HVAC is an acronym that stands for the closely related functions of "Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning" - the technology of indoor or automotive environmental comfort. HVAC system design is a major subdiscipline of mechanical engineering, based on the principles of thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, and heat transfer. Refrigeration is sometimes added to the field's abbreviation as HVAC&R or HVACR, or ventilating is dropped as in HACR (such as the designation of HACR-rated circuit breakers).
HVAC is particularly important in the design of medium to large industrial and office buildings such as skyscrapers and in marine environments such as aquariums, where safe and healthy building conditions are regulated with temperature and humidity, as well as "fresh air" from outdoors.
Heating, ventilating, and air conditioning is based on inventions and discoveries made by Nikolay Lvov, Michael Faraday, Willis Carrier, Reuben Trane, James Joule, William Rankine, Sadi Carnot, and many others.
The invention of the components of HVAC systems went hand-in-hand with the industrial revolution, and new methods of modernization, higher efficiency, and system control are constantly introduced by companies and inventors all over the world. The three central functions of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning are interrelated, providing thermal comfort, acceptable indoor air quality, within reasonable installation, operation, and maintenance costs. HVAC systems can provide ventilation, reduce air infiltration, and maintain pressure relationships between spaces. How air is delivered to, and removed from spaces is known as room air distribution.[]
In modern buildings the design, installation, and control systems of these functions are integrated into one or more HVAC systems. For very small buildings, contractors normally "size" and select HVAC systems and equipment. For larger buildings, building services designers and engineers, such as mechanical, architectural, or building services engineers analyze, design, and specify the HVAC systems, and specialty mechanical contractors build and commission them. Building permits and code-compliance inspections of the installations are normally required for all sizes of buildings.
The HVAC industry is a worldwide enterprise, with career opportunities including operation and maintenance, system design and construction, equipment manufacturing and sales, and in education and research. The HVAC industry had been historically regulated by the manufacturers of HVAC equipment, but Regulating and Standards organizations such as HARDI, ASHRAE, SMACNA, ACCA, Uniform Mechanical Code, International Mechanical Code, and AMCA have been established to support the industry and encourage high standards and achievement.
There are many different types of standard heating systems. Central heating is often used in cold climates to heat private houses and public buildings. Such a system contains a boiler, furnace, or heat pump to heat water, steam, or air, all in a central location such as a furnace room in a home or a mechanical room in a large building. The use of water as the heat transfer medium is known as hydronics. The system also contains either ductwork, for forced air systems, or piping to distribute a heated fluid and radiators to transfer this heat to the air. The term radiator in this context is misleading since most heat transfer from the heat exchanger is by convection, not radiation. The radiators may be mounted on walls or buried in the floor to give under-floor heat.
In boiler fed or radiant heating systems, all but the simplest systems have a pump to circulate the water and ensure an equal supply of heat to all the radiators. The heated water can also be fed through another (secondary) heat exchanger inside a storage cylinder to provide hot running water.
Forced air systems send heated air through ductwork. During warm weather the same ductwork can be used for air conditioning. The forced air can also be filtered or put through air cleaners.
Heating can also be provided from electric, or resistance heating using a filament that becomes hot when electric current is caused to pass through it. This type of heat can be found in electric baseboard heaters, portable electric heaters, and as backup or supplemental heating for heat pump (or reverse heating) system.
The heating elements (radiators or vents) should be located in the coldest part of the room, typically next to the windows to minimize condensation and offset the convective air current formed in the room due to the air next to the window becoming negatively buoyant due to the cold glass. Devices that direct vents away from windows to prevent "wasted" heat defeat this design intent. Cold air drafts can contribute significantly to subjectively feeling colder than the average room temperature. Therefore, it is important to control the air leaks from outside in addition to proper design of the heating system.
The invention of central heating is often credited to the ancient Romans, who installed a system of air ducts called a hypocaust in the walls and floors of public baths and private villas. []
Ventilating is the process of "changing" or replacing air in any space to control temperature or remove moisture, odors, smoke, heat, dust, airborne bacteria, carbon dioxide, and to replenish oxygen. Ventilation includes both the exchange of air to the outside as well as circulation of air within the building. It is one of the most important factors for maintaining acceptable indoor air quality in buildings. Methods for ventilating a building may be divided into mechanical/forced and natural types. Ventilation is used to remove unpleasant smells and excessive moisture, introduce outside air, to keep interior building air circulating, and to prevent stagnation of the interior air.
