Homeowners across the country are looking for ways to save money and reduce their environmental impact, but for many it can be difficult to know where to start. According to current government estimates, the biggest portion of home energy use, up to 56%, is caused by heating and cooling the house. While climate control isn't something any of us are willing to give up, and in some cases it is a necessity, not a luxury, there are some changes, both large and small, that homeowners can make to reduce their HVAC use and lower their bills.
You might think that all that energy sucked up by your HVAC system is at least going to make you and your family more comfortable, but in reality a significant portion of that energy is seeping out of the ducts before it even reaches your living space. Sealing and insulating the duct-work attached to your heating and cooling system can cut down on the waste by up to 20%.
The thermal envelope refers to the seal around your home. The seal is made up of windows and doors, weather stripping, and insulation, and it is designed to isolate the air in your home from the air outside, making it easy to maintain a consistent and comfortable temperature inside. Gaps in the thermal envelope lead to leaks, and sealing them will improve the performance of your HVAC system while also reducing your energy consumption. Upgrade to Energy Star rated windows and doors and improve the weather stripping and insulation in your home to save up to 50% on your utility bill.
Proper care of your HVAC system will save money, improve efficiency, and prevent expensive breakdowns. Pull out and check the filters on your system once a month, and if they seem full or dirty, clean or replace them. Keeping filters free of dust and dirt will keep the system working at its highest efficiency and prevent more serious damage. They should be replaced every three months or so, especially during periods of heavy use.
An annual tune-up of your heating and cooling systems is among the most important steps towards energy efficiency. This maintenance is best left to a professional, but should include tightening all electrical connections, ensuring that all moving parts are lubricated and in good working order, and checking that the condensates drain is clear. For an air conditioner, the contractor should clean the condenser coils and evaporator, check the levels of refrigerant, and clean and adjust the blower components. For the heater they should check the gas pressure, as well as all connections and the exchanger to improve efficiency and prevent fire hazards.
Purchasing a new, Energy Star rated air conditioner or heater may not be an option for everyone, but if it is, choosing the type of machine that is best for the climate in which you live is a great way to improve efficiency. If, for example, you live in a dry, hot climate like the American southwest, you do not need a system with a dehumidifying function, whereas a Florida resident will find that to be absolutely critical.
If you live in a humid climate, you’ll want to choose a system with no time-delay, or at least with one that can be turned off. By doing some research before making your choice, you will be able to purchase the best possible system for your area. If there is any one lesson that has become clear as we strive for efficiency, it is that the best choices will not be universal, but will depend on regional climates and challenges.
Installing a programmable thermostat can save money and energy, but only if used properly. If, while you’re at work all day, you leave the heater or air conditioner off, a great deal of energy is wasted when it kicks back on and tries to catch up after you get home. If, on the other hand, you move the dial on the programmable thermostat by about ten degrees for around eight hours a day, you can cut your utility bills by approximately $180 per year without having to come home to an uncomfortable temperature.
For many people, HVAC services are not optional luxuries. Being without heat in the dead of winter or air conditioning in the middle of a desert summer can literally be the difference between life and death. The critical nature of the systems doesn't mean that we as homeowners can’t find ways to save money and resources on them. As with so many other things, information is the greatest possible tool, and a small amount of research will reveal efficiency improvements for any home.
-Frank Newhouse is a freelance writer who is constantly looking for ways to improve the energy efficiency of his home. He currently writes for Air Conditioning Florida, which helps connect people in the Miami area with the air conditioning services they need to reduce waste.