Saving energy means saving money — and during the hottest months of the year when air conditioning use goes into overdrive, knowing a few ways to conserve energy can help make a big difference when it comes time to pay your cooling bills.
Don’t have your air conditioner do all the work on its own
Economic use of your cooling system
To keep your cooling system properly maintained and working at peak performance, have a local HVAC company inspect and maintain it regularly. The investment pays off by saving you on energy consumption and increasing the life of your equipment.
Hail is a marvel of nature – hail can range in size from a pea to a baseball (or larger) and, being made of ice, it can leave a mark. The National Weather Service reports that hail causes $1 billion in damage to property and crops each year. Anything caught outside in a hail storm is vulnerable to the smashing and flattening caused by hail – and that includes your air conditioning unit.
The most common problem caused by hail damage to air conditioners is warping or smashing of condenser coil fins. When these fins are flattened, air flow gets restricted and this inhibits the equipment’s ability to transfer heat from inside the house to outside. As a result, your unit has to work harder to produce less. Inefficient operation consumes extra energy, costs extra money and eventually shortens the life of your system, requiring early replacement.
Degrees of hail damage
How you should respond depends on the amount of damage your equipment sustained. Hail can make a direct impact or bounce up from the ground nearby to cause indentations, or flattening, to the surface fins of your condenser coil.
If indentations to your condenser coil are few and shallow, they can be straightened out fairly easily to restore air flow. Fin combs are tools with plastic or metal ‘teeth’ like a comb that fit between aluminum slats – but it’s best to have a qualified technician do this job.
It’s considered moderate level damage when the fins are bent more than ⅛ inch deep and/or cover up to 30 percent of the surface area. This amount of repair requires considerably more time per square foot to ‘comb out’ the fins properly.
If the damaged area has indentations that measure ¼ inch to ⅜ inch deep and extend over 30 percent or more of the surface area, this is severe enough to cause equipment failure down the line if it’s not properly addressed. At this level of damage to the coils, there is also likely damage to the refrigerant tubing in the coil. It’s a good idea to have an HVAC professional advise you whether it’s better to try and repair or replace the condenser coil.
Hail damage to any property is likely covered under a homeowner’s insurance policy. It’s a good idea to check with your agent to see what kind of coverage your policy offers.
We’ve all seen those air conditioning units cleverly surrounded by concealing hedges, while it may look nice, it may be putting an unnecessary burden on the equipment’s performance. Keeping your outside cooling unit free from dirt and debris is crucial for maintaining free air flow. This not only allows the equipment to work more efficiently, but also helps it last longer.
Putting plants around the air conditioner
Hedges, tall ornamental grasses, trees – all plants are a lovely way to provide beauty and shade and to camouflage around an air conditioner. They can be great options but with one caveat: you need to keep any landscaping planted/trimmed at least two feet back from your air conditioner. Not only can hedge limbs grow into the unit, but too close of landscaping means less air flow is getting in and out. It also means you’re more likely to have leaves, sticks, stems, and other organic matter accumulating in the equipment.
Putting plants over the air conditioner
There is a school of thought that providing a shaded area for your air conditioner will make it more efficient. Keeping the air in the immediate vicinity at a constantly cooler temperature may help some, but research shows that the benefits are only minimal. In fact, you may be asking for trouble by placing your equipment under a tree or plant with falling leaves and seeds.
Putting plants into the air conditioner
You definitely don’t want to put plants into the air conditioner, so make sure when you mow around your outdoor unit you are aiming the grass clippings away from it. Some of the most common causes of blockage come from the cut grass clippings.
Keeping plants out of the air conditioner
Special mesh screens are designed to place on top or around your air conditioning unit to help keep out the big chunks of debris. And during the off season, it’s recommended you use a water-repellant cover to protect it during the falling leaves of autumn and the strong winds of winter.
Despite best efforts, some grit and grime are going to find their way to the outdoor air conditioner. It’s a good idea to do the occasional spot check and brush away any obvious debris that could cause a blockage with a broom or brush. Among other things, a lack of airflow promotes mold growth and a build-up of grime can eventually damage the interior components. It’s a good idea to have a local HVAC company clean and check your unit each spring.
Air conditioning technology is continually pushing for improvements that reduce the environmental footprint and make cooling systems more energy efficient. The environment and your wallet benefit from high-efficiency equipment – but you won’t see these benefits if your air conditioner is improperly installed.
