What You Need to Know About Air Conditioner Efficiency
Did You Know that more than half of the energy used in a typical U.S. home is used for heating and cooling? If you want to increase the energy efficiency of your home, your HVAC system is an excellent place to start.
There have been significant strides made in air conditioner technology in recent years. For example, the standard efficiency rating from just six years ago is below the legally mandated minimum efficiency today. Air conditioning systems are rated according to the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER). The current minimum standard mandated by the Federal Government is 14 SEER.
Air conditioners that were installed just 8 to 10 years ago operate at or below 10 SEER, which was the standard until 2006. In terms of energy savings, that means even a new low-end air conditioner will use 30 percent less electricity than your old one. That’s a nice 30 percent savings on your cooling bill.
If your home is 1,800 square feet, a 14 SEER unit is sufficient. However, you can double your energy savings by upgrading to a 16 SEER unit. The price tag may be higher for a 16 SEER unit, but you will save roughly 60% as compared to a 10 SEER unit.
With the advancements in air conditioner efficiency, if your older system has an issue (whether that be a major breakdown or just a decrease in how cold your air is) it may be wise to look into replacement instead of repair—unless the repair is minor. A minor repair would be something like a clogged condenser unit or a worn fan belt.
However, we still recommend you consult with a contractor about your questions regarding whether you should repair or replace your unit. It’s also important to note that by making improvements to your ducts and insulation you can boost your current system’s effectiveness as much as you would by installing new equipment.
Aside from improved efficiency, new air conditioner units are more environmentally friendly than old ones. Since 2010, air conditioner manufacturers have been required to use refrigerant that doesn’t contain harmful chlorofluorocarbons.
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What You Need to Know About Heating Efficiency
The most common type of heating in the U.S. is gasfueled forced air. This type of heating system works by pulling cold air from inside the home and running it past a heated metal box called the heat exchanger. Once the air is heated, it is blown through the ducts and back into the home.
A home can be heated using three main types of furnaces.
- Single stage furnaces are the most inefficient. These furnaces are just stoves that are either on or off. There is no control over heat settings, so a consistent, comfortable temperature is difficult to maintain.
- Two stage furnaces are more efficient than single stage furnaces. The two settings on these types of furnaces are high and low. The low setting makes it easier to keep house temperatures from dropping too far below a comfortable level.
- Variable speed furnaces are the most efficient. These furnaces give you full control over the level of heat between off and high. The flame inside continuously adjusts to maintain a consistent, comfortable temperature.
Before you make the decision to upgrade, we suggest first reducing how much heating and cooling you use, which is referred to as your load. Reducing your load will put less stress on your systems and reduce your home energy bill.
You can reduce your load by doing the following:
- Reducing air leaks by adding extra insulation
- Installing ENERGY STAR certified windows
- Installing energyefficient lighting, which will emit less heat
- Reducing solar gain (cool roofing and tinted windows) if you live in a hot climate
- Increasing solar gain in cold climates
- Purchasing energyefficient equipment and electronics to reduce the heat radiating into air conditioned areas in your home
- Controlling your ventilation
If you are looking to reduce the load of a commercial facility, consider the following 12 guidelines to help you choose an appropriately sized system:
- Avoid buying an oversized system, which will not only cost more to install, but also to operate.
- Ask your HVAC professional for lifecycle cost quotes for both standard-efficiency and high-efficiency systems. Lifecycle costs may be less on a high efficiency unit.
- Choose ENERGY STAR certified units when purchasing room air conditioners and light commercial heating and cooling units.
- Consider utilizing wasted energy from exhaust air streams to condition incoming fresh air with an energy recovery ventilation system.
- Consult your HVAC professional about extra dehumidification if your facility is in a humid climate. Lower humidity also allows you to downsize your equipment. Plus it is more comfortable for occupants.
- Consult your HVAC professional about evaporative coolers if your facility is in a dry climate. Evaporative coolers eliminate the need for energy intensive compressors by using water evaporation to cool interior areas.
- Consider specifying economizers (often available at low incremental cost), which pull fresh, cool air from outside when the temperature outside is cooler than the inside of your facility.
- Install programmable thermostats with automated settings.
- Specify National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) premium motors on your HVAC system. You may also want to specify variable speed drives (VSD) on condenser and evaporator fans.
- Identify ways to capture free waste heat from heat generating processes such as cooking or onsite distributed generation equipment. Use the heat to offset heating costs.
- Consider installing radiant heating if your facility is a warehouse or garage and if you need to heat an exterior area such as a patio. Radiant heating warms objects instead of the air and uses less fuel.
- Understand that what happens inside a building can impact the temperature as much or more than the outside temperature. Keep that in mind when you are sizing your equipment. Demand controlled ventilation systems paired with economizers can help increase the efficiency of facilities with high internal loads such as commercial kitchens and computer data centers.