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Heating and Cooling System Basics

heating and air system basics

Most of us take heating and cooling for granted. We expect our heating systems to keep us warm during the winter, and we depend on air-conditioning to keep us cool during the summer. When your house is cold in winter and hot in summer, there is a solution, besides calling a professional service. You can cut service costs drastically and keep your heating and cooling systems working efficiently by doing some maintenance and quick fixes yourself. But for that, let's learn the basics of heating and cooling systems function.


Climate Control Devices

All climate-control devices or systems have three basic components:

  • A source of warmed or cooled air
  • A means of distributing the air to the rooms being heated or cooled
  • a control used to regulate the system (for example thermostat)

The sources of warm air, such as a furnace, and cool air, such as an air conditioner, in a house often use the same distribution and control systems. If your house has central air conditioning, cool air probably flows through the same ducts that heat does and is regulated by the same thermostat. When a heating or cooling system malfunctions, any of these three basic components may be causing the problem.

Both heating and air conditioning work on the principle that heat always moves from a warm object to a cooler one, just as water flows from a higher to a lower level. Furnaces and heaters put heat into the air to make your home warmer; air conditioners remove heat to make your home cooler.


Once air is warmed or cooled at the heat/cold source, it must be distributed to the various rooms of your home, which can be accomplished with:

  • Forced-air system
  • Gravity system
  • Radiant systems 

Forced-Air Systems

A forced-air system distributes the heat produced by the furnace or the coolness produced by a central air conditioner through an electrically powered fan, called a blower, which forces the air through a system of metal ducts to the rooms in your home. This system is adjustable: You can increase or decrease the amount of air flowing through your home. Central air conditioning systems use the same forced-air system, including the blower, to distribute cool air to the rooms and to bring warmer air back to be cooled.

Gravity Systems

Gravity systems are based on the principle that hot air rises and cold air sinks. Gravity systems, therefore, cannot be used to distribute cool air from an air conditioner. In a gravity system, the furnace is located near or below the floor. The warmed air rises and flows through ducts to registers on the floor throughout the house. If the furnace is located on the main floor of the house, the heat registers are usually positioned high on the walls because the registers must always be higher than the furnace. The warmed air rises toward the ceiling. As the air cools, it sinks, enters the return air ducts, and flows back to the furnace to be reheated.

Radiant Systems

Radiant systems function by warming the walls, floors, or ceilings of rooms or, more commonly, by warming radiators in the rooms. These objects then warm the air in the room. Some systems use electric heating panels to generate heat, which is radiated into rooms. Like gravity wall heaters, these panels are usually installed in warm climates or where electricity is relatively inexpensive. Radiant systems cannot be used to distribute cool air from an air conditioner.

air and heating service

Understanding how the heating and cooling systems function in your home will help you head off problems before they become too serious. However for professional support always consider finding trusted and experienced contractors to avoid further and repetitive failures when it comes to your house, for this way you can save money and time.