Understanding the HVAC Systems Basics, Work Process & Types

An HVAC system is a fundamental component of modern indoor climate control. It regulates temperature and air quality in various settings, including residential homes, commercial offices, and industrial facilities.

Understanding the mechanics of HVAC systems is crucial for effective installation, maintenance, and utilization, contributing to improved comfort and energy efficiency. 

In this blog, we delve into the technical aspects of HVAC systems, exploring their components, functions, thier types, work process, factors  affecting the cost of new HVAC design and significance in shaping indoor environments. 

What Is an HVAC System?

HVAC, or Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning, is a sub-branch of mechanical engineering that provides thermal comfort to building occupants by maintaing systematic air circulation and controlling humidity, temperature, and air quality to provide a comfortable living environment.  

It is part of the mechanical discipline and MEP. HVAC systems consist of three main components: heating, ventilation, and air conditioning.  

  • Heating: It provides warmth through a central heating system, while ventilation aims to circulate air through mechanical means. 
  • Ventilation: The main aim of ventilation systems is to carry out systematic air circulation in a building through mechanical means. Mechanical ventilation systems allow an exchange of air in order to maintain a comfortable and pleasant environment for the building’s occupants. 
  • Air conditioning: It is an essential part of MEP and HVAC, maintaining a comfortable temperature, especially during summers. AC systems purify air, cool the area, dehumidify the space, and provide ventilation for a better indoor environment.

HVAC System Basics Components

HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) systems are complex systems designed to control temperature, humidity, air quality, and air movement within a building or a confined space.

Here are the basic components of an HVAC system:

  • Thermostat: This is the control center for the HVAC system. It allows users to set the desired temperature and control the system’s operation. 
  • Furnace/Heat Pump: In heating systems, a furnace burns fuel (such as gas or oil) to produce heat, while a heat pump extracts heat from the outside air or ground and transfers it indoors. 
  • Air Conditioner: This component cools indoor air by removing heat and moisture from it. It uses a refrigerant to facilitate the heat exchange process. 
  • Ductwork: Ducts are pathways that distribute heated or cooled air from the HVAC system to different rooms or zones within a building. They also return air back to the system for reconditioning. 
  • Air Filters: Filters are placed in the return air ducts to trap dust, dirt, allergens, and other particulates, improving indoor air quality and protecting the HVAC system’s components from damage. 
  • Blower Fan: The blower fan is responsible for circulating air throughout the ductwork and into the living spaces of a building. It forces air over the evaporator coil during cooling mode and over the heat exchanger during heating mode. 
  • Vents/Registers: These are the openings in walls, floors, or ceilings where air is delivered into the rooms. They can be opened, closed, or adjusted to control airflow and temperature distribution. 
  • Humidifier/Dehumidifier: Some HVAC systems include humidifiers to add moisture to dry indoor air during the heating season, while dehumidifiers remove excess moisture from humid air during the cooling season. 
  • Thermal Expansion Valve/Orifice: These components regulate the flow of refrigerant into the evaporator coil, controlling the rate at which the refrigerant evaporates and absorbs heat from indoor air.

Understanding these basic components can provide insight into how HVAC systems work and how different parts interact to maintain comfort and air quality in indoor environments.

How Does HVAC System Work in a High-Rise Building?

How Does HVAC System Work in a High-Rise Building

HVAC systems, sometimes referred to as climate control systems, consist of three chief elements for their work. They are: 

  • A source for warm and cool air, such as a furnace or an air conditioner 
  • A distribution system such as ducts or pipes for distributing the desired airflow, and 
  • A control unit such as a thermostat for regulating the HVAC system 

A centralized heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system in MEP design for a building facilitates both heating and cooling in the building. The central HVAC system consists of a source for warm and cool air, a distribution system, and a control unit. 

The components forming the central HVAC mechanical system of the building circulate the warm air as well as the cold air in the closed structure through a distribution system in order to provide thermal comfort. The heating and cooling systems in HVAC work on a principle: heat transfers from a warmer object to a cooler object. 

During the winter, a thermostat, which is a regulating device, uses fuels like oil, gas, or electricity to produce heat. Similarly, the air conditioner uses refrigerant gas in order to produce cool air during the summer. The refrigerant gas inside a coil cools down to a liquid state. 

When the warm air comes into contact with the cooling coil, the air cools down. It is then circulated around the building space through a distribution system consisting of a network of pipes and an outer unit. Both heating and cooling work in a similar way and are used for improving the air quality and making the environment comfortable. 

Types of HVAC systems

Types of HVAC systems

The HVAC systems could be compartmentalized into two parts: ducted and ductless HVAC systems. 

1. Ducted HVAC

A building most likely has a ducted HVAC system if it employs vents to distribute hot and cold air. Any heating or air conditioning system that uses a network of air ducts to move air is considered a ducted HVAC system, and they are common in both residential and commercial buildings. 

  • Split System: Split systems are common HVAC systems in residential buildings, consisting of two components for heating and cooling. The heating unit is typically located in an indoor space, while the cooling system is outside and uses compressors, coils, and refrigerant to create cool air.

Key Feature: The temperature of the entire unit is managed by a single thermostat. 

