See if We Have Top-Rated
Heating & Cooling Contractors in Your Area
Need Help Financing
Find a loan that fits your project needs with HomeAdvisor's exclusive lender.
Basically, you want to cool your home down when you're hot, and warm it up when you're cold. These are simple demands that are routinely met any time someone reaches for the thermostat for a little adjustment to the environment. But sometimes, and always at the worst time, your air conditioner won't run or your heater isn't heating. This article will not help you to solve those problems, but it will give you knowledge of how certain systems work so you can better understand how to keep these problems from occurring.
Forced-Air Heating and Cooling
Most homes have forced-air HVAC systems (HVAC = Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning), but there have been several different methods surface in the last two decades. The most basic of basics is that your HVAC system is designed to draw air in from the intake valve, heat the air, and then push it through the ductwork and out the vents. It might sound crazy, but many people don't realize that. But now that you know, you have most everything you need.
If you are seeing several dust bunnies hopping from the vents, change your filter and vacuum the intake valve. If they are still bounding out, you need to have your ducts cleaned. Click this link if you want to hire a prescreened contractor to clean ductwork
Electric Heating and Gas Heating
If you have a forced-air system, it will either be electric or gas. The difference being that gas has a pilot light that needs to be on at all times, and the flame needs to be blue. If you cannot see the pilot light, then nothing is heating the air to blow through your vents.
With electric, if you have juice to the house, your heat and air should run. If it's not, check the breaker. If that is okay, call a professional as something else might be afoot.
Heat Pumps and Geothermal Heat Pumps
All heat pumps have an outdoor unit (condenser) and an indoor unit (evaporator coil). A refrigerant carries the heat from one place to the other. When this liquid is compressed, it is a high temperature, high-pressure liquid. If it is allowed to expand, it turns into a low temperature, low pressure gas. The gas then absorbs heat. Heat pumps extract heat from the outdoor air and deliver it inside during the winter. Cold air contains a great deal of heat, even though this sounds backward. They do just the opposite in the winter. There is still a fan, like in a forced-air system, that blows the warmed or cooled air into the ducts. Click here to read on about heat pumps
Geothermal heat pumps do the same thing as a regular heat pump, only they use the earth's natural temperature to cool and warm. Tubing is run in the ground and this same coolant is heated by the earth's temperature then delivered to the house, and again, just the opposite in the summer. This process is more environmentally sound as it uses less energy and no fossil fuels. Click this link to read more about geothermal heat pumps
Swamp Coolers or Evaporative Coolers
These genius inventions are for very dry climates, such as in the Southwest. Water is run over an absorbent pad and then air is blown over the pad and the resulting cool air enters the ductwork of the home. Very efficient and hard working little machines. Make certain the water level is where it should be. IF you need to know some maintenance tips, click here to read about swamp cooler maintenance
These are just a few of the basic principles guiding the systems that heat and cool most homes. There are others, and still more to come, but these are the main ones in brief.
Matt Myers is a freelance writer for the home maintenance and remodeling industry. Formerly a contractor specializing in deck building and casework, Matt has written over 500 articles for both homeowners and contractors.