What Is the Difference Between HVAC and Air Conditioning?

Saturday, May 29, 2021 - 12:00am
What Is the Difference Between HVAC and Air Conditioning?
This post was written with the expertise of Total HVAC Houston, a company that provides HVAC Services in Houston, Texas.

If you are unsure of the difference between an HVAC unit and an AC unit, you are not alone. Many homeowners are confused about what the two terms mean and what the difference is between them. To further add to the confusion, oftentimes even contractors and builders use the two terms interchangeably. So just what sets the two apart?

To put it simply, the HVAC unit includes heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, while AC is only referring to your air conditioning unit.

We’ll go a little deeper into that in this article.

What Is an HVAC Unit?

You may have heard the term HVAC being used or saw it on the side of a truck and wondered what exactly it is. It’s actually a very simple acronym meaning heating, ventilation, and air conditioning.

The term refers to one system that provides different types of heating and cooling services to residential and commercial buildings, as well as vehicles.

Common Types of HVAC Systems

There are different types of HVAC systems. Here is a list of the different types and a short description of each.

Standard split system: This is the most common type of HVAC system that features a component on the inside of the building, as well as on the outside. Most of the time, according to Trane, the inside section consists of a fan, cooling coil, heating section, and filter. The outside features the compressor and condenser. There are sizes that fit any size home or building.

Ductless split systems (mini-splits): Like standard splits, mini splits also feature an outdoor compressor and condenser and an inside air-handling unit. They are best for houses with non-ducted heating systems. They are also a good choice for small apartments or room additions, and they are usually easier to install than other types of space conditioning systems.

Geothermal HVAC systems: This type of system is a little different than the previous two mentioned. It uses the Earth’s temperature for heat exchange. It’s an up and coming energy saving option that is not only good for your wallet but also great for the environment. According to Refrigeration School, it is expected to supply 10 to 20 percent of the world’s energy by 2050. It heats the air by sending fluid through the pipes underground where rocks, soil, or water heat the fluid, and then it returns to the building where a heat exchanger transfers the heat from the fluid to the heating system which warms the air. In the summertime, the fluid that was used to heat the air is used for another purpose. It works by absorbing the heat in the air and dispersing it underground. It continually does this to remove the warm air and cool the home or building.

Packaged systems: This is an all-in-one heating and cooling system for homes that are cramped for space and can’t fit a furnace and coil or an air handler. A packaged system contains all its parts in one outdoor unit that is either positioned on the roof or the side of the house. There are many package unit options including package air conditioners, packaged gas/electric systems, dual-fuel systems, and package heat pumps.

What Is an AC Unit?

An AC unit is just an air conditioning unit. The term AC refers to only that. It does not include heating or ventilation systems.

There are six different types of air conditioning, some of which are mentioned above under HVAC units. With most of these, it is possible to get air conditioning only instead of a complete HVAC unit.

  • Central air conditioning
  • Mini-split (ductless) air conditioning
  • Window unit
  • Portable AC
  • Hybrid AC
  • Geothermal cooling

Key Takeaways

The difference between the two unit types is clear. One heats and cools, the other only cools. Most of the time, when you hear someone say HVAC unit, they are referring to a system that does multiple things. An AC unit is good for one thing, and that is to cool your home or business or whatever the case may be.

There is no need to mix the terminology or to be confused about what is what. Next time you hear someone confuse the terms, you can explain to them in an easy to understand way the difference between the two.

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