Best HVAC Units

Best HVAC System of 2020 | Compare Heating & AC Systems

In order to find the right HVAC system for your house, you need to know what the options for the best HVAC systems are for 2020. Get the pros and cons of the top HVAC brands in this newly updated buying guide.

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Air conditioning is the most common feature in houses in the United States, even more than dishwashers or garages.

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning – or HVAC – systems are a necessity in areas that experience temperature fluctuation. But choosing the right HVAC system for your home can be a huge undertaking.

HVAC System Buying Guide

Below, we’ve compiled five of the most popular heating systems as well as five of the most popular cooling methods. Each method features a brief description as well as some of the top brands to help make sure that you pick the best HVAC system for you and your home.

Residential & Commercial Heating Systems

Whereas air conditioning systems can feel like a luxury, heating is a necessity for many people during the winter months. Below, we’ve gathered a collection of some of the most popular types of commercial and residential heating HVAC systems. We also included three of the top-rated brands for each type of heat.

Best Heating Systems

It’s worth noting that some of these options will only work if your house has ductwork installed. Ductwork distributes airflow around your house, allowing an HVAC system to either heat or cool your entire house from one source.

While you can have ductwork installed, it’s an expensive process that costs thousands of dollars. Ductwork does have benefits beyond heating and cooling, but keep its presence in mind as you go over the following options.

Geothermal Heat Pump (Ground Source Heat Pump)

The geothermal heat pump works by collecting the sun’s heat that is stored in the earth. That heat maintains a fairly consistent temperature all year round and can be depended on as a heat supply.

Ground Source - Geothermal Heat Pumps

The refrigerant in the heat pump condenses the earth’s heat, which can warm your home. Geothermal heat pumps also cool your home in the summer by simply reversing the process.

This HVAC method is known for its eco-friendliness. It doesn’t need fossil fuels or electric resistance heat and it’s designed to last a long time.

Pros

  • Super efficient
  • Eco friendly
  • Made with a long-lasting loop system
  • Saves on energy bills

Cons

  • The high cost of installation and repairs

Because this is not a conventional method of heating buildings, the required installation can be pricey. You’ll also need to find someone to install the heat pump who is familiar with the design. Factoring in installation costs, a new geothermal heat pump will run you anywhere from $11,000 – $25,000.

Top Brands and Price Ranges

  1. Carrier/Bryant: $4,000 – $6,000
  2. Bard: $5,000 – $7,500
  3. WaterFurnace: $4,400 – $7,000

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Mini Split Heat Pumps

Mini split heat pumps are a more conventional heating system than geothermal heat pumps. In a mini split, the refrigerant in the outdoor unit collects heat from outside your home. That hot refrigerant is then moved into the indoor unit where the heat is released through a blower.

Mini Split Heat Pumps

Pros

  • Efficient
  • Lower cost overall than geothermal heat pumps

Cons

  • Has a higher cost for installation than multi-zone systems
  • Each indoor unit is a separate installation
  • Each unit only heats one room

Depending on how many indoor units you want and the size of the heat pump, a mini split will cost anywhere from $3,000-$12,000.

Top Brands and Price Ranges

  1. Mitsubishi: $3,800 – $7,535
  2. Fujitsu: $2,550 – $7,365
  3. LG: $2,885 – $7,700

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Standard Split Heat Pump System

The standard split heat pump system is one of the most common methods of HVAC heating. Standard splits work in almost every climate in the world and are incredibly efficient for their cost and size.

Standard Split Heat Pump Systems

They work by circulating refrigerant between the outdoor and indoor units. Usually, the indoor unit is the air handler but gas furnaces can also be implemented. Both heated and air-conditioned air is sent through the home via ductwork.

Pros

  • Only needs a small amount of power
  • Less expensive than other options
  • Energy ratings are increasing for standard splits every year

Cons

  • Less efficient at heating than both the mini split and geothermal heat pumps

Assuming your home already has ductwork installed, the cost of a standard split is around $2,300 – $6,300, depending on the brand you decide to invest in.

