Understanding Basic Heating Systems: Heat Pumps vs Furnaces

October 28, 2020
Heat Pumps vs Furnaces

Many home and business owners know the basic heating and cooling terms. Things like cold air return and filter are pretty explanatory. Most people get a little fuzzy when you start talking about geothermal heating, evaporation coils, and heat pumps. We will break down some of the terms you can expect to hear when you call someone for HVAC maintenance, repairs, and replacements.

Common definitions


This term stands for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. This acronym is a blanket term for products and services like gas pumps, gas furnaces, oil fired heating systems, air conditioning, central air, boilers, radiant heating, solar heating, electric, hybrid, and baseboard heating.

When you call an HVAC company, you can expect them to service some or most of these items. A trusted, reputable company will have experience, skills, equipment, and dedication to service these items and your ductwork and vents.


AC refers to air conditioning. Window units are the single-room cooling machines. Central air systems work to cool the entire
building. They are available in small, commercial, and industrial sizes. These systems can connect with existing furnaces and boilers for year-round temperature control in one panel. HVAC specialists can design these systems in various ways to cool buildings the way the owner wants and needs.

Evaporator coil

This part is the machinery that pulls the heat from the home into the HVAC unit. This coil holds the refrigerant that reduces the temperature of the air to cool the home, business, or property. When the weather turns cold, the heating system uses this coil to heat cold air in the home.

Air handling unit

This is the primary part of the heating and cooling unit. This section includes the pump, burner, or heating mechanism, coils, and other machinery. The ducts and vents are not a part of this term.


This abbreviation stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. This number is the output versus the electrical cost for the energy. The higher the SEER number, the more efficient the unit.


This part of the system removes water from the air. It cools the room air and turns the vapor into water that it can drain, removing humidity from the air and water from the unit.


This term refers to a small plate that goes into the duct to control the flow of hot or cold air. The way these plates work is to create friction that slows the speed of the air down as it flows through the duct, reducing the speed it exits the vents.


This part of the heating and cooling system is the panel that a person uses to operate the system. There are a variety of thermostats. Programmable ones allow users to put in personal settings. Smart thermostats give owners control from anywhere in the world using a mobile app.

Heating systems


This unit takes energy and turns it to heat via a primary heating unit. Most furnaces use gas like natural or propane for power. They transfer the gas into heat and send it through a series of ducts that force air into each room via a vent. In the summer, furnaces with central air units send cool air through the ducts to keep the
temperatures down.

Heat pumps

These compressor units are more energy efficient using refrigerants and oil or electric to generate heat. They are the most common heating system in homes. There are two primary types of pumps. A split pump puts the evaporator cooling unit indoors with the main system outside.

The other variety, a unit, comes as a full model that goes outside the home. These systems work best in areas where the temperatures stay at or above freezing in the colder months.

Oil fired heating

This heating technology uses oil to create heat instead of gas. One oil heating system is a boiler that uses oil to create steam via radiators. Other oil systems send heat through ducts or send hot water to baseboard heaters in each room. You are most likely to need these units in areas with hard freezes and temperatures below zero in the winter.

Hybrid heating systems

These units combine furnace and heat pump technology. They save money with the heat pump and provide the blown air experience many people like. A major benefit is that these systems save wear and tear on both units by only operating part of the time. Usually, the furnace only needs to operate when the temperatures drop below freezing. Since the heat pump works most of the time, the energy saving is a huge benefit of this system.

To find out more about any of these heating and cooling systems, please contact American Service Company RVA at 804-739-4094. Our team has decades of work helping people in and around the Richmond area make their homes comfortable all year long. We are here 24 hours a day in case of emergencies.