Your Ultimate Guide to Energy-Efficient Heating & Cooling
According to Energy Star, almost half of a family’s utility costs go towards heating and cooling their home. An average family spending around $2,200 a year on utility bills, which means that over $1,000 is spent a year on heating and cooling alone. This guide is intended to provide you with easy to understand ways to increase the HVAC efficiency of your system and lower your utility bills. Plus, implementing these tips will help your local community and the environment.
An average family uses a lot of energy within their home throughout the year. In fact, it equals almost twice as much greenhouse gas emissions as a car. One of the easiest ways to cut your family’s gas emissions is to lower your utility usage by conserving energy and/or using energy efficient appliances in your home. It might seem harmless to keep your lights on in rooms you aren’t using or purchasing less energy efficient products, but it does impact the environment.
So how does your HVAC efficiency and home energy impact and/or equal greenhouse gas emissions? It all starts with power plants. In order to provide you electricity, power plants burn fossil fuels. This process of creating electricity emits greenhouse emission gases into the atmosphere and environment. Therefore, your energy use at home directly correlates to how much associated greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere. The less energy you use at home means the less harmful greenhouse gases are released through the process of making electricity.
Consider HVAC Efficiency Upgrades When:
Hot and cold spots in your home
Have you noticed hot or cold spots in your home? This may indicate that either your home is not properly insulated or that your ductwork isn’t sealed completely.
Expensive and/or frequent repairs
HVAC repairs can be expensive, especially if it becomes a pattern. A pattern of your system breaking down definitely impacts it’s efficiency and can be a red flag that your system is on its last legs.
Higher utility bills
If your utility bills are increasing, it means that your HVAC efficiency is decreasing over time. This can occur for a number of reasons and does not immediately mean you have to replace your system. Ask yourself when was the last time you had your system maintenanced? The industry standard is that you have your HVAC system professionally maintained at least once a year. This not only keeps your system more energy-efficient, prevents breakdowns, but also keeps any manufacturer warranties that you have in check.
HVAC system is over 10 years old
The HVAC efficiency of your system can decrease dramatically as it ages due to the normal wear and tear of use. If your HVAC system is over 10 years old, it may be in your best interest to get a free estimate on a new system. Advanced heating and cooling technology have made the newer systems more efficient; plus utility companies offer rebates in order to incentivize for local residents to install more efficient systems.
Using an older non-programmable thermostat
Do you have an older thermostat that keeps your home at the same constant temperature? If so, you most likely have a non-programmable thermostat. Newer thermostats enable you to set schedules for the temperature in your home. For example, you can the temperature in your house to be colder while you are at work during the winter. This will lower your energy use and utility bills.
Maintaining Your System
Did you know that regular maintenance on your heating and cooling system can prevent up to 90% of breakdowns? Most breakdowns are caused by dirt, dust and debris buildup on your system that happens naturally over time. Some HVAC maintenance tasks you can perform yourself on a regular basis and other forms of maintenance require a professionally trained technician.
Change Your Filter
This is the easiest and cheapest way you can perform regular maintenance on your system. A dirty filter blocks the airflow of your system, which leads to lower HVAC efficiency. Filters need to be changed every month to every year depending on what type of filter it is. Click here to learn more about filter types.
If you are located in the Vancouver, WA and North Portland area, you can purchase your filters from our office located at 6109 NE Hwy 99 Vancouver, WA 98671. We are open from 8am-4pm Monday through Friday. We keep a record of our customer’s filter type for their convenience.
Schedule an Annual Maintenance
Making sure your HVAC system gets annual maintenance is the most important thing you can do to ensure your system runs at maximum HVAC efficiency. The maintenance should be performed by a professionally trained technician from a reputable HVAC company. HVAC companies are most available to do maintenance during their slower times, which is Spring and Fall. You can choose to have your heating and cooling system maintenance at the same time or having the cooling looked at in the Spring and the heating looked at in the Fall.
Did you know that an average home produces over 40lbs of dirt is produced in a six-bedroom home annually? That’s a lot of dirt! Dirt, debris and dust can build up in your duct work, which blocks the airflow of your system and decreases HVAC efficiency. It’s recommended that you get your ducts cleaned every 7 years.
System Maintenance Checklist
During an annual maintenance visit, these tasks should always be performed:
- Cycle system at the thermostat and address past and current system operation/expectations w/client.
- Check/change batteries in the thermostat, remote sensors, or remote controls.
- Examine overall system condition
- Inspect ductwork/boots and whether it is sealed/insulated/clean.
- Examine return air duct and check for proper size in relation to the system.
- Determine Indoor Air Quality type
- Inspect IAQ including cleanliness of the filter.
- Check all model numbers, serial numbers, and filter sizes in company records
- Cycle AH at thermostat (emergency heat if paired w/heat pump)
- Check incoming voltage
- Check electric heat operation and amperage
- Clean and check condensation removal system (pump, gravity drain, p-trap, vent)
- Check for proper install practices displayed
- Test system operation after all checks and verify all breakers and controls are operational.
