In variable climates, the system may include a reversing valve that switches from heating in winter to cooling in summer. By reversing the flow of refrigerant, the heat pump refrigeration cycle is changed from cooling to heating or vice versa. This allows a facility to be heated and cooled by a single piece of equipment by the same means, and with the same hardware.
The performance of vapor compression refrigeration cycles[27] is limited by thermodynamics. These air conditioning and heat pump devices move heat rather than convert it from one form to another, so thermal efficiencies do not appropriately describe the performance of these devices. The Coefficient-of-Performance (COP) measures performance, but this dimensionless measure has not been adopted. Instead, the Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) has traditionally been used to characterize the performance of many HVAC systems. EER is the Energy Efficiency Ratio based on a 35 °C (95 °F) outdoor temperature. To more accurately describe the performance of air conditioning equipment over a typical cooling season a modified version of the EER, the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER), or in Europe the ESEER, is used. SEER ratings are based on seasonal temperature averages instead of a constant 35 °C (95 °F) outdoor temperature. The current industry minimum SEER rating is 14 SEER.[28]
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Whole-house fans have helped cool homes for a century. The basic design is simple: An attic-mounted fan pushes hot air out through attic vents and draws cooler, outside air in through open doors and windows. This rapid air exchange—large fans can purge a house of hot air in two to three minutes—not only removes built-up heat but also creates a pleasant breeze.
Air conditioner equipment power in the U.S. is often described in terms of "tons of refrigeration", with each approximately equal to the cooling power of one short ton (2000 pounds or 907 kilograms) of ice melting in a 24-hour period. The value is defined as 12,000 BTU per hour, or 3517 watts.[32] Residential central air systems are usually from 1 to 5 tons (3.5 to 18 kW) in capacity.