Will replacing just the outdoor unit help me save money?
Not really. While it can seem like a cost-effective option, you’ll lower your unit’s efficiency by as much as 15%. Your system may also fail faster, and the manufacturer’s warranty you would expect to cover the cost will be void because the two units weren’t replaced together. The outdoor unit and indoor cooling coil should always be replaced at the same time.
Is bigger better for system performance?
Getting an air conditioner that’s too big might cool your home down just a little bit faster, but you’re going to use a lot of energy running it. You also won’t see your home’s humidity levels come down properly, and the short run cycles are the reason for that. Because it cools the home fast it only runs for a few minutes at a time, and that’s not enough to get air across the indoor coil and condense the moisture there into water. That can mean that the coil area doesn’t drain properly, and that leads to mildew and even mold growth. Longer run cycles are more energy efficient, as well, and reduce wear and tear on the system.
Is a high efficiency air filter a better choice?
You need to have proper filtration for good indoor air quality, and for strong operation of your cooling and heating systems. Dirt and dust builds up quickly in systems that don’t filter the air the right way, and that means the unit isn’t as efficient and can’t operate as well. High efficiency filters take away more dust and dirt, along with mold, pollen, and other air particles. If you have respiratory issues like asthma, or if you have allergies, a high efficiency filter can make a big difference for you. Also remember to change your filter frequently, no matter what kind you have.
Is there a way I can have good air quality and keep allergens out of my home?
Yes! You can do that more easily with a high efficiency air cleaner, which will collect approximately 99% of the spores and pollen that get inside. You’ll also see a lot less dirt and dust in your house, and these air cleaners are great for removing smoke and pollutants. The air in your house ill be fresher and cleaner, and you won’t see allergens and dust particles floating around to bother you and your family. You can couple your air cleaner with a whole house humidifier, and that will keep your skin healthier and make the air in your home more comfortable. Scratchy throats, itchy, irritated skin, and static electricity will become things of the past, and the humidity in the air will help you feel warmer, too. That means you can set your thermostat lower and save money all winter long.
Are SEER, HSPF, and AFUE ratings important? What do they mean?
Each one of these ratings are measures of how energy efficient something is. Even if the air conditioners you’re considering look alike, their SEER number (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating) may be very different. The higher the SEER number, the more you’ll save on your electric bill. The EPA’s current minimum standard for an air conditioner is a SEER number of 13, which uses 23% less energy to operate than the previous minimum standard, which was 10 SEER. Air conditioners can go all the way to 21 SEER, making them extremely efficient to use. They may cost a bit more up front, but your electric bills can be significantly lower when you use higher SEER number air conditioners.
Air conditioners aren’t the only appliances to have SEER ratings. Heat pumps have them, as well. In addition to the SEER numbers, you’ll also want to consider the HSPF (Heating Seasonal Performance Factor) rating, as that measures heating efficiency. The higher the HSPF rating the less energy is used to operate the heat pump. That means less money spent on your bills each month. The scale for HSPF ratings runs from 7.5 to 13.0, and choosing a higher number is better for long-term savings.
High-efficiency furnaces today use the AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency) rating. These furnaces are able to help you save up to 50% over what you would spend on a furnace that’s 10 years old or older, when you factor in all the operating costs. Many furnaces from 1990 and earlier have AFUE ratings at or below 65%, while today’s furnaces (2013 and newer) are required to have an AFUE rating of at least 80% in states in the south and 90% in more northern locations. It’s possible to get furnaces with an AFUE rating of up to 98.3% today, and these can make your gas bill significantly lower depending on your level of usage.
What are the best ways to reduce energy costs?
To lower your cooling costs, consider:
- High-efficiency air conditioning – When you use a high-efficiency system, you can improve your cooling and savings by one-third or more. Your older air conditioner isn’t going to give you those savings, which means you could see your bills continue to climb every summer. Even though replacing an air conditioning unit can cost money, you’ll soon recover that cost through lowered energy bills and a more efficient system.
- Periodic maintenance – Having your air conditioning unit inspected and maintained on an annual basis is one of the best ways to be sure that it’s operating at its peak efficiency. That way you can have peace of mind, too, and many inspections can catch problems before they become serious. That could keep your air conditioner from breaking down during a summer heat wave, and may also help you save money on your power bills.
