What Role Does an Actuator Have in Your HVAC System?

What Role Does an Actuator Have in Your HVAC System?

, by Thrive Agency, 6 min reading time

Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems are essential in maintaining comfort inside homes no matter the season. They help you stay warm during cooler weather and keep you cool and comfortable during the hot summer months. 

But while all components in these systems work together to help you maintain the right temperature inside your home, one part that directly impacts your HVAC’s performance and efficiency is the actuator. 

In this blog, we explore what an actuator is, how it works in an HVAC system and how to tell when your actuator needs replacement. 

What Is an Actuator?

Actuators are generally devices converting energy into motion to control a mechanism or system. In an HVAC system, they play the essential role of opening or closing its dampers to direct hot and cold air to the places they should go, depending on the settings on the thermostat. 

A Quick Look into How HVAC Systems Work 

HVAC systems consist of a thermostat, furnace and blower motor, a heat exchanger, an evaporator coil, a condensing unit, refrigerant lines, ductwork, and dampers. 

The furnace and blower motor are responsible for heating and distributing household air to the intended zones. Meanwhile, the evaporator coil, condensing unit and refrigerant lines work together to absorb heat from the indoor air and pump the chilled air back into the home. 

The thermostat is the component that lets you regulate the temperature you want circulating inside your home. Meanwhile, dampers help you direct airflow to specific rooms. 

With that said, dampers and vents are not the same. Vents also control the airflow within your house, but they simply keep the air from entering a specific room. They can’t keep warm or chilled air from moving into the ducts. On the other hand, dampers are movable plates that prevent air from entering the ductwork in the first place, as they are typically installed near the air distribution pipe openings. 

But what role does an actuator have in all this? Actuators use a low-voltage signal to open and close the dampers, adjusting the flow or warm or chilled air and regulating the temperature throughout your home. 

The Importance of Actuators 

Actuators are an essential component in any HVAC system as they direct the airflow and temperature coming out of it. They serve as the interface between your thermostat and the mechanical parts. More importantly, they help maintain proper ventilation and comfort within your home and even improve your system’s efficiency by optimizing air movement from the unit. 

A faulty actuator then keeps your dampers from functioning correctly, if at all. When the dampers don’t work as they should, faulty, weak or inconsistent airflow occurs. You may also see an increase in your energy consumption despite receiving poor performance from your HVAC system. 

4 Main Types of Actuators 

Actuators come in various types and perform different functions. 

  1. Spring Return Actuator 

This actuator is responsible for activating the fire and smoke dampers in HVAC systems. They are crucial in keeping fire and smoke out of the ductwork, so they must be fire-resistant and fast-acting. 

  1. Air Volume Modulating Actuator

As its name suggests, this type of actuator regulates the supply of air and returns air volume in air conditioning units. It is a component in an HVAC unit's variable air volume box responsible for providing fresh indoor air and redirecting exhaust air out of the house. 

  1. Chilled Water Actuator 

Unlike fire-resistant spring return on/off actuators, this type is water-resistant as it directs the flow of chilled water moved throughout the HVAC unit by moving a valve. These valves are activated depending on the temperature set on the thermostat.  

  1. PIBCV Modulating Actuator  

Pressure-Independent Balancing and Control Valve (PIBCV) Modulating Actuators are advanced alternatives to conventional chilled water on/off actuators. They are accurate and water-resistant, making them efficient in preventing the over- and under-cooling of spaces. 

Despite their typically small size, PIBCV actuators can conserve more energy than others while operating quietly.   

How To Know When an Actuator Is Faulty 

Like any other component in an HVAC system, actuators can wear out or develop faults over time. Here are some signs you may need to replace your actuator: 

  • Inconsistent Temperature: A malfunctioning actuator cannot properly regulate airflow, often making rooms too hot or too cold. 
  • Difficulty Adjusting the Temperature: If your thermostat settings don’t seem to make a difference in your indoor comfort, it could be due to a malfunctioning actuator. 
  • Unusual Noises: Strange noises like clicking or banging coming from your HVAC system can indicate an actuator problem. 
  • Inconsistent, Weak or No Airflow: If your system can no longer move air consistently or blow any air at all, a broken actuator may be the cause. 
  • Higher Energy Bills: Faulty actuators make it difficult for your HVAC system to operate efficiently, driving your energy bills. 

  • Find the Right Actuator Replacement Here at Value Controls 

    Actuators work tirelessly behind the scenes to help you maintain a comfortable indoor environment. Due to the crucial role they play in your HVAC system, it’s important that you watch out for the common signs you have a faulty or worn-out actuator to address the issue and get your unit running smoothly again. 

    If you find yourself in need of a replacement, consider exploring our various actuators at Value Controls. We carry an extensive range of new and used HVAC actuators, making it easier for you to find the brand and type you need. 

    Get the right actuator for your HVAC needs at Value Controls today, or call us at 1-800-584-9901 for inquiries.


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