Learn HVAC Terms and Definitions

Be in the Know: List of Common HVAC terms

Below is a glossary of HVAC terminology to provide understanding of these frequently used terms in the industry.

Absolute Pressure

In the larger context of pressure measurement, absolute pressure is part of the “zero reference” trinity. This includes Absolute Pressure (AP), Gauge Pressure and Differential Pressure. AP is zero referenced against a perfect vacuum.

Absolute Temperature

Absolute temperature is the temperature of an object on a scale where 0 is defined as absolute zero. Absolute temperature scales are Kelvin and Rankine. Absolute zero is the lowest temperature at which the system is in a state of lowest possible (minimum) energy. No electronic device can work at this temperature.

Absolute Zero Pressure

Absolute zero, temperature at which a thermodynamic system has the lowest energy. It corresponds to −273.15 °C on the Celsius temperature scale and to −459.67 °F on the Fahrenheit temperature scale.


Ability to pull in and retain liquid: able to absorb liquid.

Absorption Refrigerator

An absorption refrigerator is a refrigerator that comes with a heat source (e.g., solar energy, a fossil-fueled flame, waste heat from factories or district heating systems) that provides the energy required to power the cooling process. The principle can be directed to air condition buildings using the waste heat from a gas turbine or water heater. This use is very efficient, since the gas turbine then generates electricity, hot water and air-conditioning (called cogeneration/trigeneration).


The ACCA (The Indoor Environment & Energy Efficiency Association) is a nonprofit association whose membership boasts more than 60,000 professionals and 4,000 businesses in the indoor environment and energy services community. ACCA works together to increase professional contracting, energy efficiency, and healthy, comfortable indoor environments.


An accumulator is a storage tank that receives liquid refrigerant from the evaporator and keeps it from affecting suction lines before vaporizing


Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) is the amount of fuel converted to space heat in proportion to the amount of fuel sent to the boiler or furnace. It won’t include the electricity consumption of the fan and controls.


The Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) is a trade association representing manufacturers of HVACR and water heating equipment throughout the globe.


The Better Business Bureau (BBB) helps people find and review businesses, brands and charities they can trust.


British Thermal Unit (BTU) is a simple measure of thermal (heat) energy. One BTU is the amount of energy necessary to heat one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit, measured at its heaviest point.


Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE) is a U.S. and Canadian consortium of gas and electric efficiency program administrators. CEE strives to strengthen the development and availability of energy-efficient systems and services for the greatest public benefit.


Coefficient of Performance (COP) is how we measure efficiency for heat pumps in the heating mode that illustrates the ratio of total heating capacity to electrical energy input. For example, if a heat pump has a COP of 3, it can provide three units of energy for every one unit of electricity consumed.


Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) of a given cooling device is the ratio of output cooling energy (in BTU) to input electrical energy (in Wh) at a defined operating point. EER is typically calculated assuming a 95 °F outside temp and an inside (actually return air) temp of 80 °F and 50% relative humidity.


Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF) is a measure of a heat pump’s energy efficiency over one heating “season.” It illustrates the total heating output of a heat pump (including supplementary electric heat) across the normal heating season (in BTUs) as compared to the total electricity consumed (in watt hours) during the same period.


HVAC is a well-known acronym that stands for Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning. This is the most frequently used term when referring to combination systems that complete both heating and cooling.


Mini-split systems are ductless room air conditioners or heaters. When only a few rooms need heating and cooling, mini-split heat pumps and air conditioners provide a smart, versatile solution. Robust efficiency in a small package.


NATE, North American Technician Excellence Inc., is an independent, third-party, nonprofit certification body for HVACR technicians. NATE certification tests demand real-world working knowledge of HVACR systems and technicians can acquire installation and/or service certification in one or more specific areas. NATE certification tests are designed by the NATE technical committee. The NATE technical committee is composed of industry experts who developed and administer NATE’s Knowledge Areas of Technician Expertise (KATEs). Each exam is designed based on these knowledge areas of expertise. The technical committee includes a wide range of perspectives such as contractors, educators, manufacturers and utilities. Members also are diversely spread everywhere in the country.


Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) is the cooling output throughout an average cooling season divided by the total electric energy input during the same period. The higher the unit’s SEER rating the more energy efficient it is.


Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) is a measure of how effectively a window reflects heat caused by sunlight.


U-factor is a measure of how well a window design is capable of stopping heat flow. Look for windows with a lower U-factor (the lower the U-factor, the better).