Mechanical or forced ventilation
"Mechanical" or "forced" ventilation is used to control indoor air quality. Excess humidity, odors, and contaminants can often be controlled via dilution or replacement with outside air. However, in humid climates much energy is required to remove excess moisture from ventilation air.
Kitchens and bathrooms typically have mechanical exhaust to control odors and sometimes humidity. Factors in the design of such systems include the flow rate (which is a function of the fan speed and exhaust vent size) and noise level. If ducting for the fans traverse unheated space (e.g., an attic), the ducting should be insulated as well to prevent condensation on the ducting. Direct drive fans are available for many applications, and can reduce maintenance needs.
Ceiling fans and table/floor fans circulate air within a room for the purpose of reducing the perceived temperature because of evaporation of perspiration on the skin of the occupants. Because hot air rises, ceiling fans may be used to keep a room warmer in the winter by circulating the warm stratified air from the ceiling to the floor. Ceiling fans do not provide ventilation as defined as the introduction of outside air.
Natural ventilation is the ventilation of a building with outside air without the use of a fan or other mechanical system. It can be achieved with openable windows or trickle vents when the spaces to ventilate are small and the architecture permits. In more complex systems warm air in the building can be allowed to rise and flow out upper openings to the outside (stack effect) thus forcing cool outside air to be drawn into the building naturally through openings in the lower areas. These systems use very little energy but care must be taken to ensure the occupants' comfort. In warm or humid months, in many climates, maintaining thermal comfort solely via natural ventilation may not be possible so conventional air conditioning systems are used as backups. Air-side economizers perform the same function as natural ventilation, but use mechanical systems' fans, ducts, dampers, and control systems to introduce and distribute cool outdoor air when appropriate.
 Air conditioning
Air conditioning and refrigeration are provided through the removal of heat. The definition of cold is the absence of heat and all air conditioning systems work on this basic principle. Heat can be removed through the process of radiation, convection, and Heat cooling through a process called the refrigeration cycle. The conduction mediums such as water, air, ice, and chemicals are referred to as refrigerants.
An air conditioning system, or a standalone air conditioner, provides cooling, ventilation, and humidity control for all or part of a house or building. The refrigerant cycle consists of four essential elements to create a cooling effect. A compressor provides compression for the system. This compression causes the vaporized cooling medium to become more dense; a by-product of this process is added heat. The compressed vapor is then cooled by heat exchange with the outside air, so that the vapor condenses to a fluid, in the condenser coil. The fluid is then pumped to the inside of the building, where it enters an evaporator. In this evaporator, small spray nozzles spray the cooling fluid into a chamber, where the pressure drops and the fluid evaporates. Since the evaporation absorbs heat from the surroundings, the surroundings cool off, and thus the evaporator absorbs or adds heat to the system. The vapor is then returned to the compressor. A metering device (often called an "orifice") acts as a restriction in the system at the evaporator to ensure that the refigerant flows into the evaporator at the proper rate; this keeps the refigerant from returning to the compressor in a liquid state, and also controls the rate of heat exchange in the evaporator.
Central, 'all-air' air conditioning systems are often installed in modern residences, offices, and public buildings, but are difficult to retrofit (install in a building that was not designed to receive it) because of the bulky air ducts required. A duct system must be carefully maintained to prevent the growth of pathogenic bacteria in the ducts. An alternative to large ducts to carry the needed air to heat or cool an area is the use of remote fan coils or split systems. These systems, although most often seen in residential applications, are gaining popularity in small commercial buildings. The evaporator coil is connected to a remote condenser unit using piping instead of ducts.
Dehumidification in an air conditioning system is provided by the evaporator. Since the evaporator operates at a temperature below dew point, moisture in the air condenses on the evaporator coil tubes. This moisture is collected at the bottom of the evaporator in a condensate pan and is removed by piping it to a central drain or onto the ground outside. A dehumidifier is an air-conditioner-like device that controls the humidity of a room or building. It is often employed in basements which have a higher relative humidity because of their lower temperature (and propensity for damp floors and walls). In food retailing establishments, large open chiller cabinets are highly effective at dehumidifying the internal air. Conversely, a humidifier increases the humidity of a building.
