Since the 1980s, manufacturers of HVAC equipment have been making an effort to make the systems they manufacture more efficient. This was originally driven by rising energy costs, and has more recently been driven by increased awareness of environmental issues. Additionally, improvements to the HVAC system efficiency can also help increase occupant health and productivity. In the US, the EPA has imposed tighter restrictions over the years. There are several methods for making HVAC systems more efficient.
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For residential homes, some countries set minimum requirements for energy efficiency. In the United States, the efficiency of air conditioners is often (but not always) rated by the seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER). The higher the SEER rating, the more energy efficient is the air conditioner. The SEER rating is the BTU of cooling output during its normal annual usage divided by the total electric energy input in watt hours (W·h) during the same period.
In very dry climates, evaporative coolers, sometimes referred to as swamp coolers or desert coolers, are popular for improving coolness during hot weather. An evaporative cooler is a device that draws outside air through a wet pad, such as a large sponge soaked with water. The sensible heat of the incoming air, as measured by a dry bulb thermometer, is reduced. The temperature of the incoming air is reduced, but it is also more humid, so the total heat (sensible heat plus latent heat) is unchanged. Some of the sensible heat of the entering air is converted to latent heat by the evaporation of water in the wet cooler pads. If the entering air is dry enough, the results can be quite substantial.
The fan limit switch controls the furnace blower. The fan limit switch has three settings: “Fan On”, “Fan Off”, and “Limit”. In the “Fan Off” setting, the blower will only operate if there is warm air in the plenum to prevent cool air from blowing into the home. The “Fan On” setting will keep the blower operating even after the burner has shutdown, making sure that all of the hot air produced is circulated. The “Limit” setting is a safety control that will turn the burner off in the rare event that the air in the warm air plenum reaches an unsafe temperature. This may be the case if ducts are blocked or if the system controls are malfunctioning.
In the most general sense, air conditioning can refer to any form of technology that modifies the condition of air (heating, (de-)humidification, cooling, cleaning, ventilation, or air movement). In common usage, though, "air conditioning" refers to systems which cool air. In construction, a complete system of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning is referred to as HVAC.
High-efficiency condensing furnaces (90% AFUE and above) are a bit more complex than conventional furnaces. The main differences between a conventional and condensing furnace are the heat exchanger technology used to extract heat from the combustion process and the method used to exhaust the combustion gases. In these ways, the furnaces are very different. The condensing furnace does not have a significantly more efficient combustion process than does a conventional furnace; both use gas burners with electronic ignition. The difference lies in that the condensing furnace has a more efficient heat extraction process after combustion.