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HVAC Equipment Comparison Guide [2023 Edition]

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You understand how important it is to keep your home comfortable all year round. And while there are many factors that contribute to a comfortable home, the HVAC system is one of the most important. But with so many different types of HVAC systems on the market, it can be difficult to know which one is right for your home. In this HVAC equipment comparison guide, we’ll explore the different types of HVAC systems available and help you determine which one is right for your home. So whether you’re in the market for a new HVAC system or just doing some research, this guide will give you the information you need to make an informed decision.

What is an HVAC System?

HVAC stands for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning – a set of components used to create comfortable living and working conditions inside homes and offices. HVAC equipment is designed to provide balanced ventilation throughout a space, control temperature and humidity levels, filter out allergens and contaminants from the air, as well as reduce energy consumption. In order to achieve these goals, HVAC equipment consists of multiple components that work together such as motors, ducts, radiators, fans, compressors, and heat exchangers.

Types of HVAC Systems

The types of HVAC systems available today are more numerous than ever to ensure you make the best fit for your home or business. HVAC systems fall into these main categories:

  • Furnaces
  • Air conditioners
  • Heat pumps
  • Ductless mini splits
  • Boilers

What is a Zoned HVAC System?

Most HVAC systems offer zoning options. With a zoned HVAC system, your home is divided into various zones, each with its own thermostat. This means you can customize the temperature of each room to suit what’s most comfortable for all family members. Not only does this offer more control over comfort levels, but it also gives you energy savings and puts an end to any domestic disputes on who gets ‘thermostat rights’.


Furnaces are an essential part of many homes in colder climates. Not only do they help to keep us warm, but modern furnaces can also provide efficient heating options.

Types of Furnaces

Generally speaking, electric, propane, and gas furnaces are most common in homes across the U.S. Electric furnaces need no flame to heat up. Gas furnaces on the other hand can produce more heat and be purchased at a lower cost. Propane furnaces are more often found in rural areas where there is no gas line available. Oil furnaces may offer a bit more warmth than either electric or gas, however, they are typically found in older homes in the Northeast due to availability and costs associated with maintaining and operating them.

How Do Furnaces Work?

A furnace is designed to warm the air in our home by circulating it throughout the house. It does so by drawing air through a system of ductwork, then heating the air at the furnace before it enters rooms through vents. Oil, propane, and gas furnaces generate heat by burning fuel, while electric furnaces heat air by passing it through electrical coils.

Air Conditioners

Air conditioners can make life a lot more comfortable during the hot summer months. By controlling airflow and circulation, air conditioners not only cool down a space by removing moisture in the air but can also help maintain healthy air quality.

Types of Air Conditioners

There are a few different types of air conditioners that can help you keep cool and comfortable in any home. Central air conditioners use electricity to cool and dehumidify the air that is pushed through ductwork to reach every room in the home. While a central air conditioner is most commonly found in homes, mini splits – more commonly referred to as ductless air conditioners – are becoming increasingly popular. Both central and mini-split ACs offer zoning control.

How Do Air Conditioners Work?

Air conditioners are powerful machines that work by using a compressor (outdoor unit) and  a condenser (indoor unit). An AC unit has two equipment locations – inside and outside. Refrigerant is circulated through the system where it absorbs the warm air inside the home and then moves that heat to the outside unit where it then releases the heat.

Additional Reading: Air Conditioning 101: Everything You Need to Know

Heat Pumps

Heat pumps are also popular for both heating and cooling, as they basically move warm air to provide efficient temperature control with minimal energy consumption. Heat pumps are a great way to keep your home comfortable all year long.

Types of Heat Pumps

When shopping for a heat pump, you’ll need to decide between an air-source or ground-source. An air-source heat pump works by transferring the warm or cool air from outside into your home. Ground-source or geothermal systems use the earth as a source of energy to move the warm or cool air. Both types of heat pumps are electric and highly efficient.

How Do Heat Pumps Work?

Whether it’s summertime and you’re trying to cool down, or winter and you want to stay toasty warm, heat pumps have you covered. At their most basic, heat pumps work by transferring heat from inside your space to the outside in summer and bringing the warmth back into your home in winter. Think of your refrigerator, which cools the interior by removing warm air from inside and sending it outside which is why you feel warm air blowing out the back. A heat pump works the same for your home. 

Additional Reading: Heat Pumps 101: How Does a Heat Pump Work?

Ductless Mini Split

While traditional central heating and cooling units use one thermostat to control the temperature in an entire space, mini-split systems allow you to control the climate in separate rooms or zones. As the name implies, ductless mini-splits are often ductless, though they can be ducted or combined on a multi-zone system. 

Types of Ductless Mini Split

There are three main types of ductless mini-split systems that you should be aware of when deciding on the right HVAC system for your home: single-zone or multi-zone.

Single zone systems are best suited for individual rooms like a home office or bedroom. They use one outdoor unit to connect to one indoor unit.

Multi-zone systems are perfect for larger homes or those with multiple rooms and levels. They use one outdoor unit that is connected to multiple indoor units, allowing you to control several different zones of your home.