Without proper installation you can offset the advantages of a new air-conditioning system, making it perform as poorly as older models. There are several things your contractor needs to consider, including:
The right place
You may think your HVAC equipment should go in an inconspicuous spot – and not give much more thought to the matter. However, it’s good to know that positioning it properly can enhance long-term system performance and even extend its life. When you’re installing a new or replacement air conditioner, a trusted local HVAC professional can determine the best location for maximum power and efficiency and minimum inconvenience.
We take air conditioning for granted, expecting the stores we shop in, the places we work, and the homes we live in to bring relief in the form of cool, comfortable air when temperatures outside are high. However, not that long-ago air conditioning was a luxury – and not long before that it didn’t really exist at all, with only a few notable exceptions.
The beginning of air conditioning
How far back do we have to go to find humankind’s efforts to control the environment? Not the ‘cave man’ certainly, because everyone knows that caves remain steady at cool temperatures of 49 to 52 degrees F – that is, except the caves in the Lone Star State. Naturally, the caves in Texas are reputed to have higher temperatures (around 70 degrees F), but then everything is bigger in Texas!
Ancient Rome gets the honor of being the first civilization to try conditioning the air. Wealthy citizens would utilize that still-amazing aqueduct system to circulate cool water through the walls of their homes. And even less cost-effective, one Roman emperor had ice and snow shipped down from the north via donkeys to keep a large snow pile in his garden.
The fan base
Such luxuries (along with the Roman Empire itself) disappeared during the Dark Ages and things went back a few steps.
However, over in the Far East, there was a whirring noise – from fans. Hand fans were being used in China as early as 3,000 years ago, and by the 2nd century A.D. a Chinese inventor built the first room-size rotary fan, although it was still hand-powered.
Modern era of cooling technology
There was a resurgence of interest in cooling technology in the 19th century. In 1881 American engineers came up with a contraption which blew air through cotton sheets doused in ice water, but the big breakthrough came with electricity, with Nikola Tesla’s development of alternating currents motors, the oscillating electric fan became a welcome alternative to hand fans.
In 1902 a young engineer named Willis Carrier was looking for a way to control the humidity in the printing plant where he worked by mechanically sending air through water-cooled coils and ended up inventing what we consider the first modern air-conditioning system. Twenty years later he invented the centrifugal chiller, adding a central compressor to reduce the unit’s size.
This new technology was introduced to the public in 1925, debuting at the Rivoli Theater in Times Square, New York.
Fun fact: People would pile into air-conditioned movie theaters as the only cool place on hot summer days, and this gave rise to the ‘summer blockbuster’.
By the 1930s, department stores, rail cars, and business offices joined the ranks of cool places.
Today’s home air conditioning
Residential air conditioning was slower to develop, because the cooling systems were too large and expensive for use in individual homes. In 1929 Frigidaire introduced a room cooler that utilized refrigeration technology, but it was heavy and complex. Around the same time General Motors produced units that used non-flammable refrigerating fluids – and while these were safer to use, they were eventually linked to ozone depletion.
Today, there are new refrigerants and technologies being used that are less harmful to the planet thanks to research by the Energy Department’s Building Technologies Office.
As late as 1965 it’s estimated that only 10 percent of homes in the U.S. had home air conditioning. Now, due to advances in technology and more general prosperity, the Energy Information Administration reports that nearly 100 million American households (or 87 percent) enjoy air conditioning at home.
Options for home cooling are many and varied. Contact a trusted AC company to find out more about the best options for your home, climate, and personal comfort level.
You may have noticed your heating or cooling system is not performing up to par. Or it’s always running. Or perhaps you’ve noticed a steady rise in your energy bills. There may be something wrong with your HVAC equipment, meaning you’ll be faced with a decision: do you repair or replace your home’s heating and cooling system?
One thing you don’t want to do is wait until there’s an emergency breakdown. If you see signs of trouble, it’s a good idea to analyze your options. Since heating and cooling systems are a major investment, it might be helpful to start with this list of considerations:
How old is your system?
The average lifespan of a furnace is 15 to 20 years. So, if your furnace is 15 years or older, it might be best to replace, based on the expense of repairs. If you need to fix a complicated, labor-intensive part of your furnace, it might be worthwhile to get a new system.
The average lifespan of an air conditioner is about 10 years. So if you have an older unit that has a compressor go out, you might as well replace it, as a repair wouldn’t be much less than a new one – and a new one would come with a warranty.
Is it under warranty?
If your equipment isn’t particularly old, and is still under warranty, it’s usually best to repair it. If it’s not under warranty, you should think twice about making a major repair. As a general guide, Consumer Reports recommends replacement whenever repairs total more than 50% of what it would cost to buy something new.