- The system will work upon departure
- Cycle GF in heating from the thermostat (emergency heat if paired w/heat pump
- Check ambient CO
- Blower assembly condition (if accessible)
- Check induced draft motor amperage
- Visually inspect for safety concerns
- Determine if a gas odor is present
- Check flue for proper installation, operation, damage
- Inspect and clean condensate trap and ensure proper venting of condensation line.
- Ensure furnace has had proper alignment of burners and will have proper alignment in the future.
- Inspect ignition system (HSI, pilot, spark). Clean if a spark or pilot system.
- Check Ohm Value of HSI (if applicable)
- Inspect heat exchanger with a camera or other physical means and methods.
- Furnace more than 10 years old? If so, remove heat exchanger if possible and inspect. (Some are not accessible in a reasonable amount of time and Miller’s may use other methods to inspect. Heat exchangers WILL be removed if necessary to confirm a suspected failure.)
- Test system operation after checks and verify all breakers and controls are operational
Heat Pump/Air Conditioner
- Check OD fan motor/blade for physical signs of wear (leaking oil, poor wire conditions, stress marks, excessive noise, balance)
- Visually and electrically inspect compressor by using MΩ meter
- Verify proper outdoor airflow and perform light cleaning by washing the outdoor unit (heavy cleaning of indoor/outdoor coils is an extra charge)
- Verify indoor airflow (check external static pressures if necessary)
- Inspect and lightly clean indoor coil
- Check and clean condensation removal system (pump, gravity drain, p-trap, vent)
- Test system operation after all checks and verify all breakers and controls are operational.
How to Use a Programmable Thermostat Correctly
Do you work in an office or are routinely away from your home for longer periods of time? If so, a programmable thermostat might be a great option for you to save money on your utility bills. According to Energy Star, you can save up to $180 a year in utility bills if you set your programmable thermostat correctly.
What Thermostat Schedule Is Best for You?
There are three main thermostat programming schedules for you to choose from with a programmable thermostat. Determining which schedule will work best for you depends on your routine activities throughout the week. Read through the following three schedules and think about your weekly activities such as work, volunteering, etc.
1. 7 Day Schedule
A week schedule allows you to program a different temperature schedule for each day of the week.
2. Weekday/Weekend Schedule
A weekday/weekend schedule allows you to set a different temperature schedule for weekdays versus your weekends.
3. Weekday/Saturday/Sunday Schedule
This schedule type lets you program a different temperature schedule for the weekdays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Settings of a Programmable Thermostat
The Energy Star table below is a great guideline on how to program your thermostat to save the most money while still staying comfortable when you are at home (Todd-can we make a Miller’s version of this?):
Tips to Maximize the Benefits of Your Programmable Thermostat
Make sure your thermostat is mounted on a wall that doesn’t get direct sunlight or is near home appliances that produce a lot of heat when in use.
Keep the temperature warmer in the house during the summer and colder in the winter when you are away from home. This will conserve energy and save you money.
Take advantage of hold mode on your thermostat. This mode keeps your house at the same temperature while you are away. It’s a great option if you are going on vacation.
Don’t change your programmed settings
Keep to your programmed temperature schedule in order to maximize savings.
Consider using multiple programmable thermostats
Take the energy savings of a programmable thermostat and put one in each zone in your house if applicable. It will also increase your family’s comfort as you can program the temperatures in different portions of the house.
Change your batteries
You should change your batteries on your programmable thermostat at least once a year. Some thermostats will let you know when it’s time to change the batteries.
Seal Your Ductwork
Your ductwork circulates the air that your heating and cooling system conditions throughout your home. Unfortunately, 20-40% of conditioned air is lost through leaky ductwork in the average home; this leads to a big decrease in HVAC efficiency. It’s extremely important during an HVAC install that the installers properly seal all the ductwork to avoid leaky ductwork. Leaky ductwork decreases airflow, decreases HVAC efficiency and increase utility bills; not to mention, it makes your home more uncomfortable and can cause hot and cold spots within the home.
If the installers didn’t seal your ductwork properly during your install, don’t panic. Your ductwork can still be sealed. It’s best to have a professional seal your ductwork. At Miller’s Heating & Air, we use the mastic duct sealing solution to seal any ductwork you may have.
Having your ductwork sealed is generally a fast process and shouldn’t take more than a day. Interested in how much it would cost to get your ductwork evaluated and sealed? Give us a call today at 360-524-2880 or fill out a form online.
Replacing Your Current HVAC System
We strongly recommend that you get a free estimate on replacing your HVAC system with Energy Star rated equipment if any of the following applies to you:
- HVAC system is 10-15 years old
- HVAC system is not working
- Energy bills have been steadily increasing
- Paying for expensive and/or frequent HVAC repair bills
- Interested in newer heating and cooling technology that is more energy efficient
The HVAC systems on the market can vary greatly in energy efficiency. If you are interested in a high-efficiency heating and cooling system, look for units that are Energy Star rated. During your free estimate, let your Comfort Advisor know that energy efficiency is a priority. They can guide you towards the best energy-efficient options for your home. Often local utility companies offer incentives for residents to promote energy efficient HVAC systems. Ask your Comfort Advisor what local rebates you are eligible for.
