner that sits outside your home.
Air Handler - This is the indoor section of a split system. It can be a dedicated air handler, or could be your furnace. Also known as a fan-coil.
Indoor/Evaporator Coil - If your furnace is the air handler section of your split system, then you'll need an indoor coil added to your furnace to complete the system. The coil transfers heat to give you cool air and also aids in dehumidification.
Heat Pump - A unit that both cools and heats your home. A heat pump system can be either a split system or a packaged system. A heat pump can be used in conjunction with a gas/oil/LP furnace (using the furnace instead of electric resistance heat when temperatures fall below about 35 F) with the addition of a fossil fuel kit.
Packaged System - Packaged units provide both heating and cooling from one unit that is placed outside the home - on the ground, on the roof, or sometimes mounted through the walls of the building. Packaged units come in several combinations of fuel sources - gas heat/electric cooling, heat pump, electric heat/electric cooling, and oil heat/electric cooling.