Without ductwork, standard splits and every other HVAC system will increase drastically in cost. Ductwork is about $5,000 to install, depending on the size of your home.

Top Brands and Price Ranges

  1. Lennox: $1,425 – $4,200
  2. American Standard: $1,285 – $3,995
  3. Carrier: $1,350 – $4,175

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Gas Furnaces

They might seem out of date, but gas furnaces are still a solid option when it comes to heating your home at a lower cost.

Best Gas Furnaces

Furnaces work by burning natural or propane gas to create heat. As the gases exit the furnace, they pass through heat exchangers. These exchangers transfer the heat (without the gases) into the air through blower fans and ductwork.

Modern furnaces use variable-capacity gas valves as well as secondary heat exchangers and variable-speed blower fans. This technique heats your home efficiently from one source.

Pros

  • Lower cost upfront
  • Extremely effective

Cons

  • Operating costs can be higher than other methods
  • Not an eco-friendly option

Gas furnaces are one of the most inexpensive HVAC options to install. The furnace along with installation can cost between $2,800 – $4,500.

Like boiler systems, gas furnaces might seem like an option that’s being phased out of usage. But for now, gas furnaces are still a great method for heating your home easily and for a lower cost than other duct-based options.

Top Brands and Price Ranges

  1. Lennox: $2,200+
  2. Day & Night: $1,850+
  3. Trane: $2,435+

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Radiant Heating

Radiant heating supplies heat directly to your floors, walls, or ceiling through infrared radiation. It’s more efficient than both baseboard and forced-air heating because it eliminates the heating loss than happens with ductwork.

Radiant Heating Systems

In addition, because radiant heating is ductless, it’s a great option for people with allergies. The heat isn’t being pushed anywhere, so there isn’t a chance for the air to gather dust mites.

There are multiple types of radiant heating depending on the material your home is made out of as well as where you are located, so it’s important to make sure that you’re using the right one for your home and your floor’s carrying capacity.

Pros

  • Good for allergies
  • More efficient than other methods

Cons

  • Trouble using carpet over radiant floors
  • Better as a supplemental and not a primary heat source

The cost of radiant heating depends on the size of your home. On average, radiant flooring costs $5 – $12 per square foot but costs can vary if you decide to install radiant heating in your walls or ceiling instead.

Top Brands

  1. InFloor
  2. Janes Radiant
  3. Nuheat

It’s important to note that the cost for each of these brands is dependent on the size of the space you are heating. Another factor in the cost of radiant heating is whether you’ll be installing the heating in your floors, walls, or ceiling as each method varies in the way it works.

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Residential and Commercial Cooling Systems

If you’re in an area that gets hot in the summer, cooling systems can be an essential part of getting through those months. While many HVAC systems operate as both heating and cooling systems, we’ve separated the two. This way you can focus on how each method operates as both a heater and an air conditioner.

Best Air conditioning Systems

Like heating, some of these cooling systems also rely upon ductwork. Some air conditioning methods, like central air, won’t work unless they have something they can use to push air through the entire house.

Split Ductless Systems

Split ductless systems use an outside condenser and compressor with one to four or more indoor blower units. These air handlers are mounted high up on the wall and distribute the air through the rooms.

Split Ductless Systems

Each blower unit is connected by a thin conduit that houses the power cable, refrigerant tubing, and condensate drain. Each blower unit cools the room it’s installed in.

The benefit to split ductless systems is that, because each unit cools the room that it’s in, you can keep rooms at different temperatures. This way you can keep your bedroom cooler than the rest of the house, without increasing your energy bill the way you would if you had to lower the temperature of your entire house. These systems also feel like central air, even though they technically aren’t.

Pros 

  • Ductwork isn’t necessary
  • The cooling system feels like central air
  • A great option for already established homes

Cons

  • More expensive than box window units

The cost of split ductless systems is dependent on the brand that you decide to invest in and the number of rooms that you are cooling. On average, these systems can run from $2,000 – $14,500.

