We are all looking for ways to save energy usage and utility costs, but where can you get the biggest bang for your buck? Start with your HVAC system.
Did you know that 47% of the average household’s energy consumption is for heating and cooling? That is by far the largest percentage for most homes. So your first step should be to make sure your HVAC system is operating as efficiently as possible.
Here are some of the top questions homeowner’s ask us about their HVAC systems and the answers you need to know to get the most efficiency out of your HVAC system:
Q. Do I really have to change my air-filter so often?
A. In a nutshell, yes. Changing your air filter at least once every six months will save you money short-term on your monthly bills and long-term by making your system last longer. Changing your filter every three months is even better.
All of the air in your home circulates and recirculates through the same filter attached to your indoor unit. The filter is designed to remove dust and particles to keep the air you breathe clean. Filters become clogged, causing your system to work less efficiently and costing you more to operate it. If left unchanged long enough, your system could fail completely.
Q. Are those bi-annual service plans offered by HVAC companies worth the investment?
A. Each spring and each fall before you start using your cooling or heating system, you should get a “tune up” to get it ready for the season. By spending a little twice a year, you can save a lot in energy bills by keeping your system operating at peak efficiency and in costly repairs by identifying and fixing minor problems before they turn into big ones. Plus, many homeowners don’t realize that their manufacturer warranties may be invalidated if they aren’t getting their unit serviced twice a year.
Q. I think I am spending way too much on heating and cooling my home. How can I find out for sure?
A. Start with your utility company; they can help a great deal. How do you know how much is “too much”? Comparing previous bills isn’t always a good measure, as the weather is never exactly the same month to month. Instead, if you take your energy bill and divide it by the square footage of livable space in your home (e.g. don’t count areas like unfinished garages or basements) you can calculate how much you are spending to heat or cool each square foot of your home. Your energy provider can tell you what the average cost per square foot is in your region for that same period of time so you can compare apples to apples.
Q. How do I know if I need a new heating and cooling system?
A. Get a full home energy audit of your home. Many power and utility companies will offer these for free, so start with your local energy provider to see what resources are available. Many homeowners assume that a new HVAC system will solve their problems, and sometimes that is the case, but frequently there are underlying issues that need to be addressed simultaneously to achieve the kinds of efficiencies possible with a new unit. This could include things like insulation, windows, storm doors and many other items that could be affecting the comfort levels in your home.
Q. Would installing a programmable thermostat really save me money?
A. It’s a fact that a programmable thermostat will save you money. Programmable thermostats adjust the temperature automatically throughout the day, saving you as much as 33% on heating costs and up to 15 to 25% on cooling.
Keep in mind that where you place your programmable thermostat is also critical for it to work efficiently. If your thermostat is placed in an area that is subject to direct sunlight, heat from a bathroom or kitchen, a drafty area, etc. it can cause you to over or under use your HVAC system. Try to place your thermostat in a central location where the temperature is relatively consistent with the rest of the home.
Q. Do I need to have my ductwork replaced?
A. Ducts that are not properly sealed or insulated are not getting the hot or cool air where you want it efficiently and are costing you money. In addition, industry experts estimate that as many as 70% of all homes with central air have poorly installed ductwork. Before you invest in a new system, make sure an HVAC expert checks your ducts and includes their recommendations in their proposal to you. This can normally be done for free as part of your in-home estimate.
Don’t spend the money on a new super-efficient system, unless you are sure those efficiency gains aren’t lost by having poor ductwork!
Q. My HVAC system doesn’t cool well when it’s really hot out. What’s wrong with it?
A. Most manufacturers design their air conditioning systems to keep the home up to 20 degrees cooler than it is outside. That means if it is 100 degrees outside, you shouldn’t expect your home to cool below 80 degrees inside, no matter what you’ve got your thermostat set on. Don’t assume your unit needs to be replaced if you are in an extreme heat situation. If you live in an area where extreme heat is common, you should talk to a local HVAC installer to get their professional opinion on options to keep your home cool.
Q. My HVAC system is only about 10 years old, but it doesn’t seem to be very efficient. Does it need to be replaced already?
A. Even if your system is still working, depending on the type of system in your home today, you could recoup your investment in a new system in as little as 3 years with significantly lower utility bills. That doesn’t mean that your system absolutely has to be replaced!
Heating and cooling systems have made tremendous gains in efficiency over the last 5 years, so if you have an older system, it is worth taking a look at whether it would make sense to go ahead and upgrade now.
Take the steps that I talk about above and weigh your options. If it turns out that buying a new, energy-efficient system is your best option, you can take advantage of the 2010 Federal Tax Credit to help you save even more money.
Q. Would I be eligible for the 2010 Federal Tax Credit? Where can I get more information?
A. You can receive up to a $1500 federal tax credit if you buy and have installed a qualifying system by the end of 2010. That’s free money that may not be around next year. In addition there may be state tax credits, but availability varies state-by-state, so definitely check out the availability of the additional tax credit for your area.