HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning; also heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) is the technology of indoor and vehicular environmental comfort. Its goal is to provide thermal comfort and acceptable indoor air quality. HVAC system design is a subdiscipline of mechanical engineering, based on the principles of thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, and heat transfer. Refrigeration is sometimes added to the field's abbreviation as HVAC&R or HVACR, or ventilating is dropped as in HACR (such as the designation of HACR-rated circuit breakers).
HVAC is important in the design of medium to large industrial and office buildings such as skyscrapers, onboard vessels, and in marine environments such as aquariums, where safe and healthy building conditions are regulated with respect to temperature and humidity, using fresh air from outdoors.
Ventilating or ventilation (the V in HVAC) is the process of "exchanging" or replacing air in any space to provide high indoor air quality which involves temperature control, oxygen replenishment, and removal of moisture, odors, smoke, heat, dust, airborne bacteria, and carbon dioxide. Ventilation removes unpleasant smells and excessive moisture, introduces outside air, keeps interior building air circulating, and prevents stagnation of the interior air.
Ventilation includes both the exchange of air to the outside as well as circulation of air within the building. It is one of the most important factors for maintaining acceptable indoor air quality in buildings.
There are three main categories of HVAC systems in general use:
- Centralised ducted air systems which include dual-duct systems and constant or variable air volume systems.
- Centralised fluid-based systems which include fan-coil systems, hydronic systems and variable refrigerant flow systems.
- Decentralised systems which include distributed heat pumps and evaporative coolers.
HVAC systems vary widely in terms of their individual components and how they are set up within a building.