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5 Important HVAC Terms To Know Before Hiring A Contractor For Repairs

As a homeowner, you are probably aware of the different tasks necessary to clean and maintain your home. From replacing roofing shingles to mowing your lawn, it is easy to see the overwhelming nature of home ownership. Unfortunately, you may not be placing enough emphasis on your home's heating and cooling systems. Considering your heating and cooling accounts for half of your home's overall energy usage, ensuring it is in proper working condition is smart.

In most cases, you will hire a contractor, like one from Wightman Mechanical, to inspect and repair issues when they arise. However, understanding a few common HVAC terms is essential for a successful, efficient repair.


A Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, or SEER, is given to measure the air conditioner and heat pump's efficiency. The higher your SEER rating, the more efficient your system will be. A higher SEER reduces your heating and cooling costs, but it is also beneficial for the environment.

Of course, systems with higher SEERs are also more expensive. If you need to replace your system, consider 13 SEER or higher for a larger return on your investment.


If your system is struggling to cool your home, you may be low on refrigerant. R-22 refrigerant, or Freon, is common in most systems today. This fluid is necessary for absorbing heat and releasing it to properly run your air conditioning and heat pump.

While still readily used and available, R-22 refrigerant contains chlorine, which can negatively affect the environment. If your system is low on refrigerant, your contractor is able to add R-22. However, if you prefer to discontinue use of R-22 refrigerant, your contractor will need to complete a retrofit. This change will allow your existing system to use a non-ozone-depleting substitute refrigerant, such as R-407C.


When hiring a heating and air contractor for repairs, you probably do not want to hear the word, "tons." Thankfully, this term is not referring to the amount of money your repair can cost or the size and weight of your outdoor unit.

This term actually refers to the capacity of your air conditioner. The number of tons signifies the amount of heat your air conditioner can remove from inside your home in an hour. To determine if your system is cooling your home efficiently, consider the following rules:

  • Each ton represents 12,000 BTUs, or British Thermal Units, of heat removed from your home per hour.
  • Approximately 25 BTUs are necessary to cool each square foot of your home.

If you live in a 2000 square foot home, you will need approximately 50,000 BTUs, which a 4-ton unit will provide.


If your home utilizes a gas furnace, your contractor may discuss your system's AFUE, or Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency. A furnace with a higher AFUE heats your home more efficiently, which reduces fuel costs and lessens environmental impact.

In the past, furnaces had an average AFUE of 65 percent, meaning that 65 percent of the fuel was used to heat your home while 35 percent of fuel was lost. Today,  laws require a rating minimum of 78 percent. For the ultimate in efficiency, opt for a new gas furnace that offers a 97 percent AFUE. While these furnaces are more expensive, they are excellent investments for your home's comfort, value, and energy efficiency.


Of course, you may heat your home with a heat pump. In these cases, your contractor may discuss your heat pump's HSPF, or Heating Season Performance Factor. The HSPF is the most common method of measuring a heat pump's efficiency. The number represents the total output of heat from your heat pump during a normal heating system.

Again, the higher the number, the more efficient your system will be.

Issues can quickly decrease the efficiency of your heating and cooling system, so hiring a contractor for repair is imperative. Understanding these common terms will help you through the repair process.