Furnaces are HVAC units that either uses oil, propane, gas or electricity to heat your home. Gas furnaces are the most common type of furnace in the United States. Furnaces are normally one unit that helps to make up a central air system. The other parts of a central air system is air conditioning, ductwork/ventilation.
Gas furnace efficiency is measured by an AFUE percentage, also known as Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency. The higher the AFUE percentage than the higher the gas furnace efficiency is. For example, a gas furnace with a 90% AFUE rating means that the gas furnace is using 90% of the energy to heat the home while 10% is wasted. AFUE percentages can range from 80% to 98% for gas furnaces that are currently available on the market. Energy Star rated gas furnaces have a high AFUE rating and are considered highly energy efficient. Keep in mind that more energy-efficient gas furnaces do cost more upfront, but they will save you in the long run by lowering utility bills.
Air conditioners are outdoor units with the sole purpose of cooling your home. They are apart of your central HVAC system, which includes an indoor unit and ductwork. It is recommended that when you replace your older outdoor unit, such as an air conditioner, that you replace the indoor unit at the same time as well; this only applies if your indoor unit is older and less energy efficient. Running a high energy efficient outdoor unit with a low energy-efficient indoor unit can cause the whole system to be less energy efficient as well as cut down on the lifespan of the system.
AC cooling efficiency is most commonly measured by a SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) rating. A SEER rating is determined by how well an air conditioner will run for an entire cooling season. Energy Star rated air conditioners have a high SEER rating as well due to their high AC cooling efficiency. Air conditioners can also be measured for their AC cooling efficiency by EER (Energy Efficiency Ratio. This measurement is determined by how well an air conditioner runs at exactly 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you live in the Pacific Northwest, a highly efficient and Energy Star rated air conditioner might not be the best choice for lowering your cooling utility bills. Due to the overall moderate climate, a highly efficient heat pump may be the better choice. A heat pump can both heat and cool your home and will save you more on your utility bills in either mode compared to an air conditioner. .
Heat pumps are outdoor units that both heat and cool your home; they can be apart of a ducted central HVAC system or a ductless system. Generally, heat pumps perform best in moderate climates between 40-70 degrees, which makes them ideal for the Pacific Northwest. Ducted heat pumps are normally paired with a gas furnace, which can act as backup heat for your home for temperatures below 40 degrees.
Air source heat pumps are the most common type of heat pump. So how do air source heat pumps work? They transfer heat either into your home or outside of your home depending on the mode your thermostat is set to. A heat pump in heat mode will pull the heat in the outdoor air and move it into your house; while a heat pump in cooling mode will do the opposite and move the heat from inside your house to the outside.
Heat pumps are more energy efficient than other heating units because they move heat rather than create heat; creating heat uses more energy. Since heat pump heating efficiency is higher than other heating units, there are often both manufacturer and utility rebates available to incentivize homeowners to make the switch to a heat pump in their home. Like other HVAC units, Energy Star rated heat pumps are considered the most energy efficient on the market.
Working with a HVAC Contractor
Though you can complete some energy saving tips on your HVAC equipment yourself, you will need a professional HVAC contractor to complete other tasks for you such as annual maintenance, duct cleaning, duct sealing and installation of Energy Star rated equipment.
In this section, we provide you some helpful tips of what to look for in a professional HVAC contractor. There are plenty of “Chucks in a truck” that might be available to help you in a bind, but they often don’t carry the same licensing and liability insurance that more reputable HVAC contractors will. Plus, they don’t have the manpower to help you during a heatwave if your system breaks down as a larger company would.
Picking a Professional HVAC Contractor
Let’s say you have decided to make the change to Energy Star rated HVAC equipment or you just need to schedule an annual maintenance on your existing equipment. How do you pick a good HVAC contractor? What do you look for? We recommend looking for a contractor that:
- Completes a heat load calculation of your home in order to properly size your HVAC equipment
- Gives you an in-depth bid of the work and thoroughly explains it
- Is a licensed HVAC contractor in your state
- Carries liability insurance
- Has worked in your local community for 5+ years
- Has positive customer reviews only and shows a history of addresses issues if they come up
- Works with licensed subcontractors such as licensed electricians
- Installs Energy Star rated equipment
- Registers your equipment and submits rebate paperwork for you when applicable
- Does the initial system startup with you and explains how to use the system/thermostat
- Offers a comprehensive Maintenance Program so your system will be properly maintained
- Has a large service department, including 24/7 Emergency Services, if down the road you need help with your equipment and/or if something breaks down
Sign an Agreement Before Work Begins
A reputable HVAC contractor will have you sign an agreement before beginning your installation. Make sure this agreement includes:
- Itemized detail of the work being done and equipment being installed
- All warranty information: a compressor (if applicable), parts and labor
- All rebate information: manufacturer and local utility company
- Any additional discounts being applied
- Details when payment is due
- Lists the company’s guarantees around your install