We use a lot of electricity and fossil fuels to stay cool, warm, and comfortable indoors. Fortunately, we have some easy ways for saving electricity and reducing waste, and choosing them benefits both our consciences and our wallets.
Although government statistics vary on the amount of energy we consume for air conditioning and heating of U.S. homes, they all point to a significant amount and trend. For example, the Energy Information Administration states that in 2001, U.S. households used 31% of their energy on residential HVAC. On a website updated in 2005, The U.S. Department Of Energy, states that the average American home uses up to 56% of its annual consumption for heating and cooling.
Before drilling deeper into energy conservation related to air conditioning and heating, we’ll highlight two of the simplest, most affordable action items that usually produce dramatic savings in energy use and lower utility bills in an existing HVAC system:
(1) Sealing leaking ducts that reduce energy loss for both heating and cooling. This can save up to 27% on energy usage in the average air conditioning and heating system.
(2) Installing programmable thermostats that reduce energy waste for both
Other measures that lower energy consumption and home energy bills
- Conservation measures such as adding insulation, radiant barriers, installing solar screens over windows, installing weather stripping around doors, and caulking.
- Using sustainable sources for heating and cooling: heat pumps that take advantage of air, ground, or water temperature instead of (or before) consuming electric heat or fuel.
- Installing HVAC equipment with higher SEER (central air conditioning), AFUE (heating), and HSPE or COP or HSPF (heat pumps) efficiency ratings.
How to lower monthly utility bills
Due to the direct relationship between HVAC energy conservation and your monthly utility bills, we’ll include a link here to our quick consumer tips page on how to save money and lower your monthly utility bills. In the links for local resources to your right, you may find providers and financial incentives for energy conservation related to air conditioning, heating, and home improvements. For example, many of the energy conservation programs around the country bundle rebates, tax credits, and other financial incentives with HVAC and home conservation improvements.
The payback period for new air conditioning and heating equipment: return of investment and return on investment
When choosing the energy efficiency of new equipment, or energy efficient improvements to make to their home or building, owners often want to know the number of months it takes to pay back the initial costs. Since a payback analysis includes ongoing operating costs, and these operating costs have variables such as energy prices and unplanned repairs, the payback period will be an estimate. The fact that the payback period gets shorter as energy costs or repairs go up is encouraging to many owners.
To estimate the payback period, you would first need several numbers or factors. The seasonal operating cost for your area; system capacity; number of cooling (or heating) load hours in your climate; SEER (or AFUE) rating of the equipment; and cost per unit of electricity (or gas) for your area are just a few of the parameters needed to make this complex analysis.
This is not a calculation you will need to do very often. The easiest way to get this information is through a local HVAC contractor or the conservation department of your utility provider. They will help you estimate the number of months or seasons it takes to pay back the additional cost of new, more efficient equipment or related energy saving improvements.
Keep in mind that after you reach the pay back time, the savings in lower utility bills and lower repair bills continue each month. In financial terms, the pay back period can be described as the return of your initial investment and the savings in the month after make up the return on your investment.
Whole House Approach to Energy Conservation in Air Conditioning and Heating
When considering energy efficiency in air conditioning and heating, take a “whole house” approach. The same concept works with climate control for commercial structures also. Your indoor comfort, satisfaction, and costs will depend mainly on two factors: the design, age, and condition of the equipment in place and the energy efficiency of the structure (known in the HVAC industry as “the envelope”).
Features that affect energy efficiency of the envelope include the “R Factor” of the insulation in ceiling, walls, and under floors (where applicable); the number of panes and condition of the windows; the amount of heat the roof absorbs or reflects, proper attic ventilation; weather stripping around doors, solar screens, radiant barriers, and caulking.
As you weigh the costs and benefits of energy conservation efforts be sure to consider all related aspects-the equipment and the envelope. Why? Most owners will gain lower bills and more comfort from the installation of a new energy efficient air conditioning and heating system. However, these gains can be significantly enhanced through improvements to the envelope. If you have a specific budget you must adhere to for the entire project, you may want to optimize your spending to get the highest energy savings return on your spending between the these areas. Or plan the work in two stages, making sure both get optimum treatment.
Sources of energy conservation improvements in your local area
In many cities you can find companies that offer both air conditioning and heating equipment repair and installation and energy conservation improvements on the structure. While working with one provider is more convenient for you, it is not critical for getting the job done well. Don’t forget to find out if your local utility company or others are offering energy rebates, incentives, or special financing for either type of work. Use the link to your right to locate resources in your area.
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