As much as half of the energy used in your home goes to heating and cooling. So making smart decisions about your home's heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) system can have a big effect on your utility bills — and your comfort. Take these steps to increase the efficiency of your heating and cooling system.
Change your air filter regularly
Check your filter every month, especially during heavy use months (winter and summer). If the filter looks dirty after a month, change it. At a minimum, change the filter every 3 months. A dirty filter will slow down air flow and make the system work harder to keep you warm or cool — wasting energy. A clean filter will also prevent dust and dirt from building up in the system — leading to expensive maintenance and/or early system failure.
Tune up your HVAC equipment yearly
Just as a tune-up for your car can improve your gas mileage, a yearly tune-up of your heating and cooling system can improve efficiency and comfort.
Install a programmable thermostat
A programmable thermostat is ideal for people who are away from home during set periods of time throughout the week. Through proper use of pre-programmed settings, a programmable thermostat can save you about $180 every year in energy costs.
Seal your heating and cooling ducts
Ducts that move air to-and-from a forced air furnace, central air conditioner, or heat pump are often big energy wasters. Sealing and insulating ducts can improve the efficiency of your heating and cooling system by as much as 20 percent — and sometimes much more.
Focus first on sealing ducts that run through the attic, crawlspace, unheated basement, or garage. Use duct sealant (mastic) or metal-backed (foil) tape to seal the seams and connections of ducts. After sealing the ducts in those spaces, wrap them in insulation to keep them from getting hot in the summer or cold in the winter. Next, look to seal any other ducts that you can access in the heated or cooled part of the house.
Consider installing ENERGY STAR qualified heating and cooling equipment
If your HVAC equipment is more than 10 years old or not keeping your house comfortable, have it evaluated by a professional HVAC contractor. If it is not performing efficiently or needs upgrading, consider replacing it with a unit that has earned the ENERGY STAR. Depending on where you live, replacing your old heating and cooling equipment with ENERGY STAR qualified equipment can cut your annual energy bill by nearly $200. But before you invest in a new HVAC system, make sure that you have addressed the big air leaks in your house and the duct system. Sometimes, these are the real sources of problems rather than your HVAC equipment.
Ask about Proper Installation of your new equipment
Replacing your old heating and cooling equipment with new, energy-efficient models is a great start. But to make sure that you get the best performance, the new equipment must be properly installed. In fact, improper installation can reduce system efficiency by up to 30 percent — costing you more on your utility bills and possibly shortening the equipment's life.
Make sure to ask your contractor if their work meets guidelines set by ENERGY STAR and the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA). These guidelines include:
Proper Sizing of Equipment
Installing the right size equipment for the home is essential to getting the best performance and comfort. Many homeowners believe that bigger is better when buying new heating and cooling equipment. But in reality, a system that's too large will not keep your home comfortable because of frequent 'on/off' cycling. Incorrect sizing can also put stress on system components and shorten the equipment's life. To ensure proper sizing your contractor should provide a copy of the home's heat gain/loss calculations for your records.
To ensure that ducts are properly sealed your contractor should test the leakage rate. If the ducts are very leaky (i.e. more than 20% of the air moving through the system is leaking into spaces you do not want heated or cooled) your contractor should use duct sealant (mastic), a metal-backed (foil) tape or an aerosol sealant to seal the seams and connections of ducts. After the ducts are sealed ask your contractor to wrap them in insulation.
Proper Refrigerant Charge (Central Air Conditioners and Heat Pumps Only)
A properly charged system will operate more efficiently and help prolong the life of the heating and cooling system. To ensure the system has the correct amount of refrigerant a contractor must test and confirm that the system is properly charged. If the system is not properly charged the contractor should make the appropriate adjustment by adding or removing refrigerant.
Optimizing Air Flow
If air flow in your heating and cooling system is too high or too low, you may confront problems and higher utility bills. A contractor should test air flow and make any needed adjustments for optimal performance.