A Southern California Guide to HVAC Comfort Systems
HVAC comfort systems in California may bring to mind air conditioning. After all, California has a mild climate. And our homes are usually designed to take advantage of it. Features such as operable windows, shaded porches, etc., mean we need less heating or cooling than most other places. Yet the law requires every home to have some type of heating system.
Homebuilders used various styles over the decades. From floor furnaces and gravity heaters to rooftop package units and ductless, below is a guide to the most common comfort systems and the issues they present.
Floor Furnace/Wall Heater
Most pre-war homes were built using a floor furnace as the main heating system. However, in early postwar homes, you’ll find wall heaters instead. The designs are simple and effective, but not very efficient. Floor furnaces are also getting hard to repair. That’s because no one manufactures the parts anymore. In addition, both designs lead to uneven heating as there is no distribution system.
For larger pre-war homes, builders frequently used gravity heaters with asbestos ducts. The heater would be in a “California” or small basement. They are better than floor furnaces at distribution but otherwise share their flaws. They are inefficient and hard to service because of scarce parts. And of course, if the asbestos is still in use, it could pose health risks.
Forced Air Heating/Residential Split Systems
Homes built after 1960 usually have central heating. You’ll typically find the furnace in a closet, garage or attic, and ducts deliver air to each room. Meanwhile, residential split systems are forced air systems with the addition of air conditioning. You’ll find the condensing unit with a built-in compressor just outside the home. And you’ll find refrigerant lines connecting the condenser to a cooling coil at the discharge side of the furnace.
Rooftop Package Unit
This is a combined heater/air conditioner within a single cabinet. The ductwork delivers the conditioned air into the living space. Although this is the most common system for commercial uses, homes can also be conditioned this way.
Heat pumps can be either a split system or a packaged unit. Despite the name, heat pumps work as air conditioners in the summer. And by using a reversing valve, they provide heat in the winter. Since this type of comfort system uses electricity, and our region has unusually high electric rates compared to the rest of the country, heat pumps are not common in homes in Southern California.
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 for more information.
These are self-contained air conditioners, and can also come as heat pumps. They are inexpensive to install, But they are also noisy because the compressor with 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 the one room that is never comfortable 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.