- Installing a ceiling fan – Ceiling fans are excellent choices when it comes to helping rooms stay cool. The switch on your fan should be set to spin the blades in a counter-clockwise direction. That will provide a gentle breeze of air on your skin, and can reduce the need to have your air conditioner’s thermostat set so low.
- Keeping vents open – Blocking the vents doesn’t let air flow through the house like it should. That makes your air conditioner work harder, and can even shorten the life of the unit itself. By making sure the vents and the air returns are kept as open and unobstructed as possible, you help your air conditioner work well and operate as easily as possible.
- Raising the temperature – Keeping the thermostat at 75 degrees or above helps you pay less on your electric bill, and the ceiling fan can keep your home comfortable. With a ceiling fan running, you may find that you can raise the temperature in your home by a few degrees without any real discomfort.
When you want to save big on heat, it’s time to:
- Choose a high-efficiency furnace – High-efficiency furnaces can use up to 50% less fuel, and that’s a tremendous savings for some people. If you live in a very cold climate or you have a big house, you may see your gas bill come down noticeably. These furnaces can cost more up front, but you’ll soon end up with cost savings because of the lower amount on your heating bill.
- Don’t block your air vents – Air vents and returns have to work correctly to keep your system efficient, and if these areas are blocked you won’t be able to get the air flow your heating system needs. Keep all vents and returns free from boxes, bags, debris, furniture, and anything else that could impeded air flow.
- Install a thermostat that’s programmable – A programmable thermostat is a great way to save money. By controlling the temperature while you’re sleeping or when you’re away, you can save big on your heating bills. A one-degree adjustment in temperature for just a few hours equals a one percent savings, and those little percents add up.
- Put up those ceiling fans – Having ceiling fans matters for energy efficiency and comfort. You can change the switch on the fan so that the blades spin clockwise, and that helps push warm air down to keep you feeling warmer even when it’s very cold outside. The warmer you feel in your home, the lower you can set your thermostat and still be happy with the temperature indoors.
- Keep up with yearly maintenance – By letting a licensed professional service your furnace or heat pump every year, you’ll be able to correct small problems quickly. That can keep those problems from becoming bigger issues, so you have less to worry about. Your heating system will also operate more efficiently when it’s well-maintained, saving you money over time and extending your system’s useful life.
Do I really need to buy equipment that’s Energy Star rated?
About half of the energy use in your home is from heating and cooling, and can really add up over time. By choosing Energy Star appliances and equipment, you may be able to save up to 20% on your energy costs each year. These products meet strict guidelines that are set by the EPA and the DOE, and you can rely on them to give you good quality and lower bills throughout their useful life.
Is a heat pump right for me?
If you want a solution that offers you both cooling and heating, consider a heat pump. These have both SEER ratings (for cooling) and HSPF ratings (for heating). The higher the ratings the more you’ll save on energy. Heat pumps are generally efficient and work well for the majority of consumers. They may have a backup source of heat if you live in an extremely cold climate.
I’ve heard of two-stage cooling or heating. How does it work, and do I need it?
Two-stage heating or cooling is exactly what it sounds like. It cools or heats your home as outside temperatures change, helping with energy efficiency and keeping your home comfortable. Using a two-stage system means you’ll get very efficient operation of your temperature control equipment. In cooling, there are two compressors, and the smaller one runs when the bigger one is not needed. The principle is the same for heating, allowing the unit to self-adjust to heat your home with only the power that is really needed. Heat pumps and furnaces can both have two-stage operation, as can air conditioning units.
My system works better in some rooms than in others. Is there a fix for that?
There are a lot of reasons why this can happen. One system running a two-story home, for example, or a very uneven sun load between certain rooms. Clogged systems or those that aren’t well-balanced can also be an issue. With an analysis by a professional, the problem can be discovered and you can be offered solutions to make your system work better and help your home stay more comfortable.
Do systems still use Freon for refrigeration?
Yes, and no. Freon® (R-22 refrigerant) is no longer allowed in new equipment, but it’s still commonly used in old equipment. This R-22 is hard on the planet, so all air conditioners (and heat pumps) built after January of 2010 are required to use R-410A, which is more environmentally sound. The production of R-22 is being completely eliminated, and eventually it won’t be available at all. When considering a change to a new heat pump or air conditioning unit, you should know that R-410A is already being used in high-efficiency products, so you won’t have concerns about R-22 when you make the switch.