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Glossary of Air Conditioning and Heating Terminology

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Air Handler The portion of a central air conditioning or heat pump system that moves heated or cooled air throughout a home's ductwork. In some systems, a furnace handles this function.  Also known as the blower section and part of the split system, this unit is commonly in your home or attic.  This has to be matched with the condenser properly to assure maximum efficiency. The air handler contains the heating and evaporator coil.

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A.F.U.E. "Annual Fuel Usage Efficiency" This will range from 80% to 95%, and will be provided to you when purchasing a gas furnace. This percentage is the efficiency of the amount of gas burned to produce heat.  This rating applies to gas furnaces and is based on average usage and  includes fuel usage during on and off cycling.  The higher the AFUE rating, the less fuel a furnace or boiler will use.

AFUE% = Furnace Efficiency. "AFUE" is a measure of a furnace's heating efficiency. It stands for Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency. The higher the AFUE%, the more efficient the product. The government's established minimum rating for furnaces is 78%.

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ARI Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute is a nonprofit, voluntary organization comprised of manufacturers of air conditioning, refrigeration and heating products.  It publishes standards for testing and rating heat pumps and air conditioners in order to provide the consumer with a standardized unit of comparison between equipment of various manufacturers.

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Balance Point An outdoor temperature -- usually between 30F to 45F -- at which a heat pump's output exactly equals the heating needs of the house. Below the balance point, supplementary electric resistance heat is needed to maintain indoor comfort.

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Bel A bel is a decibel divided by 10.

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B.T.U. British Thermal Unit; is a standard of measure for cooling and heating capacities. A BTU is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water (about one pint) by one degree Fahrenheit. This is how the capacity of air conditioning is measured.

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Btuh Btu's per hour.

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Compressor The major component located in your outdoor unit (heat pump or air conditioner).  New units are sold with a 5 year or 10 year limited warranty form the manufacturer on this part.  When the compressor fails after the warranty has expired it usually means the replacement of the entire unit due to the high cost of the compressor alone.

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Condenser This is the unit that will sit outside and is part of a split system, it contains the compressor which is the heart of your air conditioner or Heat Pump, it pumps the refrigerant through your system. Some people call the condenser the compressor, but the compressor is a component of the condenser along with the fan motor and condenser coil.  It is called the condenser because it is where the refrigerant goes from a gas to a liquid (condenses) in the refrigeration cycle.

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COP The Coefficient of Performance is a ratio used in rating the heating efficiency of heat pumps.  It is determined by dividing the total heating capacity (excluding supplementary resistance heat) by the total electric input.  A ratio calculated by dividing the total heating capacity provided by the heat pump, including circulating fan heat but excluding supplementary resistance heat (Btu's per hour), by the total electrical input (watts) x 3.412. (See Heating Seasonal Performance Factor, above.)

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Decibel A decibel describes the relative loudness of a sound.

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Defrost Mode

During the heating cycle of a heat pump, frost may build up on the outdoor coil. To remove the frost and maintain efficiency, the system will automatically defrost itself. This usually only takes a few minutes, then the system automatically switches back to heating. It is normal to see steam rising from the outdoor unit when this happens.

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DOE Department of Energy is the federal agency in charge of monitoring the consumption of energy sources. The Department of Energy is a federal agency in charge of setting industry efficiency standards and monitoring the consumption of energy sources.

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Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) A ratio calculated by dividing the cooling capacity in Btu's per hour (Btuh) by the power input in watts at a given set of rating conditions, expressed in Btuh per watt (Btuh/watt). (See Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, above.)

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Evaporator Coil The evaporator coil is the indoor coil located in the air handler or above the gas furnace used in air conditioning. This will produce you cooling in the air conditioning mode and heating in a Heat Pump mode. This is also very important in removing humidity from your home. It is called the evaporator because it is where the refrigerant goes from a liquid to a gas (evaporates) in the refrigeration cycle. 

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GAMA Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association

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Heat Exchangers This term refers to the components in a gas furnace in which the actual combustion takes place.  Typically the manufacturers place a 20 year limited warranty on the heat exchangers.  On the highest efficiency furnaces the heat exchangers are warranted for as long as you own your home.

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Heat Pump A Heat Pump is a reverse cycle air conditioner. Simple terms When you run your air conditioner, your outdoor unit will be blowing hot air,( in other words removing the heat from your home and sending it outside). When you run your heat, you reverse the flow of refrigerant and remove the heat from the atmosphere outside and blow it inside. When the temperature dips below 40 degrees outside, the Heat Pump labors in producing heat so they install a back up or auxiliary electric heat strip to supplement the Heat Pump. Electric Heat strips are very expensive to operate. In southern climates where it rarely dips below 40 degrees the heat pump is very efficient. A 3 to 1 savings in heating compared to electric heat strips.

