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Cooling and Heating Energy Tips

Introduction

Cooling and heating 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 cooling and heating. 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 air-conditioner or furnace 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.

Air Conditioners

It might surprise you to know that buying a bigger air-conditioning unit won't necessarily make you feel more comfortable during the hot summer months. In fact, an 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 air conditioners 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.

SEER is the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating. The SEER rates the efficiency during the cooling season. Effective January 2006, the new federally mandated minimum SEER rating is 13. This means that manufacturers can no longer produce any air conditioner with an SEER of less than 13. Although the old stock in warehouses may still be sold until it is gone, there will soon be nothing less than 13 SEER available. If you are thinking about purchasing a new central air conditioner, please check out the ARI Appliance Database that lists the most energy-efficient models.

The federal government has also allowed an income tax credit of up to $300 with the purchase of a central A/C system that is rated 15 SEER or more. See your tax advisor for details specific to your situation.

Cooling Tips

  • 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 excessive cooling and therefore unnecessary expense.
  • Set the fan speed of a window A/C 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.

Heat Pumps

If you use electricity to heat your home, consider installing an energy efficient heat pump system. Heat pumps are the most efficient form 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 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 when the thermostat is set back to normal. This type of heating, which is often used as a backup to the heat pump, is more expensive than heat pump heat.
  • Clean or change filters once a month or as needed and maintain the system according to manufacturer's instructions.

Heating Tips

  • Set your thermostat as low as it is comfortable.
  • Clean or replace filters on furnaces once a month.
  • Clean warm-air registers, baseboard heaters and radiators as needed; make sure they're not blocked by furniture, carpeting or drapes.
  • Use kitchen, bath and other ventilating fans wisely; in just one hour, these fans can pull out a houseful of warmed or cooled air. Turn fans off as soon as they have done their job.
  • Keep draperies and shades open on south-facing windows during the heating season to allow sunlight to enter your home; close them at night to reduce the chill you may feel from cold windows.
  • Close an unoccupied room that is isolated from the rest of the house such as in a corner and turn down the thermostat or turn off the heating for that room or zone. Do not, however, turn the heating off if it adversely affects the rest of your system.

Gas and Oil Systems

Gas furnaces are rated for efficiency with an Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency number, or an AFUE. According to Energy Efficiency Standards, the minimum AFUE for central furnace systems now sold in the U.S. is 0.78, which 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 0.94. If you are thinking about purchasing a new central furnace, please check out the ARI 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 settings (four or more temperature settings 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 preset programs.