All-in-one HVAC vs furnace and air conditioner: comparing efficiency

All-in-one HVAC vs furnace and air conditioner comparing efficiency

The acronym “HVAC” stands for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, which seems like a very broad category of things that are only loosely related to each other. After all, your heating furnace and your air conditioning are two completely different devices, used at different times of the year for different purposes. The only thing they have in common is the fact that they make use of a complex system of ducts in your home. That, and the fact that they’re designed to keep your home comfortable during the harsher weather of the year. Regular ducted heating servicing is important to prevent partial combustion and the release of carbon monoxide. 

It makes sense that they’re separate systems since heating is generally done with a furnace that warms up the air, while cooling is done with a condenser that draws heat energy out of the air and cooling it down to a more comfortable temperature on hot days. In each case, most HVAC systems will then push the heated or cooled air through the vents in your home using a blower. Sometimes, there are other elements included to further increase the comfort level of your home, such as humidifiers or dehumidifiers. Modern innovation has also led to ductless HVAC, bigger portable AC units, and other heating and cooling technology variations.

Recently, all-in-one HVAC systems have gained popularity. These are systems that can handle both heating and cooling, without requiring you to make room in your home for two large, separate elements. But is this type of system efficient? Is it worth the cost involved? Will it have a positive effect on your energy bill? Read on for our thoughts on all-in-one HVAC vs. a furnace and air conditioner.

Parts of a Standard HVAC System

A standard HVAC system, such as can be found in homes all across the country, will have many different parts, which can take up a great deal of space. Somewhere inside the home—often a basement or other out-of-the-way area—there will be a furnace for heating. The furnace can use any one of many fuel sources to generate heat: propane, natural gas, wood, and electricity are among the most common.

Elsewhere, the air conditioner will have a condenser coil, which is often located outside of the home. Inside the home, but connected to the condenser, is an evaporator coil.

Running throughout the home is a system of ducts, which terminates at vents in every room of the home. Regardless of whether it’s been heated or cooled, air will be forced through these ducts and into the room by a blower motor. Somewhere inside your home—or more likely in multiple places—you’ll also have a thermostat. This allows you to keep an eye on the temperature and adjust it as you see fit.

How an All-In-One HVAC System Works

An all-in-one HVAC system has a lot of the same parts as either a furnace or an air conditioner. However, as you can imagine, it’s significantly more compact. Each part, including the condenser, evaporator, and furnace elements, are all in one unit that is installed somewhere in the home. Because it’s so much smaller, these types of HVAC units don’t utilize large furnaces that burn combustible materials such as propane, wood, or natural gas. Generally, heat is generated some other way, either electrically or through the use of a heat pump.

A heat pump is one of the most compact systems available to homeowners. They’re generally installed outside of the home because they work by transferring heat from place to place. On a hot day, the heat pump can cool the home by transferring indoor heat back outside. Using the same method, it can warm the home on a cold day by moving heat from the outside environment into the home.

Some of these heat pumps, called mini-split heat pumps, don’t require ducts to heat or cool the home. More advanced ones, called geothermal heat pumps, can utilize the heat generated by the earth to warm the home, even transferring it through the floor to get the home to the desired temperature.

Are All-In-One Heat Pumps Efficient?

When comparing an all-in-one HVAC vs. furnace and air conditioning combinations, the first obvious advantage of the all-in-one system is that it’s more compact and takes up much less space. This makes these systems ideal for smaller buildings or ones without a lot of room to spare. But are they more efficient than other methods of heating and cooling the home?

The government’s ENERGY STAR® website explains that heat pumps are among the most energy-efficient methods of heating and cooling the home. The fact that they use natural heat that is already present makes them extremely efficient to use. You won’t have to spend money on combustible fuel, such as propane or natural gas. Over time, this can save you thousands of dollars on your energy bills.

Are There Any Downsides?

While all-in-one HVAC systems are indeed extremely efficient—often more so than other methods of temperature control—they are not without their drawbacks. The upfront cost tends to be much higher than other methods. Although, over time, these systems can often pay for themselves through reduced energy costs.

It’s also true that all-in-one HVAC systems tend to be better in parts of the country where the climate is more moderate. In areas where the temperature regularly drops below freezing, a heat pump can struggle to get the home to a comfortable temperature. In fact, a heat pump can even freeze over if it’s too cold. In climates like these, a gas furnace or other similarly hot method of heating is often preferable.

Note, of course, that it doesn’t necessarily need to be one or the other. You can use an all-in-one heat pump most of the time, while having a gas furnace as a backup for the coldest days of the year.

Getting an All-In-One HVAC System Installed

If you decide you’re interested in having an all-in-one heating and cooling system installed in your home—or if you just have further questions—contact your local HVAC professional. If you’re in the Portland area, Entek HVAC is one of your best options for this, as we can help save you money regardless of what your heating and cooling choices may be.

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