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Researching solutions for your broken central AC? Get used to AH (Acronym Hell).

As the “Joe Homeowner” voice for this blog, it’s my job to help the average homeowner make informed decisions when it comes to heating and air conditioning – more commonly known as “HVAC.” I wasn’t always an informed HVAC consumer and I am fully aware that much of how HVAC is discussed by experts can be confusing -- Mind boggling confusing at times.

Should that stop you from learning more? Hell no! That’s why this blog exists; as the good folks over at hvac-for-beginners state:

“…you [an informed HVAC homeowner] can avoid that "swimming with the sharks" type of experience. An informed customer pays less for the products and services they need. That’s just a simple fact in business).”

I have found that one of the biggest obstacles to understanding the basics of HVAC / Central AC comes down to that proud American business tradition of creating acronyms wherever and whenever possible. If I had my way, all acronyms would be abolished by law. But alas, I don’t have my way and usually never do (just ask my family). So, without further ado, here is the list of the most common acronyms, what they stand for, and a brief explanation of what they mean:


Words: Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning

What they mean: The ‘catch all’ phrase for all things related to the central heating and cooling of a residential or commercial building.


Words: Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning

What they mean: The ‘catch all’ phrase for all things related to the central heating and cooling of a residential or commercial building.


Words: Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio

What they mean: Again, an engineering term but the fundamental concept is the same as AFUE. The higher the number, the more efficient the unit and the better it is at converting electricity to cool air. Important note: A higher SEER (“15” for example) does not mean the unit will cool better. It simply means that it will cost less to convert fuel to cool air. It also means the unit will cost more.


Words: Air Handling Unit or Air Handler Air

What they mean: An Air Handling Unit is essentially an appliance that blows and recycles heated or cooled air through ducts. If you have a furnace (and therefore heat your house with either gas, oil or liquid propane) you do not have an AHU. If you do not have a furnace (and therefore heat and cool your house with electricity) than you have an AHU.


Words: Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency

What they mean: Like all good government agencies, the Department of Energy is known by its acronym. You might hear DOE referenced in posts or discussions with technicians as it relates to rules and regulations and more significantly the Energy Star program which provides energy efficiency labeling. The EPA is a sub agency of the DOE and is responsible for the Energy Star program. These are your tax dollars at work.


Words: British Thermal Unit

What they mean: If I get all “sciency” I would tell you that a BTU is the amount of work needed to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. Why does this matter to you? BTU is used in the calculation required to determine the size of a central AC unit needed to cool your house. Instead of going into detail, I will direct you to a great article over at SFGate.


Words: Kilowatt per Hour

What they mean: Look at your electricity bill and you will see kWh as the unit of measurement for the amount of electricity you used over the billing cycle. A more efficient AC unit (a higher SEER rating if you will recall) will use less kWh.

Those are a few of the more common acronyms you will come across. There are more, but these will get you started in terms of helping you make a decision with your current unit, or in purchasing a new unit.

If and when you are speaking to an HVAC technician do not be afraid to ask what things mean. I can’t emphasize this enough. Anyone who’s been at a job for a while will find themselves using industry terms and assumes that everyone knows what they’re talking about. Ask the technician to explain things. If the technician scoffs your questions or uses his knowledge to intimidate you, consider looking for another technician. HVAC might be technical and confusing at times but a good expert knows how to make complicated things simple to understand.


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