Heating and Cooling

April 13th, 2009  |  Published in Energy Tips

Heating and cooling your home uses more energy and drains more energy dollars than any other system in you home. Typically 44% of your utility bill goes for heating and cooling. No matter what kind of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system you have in your house, you can save money and increase comfort by properly maintaining and upgrading your equipment. But remember, and energy efficient furnace alone will not have as great an impact on your energy bill as using the whole house approach. By combining proper equipment maintenance and upgrades with appropriate insulation, weatherization, and thermostat settings, you can cut your energy bills and your pollution output in half.

Ducts

One of the most important systems in your home, though it’s hidden beneath your feet and over your head, may be wasting a lot of your energy dollars. Your home’s duct system, a branching network of tubes in the walls, floors, and ceilings, carries the air from your home’s furnace and central air conditioner to each room. Ducts are made of sheet metal, fiber glass, or other materials.

Unfortunately, many duct systems are poorly insulated or not insulated properly. Ducts that leak heated air into unheated spaces can add hundreds of dollars a year to your heating and cooling bills. Insulating ducts that are in unconditioned spaces is usually very cost effective. If you are buying anew dust system, consider one that comes with insulation already installed.

Sealing your ducts to prevent leaks is even more important if the ducts are located in an unconditioned area such as an attic or vented crawl space. If the supply ducts are leaking, heated or cooled air can be forced out unsealed joints and lost. In addition, unconditioned air can also be drawn into return ducts through unsealed joints. In the summer, hot attic air can be drawn in, increasing the load on the air conditioner. In the winter, your furnace will have to work longer to keep your house comfortable. Either way, your energy losses cost you money.

Although minor duct repairs are easy to accomplish, ducts in unconditioned spaces should be sealed and insulated by qualified professionals using the appropriate sealing materials.

Heat Pumps

If you use electricity to heat your home, consider installing an energy efficient heat pump system. Heat pumps are the most efficient form of electric heating in moderate climates, providing three times more heating than the equivalent amount of energy they consume in electricity. There are thee types of heat pumps: air to air, water source, and ground source. They collect heat from the air, water, or ground outside our home and concentrate it for use inside. Heat pumps do double duty as a central air conditioner. They can also cool your home by collecting the heat inside your house and effectively pumping it outside. A heat pump can trim the amount of electricity you use for heating as much as 30% to 40%. Look for the ENERGY STAR ® label when buying a heat pump.

Solar Heating and Cooling

Using passive solar design techniques to heat and cool your home can be both environmentally friendly and cost effective. Passive solar heating techniques include placing larger, insulated windows on south-facing walls and locating thermal mass, such as a concrete slab floor or a heat-absorbing wall, close to the windows. In many cases, you can cut your heating costs by more than 50% compared to the cost of heating the same house that does not include passive solar design.

Passive solar design can also help reduce your cooling costs. Passive solar cooling techniques include carefully designed overhangs, windows with reflective coatings on exterior walls and the roof.

However, a passive solar house also requires careful design and site orientation, which depend on the local climate. So, if you are considering passive solar design for new construction of a major remodeling, you should consult and architect familiar with passive solar techniques.

Fireplaces

When you cozy up next to a crackling fire on cold winter day, you probably don’t realize that your fireplace is one of the most inefficient heat sources you can possibly use. It literally sends your energy dollars right up the chimney along with volumes of warm air. A roaring fire can exhaust as much as 24,000 cubic feet of air per hour to the outside, which must be replaced by cold air coming into the house from the outside. Your heating system must warm up this air, which is then exhausted through you chimney.

Gas and Oil Heating Systems

If you plan to buy a new heating system, ask your state energy office for information about the latest technologies available to consumers. They can advise you about more efficient systems on the market today.

Air Conditioners

It might surprise you to know that buying a bigger room air conditioning unit won’t necessarily make you feel more comfortable during the hot summer months. In fact, a room air conditioner that’s too big for the area it is supposed to cool will perform less efficiently and less effectively than a smaller, properly sized unit. This is because room units work better if they run for relatively long periods of time than if they are continually, switching off and on. Longer run times allow air conditioners to maintain a more constant room temperature.

Sizing is equally important for central air conditioning systems, which need to be sized by professionals. If you have a central air system in your home, set the fan to shut off at the same time as the cooling unit (compressor). In other words, don’t use the system’s central fan to provide circulation, but instead use circulating fans in individual rooms. Look for the ENERGY STAR ® and Energy Guide labels.

Programmable Thermostats

You can save as much as 10% a year on your heating and cooling bills by simply turning your thermostat back 10% to 15% for 8 hours a day. You can do this automatically without sacrificing comfort by installing and automatic setback or programmable thermostat.

Using a programmable thermostat, you can adjust the times you turn on the heating or air-conditioning according to a pre-set schedule. As a result, you don’t operate the equipment as much as when you are asleep or when the house or part of the house is not occupied.

(These thermostats are not meant to be used with Heat Pumps.) Programmable thermostats can store and repeat multiple daily settings (six or more temperature settings a day) that you can manually override without affecting the rest of the daily or weekly program. When shopping for a programmable thermostat, be sure to look for the ENERGY STAR ® label.