The three major functions of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning are interrelated, especially with the need to provide thermal comfort and acceptable indoor air quality within reasonable installation, operation, and maintenance costs. HVAC systems can be used in both domestic and commercial environments. HVAC systems can provide ventilation, and maintain pressure relationships between spaces. The means of air delivery and removal from spaces is known as room air distribution.
In modern buildings, the design, installation, and control systems of these functions are integrated into one or more HVAC systems. For very small buildings, contractors normally estimate the capacity and type of system needed and then design the system, selecting the appropriate refrigerant and various components needed. For larger buildings, building service designers, mechanical engineers, or building services engineers analyze, design, and specify the HVAC systems. Specialty mechanical contractors then fabricate and commission the systems. Building permits and code-compliance inspections of the installations are normally required for all sizes of building.
Although HVAC is executed in individual buildings or other enclosed spaces (like NORAD's underground headquarters), the equipment involved is in some cases an extension of a larger district heating (DH) or district cooling (DC) network, or a combined DHC network. In such cases, the operating and maintenance aspects are simplified and metering becomes necessary to bill for the energy that is consumed, and in some cases energy that is returned to the larger system. For example, at a given time one building may be utilizing chilled water for air conditioning and the warm water it returns may be used in another building for heating, or for the overall heating-portion of the DHC network (likely with energy added to boost the temperature).
Basing HVAC on a larger network helps provide an economy of scale that is often not possible for individual buildings, for utilizing renewable energy sources such as solar heat, winter's cold, the cooling potential in some places of lakes or seawater for free cooling, and the enabling function of seasonal thermal energy storage.