How Does your Heating and Cooling System Work?

How does your heating and cooling system work?  An alarming number of people will answer that question by saying that it gets hotter or colder when they change the thermostat.  That’s the total of their understanding when it comes to their heating and cooling system.  Don’t take your system for granted.  Learn a little about how it works so that you can maintain it better and so you’ll know when it’s not operating at its most efficient and you need to call for professional air conditioning maintenance.

Few things are common to any heating or cooling system.  They all have the following:

  • A source of warm or cool air.
  • A means of dispersing this air inside your home.
  • A method of regulating the system.
  • Fuel.

Those are really the basic elements of any system, no matter how simple or complex it may be.  The source of warm or cool air is your furnace, boiler, air conditioner or heat pump.  The means of distribution is usually your duct system and the method of regulation is probably your thermostat.  The fuel a system used will vary depending on what kind of heating or cooling system you have.

Heat pumps use electricity as fuel.  A furnace can use natural gas, oil or even coal.  Your system burns its fuel to produce heat or to cool the air.  It may also burn fuel to force the air through your distribution system.  Modern systems do this very efficiently while an old furnace or boiler may be much less efficient.

Your method of regulation can impact the efficiency of the system as well.  Just about any system uses a heat-sensitive switch to activate or stop the system.  An older model thermostat has a straight switch that works almost like a tiny see-saw, tilting back and forth.  A new model uses a coil that expands or contracts and the best are protected from dust and dirt by being housed behind glass.  As certain temperatures are met, the switches make or break electrical contacts which tell the system to run or stop running.

Within these basic elements exists a world of variety.  Heating and air conditioning installation and maintenance isn’t quite as simple as the list above!  However, it does give you a point of reference for troubleshooting your own system.

You can maintain your system and investigate small issues before they become big ones if you have a general understanding of how it works.  You’ll also be protecting yourself from being taken in by unscrupulous service companies!

For instance, if one register is not blowing warm air but the rest are, you have an issue in the distribution system and not one with the source of warm air.  If the system is clicking on and off irregularly, it might be the control system.

Research the type of system you have and learn how it works.  You’ll be better protected as well as better informed.