Anyone who is looking to buy a new HVAC unit should be familiar with SEER standards. SEER, which stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating, is a measurement of your unit's electrical efficiency. In short, it is an indication of how much electricity you will have to buy in order to power your system.
In 2006, the U.S. Department of Energy raised the minimum SEER requirement from 10 to 13, establishing a new standard in energy efficiency nationwide. This has both positive and negative effects on you, the buyer. The upside is that your new unit will be 30% more efficient than the old 10-SEER models, saving you up to $300 per year in electricity; the downside is that cheaper 10-SEER units are no longer on the marketplace.
If you own a 10-SEER unit, you may find it cost-efficient in the short term to keep it running with regular maintenance and repair. However, it will eventually reach the end of its lifespan and you will need to convert up to a 13-SEER.
Heating and cooling your home uses more energy and drains more energy dollars than any other system in your home. Typically, 44% of your utility bill goes for heating and cooling. No matter what kind of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system you have in your house, you can save money and increase comfort by properly maintaining and upgrading your equipment. Remember, though, an energy efficient furnace or air-conditioner alone will not have as great an impact on your energy bills as using the whole house approach. By combining proper equipment maintenance and upgrades with appropriate insulation, weatherization and thermostat setting, you can cut your energy bills in half.
If you use electricity to heat your home, consider installing an energy efficient heat pump system. Heat pumps are the most efficient for of electric heating in moderate climates, providing three times more heating than the equivalent amount of energy they consume in electricity. There are three types of heat pumps: air-to-air, water source and ground source. They collect heat from the air, water or ground outside your home and concentrate it for use inside. Heat pumps do double duty as a central air conditioner. They can also cool your home by collecting the heat inside your house and effectively pumping it outside. A heat pump can trim the amount of electricity you use for heating as much as 30% to 40%.
Heat Pump Tips
Do not set back the heat pump's thermostat manually if it causes the electric resistance heating to come on. This type of heating, which is often used as a backup to the heat pump, is more expensive.
Clean or change filters once a month or as needed and maintain the system according to manufacturer's instructions
Gas furnaces are rated for efficiency with an Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency number, or an AFUE. An AFUE of 0.78 means that 78 percent of the fuel used by the furnace actually reaches your home's duct work as heat.
The higher the AFUE, the more efficient the furnace. AFUE numbers in today's furnaces range from 0.78 to around 0.90. If you are thinking about purchasing a new central furnace, please check out our Appliance Database that lists the most energy-efficient models.
Gas Furnace Tips
Don't block registers, vents or heating units with furniture or drapes. That makes your furnace work harder and uses more energy.
Consider installing a programmable thermostat. You can save as much as 10% a year on your heating and cooling bills by simply turning your thermostat back 10% to 15% for 8 hours with an automatic setback or programmable thermostat.
Using a programmable thermostat you can adjust the times you turn on the heating or air-conditioning according to a pre-set schedule. As a result, you don't operate the equipment as much when you are asleep or when the house or part of the house is not occupied. Programmable thermostats can store and repeat multiple daily setting (six or more temperature setting a day) that you can manually override without affecting the rest of the daily or weekly program. When purchasing a new thermostat, look for the ENERGY STAR label (www.energystar.gov) and one that allows you to easily use two separate programs; an "advanced recovery" feature that can be programmed to reach the desired temperature at a specific time; and a hold feature that temporarily overrides the setting without deleting.
It might surprise you to know that buying a bigger room air-conditioning unit won't necessarily make you feel more comfortable during the hot summer months. In fact, a room air conditioner that's too big for the area it is supposed to cool will perform less efficiently and less effectively than a smaller, properly sized unit. This is because room units work better if they run for relatively long periods of time than if they are continually, switching off and on. Longer run times allow air conditioners to maintain a more constant room temperature. Running longer also allows them to remove a larger amount of moisture from the air, which lowers humidity and, more importantly, makes you feel more comfortable.
