In our effort to educate & inform the Lowcountry about their air conditioning options, this Part 1 (of 4) of our complete A/C guide will review the basics of traditional central air conditioning systems and heat pump systems.
We write quite a lot about different kinds of HVAC systems here in our HVAC blog, but probably the most widely used systems still out in the wild are the traditional central air conditioning systems and heat pump systems.
When we say “traditional” we don’t necessarily mean “old” or “outdated” either. We simply mean that it’s the type of system most Lowcountry homeowners think of first when they think about HVAC systems.
Let’s walk through what these “traditional” systems are made up of and review some of the benefits and shortcomings associated with these system types.
Typical traditional A/C systems (split systems anyway) can be broken down into 4 basic components:
Most homeowners are familiar with most of these components, with the possible exception of the indoor blower/air handler. The outdoor unit & thermostat nearly everyone knows because they’re clearly visible and used on a daily basis.
Without going into too many technical details, traditional air conditioning operation involves pulling the warm air (& moisture) from your home, cooling it using a process using compressed refrigerant & evaporation, and then returning it back into your home “conditioned” for your comfort.
The outdoor unit and part of the indoor unit are where your air gets “conditioned”, the air handler pushes the air to/from your home through your air duct system and your thermostat keeps track of the temperature indoors and is where you set your desired comfort level.
We go into greater detail about the difference between heat pump systems and traditional A/C systems here, but basically a heat pump system operates exactly the same as a traditional central air conditioning system during the summer.
What makes a heat pump different is its ability to reverse its operation to warm your home during the winter months using the ambient warmth in the outdoor air.
For obvious reasons, heat pumps are more common in warmer climates (like ours here in the Lowcountry), as the air temperature stays in a warm enough range for them to operate and have backup heating elements in case temps do dip for short amounts of time.
The main advantage of traditional systems is that most new & older homes are built & setup for these types of systems. That means swapping out old components (like the outdoor unit, air handler, etc.) are relatively simple for your local HVAC company.
A major disadvantage of these systems is that they’re not quite as efficient in operation compared to other systems setups like ductless mini-split systems and geothermal heating and cooling, which we’ll discuss in part 2 and part 3 of this guide, respectively.
Efficiency is vital to the overall cost of running your air conditioning; essentially the better efficiency you get, the less energy your system will use to produce your expected cooling results. If your system has poor or low efficiency, you’ll be spending more on energy bills every month. With lifespans of up to 12-15 years, that poor efficiency can really hit your wallet over time.
Next up in our complete guide to air conditioning in Charleston: ductless mini-split systems explained.