What Are The Most Common Type of HVAC Systems?

Many people have HVAC systems in their homes to help with heating and cooling, but not many are aware that there are multiple types of HVAC available for home air ventilation. These systems vary in how they function and how much they cost to install. 

Choosing an HVAC system for your house or building can be a daunting task if you’ve never done any comparison shopping for them. Read on to get a basic overview of the most common types of HVAC systems and how to choose between them. 

Common Types of HVAC Systems

There are several different types of HVAC systems, and these types are usually distinguished by the source of power they use or how they deliver ventilation to an enclosed space. These common HVAC systems include the following types (Source: Leggett Inc): 

  • Heating/Air Conditioning Split System: A split system is an HVAC system that is made up of both an indoor and an outdoor unit. This HVAC system is the most common HVAC system found in residential homes. An HVAC split system uses ductwork to carry air throughout the building as well as coolant lines to connect the indoor and outdoor units. 
  • Hybrid Heat Pump System: Even though a hybrid heat pump system has heat in the name, the heat pump utilized in these systems is capable of blowing either hot or cool air. Heat pumps use ambient heat from the outdoors to heat the inside of a building unless additional furnace heat is required. 
  • Ductless HVAC System: Ductless HVAC systems are similar to other systems except that they don’t use ductwork, which makes the heating and cooling action of this HVAC type very efficient compared to other types. This is also a popular HVAC system for buildings where traditional ductwork can’t be installed, or for adding additional heating/cooling ability to another system. 
  • Packed HVAC System: A packed HVAC system is an HVAC type that is designed specifically for installation in small spaces that would not support a traditional HVAC system. Because these smaller systems are easier to put in, the time for installation of the unit is reduced compared to other HVAC systems. 
Types of HVAC system

These systems all operate on the same basic principles of heating and cooling and contain many of the same components, but they are each designed to fit a variety of different building setups and HVAC needs depending on where they’re used. 

Components of HVAC Systems

Most HVAC systems will include the following common components: 

  • Refrigerant: Refrigerant is the substance used in an HVAC system that helps to cool air before distributing it back into a building. The most common chemical used to cool HVAC systems is a hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) called R-410A. (Source: AC & Heating Connect) This refrigerant is known to be less damaging to the environment than previous versions of cooling agents. 
  • Thermostat: A thermostat in an HVAC system is the component responsible for allowing the user to control the temperature to put out warmer or cooler air. Many thermostats come with self-regulatory controls that help to keep heating and cooling energy-efficient. In newer models, thermostats can be controlled by digital input rather than analog.  
  • Heat source: HVAC systems use either a heat pump or a furnace and evaporating coil to generate warmth that can be then be distributed through a closed space. Ductwork is often used to direct heat into specific areas to diminish heat loss. HVAC heat pumps can generate heat via air source heating, geothermal heating, or water heaters. 

The above components are used not only for the operation of the HVAC system but also in its regulation. Keeping the system at a consistent temperature and making sure it is well-maintained is crucial to saving on energy costs. 

Options for HVAC Systems

Along with the common components used in HVAC systems, many optional components are added to make the units easier to operate. Here are some of the optional components you might find installed as part of an HVAC kit: 

  • Air scrubbers: Air scrubbers are filters that help to clean air, removing dust and allergens as air is circulated through the system. HVAC systems that include air scrubbers must have the filters changed out periodically to maintain their effectiveness. 
  • Humidifiers: Humidifiers are often added to HVAC systems to help balance the drying effect of the air circulation system. Heating systems can cause dry skin, eyes, and sinuses if used regularly, while humidifiers reduce this result and make reconditioned air more comfortable. This is an important consideration in both homes and office buildings. 
  • UV lamps: UV lamps are used as part of an air circulation system in HVAC to irradiate circulated air and remove harmful bacteria. (Source: Premier Heating and Air) This in turn can help prevent the spread of contagious diseases in enclosed spaces such as the common cold or flu. UV lamps are also useful for controlling the spread of mold and mildew in humid environments. 

While these optional components might make an HVAC system more expensive, they can also greatly improve the quality of your indoor air. 

What Is the Best Type of HVAC System?

There is no one best type of HVAC system, though some are more efficient than others.

However, the more efficient an HVAC system is, the more expensive it typically is to purchase and install. This means that the balance must be made between cost and quality. 

For efficiency, ductless HVAC systems remove many of the inefficiency involved with using ductwork, which can reduce the efficient transfer of energy in the HVAC system up to 20% due to heat loss.

But ductless HVAC systems are expensive. The best type of HVAC system for most residential homes is the split system because it is both efficient and affordable. 

For office buildings and other public enclosed spaces, HVAC systems that have been fitted with air-purifying technology such as air scrubbers and UV lamps can help to reduce the transmission of illness around the office and remove common allergens. This in turn can increase a company’s productivity and morale. 

How to Choose an HVAC System?

When it comes to choosing an HVAC system, there are a few different factors you should look into. Since there are different types, knowing what you need out of your HVAC can help you pick the best one. Here are some things to consider: 

  • Price: Since HVAC units are a long-term investment, it’s usually a good idea to pay in the upper range of what you’re able to afford on a high-quality system. It is more cost-efficient to buy one good unit than have to call out a repairman every six months.  
  • Location: The placement of the HVAC unit is one of the most important things to look at when choosing a system, as well as the amount of space that the HVAC will be responsible for heating and cooling. The larger the space, the more powerful HVAC you’ll need. The location of the unit will also dictate the layout of any necessary ductwork. 
  • Size: The length and width of an enclosed space is used to determine the size of HVAC unit. Units are sized according to the square footage they are intended to ventilate. (Source: AC Contractors) Some buildings are also large enough that they might require additional units for efficient ventilation. 
  • Air quality: If you have someone in a residence who is allergic to allergens like pet dander, dust, and mold, looking into HVAC systems that include air-purifying technology are going to offer the best choices on the market to help reduce allergic triggers. These optional features can make an HVAC system more expensive, but they may be a priority for vulnerable consumers. 
  • Control: Increasingly HVAC systems are coming integrated with smart app technology, which allows the HVAC system to be controlled wirelessly via a phone or other smart device. This can make keeping household temperatures consistent much more convenient. Digital controls versus analog controls make it easy to adjust HVAC temperatures from anywhere. 

There are many different unit designs on the market available for HVAC systems, so be sure to do plenty of comparison shopping and measure installation spaces carefully before making a final decision.

Measuring the space where the HVAC system is to be installed can help you narrow down possible choices for purchase. 

HVAC Systems Are Important for Building Maintenance


Even in commercial buildings that don’t require the same levels of comfort as residential homes, HVAC systems are an important part of building maintenance.

Efficient heating and cooling help protect pipes from freezing temperatures and also reduces damage related to heat or cold exposure over prolonged periods. 

No matter which type of HVAC system you go with, it is a useful long-term investment for any building.

For those buyers who aren’t familiar with HVAC systems, the above overview is a good jumping-off point to figuring out the system that will best meet your heating and cooling needs.