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Heat Source A body of air or liquid from which heat is collected. In an air source heat pump, the air outside the house is used as the heat source during the heating cycle.

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Hot Surface Ignition This component replaces the traditional pilot on a gas furnace.  A hot surface ignition will "turn on" when the furnace is starting and "turns off" once the burners are lit.  Because this is only in use when the furnace is starting there is no wasted energy from continuous pilot operation.

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H.S.P.F. "Heating Seasonal Performance Factor" This will range from 6.8+ this will be provided to you when purchasing a Heat PUMP. The higher the HSPF rating, the more efficient a heat pump is at heating your home. There is no legislated minimum rating.

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HVAC Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning

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Indoor Coil The portion of a heat pump or central air conditioning system that is located in the house and functions as the heat transfer point for warming or cooling indoor air.

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Inducer Fan The inducer fan helps send the products of combustion up the chimney or through the appropriate exhaust vent.  This component is only found on the newer generation of furnaces with efficiencies of 78% AFUE and higher.

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Kilowatt (kW) A kilowatt is 1000 watts.  A kilowatt hour (kWh) is the amount of kilowatts of electricity used in one hour of operation of any equipment.

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Kilowatt hour (kWh) A kilowatt hour is the amount of kilowatts of electricity used in one hour of operation.

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M.H.P.U. The Mobile Home Package Unit is an air conditioner with electric or gas heat or can be a Heat Pump. This unit has the condenser and air handler all-in-one package. Commonly used in mobile homes and sits outside. (Self-contained unit)

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Outdoor Coil/Condensing Unit The portion of a heat pump or central air conditioning system that is located outside the home and functions as a heat transfer point for collecting heat from or dispelling heat to the outside air.

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S.E.E.R. "Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio" = Cooling Efficiency. "SEER" is a measure of cooling efficiency for air conditioning products and applies to air conditioners and heat pumps and describes the relationship between the Btuh, or cooling capacity of a unit, and the amount of electricity required to run the unit.  This ratio is based on normal annual usage.  Units with higher SEER ratings require less electricity to cool a home and are therefore more efficient.  This is a rating system for all residential air conditioning equipment. The base for all manufactures is "10" being the lowest efficient up to "16+". The difference from a "10" to a "12" S.E.E.R. is about 15 to 20% difference in operating cost.  This S.E.E.R. is based on a matched system condenser and air handler. You can not rate a replacement condenser using the existing air handler. The condenser will be more efficient than the old one, how much isn't known.  The government's established minimum rating for air conditioning is 10.

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Single Package A year 'round heating and air conditioning system that has all the components completely encased in one unit outside the home.

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Split System A heat pump or central air conditioning system with components located both inside and outside of a building -- the most common types installed in homes.  A split system has a condenser that is located outside and the air handler that is located inside or in the attic or garage, copper refrigeration pipes connects the condenser and air handler.

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SR Sound Rating is measured in bels.  The SR of a unit (heat pump or air conditioner) is based on tests performed at ARI standard rating conditions.   Although no energy consumption is tied to the SR, it can directly affect the consumer's comfort (as well as that of a neighbor!).  Average sound ratings range from 7.2 to 8.2.  Lower numbers indicate quieter units.

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Straight Cool This is an air conditioner that uses different forms of heating such as Natural Gas, LP Gas, Electric Resistance heat and oil.

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Supplementary Heat The auxiliary or emergency heat provided at temperatures below a heat pump's balance point. It is usually electrical resistance heat.Also known as the heater package. But supplemental heat can also be gas or oil - fired equipment.

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Therm A therm is a unit of measure for natural gas.  You will find this term used on your gas bill.

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TON Heat pumps and air conditioners are generally sized in tons. Typical sizes for single family residences are between two and five tons. Each ton equals 12,000 Btuh. It is important to note that actual capacity is not constant and will change based on outdoor or indoor temperatures. The published capacity rating of air conditioners and heat pumps is based on performance at the ARI standard temperature levels of 95 F outside, 80 F inside.  A ton is the total BTU capacity of a system. One ton is equal to the BTU's required to melt one ton of ice in a 24 hour period. There are 12,000 BTU's in a ton, a 2 ton air conditioner will produce 24,000 BTU's, a 3 ton will produce 36,000 BTU's and etc... The size of the area to be cooled will determine the correct size of the system in tons. The actual capacity of a unit will change based on indoor and outdoor conditions.   The published rating of a unit is based on its performance at the ARI standard temperature levels: 95F outside, 80F inside.

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Watt (W) A Watt is unit of electricity.

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Zone A zone is the area that one thermostat is controlling. For example: A two story house with a thermostat on each floor has two zones, one for each floor.

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