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What Is an HVAC System?

What Is an HVAC System?

Many people already know that HVAC stands for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. An HVAC system is any equipment that creates and delivers heating and cooling to residential and commercial buildings. There are HVAC systems in homes, buildings, ships, and even airplanes. If there’s a need to provide temperature control and air quality, you can nearly always find an HVAC system.

Various System Types

There are three main components to HVAC systems, but they can be more complicated than that. Not every HVAC system looks the same or operates in the same way. For example, heat may be provided by a furnace or boiler. Many Clackamas homes have forced-air systems. However, in some cases, rooms are heated using liquid-filled pipes under the floor.

The same is true with air conditioning. One homeowner will have a central air conditioning unit that shares ductwork with their furnace, while another may use window units or ductless mini splits. 

Even ductwork can vary from one home to the next. Some homes have metal ducts; others have a foil material that is flexible like a hose.

How Do HVAC Systems Work?

It’s important to understand that many methods provide heating, cooling, and air circulation to a structure. However, all of these components work together to provide a comfortable atmosphere.

Overall, your home’s HVAC components make up one of the most complicated systems that help to run your household. You may not pay much attention to it on a daily basis, but you definitely know when something goes wrong.

Here are the nine major parts that make up an HVAC system:

  • Outdoor unit
  • Air return
  • Exhaust outlets
  • Electrical elements
  • Compressor
  • Blower
  • Coils
  • Filter

Curious how all these parts work together to create the happy, cozy home you know and love? Here’s a summary:

Air Return

The air return is the portion of the HVAC system that produces the airflow needed for the heater or air conditioner to work. It draws air into the system through the filter. Part of regular HVAC system maintenance should include cleaning the return.


The filter catches dust, debris, animal hair, and allergens. That way, these particles don’t enter your HVAC system, it also helps improve your air quality. There are a variety of specialized filters that increase the filtration capacity and provide enhanced benefits. 


Air (warm or cool, depending on the season) passes through ducts and travels to the rooms in your home or building via vents. Since these systems are so vital to your HVAC’s operation, you should schedule cleanings once every four to six years for residential structures. Commercial buildings may require more frequent duct cleaning and should be assessed by a certified technician.

Outdoor Unit

The outdoor unit is what most Clackamas homeowners refer to as the air conditioner or air conditioning unit. This unit sits outside your home and contains a fan to create airflow. Annual maintenance should include removing debris, branches, and plants from around this equipment.

Exhaust Outlets

The heating portion of an HVAC system creates exhaust. This must be safely released through an exhaust outlet. Eventually, this exhaust exits through a vent stack or chimney. It’s important that these are kept clean and free of obstructions to prevent exhaust from getting trapped inside of your home or business.

Electrical Elements

These are the wired parts of the HVAC system that rely on the electricity from the house or building to run various motors or compressors. One electrical element is the relay switch that responds to the thermostat by turning the unit on and off.


These are located on the outdoor unit and cool the air with refrigerant. Get your coils checked every year to be sure they do not freeze. Frozen coils can lead to water leakage, safety override shut off, blocked airflow, mold accumulation, and potential permanent damage to the system. 


The compressor turns gas refrigerant into a liquid and pumps it through the coils. Many HVAC system failures are due to this component breaking down, resulting in an expensive, complex repair. In fact, homeowners frequently decide that HVAC replacement is preferable to having a damaged compressor repaired.


This is the final part of the outdoor unit. It draws in the warm air to be cooled, then sends that air into the building.

Why Should Clackamas Homeowners Understand HVAC?

It’s beneficial to have a basic understanding of the systems in your home. That helps you recognize when there is a problem, indicating that you need an HVAC diagnostic or repair. Additionally, the better you understand how things work, the easier it will be to recognize an HVAC contractor you can trust.

Control Techs NW for HVAC Replacement and Repair

The team at Control Techs NW appreciates an educated customer. We’ll work hard to ensure that you understand everything we do on each HVAC repair call and get the best service possible. If you need assistance in Clackamas, Damascus, or Sandy, OR, we are just a call away!


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