Is the technology outdated?
Technology is continually changing. Today’s heating and cooling equipment is far more efficient and environmentally-friendly than counterparts from even 10 years ago. An older furnace, for example, may only get 64% efficiency. That means 36% of every dollar you spend on heating energy goes right out your flue pipe. New equipment can get as high as 98% efficiency. The investment is significant, but so are the savings in the long run.
What about tax and utility credits?
New equipment with high efficiency ratings can make you eligible for tax credits. There may also be local incentives from utility companies when you upgrade to a high-efficiency system.
What is the environmental impact?
Your heating and cooling system produces about half of your home’s energy use – that’s a big chunk of your energy footprint. By upgrading to a new system that meets or exceeds ENERGY STAR® standards, you can positively affect both your budget and the environment.
When you’re trying to decide whether to repair or replace, it’s a good idea to compare current costs with projected savings. Manufacturers can help with operating cost estimates based on unit efficiency and local utility costs, and a firm quote from a trusted HVAC contractor can help you estimate future costs associated with keeping your system operating at peak performance.
Air filters are silent sufferers – no one thinks about them because they usually don’t break or make noise. Yet, they’re an important part of your HVAC system – not only helping keep your equipment clean and free of debris, but also helping to keep indoor air clean by capturing particles like dust, pollen, mold spores and animal dander.
Like any filter, they should be changed regularly – every 1 to 3 months. Spring is an ideal time to replace them because long weeks of winter weather, mean closed homes and recirculated air that becomes especially full of dust and debris.
Getting the right filter
Different equipment requires different filters, and there are also types of air filters which serve different purposes.
Lower cost air filters
Higher performance air filters
For more information about HEPA filters, or if you’re unsure which filter is best for your home, contact a qualified HVAC technician. Not only is it important to choose the proper air filter, and change it regularly, but it’s equally important to have it installed properly for correct air flow.
There’s a lot to plan when you go on vacation. If you have time, it’s helpful to make a comprehensive ‘to-do’ list that includes general household tasks to keep your energy costs down while you’re gone.
To conserve or not to conserve
Should you turn off your HVAC system while you’re away? Turning it off while you’re away may seem like a good way to save on energy costs, but while your house won’t be populated — it won’t be empty either.
In the warmer months, keeping a minimal temperature setting can protect your empty rooms from:
Additionally, it can keep high temperatures from spoiling food in your pantry or placing stress on your refrigerator/freezer. Heat can also be detrimental to sensitive electronic equipment.
Keeping a steady temperature (about 5 degrees higher than a comfortable temperature in warm months, and 5 degrees lower than comfortable in cooler months) can also help keep pipes from bursting if temperatures outside happen to drop below freezing while you’re gone.
Tip: A programmable thermostat is a convenient way to check the temperature in your house from a remote location – and even slowly adjust it to a comfortable setting over a couple of days before your return.
Tip: Don’t close off all your vents and registers because it can cause efficiency issues for your equipment; make sure they’re all open before heading out.
CHECKLIST OF FURTHER SUGGESTIONS
There are several things you can do that will save you money on your energy bill and ensure peace of mind when it comes to prepping your house for your absence. Follow this checklist:
Check windows and doors
Make sure you close and lock all doors and windows. Not only does it ensure security, it’s another way to make sure your HVAC runs as efficiently as possible.
Tip: Do, however, open all your interior doors. This keeps the air circulating throughout the house and avoids creating hot spots where plants might die, or cold spots where a pipe might burst.
Turn off water
Go ahead and turn off the water line that supplies your washing machine and toilets; you could avoid an unexpected leak while you’re out of town.
Change water heater setting
Adjusting the temperature on your water heater still prevents water in the lines from freezing if temperatures drop while you’re away, but it won’t spend energy keeping water you’re not using hot in the tank.
Timers, motion detector check
If you have them, make sure motion detectors are in working order. Set your light timers to turn on and off in different rooms.
Use a surge protector
Installing a surge protector (if you don’t already have one) is an inexpensive – yet effective – way to protect your HVAC equipment and any other costly electronic equipment from an unexpected storm or power surge.
Tip: We all have those ‘vampire appliances’ that leak energy — items like televisions, lamps, and electronic equipment. They are usually plugged in continually and leak energy even when not in use, so unplug them before you go.
Having a checklist is a great way to take care of all the tasks and help you have a worry-free vacation. If you’re unsure which taps to turn off or how to reset the temperature on your water heater, you can contact a local service technician to give everything a quick ‘once-over’ before you leave.