  • Hybrid Split System: A hybrid split HVAC system uses gas and electric power to create heat, providing building owners with more control over energy consumption and potentially reducing costs in milder climates.

Key Feature: Reduces energy consumption 

  • Packaged Heating and Cooling: Packaged heating and cooling systems are smaller, less common, and better suited for small buildings with limited storage space. They are housed in a single unit and connect to ducts through a single hole. They are cost-effective, easier to maintain, and can be installed with evaporator coils.

Key Feature: A single unit is easy to maintain. 

  • Zoned System: HVAC zoning systems provide building occupants more control over the temperature in different rooms or sections. The ideal approach varies with the size of the structure. In order to regulate the temperature on different floors, larger residences may install numerous systems. Dampers, which regulate airflow and increase energy efficiency, can be operated manually or automatically.

Key Feature: More personalized temperature control options. 

2. Ductless HVAC systems

Ductless HVAC systems, as the name implies, are made to heat or cool an area without the need for air ducts. These systems are often utilized at temporary construction sites and tiny structures, and they are available in different sizes. 

  • Duct-Free Mini-Split: Ductless mini-split systems are electric units used in multifamily homes, office buildings, and hotels. They consist of an outdoor compressor, condenser, refrigerant, indoor air-handling unit, heat pump, power cables, and thermostat. Although expensive, they reduce energy costs and consumption over time. However, they’re less effective in colder climates.

Key Feature: Provides ductless temperature control for individual spaces 

  • Hydronic Heating: Hydronic heating uses liquid to radiate heat, heating water through a boiler and distributing it through pipes. It can also be used in radiant flooring systems for heating floors.

Key Feature: Uses liquid to radiate heat

  • Portable units : Portable spot coolers and heat pumps are portable AC units that cool large spaces by drawing in ambient air, pushing it over a refrigerated coil, and pumping it back into the space, allowing for varying climates.

Key Feature: Easy to transport and simple to fit for usage  

Factors Affecting the Cost of a New HVAC System Design

Designing an HVAC system involves three basic steps: calculating heat loss and gain, selecting equipment, and designing duct runs. The Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) provides technical manuals for each step, which are commonly referred to by the name of the manual.

Step one involves conducting a room-by-room cooling and heating load calculation, followed by selecting the right size system. Proper duct design is then achieved by following procedures for static pressure, CFM flow, and termination to select register grilles.

As we are aware, installing a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system in a building facilitates providing its occupants with a pleasant environment, making the place liveable. It provides thermal comfort to the people in the building.

However, there are a few factors that affect the cost of a new HVAC system for a building. Let’s see each of them in detail below. 

  • Design of the HVAC System: The design of an HVAC system mainly depends on the design of the structure and components included in it. A structure with a complex geometry may incur heavy costs for HVAC components, while a system with a simpler design incurs relatively lower costs. 
  • Size of the Built Facility: A building or a built facility with a relatively larger area requires more HVAC components and their relevant material, which turns out to be more expensive, and vice versa. 
  • The efficiency of the system: Installing or replacing an HVAC system in the building increases the building’s efficiency. However, the system providing more efficiency to the building structure will cost more than a less efficient system. 

Benefits of using BIM in HVAC Design

Benefits of using BIM in HVAC Design

HVAC design is obviously a complex design process. The designer has to take into consideration multiple critical parameters and stakeholders for the process and project execution. And this is why MEP Designer uses BIM as the most suitable option for designing HVAC. It comes with the following benefits:

  • Error Reduction: BIM models aid HVAC system designers in creating a 3D model of ductwork systems with effectiveness as a core principle. The BIM drawing approach enables precise measurements and efficient design, avoiding trade conflicts and reducing time and cost by avoiding on-site revisions.
  • Collaboration: BIM models facilitate efficient communication and collaboration across trades, which is the utmost priority for HVAC design and execution. Also, BIM is all about precision estimating, scheduling materials, and disseminating changes. They provide clear, accessible information on estimates and design, facilitating efficient operational and planning data sharing.
  • Reduced Waste: Building Information Modeling (BIM) is crucial in today’s construction industry, especially when building design is complex with HVAC systems. The intent of BIM usage is to reduce labor shortages, timelines, and budgets by providing precise HVAC material estimates. Thus optimizing on-site labor, thereby saving wasted ducts and fittings.
  • Better Lifetime Operation: Building Information Models (BIMs) could be the most detailed form of visuals one can have for their building operations. Any changes made on-site are easily reflected on your BIM visualization board. Also, the advantages of BIM integrated with data result in a digital twin approach. Therefore, HVAC designed or modeled on BIM is a pathway to better lifetime operations on building systems. 


The HVAC components like air conditioners, heaters and mechanical ventilators provide thermal comfort and create a liveable pleasant atmosphere in the enclosed space of a building facility. 

The system is capable to serve the occupants of the enclosed space with both, heating and cooling as per their requirements. HVAC being an integral part of building systems facilitates people with several advantages such as enhanced air quality, lower consumption of energy and cost-efficacy. However, it depends on the type of HVAC system adopted by the people. 

Technology is still improving gradually and due to technological advancements, the HVAC components system will become less expensive and more efficient in future. 

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