A Southern California Guide to HVAC
(Heating/Ventilating/Air Conditioning) Comfort Systems
California has a mild climate, and our homes are usually designed to take advantage of that. Operable windows, shaded porches and so on mean we use less heating or cooling than most other places. Yet every home must (by law) have some type of heating system. Various styles have come in and out of fashion. Here the most common ones are described.
Floor Furnace/Wall Heater
Most prewar homes were built using a floor furnace as the main heating system. In early postwar homes, wall heaters were used instead. These designs are simple and effective, but not very efficient. Floor furnaces are also getting hard to repair, as parts are no longer made. Either design leads to uneven heating as there is no distribution system.
For larger prewar homes, gravity heaters with asbestos ducts were frequently used. The heater would be in a “California” (small) basement. They are better than floor furnaces at distribution, but otherwise share their flaws; inefficient and hard to service because of scarce parts.
Forced Air Heating/Residential Split Systems
Homes built after 1960 usually have central heating. The furnace is in a closet, garage or attic, and ducts deliver air to each room. Residential split systems are forced air systems with the addition of air conditioning. A condensing unit (with built-in compressor) will be installed just outside the home, and refrigerant lines will connect the condenser to a cooling coil installed at the discharge side of the furnace.
Rooftop Package Unit
This is a combined heater/air conditioner all within a single cabinet. Ductwork delivers the conditioned air into the living space. This is the most common system for commercial uses, but homes can also be conditioned this way.
Heat pumps can be either a split system or a packaged unit. Heat pumps work as air conditioners in the summer, and by use of a reversing valve can then provide heat in the winter. They are not common in homes in Southern California, as they use electricity rather than natural gas and our region has unusually high electric rates compared to the rest of the country. Ground source heat pumps, on the other hand, use very little electricity and are very energy efficient. But their installation involves either extensive drilling or trenching the ground, making them much more expensive to install than conventional designs. View our Heat Pump Services.
These are self-contained air conditioners, and can also come as heat pumps. They are inexpensive to install, but are noisy to run as the compressor (and all its vibration) is attached directly to the home.
Ductless/Mini Split Systems
This design includes an air handler indoors and a condenser outdoors. It’s less expensive than a traditional residential split system, but without ductwork it doesn’t distribute conditioned air as well. Some designs allow more than one air handler per condenser, improving distribution. But this increases the installation expense as well. This design works best both for spot cooling (one room is never comfortable, so we can control it directly this way) or for homes where ductwork can’t easily be installed. For more information check out Ductless Mini Split Systems.
For even more specific information on comfort systems see also:
Quality of Installation
The single most important element that determines a heating and air conditioning system’s performance is the quality of installation. Brand name, design capacity or rated efficiency don’t mean a thing if the equipment is put in poorly or improperly. Air-Tro has built its reputation on quality and craftsmanship when installing heating and cooling systems for homes and businesses. Proper technique and attention to detail result in comfortable, energy efficient performance, fewer breakdowns and longer equipment life.
Don’t take a chance; make sure the craftsmen working on your home are skilled professionals from Air-Tro. Call us at 626-357-3535.