A new home is an exciting and complex undertaking. There are a lot of components to understand and care for — and perhaps one of the most important is your HVAC system. Even knowing a little can save you a lot on your energy bills over time.
Do you need a new furnace or air conditioner?
If your ‘new’ home has equipment already installed, it’s important to know how old it is, and whether it was properly serviced. If the previous owner had it maintained regularly by a professional HVAC company, it’s easy to get inspection reports and find out whether or not there were any problems or repairs.
Proper installation is important
If you’re buying – most systems are good and work as advertised – if they’re properly installed. The two main reasons new equipment won’t perform as expected include:
If your unit is too large, it won’t be able to remove humidity adequately. If your unit is too small, it will not be able to reach and/or maintain a comfortable temperature level.
Ducts that have leaks, or are improperly installed, can cause you to lose anywhere from 25 to 40 percent of your energy.
Getting certified HVAC professionals to properly install and charge your heating and cooling system is crucial if you want your equipment to deliver on its rated efficiency.
However, new or existing, there are several things you can do to make sure your HVAC system runs efficiently and lasts as long as possible. These include:
Know your thermostat
Believe it or not, your thermostat can be your best friend. By scheduling your heating and cooling levels into a programmable thermostat, you can customize energy use around your regular weekly schedule. Program your heating and cooling to more energy efficient levels when you’re away at work, and have them automatically adjust to more comfortable levels for the hours you’re usually at home. It’s a simple way to save on your energy output. You can do this manually, but it’s difficult to remember. It’s probably worth getting a new, programmable thermostat if you don’t already have one.
Change air filters
Changing your air filters regularly is a bit like changing the oil in your car regularly. It helps your system heat and cool more efficiently, and saves you money. Clean filters also reduce allergens in the air. If you think you’ll forget, get this service as part of a regular maintenance contract.
Get regular maintenance
Having regular maintenance is a good idea for many reasons — not the least of which is that many equipment warranties require it. Additionally, regular maintenance keeps your equipment running smoothly, may avoid an expensive (and inconvenient) breakdown, and can extend the life of your equipment by as much as 3 to 5 years.
Use window treatments
Snug, energy efficient windows are ideal — but you can also significantly reduce the amount of work your air conditioner has to do by simply keeping curtains/blinds/shutters closed during the day to block out the sun’s heat during warm months. Likewise, having insulated drapes or other window treatments closed overnight during cold months can help keep the heat in and the cold out, and reduce the work your furnace or heat pump has to do.
The great majority of your home’s energy expenses come from heating and cooling. And just like you lose most of your body heat through the top of your head, you can lose most of your home’s heating/cooling energy through your home’s attic. Insulating your attic reduces the amount of energy you need to keep your home at a comfortable temperature, so you can help reduce your energy costs by insulating your attic.
Insulating your attic with fiberglass
Fiberglass has been the popular choice for insulating homes for several decades. It consists of plastic filaments fortified with recycled glass spun into fibers. The glass slows the spread of heat, cold, sound and can reduce residential energy costs by up to 40 percent.
And because fiberglass is, well, glass, it is also moisture-resistant. It is not an environment that promotes fungus or mold growth.
Is fiberglass safe?
When properly installed, fiberglass is considered safe. And because it is made with glass it doesn’t burn or absorb water.
However, being glass, there are a few precautions you should take when being around it or handling it.
Safely handling fiberglass
When fiberglass insulation is moved or disturbed, it releases tiny particles into the air. If they get on bare skin they can lodge into pores and cause itching, rashes, or irritations. If they are inhaled, they can result in coughing, nosebleeds, and/or respiratory problems. So if you have to handle it in any way, be sure to wear gloves, long-sleeved shirts, pants, goggles, and a respirator-type mask.
R-Value of fiberglass
R-Value is a measure of insulation’s ability to resist to heat flow. A higher R-Value means a higher resistance. For example, an inch of wood has an R-Value of 1, whereas an inch of blown-in fiberglass insulation has an R-Value of up to 3.4.
Most people think of fiberglass in rolls of pink or yellow sheets. Fiberglass insulation also comes in bags as loose fill. A specially-designed electric blower is used to install fibers or pellets of insulation, and offers several advantages:
When properly installed, fiberglass provides an insulating layer that slows the passage of moisture, heat, and sound. Blowing in loose-fill fiberglass also seals air spaces to prevent air movement and heat loss. A trusted HVAC professional can explain different insulation materials and methods and help you decide which is best for you.