Air-conditioned buildings often have sealed windows, because open windows would disrupt the attempts of the HVAC system to maintain constant indoor air conditions.
All modern air conditioning systems, down to small "window" units, are equipped with internal air filters. These are generally of a light weight gauze-type element, and must be replaced as conditions warrant (some models may be washable). For example, a building in a high-dust environment, or a home with furry pets, will need to have the filters changed more often than buildings without these dirt loads. Failure to replace these filters as needed will contribute to a lower heat-exchange rate, resulting in wasted energy, shortened equipment life, and higher energy bills; also low air flow can result in "iced-up" or "iced-over" evaporator coils, and then there is no air flow at all. Additionally, very dirty or plugged filters can cause overheating during a heating cycle, and can possibly result in damage to the furnace unit or even fire.
It is important to keep in mind that because an air conditioner moves heat from the indoor (evaporator) coil to the outdoor (condenser) coil, the latter must be kept just as clean as the former. This means that, in addition to replacing the air filter at the evaporator coil, it is also necessary to regularly clean the condenser coil. Failure to keep the condenser clean will eventually result in harm to the compressor, because the condenser coil is responsible for discharging both the indoor heat (as picked up by the evaporator) plus the heat generated by the electric motor driving the compressor.
Outside, "fresh" air is generally drawn into the system by a vent into the evaporator section. Adjustment of the percentage of return air made up of fresh air can usually be adjusted by manipulating the opening of this vent.
 Energy efficiency
For the last 20 to 30 years, manufacturers of HVAC equipment have been making an effort to make the systems they manufacture more efficient. This was originally driven by rising energy costs, and has more recently been driven by increased awareness of environmental issues. In the USA, the EPA has also imposed tighter restrictions. There are several methods for making HVAC systems more efficient.
 Heating energy
Water heating is more efficient for heating buildings and was the standard many years ago. Today forced air systems can double for air conditioning and are more popular.
A couple of benefits of forced air systems, which are now widely applied in churches, schools and high-end residences,are 1) better air conditioned effect 2) up to 15-20% energy saving, and 3) evenly conditioned effect. A drawback is the installation cost, which might be slightly higher than traditional HVAC system.
Energy efficiency can be improved even more in central heating systems by introducing zoned heating. This allows a more granular application of heat, similar to non-central heating systems. Zones are controlled by multiple thermostats. In water heating systems the thermostats control zone valves, and in forced air systems they control zone dampers inside the vents which selectively block the flow of air. In this case, the control system is very critical to maintain a proper temperature.
 Geothermal Heat Pump
Geothermal heat pumps are similar to ordinary heat pumps, but instead of using heat found in outside air, they rely on the stable, even heat of the earth to provide heating, air conditioning and, in most cases, hot water. From Montana's −70 °F (−56.7 °C) temperature, to the highest temperature ever recorded in the U.S. - 134 °F (56.7 °C) in Death Valley, California, in 1913 - many parts of the country experience seasonal temperature extremes. A few feet below the earth's surface, however, the ground remains at a relatively constant temperature. Although the temperatures vary according to latitude, at 6 feet (1.83 m) underground, temperatures range from 45 to 75 °F (7.2 to 23.9 °C).
While they may be more costly to install initially than regular heat pumps, they can produce markedly lower energy bills - 30 percent to 40 percent lower, according to estimates from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
 Ventilation Energy recovery
Energy recovery systems sometimes utilize heat recovery ventilation or energy recovery ventilation systems that employ heat exchangers or enthalpy wheels to recover sensible or latent heat from exhausted air. This is done by transfer of energy to the incoming outside fresh air.
 Air conditioning energy
The performance of vapor compression refrigeration cycles is limited by thermodynamics. These air conditioning and heat pump devices move heat rather than convert it from one form to another, so thermal efficiencies do not appropriately describe the performance of these devices. The Coefficient-of-Performance (COP) measures performance, but this dimensionless measure has not been adopted, but rather the Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER). EER is the Energy Efficiency Ratio based on a 35 °C (95 °F) outdoor temperature. To more accurately describe the performance of air conditioning equipment over a typical cooling season a modified version of the EER is used, and is the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER). SEER ratings are based on seasonal temperature averages instead of a constant 35 °C outdoor temperature. The current industry minimum SEER rating is 13 SEER. The SEER article describes it further, and presents some economic comparisons using this useful performance measure.
