How to Choose Between Heating and Air Conditioning Units for Your Home

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Rachel Polant

Dec 2

Variety Is the Spice of Life —That Goes for Your Heating and Air Conditioning Units Too

Most homeowners don’t think twice about their heating and air conditioning units. When it’s cold outside, our system keeps us warm. In the summer, our AC system keeps us cool and comfortable.

The type of HVAC system we grew up with or currently live with probably seems like the norm to us. However, if you’re in the position to build a new home or remodel an existing one, you do have a number of choices in heating and air conditioning units for your house.

Different systems have their pros and cons. Some of which is due to what the climate is like where you live, the amount of space you have indoors and out, and the ductwork in your home.

If you’re thinking about changing up your HVAC system and seeing what other heating and air conditioning units are on the market—here’s a simple list of the most common residential systems an HVAC contractor can install in your home.

Central Air Conditioning

A central air conditioner has the main appliance, like an air handler or a furnace, tucked away in a home’s basement or another out-of-the-way space. The central air conditioning unit circulates chilled air throughout the home via the ductwork. The heating and air conditioning units use the same ductwork used for a forced-air furnace during the winter. A home usually has one thermostat when it has both a central air conditioning and central heating system.

Central air conditioners move the cool air through a system of supply and return ducts. These ducts and registers are the openings in your home’s wall, floors, or ceiling that are covered by a grill. The cooled air warms as it circulates through the home, flowing back to the central air conditioner through the ducts and registers.

Heat Pumps

Heat pumps transfer heat rather than generate it. This makes them a cost-effective and energy-efficient heating and cooling unit when compared to central AC and furnaces.

When it’s heating season, a heat pump moves heat from the cold outdoors into your home; and conversely, during the cooling season, a heat pump will take the heat in your house and transfer it to the warm outdoors. There are three main types of heat pumps: air source, ductless, and geothermal.

Package Systems

Package HVAC systems are housed in a single unit in one location of a home or business, often on the roof or ground outside the building. A package system is a great HVAC solution for homes or businesses with limited indoor space. They are typically less work for an HVAC contractor to install because all the components of this HVAC system are packaged in one unit. This can also make it cost less to install than split-packaged systems as well.

Geothermal Heat Pumps

Geothermal heat pumps, which are also called a GeoExchange, ground-source, or water-source heat pumps, use the constant temperature of the Earth as the exchange medium instead of the outside air temperature. Even though the air temperatures across the Earth vary and swing greatly with the region and season, our Earth’s ground temperature remains a constant 55℉ – 65℉ a few feet down.

There are four basic types of ground loop systems. Horizontal, vertical, and pond/lake are what is know as a closed-loop system, and the fourth type is referred to as an open-loop option. The best option for your home depends on certain factors like the climate, soil, and amount of available land.


Ductless mini-split-system heat pumps are great for additions to houses. Instead of doing an expensive retrofit to a home without ductwork, mini-splits are a cost-effective way to bring the benefits of a heating and air conditioning unit to a room where climate control wasn’t supplied before. A ductless system is also a good choice to supplement an area where there is an existing heating or cooling system, but due to the environment of the room, it underperforms, like a kitchen in the summer or a den on a slab in the winter. Mini-splits have two main components like air-sourced heat pumps do, which consist of an outdoor compressor/condenser and an indoor air-handling unit. The outdoor and indoor unit are linked between a conduit that houses the refrigerant tubing, suction tubing, power cable, and the condensate drain.

Gas Furnace

A traditional forced-air furnace generates heat and circulates the warm air through your home during the heating season. Its heating efficiency is gauged by the Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) percentage. The higher the AFUE percentage, the more efficient the furnace.

A forced-air gas furnace system has four basic components.

  1. The burner where the gas is delivered and burned.
  2. The heat exchanger where the heat is produced from burning gas is transferred to the air distribution system.
  3. The ductwork transfers the heated air throughout the home.
  4. The chimney flue or vent pipe sends the exhaust byproducts of combustion outside of the house. These byproducts include dangerous gasses like carbon monoxide.

Forced-air furnaces come in single-stage, two-stage, and variable-speed varieties. A single-stage furnace is what is found in most homes. It is either on or off. It blows out air until the desired temp is reached then shuts off again. This process repeats as needed. It is not very energy-efficient.

A two-stage or multi-stage furnace operates at low capacity during is cycle to reduce heating costs. It keeps the temperature constant, reducing the highs and low a single-stage produces. They are also much more energy efficient and cost-effective.

A variable-speed furnace circulates more air for a longer period of time. This improves air quality by increasing air filtration.

A boilers system heats water, and then sends the hot steam or hot water throughout the house to different rooms using a series of pipes to heat the home. Steam is sent to radiators, while hot water can heat radiators or radiant heating systems. A homeowner can purchase a boiler system that is fueled by either natural gas, heating oil, propane, or electricity. The new boilers on the market are much more energy-efficient than their earlier counterparts, with efficiencies as high as 98 percent.


Although boilers are categorized as a central heating system because the unit is in a central location and distributes the heat throughout the home, there is typically a lag time between when the boiler is switched on and when the heat is released in the home.

The way in which a home can be heated and cooled is diverse. That’s why it’s important to hire an HVAC contractor who specializes in the type of heating and air conditioning unit you choose.

Some homes and climates are better suited to certain systems. A qualified contractor will let you know if the system you want is the best fit for your home.

If you’re ready to start your search for the perfect heating or cooling unit, connect with today for your free HVAC quote!