Air conditioning, or cooling, is more complicated than heating. Instead of using energy to create heat, air conditioners use energy to take heat away. The most common air conditioning system uses a compressor cycle (similar to the one used by your refrigerator) to transfer heat from your house to the outdoors.
Central air conditioners and heat pumps are designed to cool the entire house. In each system, a large compressor unit located outside drives the process; an indoor coil filled with refrigerant cools air that is then distributed throughout the house via ducts. Heat pumps are like central air conditioners, except that the cycle can be reversed and used for heating during the winter months. (Heat pumps are described in more detail in the heating section.) With a central air conditioner, the same duct system is used with a furnace for forced warm-air heating. In fact, the central air conditioner typically uses the furnace fan to distribute air to the ducts.
Whereas room air conditioners are available for mounting in windows or through walls, but in each case they work the same way, with the compressor located outside. Room air conditioners are sized to cool just one room, so a number of them may be required for a whole house. Individual units cost less to buy than central systems.