- Chilled beam
- Circulator pump
- Cooling tower
- Damper (flow)
- Evaporative cooler
- Fan coil unit
- Fan (mechanical)
- Heat exchanger, including 'coils'
- Heat Pump
- Heat recovery ventilator
- Humidifier / Dehumidifier
- HVAC control system
- Variable air volume
- Variable-frequency drive, for fine control of pumps
 HVAC industry and standards
 North America
In the United States, HVAC engineers generally are members of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). ASHRAE is an international technical society for all individuals and organizations interested in HVAC. The Society, organized into Regions, Chapters, and Student Branches, allows exchange of HVAC knowledge and experiences for the benefit of the field's practitioners and the public. ASHRAE provides many opportunities to participate in the development of new knowledge via, for example, research and its many Technical Committees. These committees meet typically twice per year at the ASHRAE Annual and Winter Meetings. A popular product show, the AHR Expo, is held in conjunction with each Winter Meeting. The Society has approximately 50,000 members and has headquarters at Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
American design standards are legislated in the Uniform Mechanical Code or International Mechanical Code. In certain states, counties, or cities, either of these codes may be adopted and amended via various legislative processes. These codes are updated and published by the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) or the International Code Council (ICC) respectively, on a 3-year code development cycle. Typically, local Building Permit Departments are charged with enforcement of these standards on private and certain public properties.
In the United States, as well as throughout the world, HVAC contractors and companies are members of NADCA, the National Air Duct Cleaners Association. NADCA was formed in 1989 as a non-profit association of companies engaged in the cleaning of HVAC systems. Its mission was to promote source removal as the only acceptable method of cleaning and to establish industry standards for the association. NADCA has expanded its mission to include the representation of qualified companies engaged in the assessment, cleaning, and restoration of HVAC systems, and to assist its members in providing high quality service to their customers. The goal of the association is to be the number one source for the HVAC cleaning and restoration services: first time, every time. NADCA has experienced phenomenal membership growth and has been extremely successful with the training and certification of air systems cleaning specialists, mold remediators, and HVAC inspectors. The association has also published important standards and guidelines, educational materials, and other useful information for the consumer and members of NADCA. Their headquarters are located in Washington, D.C.
 United Kingdom
The Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers is a body that covers the essential Service (systems architecture) that allow buildings to operate. It includes the electrotechnical, heating, ventilating, air conditioning, refrigeration and plumbing industries. To train as a building services engineer, the academic requirement is GCSEs (A-C) / Standard Grades (1-3) in Maths and Science, which are important in measurements, planning and theory. Employers will often want a degree in a branch of engineering, such as building environment engineering, electrical engineering or mechanical engineering.
Within the construction sector, it is the job of the building services engineer to design and oversee the installation and maintenance of the essential services such as gas, electricity, water, heating and lighting, as well as many others. These all help to make buildings comfortable and healthy places to live and work in. Building Services is part of a sector that has over 51,000 businesses and employs over 500,000 people. This sector has an annual turnover of £19.3 billion which represents 2%-3% of the GDP.
The most recognized standards for HVAC design is based on ASHRAE data. ASHRAE is the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers. The ASHRAE Handbook's most general volume, of four, is Fundamentals; it includes heating and cooling calculations. Each volume of the ASHRAE Handbook is updated every four years. The design professional must consult ASHRAE data for the standards of design and care as the typical building codes provides little to no information on HVAC design practices; such codes, such as the UMC and IMC, do include much details on installation requirements, however. Other useful reference materials include items from SMACNA, ACCA, and technical trade journals.
Air Conditioning and Mechanical Contractors Association of Australia (AMCA)
Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heating (AIRAH)
- ASHRAE The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers
- NADCA National Air Duct Cleaners Associaition
- Natural Ventilation by Andy Walker of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory
- IEA Energy Conservation in Buildings and Community Systems Programme
- BTU Calculator A worksheet by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers to help you estimate how much cooling capacity you need.