For most consumers, the single most important thing about an HVAC system is whether or not it can keep them warm in the winter and cold in the summer.
The type of fuel it uses can often be an afterthought, especially if you’re a renter. However, knowing the different types of fuel and the different types of heating units can be important to your energy costs. In this article, we’ll answer the question: does HVAC use gas?
The very, very short answer is: yes, but it depends. For the longer answer, read on.
Before we can properly answer this question, we need to understand the different types of HVAC systems. HVAC stands for “heating, ventilation, and air conditioning” and is a general catchall term referring to a home’s climate control system, both heating and cooling. It encompasses everything from traditional wood-burning stoves to the most modern central air systems. Obviously, answers to the question, “does HVAC use gas?” will depend on what type of system your home has.
Here are some of the most common ways to heat your house.
By far the most common type of HVAC system in the United States of America, a forced-air furnace heats the air in a central furnace and then forces that air through a series of ductwork in the walls, floor, or attic to the various rooms in the home, where it enters through vents.
Forced-air furnaces can rapidly heat a space as needed, and high-efficiency versions can heat different parts of the house while leaving empty parts untouched, making for a much more efficient system. However, at the end of the day, forced-air furnaces are heating air, which simply holds heat for a much shorter period of time than heating objects would.
The most common fuel type for the furnace is natural gas. However, it is not uncommon to have fully electric furnaces or even furnaces that run on heating oil or propane.
A more traditional method of heating a home uses a boiler and radiator system. In this method, water is heated in a central boiler, which then circulates heat through pipes in the walls, heating up radiators (traditionally iron ones, close to a window) that then warm the room around them. Older boiler-and-radiator systems will circulate steam, while more modern systems circulate hot water instead. These are much more common in Europe than in North America, though they’re still found in older homes here.
One of the chief disadvantages of boiler-based systems is that radiators are bulky and thus limit furniture placements or other décor and also cannot be used for cooling—you need a separate air conditioning system.
Similar to a furnace, boilers can be heated with natural gas, heating oil, propane, or electricity.
This is a bit of a stretch, to be honest—space heaters aren’t really much of a central HVAC system. However, electric heaters that plug into the wall are an increasingly common way for people around the world to heat small spaces. They work by using electricity to power a heating element, which then warms the area around it.
Space heaters are almost always purely electric-based, and while they are popular, they can also be less efficient. They are very good at heating air in a small region, but cannot heat entire rooms, so if you have a group of people that all want to stay warm, these may not be very useful.
As the name suggests, these are either metal stoves or fireplaces set into a wall and lined with bricks where an individual can burn wood to warm the room. This method of heating a home may sound old-fashioned, but it’s actually quite common in some areas. Wood heat can be a very efficient way to heat a home, though not quite as energy efficient as natural gas. It also has some downsides. Namely, it can be a lot of work to keep up wood heat, with hauling wood, periodically cleaning out the ash, and so on.
As you may have guessed, wood-burning fireplaces and stoves generally use wood as a fuel, but there is also the option of wood pellets for more convenience.
Heat pumps may well be the HVAC standard of the future. In fact, Washington State is requiring them in all new residential construction starting in July 2023. Heat pumps are highly efficient and effectively combine heating and cooling into the same unit. In the winter, the unit pumps heat from outside into your home. Heat pumps can pluck heat from the air up to subfreezing temperatures, or they can use geothermal heat instead. In the summer, the process is reversed, and the heat pump pumps hot air from inside your home to the outside, replacing it with cool air.
Heat pumps are not as common as forced-air furnaces, but we expect that they could well be one of America’s most popular HVAC styles moving forward. Most heat pumps are electric, though natural gas models do exist.
As you can see, it depends on many factors, the most important being the type of HVAC system you prefer. In general, however, HVAC systems can be designed to use multiple different types of fuel, from gas to electricity to oil. Heat pumps, which are an increasingly popular style of heating and cooling, usually use electricity, but it will be some time before they supplant forced-air furnaces.
And this isn’t even getting into HVAC systems of the future, like the integrated HVAC/water heater systems developed by the Department of Energy’s NorthernSTAR research team.
Either way, if you have questions about your home HVAC systems or want to upgrade, you should always talk to the experts. Contact Entek today for all your HVAC needs in the Portland and Vancouver metro area.
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