How Do Ductless Mini Splits Work?

Ductless mini splits are a great option for homes with limited space or those looking to reduce energy costs. They work by using refrigerant lines that connect the outdoor unit to several indoor units, which can be distributed throughout your home. The outdoor compressor moves heat from outside to inside in winter and inside to outside in summer, creating an efficient system that maintains the desired home temperature. Each indoor unit works independently and can be adjusted to maintain the perfect temperature in each room. They also have filters that keep dust and allergens out, helping keep your home clean and healthy.

The Future of Ductless Heat Pumps

Inverter systems are the most energy-efficient option and allow you to customize the temperature of each room. They use one outdoor unit that is connected to one or multiple indoor units. The outdoor unit is always adapting to outdoor conditions and monitoring how long the indoor unit takes to get to the set thermostat temperature. If it takes longer to get to the desired temperature, the system will increase the outdoor fan speed to send more heat through giving the indoor unit what it needs to maintain room temperature. 


Boilers can be a great heating option, especially for tricky areas like basements or old homes. They provide a reliable source of heat any time of year and can last for a long time with proper maintenance.

Types of Boilers

Boilers are a useful and essential household appliance that has been used to heat homes with radiant heat for years. There are several different types of boilers available, and each type has its own unique features. Here’s a quick overview of the most popular types:

Gas Boiler – A gas boiler is one that uses natural gas to generate hot water or steam for heating.

Oil Boiler – An oil boiler is one that uses a fuel oil, such as kerosene or heating oil, to generate hot water or steam for heating.

Electric Boiler – An electric boiler uses electricity to generate hot water or steam for heating.

How Do Boilers Work?

Boilers can generate heat with either oil, gas, or electricity, which is burned within the boiler to produce hot water or steam. This hot water or steam then circulates through pipes that lead to radiators located throughout the home or building, providing warmth and heated air. Ultimately, the type of boiler you choose will depend on your needs: how much heat you need, the size of your home and property, and what type of fuel sources are available in your area.

Common Options for Combined Systems

There are some common combined HVAC systems that we have in the Pacific Northwest.

AC + Furnace

This is a great combination for anyone who wants to keep their home cool in the summer and warm in the winter. An air conditioner and furnace work together to make sure your home stays comfortable all year round. The furnace will provide heat during colder weather, while the AC cools down your house when it’s hot outside.

Heat Pump + Air Handler

Also known as air source heat pumps, these are a great option for the Northwest’s mild weather. Heat pumps are able to both heat and cool your home, so you won’t need a separate air conditioner or furnace. An air handler works in conjunction with the heat pump to distribute the conditioned air throughout your house.

Heat Pump + Furnace Split System

If you live in an area that frequently falls below freezing, this type of system could be the best option for your home. You will have a heat pump and furnace working together to provide both cooling and heating capabilities. During the winter, the system relies on the heat pump to heat down to the temperature where the heat pump is less efficient and then the furnace takes over. 

Boiler + Ductless Heat Pump

This type of system is ideal for those living in colder climates or who have a boiler system they need to replace. The boiler provides heat to your home, and the heat pump ensures you stay cool in the summertime. This type of system does require a more complex setup, however, so it’s important to consult an expert before making any decisions.

FurnaceAir ConditionerHeat PumpDuctless Mini SplitBoiler
Fuel SourceOil, Propane, Electric, Natural GasElectricElectricElectricOil, Natural Gas, Electric
Heat/CoolHeat OnlyCool OnlyHeat & CoolHeat & CoolHeat Only
PairingAC/ Heat Pump, Ductless Heat PumpFurnaceAir Handler or FurnaceFurnaceN/A
Equipment LocationInsideMainly outsideInsideInside & OutsideInside
Zoning OptionalYesYesYesNoYes

Costs of HVAC Systems

The price of the HVAC system you chose for your home will depend on a variety of factors including fuel, size of home, and type of system but here are some ranges:

  • Furnaces – $4000 to $8000
  • Heat Pumps – $7000 to $13,000
  • Air Conditioners – $5000 to $10,000
  • Mini Split Systems – $5000 and up (depending on home size)
  • Boilers – $8000 to $20000

Picking the Right Heating & Cooling System

It’s no surprise that the importance of an HVAC system cannot be underestimated. No matter what your needs are, the experts at Jacobs Heating & Air Conditioning are ready to help. We’ve been installing residential HVAC systems in Portland, Beaverton, and Vancouver homes since 1952. We have your back for all things HVAC. Jacobs Heating & Air Conditioning will evaluate your home and help find the best system for your home and lifestyle.

If you aren’t ready to get a new HVAC system but need an expert eye, you can schedule your next tune-up and keep the stress and hassle out of maintaining your system. No matter what you need we’re always just a phone call away.

About the Author

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Amanda Jacobs, Internal Project Manager

Amanda Jacobs is an Internal Projects Manager and 3rd generation member of Jacobs Heating & Air Conditioning. She received her MBA from Seattle University and has worked for a leading HVAC training and consulting firm. When not talking HVAC on the Jacobs Blog, you can find her on the golf course or whipping up her famous vegan chili.