Air conditioning systems are generally divided into 3 different types for the average type of home here in Texas. The first type is a natural gas furnace. The second is electric heat furnace. The third is a “heat pump”.
The gas furnace requires fresh air for combustion and a properly installed flue exhaust pipe to get rid of the exhaust gases. These furnaces can generally last between 15 and 20 years. Carbon Monoxide detectors should be installed in the home for safety reasons. We always recommend a complete service of the furnace by a professional every year before the heating season. Occasionally furnaces can develop cracks in the heat exchanger inside the furnace and can become a hazard for occupants.
The electric furnace has a simple heating element inside the air handler that is similar to the old floor space heaters that have coiled electrical wires that heat up and the air is forced across the coils which then circulates throughout the house.
The third type of unit is a “heat pump”. This type of unit uses the outside compressor/condenser all year round. During the summer, cold air is produced inside the house and the heat that is produced outside is dissipated with the fan.
Now during the Winter, just imagine that you could reverse the internal pipes and make it work backwards. Now the hot air is generated inside the house and the cold air blows off outside.
These units are more energy efficient that a plain electric heaters. The newest units use a great deal less electricity than the older units and are very popular in the Gulf states and the Southwest.
Another part of this unit is an electric back up heater, just like the electric heater. This is designated on the thermostat as “EM HEAT” or emergency heat. If the heat pump loses freon and does not heat the home, the owner can manually switch over to the “EM HEAT” and continue to heat the home until a technician can be obtained for repairs.
As part of the automatic operation of the Heat Pump, part of the system is known as the “Defrost” cycle. This happens if it gets too cold outside and ice forms on the condenser coils outside. The a/c will reverse itself back to the Summer cooling cycle, the heat melts the ice and the cold air that is generated inside the house will be heated by the electric emergency heat, and you don’t even know what has happened. If for some reason the Defrost cycle does not work, the heater will run continuously and not generate enough heat to warm the house. If this occurs, look at the outside unit with a flashlight, if you see ice inside then you switch over to the emergency heat setting. This will operate the electric heater and keep you from freezing. Call the a/c guy for service.
Common problems with “heat pumps” are dirty return air filters or cheap filters that allow dirt to accumulate inside the air handler. The evaporator coil is where some dirt, mold and bacteria can thrive and you wind up breathing unhealthy. Change your filters every month to keep the air handler clean.
Service the a/c unit every year. Freon loss makes the unit run much longer to heat or cool the house.
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