Top Brands and Price Ranges

  1. Mitsubishi Electric: $1,900
  2. Fuijitsu: $2,250
  3. LG: $2,100

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Central Air Conditioning

Perhaps the gold standard of cooling systems, central air conditioning uses ductwork to distribute cooled air throughout the house.

Central Air Conditioning Systems

The refrigerant circulates between an indoor coil and an outdoor condenser with a compressor. The refrigerant cools and dehumidifies the air in the process while the blower fan circulates air through the house via ductwork.

Pros

  • Reduces humidity
  • Increases the resale value of your home
  • Cools your entire house

Cons

  • Ductwork is required for central air, which is expensive to install

Assuming your home already has ductwork, central air conditioning can cost between $3,000 – $7,000 to install.

Central air is vital, especially if you live in the southeast, which makes it worth the extra investment. Installed properly, central air should last you 12-15 years before it needs to be replaced.

Top Brands and Price Ranges

  1. Goodman Mfg.: $2,000+
  2. Day & Night: $2,500+
  3. Mitsubishi: $1,900+

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Evaporative Air Conditioners (Swamp Coolers)

Swamp coolers are a staple in the arid southwest regions of the United States. They use a fan to bring in outside air which is then pulled through moist pads. Evaporation cools the air which is then circulated throughout the house, creating air that is 20-30 degrees cooler.

Evaporative Air Conditioner systems

Swamp coolers are one of the most inexpensive and energy-efficient cooling options and work best in hot and dry climates.

Pros

  • Easy maintenance
  • Energy-efficient
  • Eco-friendly

Cons

  • 20-30 degrees cooler may not be cold enough in the hottest months
  • Not an effective cooling option in humid environments

Evaporative air conditioners can cost between $800 – $3,449 for both the unit and installation. You don’t need ductwork for a swamp cooler, which makes this a great, budget-friendly option if you live in a dry desert region.

Top Brands and Price Ranges

  1. Honeywell: $429+
  2. Luma Comfort: $370+
  3. Hessaire: $328+

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Window Unit Air Conditioners

Interior air is cooled by window unit air conditioners by a fan that blows the air over an evaporator. A second fan blows outside air over the condenser, which draws the heat from the interior and pushes it outside.

Window Unit Air Conditioners

Pros

  • Small
  • Affordable
  • Easy installation

Cons

  • Only covers one area of a room
  • Usually not powerful enough to cool a large space

You can find window unit air conditioners in most appliance stores and online for between $150 – $600, though the top brands are usually more expensive. Budget window unit air conditioners are notoriously flakey, and it’s worth it to spend a little more for a top of the line brand before summer hits and they all sell out.

Top Brands and Price Ranges

  1. LG: $600+
  2. GE: $797+
  3. Frigidaire: $460+

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Portable Air Conditioners

While not a classic HVAC system, portable air conditioners are worth mentioning.

Portable Air Conditioners

They use a standard window venting kit to expel exhaust and most also come with water reservoirs to help dehumidify the room they are in. Portable air conditioners work by pulling stagnant air from inside the room, cooling it inside the unit, and then recirculating the cooled air throughout the space.

Pros

  • Small
  • Efficient for size
  • Can move around with you

Cons

  • Only cover small areas
  • Will not cool your entire home

The cost of a portable air conditioner varies widely based on the brand and the additional features of the unit, but most cost under $1,000.

Top Brands and Price Ranges

  1. Whynter: $431+
  2. Dyson: $310+
  3. Black + Decker: $280+

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Best HVAC Systems

No matter your home’s current system, choosing a new HVAC unit is a big project. Even if you’re just in the market to replace your current system, the number of options and brands can be overwhelming.

No matter the brand you settle on, you want to make sure that you find a good contractor to install your HVAC system. How your contractor installs the unit can be the difference between a long-lasting, great system, and one that fails on the coldest (or hottest) day of the year.

Once you settle on your best HVAC system, check out our cost guide so we can help you find the best contractor in your area.

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