Sizing is equally important for central air-conditioning systems, which need to be sized by professionals. If you have a central air system in your home, set the fan to shut off at the same time as the cooling unit (compressor). In other words, don't use the system's central fan to provide circulation but instead use circulating fans in individual rooms.
SEER is the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating. SEER rates the efficiency during the cooling season. Look for a SEER rating of 13 or above.
Whole house fans help cool your home by pulling cool air through the house and exhausting warm air through the attic. They are effective when operated at night and when the outside air temperature is cooler than the inside.
Set your thermostat as high as comfortably possible in the summer. The less difference between the indoor and outdoor temperatures, the lower your overall cooling bill will be.
Don't set your thermostat at a colder temperature setting than normal when you turn on your air conditioner. It will not cool your home any faster and could result in unnecessary expense.
Set the fan speed on high except in very humid weather. When it's humid set the fan speed on low. You'll get better cooling.
Consider ceiling fans to spread the cooled air more effectively through your home without greatly increasing your power use.
Don't place lamps or TV sets near your air conditioning thermostat.
Plant trees or shrubs to shade air-conditioning units but not to block the airflow. A unit operating in the shade uses as much as 10% less electricity than the same one operating in the sun.
Expanded Geothermal Tax Credits
Homeowners who install geothermal heat pump systems may be able to claim up to 30% of the installed costs in tax credits in the year the system is placed into service. the $2,000 tax credit limit has been removed. The geothermal tax credit has a longer term, form January 1, 2009 and expires December 31, 2016.
Lifetime Limit Removed
Homeowners that previously claimed tax credits in 2006 or 2007 are eligible for the full $1,500 limit.
Can a homeowner use the entire $1500 limit as a credit toward the installation of one appliance?
A homeowner may use the entire $1500 in tax credits for installing a single appliance, such as a qualified furnace, air conditioner, heat pump or hot water heater. If the home owner does not use all of the $1500 they can "bank" the remaining available tax credit for other qualified improvements.
What's the difference between a tax credit and a tax deduction?
As a tax credit applies against the taxpayers' liability. A tax deduction applies against a taxpayer's income. lowering the adjusted gross income and possibly moving the taxpayer to a lower tax bracket. Tax credits have a greater benefit to a taxpayer.
How does a Geothermal system work?
Throughout the year, outdoor temperatures fluctuate with the changing seasons. However, underground temperatures do not. In fact, about four to six feet below the earth's surface, temperatures remain relatively constant year-round. A Geothermal system, which consists of an indoor unit and a buried earth loop, capitalizes on these constant temperatures.
In the winter, fluid circulating through the system's earth loop absorbs stored heat and carries it indoors. The indoor unit compresses the heat to a higher temperature and distributes it throughout the building. In the summer, the system reverses, pulling heat from the building, carrying through the earth loop and depositing it in the cooler earth.
What makes a Geothermal system different from a conventional
A Geothermal system utilizes the energy from the sun, which is stored in the earth, to heat and cool homes and buildings. Typically, electric power is used only to operate the unit's fan, compressor and pump. So, unlike conventional systems, Geothermal systems do not burn fossil fuel to generate heat--they simply transfer heat to and from the earth
How efficient is a Geothermal system?
A Geothermal system is more than three times as efficient as the most efficient conventional system. Because Geothermal systems do not burn combustible fuel to make heat, they provide three to four units of energy for every one unit used to power the system.
What does Geothermal mean to the environment?
Because Geothermal systems work with nature, not against it, they minimize the threats of acid rain, air pollution and the greenhouse effect. An environmentally friendly fluid is used in the closed, continuous loop.
Do Geothermal systems require much maintenance?
In fact, Geothermal systems are practically maintenance free. When installed properly, the buried loop will last for generations. And the other half of the operation--the unit's fan, compressor and pump--is housed indoors, protected from the harsh weather conditions. Usually, periodic checks and filter changes are the only required maintenance.