Air Conditioning & Heating Educational Content
Gas furnaces. Gas furnace efficiency is measured as AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency). The AFUE number is the percentage of fuel burned and converted into heat by the furnace. As AFUE increases, the cost to heat a home goes down. The current minimum AFUE rating for gas furnaces is 80. This rating means that the furnace turns 80 percent of the fuel it uses into heat. An AFUE of 80 is good, but there are more efficient options on the market.
Heat pumps and air conditioners. The SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) rating is the primary efficiency rating of electric HVAC equipment. This means that both heat pumps and air conditioners have a SEER rating. A higher SEER rating equals higher efficiency and lower power bills. The current standards are a minimum of 14 SEER in southern regions and 13 SEER in northern regions. As a comparison, a 15-year-old air conditioning unit would likely have a SEER rating of around 6. Replacing a 15-year-old unit with a new unit would cut cooling costs by more than half.
Insulation. Insulation helps maintain consistent temperatures in your house. It also lessens the burden on your HVAC system to maintain those temperatures. Adding insulation to an inadequately insulated home can substantially reduce energy bills. The most common places to add insulation are attics and crawl spaces. Some HVAC contractors can do an energy audit of your home to pinpoint the areas that most need insulation.
Programmable thermostats. Programmable thermostats store unique settings for different times of the day. When no one is home, the thermostat can let the house get cooler than normal (or warmer, depending on the season). The thermostat can then raise (or lower) the temperature before everyone comes back home. Programmable thermostats that are also Wi-Fi connected are easy to find and offer lots of features. You can adjust a Wi-Fi thermostat via smartphone app.
Duct sealing. HVAC ductwork can leak 30 to 35 percent of the system capacity into attics and crawl spaces. That’s cooled or heated air you’re paying for but not using. Sealing the ducts in your house can lower energy costs and boost air circulation through the rooms.
Hydronic heating. Hydronic units are also called boilers. They heat your home by circulating hot water through tubing in the walls and floors. Boilers produce steady, even heat. The cost of installation is greater than a conventional HVAC system. But if you want to shrink your carbon footprint and save money in the long run, a boiler is a great option. High-efficiency boilers can reduce fuel consumption by up to 40 percent and cut heating costs by as much as 30 percent on average.
Sizing a system. Correctly sizing an HVAC system is extremely important. If the system is too small, it won’t do a good job controlling the temperature of the house on really hot or cold days. On the other hand, if the system is too large, it will cycle on and off frequently. This can result in excess noise, lower efficiency, and humidity issues. Your contractor should use the Manual J formula to make sure your HVAC system is the right size for your house.
Permits. Most cities require building permits for HVAC system installation or replacement. A building permit means that an inspector will review the completed job to ensure it is up to code.
RESOLVING COMMON ISSUES
Before calling in a contractor, make sure the problem with your HVAC system is not one that you can fix yourself. The following are simple problems with relatively quick fixes:
Entire system does not run. A lack of electric power is a common reason that an air conditioning or heating unit will not run. Before calling the experts, reset all circuit breakers or check all fuses in the main electrical panel to ensure the unit has power. If the problem continues, get a professional involved.
Water leaks. One of the primary functions of air conditioning systems is to remove moisture from the home. That water pulled from the air drains out of your house via the condensate drain. Depending on the location of your system, water may leak onto your floor or ceiling if the condensate drain line clogs. Attic systems typically have two drain lines. The primary line drains into your plumbing system. A secondary line should run to the eave of the house and drain outdoors. If water is running out of the secondary line, it usually means the primary drain is clogged. Unclogging the line may fix the problem. See the owner’s manual for specific instructions.
Unit freezes up. Insufficient airflow or not enough refrigerant can cause units to freeze and stop working. If air is not coming out of the vents, check to see if the fan is working. If the fan is running, check the inside unit for signs of ice around the coils. This problem is often caused by a dirty filter or low refrigerant.
When the filter is dirty, air cannot pass over the coils, and condensation freezes. To fix this, try replacing the filter. If this does not work, there may be a refrigerant leak. Before calling an expert, turn the unit off, and give the ice time to melt. Until the ice has melted, the technician will not be able to diagnose and fix the problem.
Minor HVAC system problems can lead to expensive repairs. Because these small issues often go unnoticed, it’s important to stick to a routine maintenance schedule. In fact, an estimated half of all emergency service calls could be avoided with routine service. Many companies sell annual contracts that include two routine maintenance visits. Routine safety checks on gas HVAC systems are especially important. Each year, many people in the US die from carbon monoxide poisoning. Regular service can also reduce your need for a contractor during peak seasons.
FINDING A CONTRACTOR
A cheap price on HVAC services or equipment might not actually save you money. Low-quality equipment or shoddy work can lead to costly issues and raise your utility costs. Investing in quality equipment and service now will pay dividends down the road.