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The ABC’s of the HVAC Industry – Glossary of Common Terms and Meanings

Talking with your HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) technician can be a bit overwhelming. Try as you might to keep up, the conversation can quickly become a confusing jumble of industry jargon. But at Rebmann, we love an informed customer. So here is a helpful list of HVAC terms to help you navigate the foreign language of heating and cooling professionals like it’s your native tongue:

• ACCA: Ideally, your contractor is affiliated with the ACCA (Air Conditioning Contractors of America). The affiliation indicates a high degree of professionalism and familiarity with industry standards and practices.

• AFUE: The AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency) rating is a measure of the energy efficiency of combustion equipment such as furnaces, boilers and water heaters.

• Air flow: This is how much air is travelling through your ductwork. Typically, a quality air conditioner moves around 400 cubic feet per minute per ton of A/C capacity.

• Air handler: In split A/C systems, the air handler houses the blower and evaporator components.

• BTU: The BTU (British thermal unit) is a traditional unit of energy equal to 1055 joules. It is the amount of energy required to heat one pound of water by one degree.

• Charge: Checking your air conditioner’s charge ensures its efficiency and effectiveness. If your unit’s charge is continually low, you may have a leakage problem

• Compressor: Located in the outside unit of your A/C system, the compressor raises the pressure and temperature of the refrigerant in your system.

• Damper: A valve or plate that regulates air flow inside of a heating or cooling system designed to cut off unused rooms. These are crucial to the success of zoned HVAC systems.

• Ductless mini-split: Most common in other countries, this split-system heat pump is very compact and has no ducts. The unit’s blower and evaporator coils are mounted within the wall or ceiling of a single room. The benefit of this type of system is having one condenser serving multiple air handlers.

• Fan coil: This is an indoor component of heat pumps. It helps provides an extra kick of heat on colder days.

• Heat pump: A versatile air conditioning option that warms your home in winter and cools it in summer.

• HEPA filter: HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Absorbing) filters trap and remove contaminant particles from the air as it flows through.

• Horizontal flow: This is a type of furnace that is installed on its side and draws air in at one end and sends it out the other. These are most commonly found in attics or crawl spaces.

• Humidifier: Equipment that adds water vapor to heated air as it moves out of the furnace. The added moisture protects home furnishings and reduces static electricity.

• HSPF: The Heating Seasonal Performance Factor is a measure of the heating efficiency of a heat pump. The higher the number, the higher the quality.

• Indoor coil: This is the less visible half of an outdoor unit, which is attached to your furnace or air handler. It draws heat and moisture out of the air as it passes through, leaving the air cool and comfortable.

• Indoor/Outdoor system (split system): An air conditioning system that has components in two separate places. For example: a system with an air conditioner (outside unit) and a furnace (indoor unit).

• Joule: A unit of heat or energy commonly used by electricians in the HVAC industry. It is the amount of energy required to produce one watt of power for one second.

• Latent heat: This term describes the amount of heat that must be eliminated from a space in order to dehumidify it.

• Load calculations: These calculations are what help your HVAC technician determine how much heat is gained or lost through your home due to leaks, appliances and human activity.

• Manufacturer’s certificate: This is an official document from the manufacturer of a piece of equipment that certifies it is of a certain caliber. These documents are important for tax credits, as all eligible units must have SEER and AFUE ratings as certified by the manufacturer.

• Matched system: A HVAC system is considered matched if it is assembled from certified components, which are guaranteed to perform at a high level of comfort and efficiency when operating together.

• MERV rating: The MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) rating is a numerical system designed to assess the efficiency of your air conditioner filter.

• NATE: NATE (North American Technician Excellence) certification is used to accredit HVAC technicians with industry standard base of knowledge and skill set.

• Operating cost: The day to day costs of running your home heating and cooling system as based on energy use.

• Packaged system: An air conditioning and/or heating system that encloses all components in a single casing. These units can be installed beside or on top of your home.

• Payback analysis: This is a measure of the energy efficiency and value of your home HVAC system. The analysis compares the purchase price of your system with your operating costs and projects how many years the cost of running your current unit can be justified by the energy buying a new unit would save.

• Reciprocating compressor: A type of compressor used in air conditioning systems that compresses refrigerant by using a ‘piston’ (up and down) action.

• Recycling: In the HVAC industry this refers to removing, cleaning and reusing of refrigerant.

• Scroll compressor: A type of compressor used in air conditioning system that compresses refrigerant by using a circular motion.

• SEER: This stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. The numerical rating describes how well an air conditioner or heat pump converts electricity into cool air during the warmer months.

• Set back thermostat: A state-of-the-art thermostat with built in memory which can be programmed to automatically adjust the temperature depending on the time of day.

• Tax credit: The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 granted a larger tax credit to those who upgraded to more energy efficient HVAC systems. The new credit allows the homeowner to qualify for 30% of the new system’s installation costs up to $1,500. It can be used for heating, air conditioning, home envelope sealing, solar/wind energy equipment and more.

• Ton: In the HVAC industry, this unit is a measure of an air conditioning system’s cooling capacity. One ton is 12,000 BTU’s per hour.

• Two stage system: This is the most energy efficient method of heating and cooling a home. A two stage system will operate at a low, energy saving capacity most of the time, except on days when maximum heating or cooling is desired. On those days, the system will switch to a heavier energy output and work harder to make your home comfortable.

• Upflow: A type of furnace that draws cool air from the bottom of the unit and blows the warmed air out of the top into the ductwork.

• Ventilator: This captures heating or cooling energy from stale indoor air and transfers the energy to incoming fresh air.

• Zoning: This is a method of increasing home comfort and energy efficiency by managing when and where heating and cooling occurs in a home. Additional equipment such as set back thermostats and dampers direct the air flow of the home.

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