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#AskEnergySaver: Home Cooling

To help you save money by saving energy, we launched #AskEnergySaver -- an online series that gives you access to some of the Energy Department’s home energy efficiency experts. During 2014, experts from the Department and our National Labs will be answering your energy-saving questions and sharing their advice on ways to improve your home’s comfort.

Summer’s sultry weather can take a toll on more than just your hair. For many households that rely on air conditioning to keep cool, summer’s heat and humidity can lead to higher energy bills. That’s why this month, we asked you to share your home cooling questions.

To answer them, we turned to Dr. Max Sherman, a senior scientist at the Energy Department’s Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. With more than 30 years of experience in building efficiency, Sherman’s research focuses on the connection between heating and cooling equipment, air leakage and indoor air quality.

What is the key to lowering cooling costs? Does a fan use more energy in certain circumstances?
-- from PurpleLivesOn via email

Max Sherman: A fan consumes very little energy compared to actual air conditioning. If running a fan provides the comfort you need, then it is going to be more economical.

If you need to use your cooling system, you can cut costs in several ways: 

  • Lower the cooling load: Reducing the amount of heat that gets in your house will keep your air conditioner from working as hard, and that means lower energy bills for you. A few ways to lower your home’s cooling load include shading your windows and roof, incorporating high-albedo (or white) surfaces, such as a cool roof, and increasing your home’s insulation. In humid climates, it is important to decrease excess air leakage. Also keep in mind that internal heat sources, such as your oven, can add to your cooling load.
  • Improve the efficiency of your equipment: At the simplest, improving the efficiency means keeping equipment in tune -- ensuring your system has proper airflow, is fully charged and has clean air filters. It also means reducing any duct leakage and insulating ducts if possible. For longer-term investments, consider replacing your air conditioner. New high efficiency cooling equipment uses substantially less energy to provide the same cooling services as old equipment.
  • Don’t cool more than you need: Why waste money cooling spaces you aren’t using? Instead, raise your thermostat when you are at work or shut off your air conditioner when on vacation. If you aren’t using some rooms, close the registers. You can also use ventilative cooling, such as whole-house cooling fans, economizers (a technology that pulls in outside air when it is cooler than the air in the house) and evaporative cooling, when conditions permit.

For more on air conditioners, explore ASHRAE’s top ten things about air conditioning.

What are other options for cooling your house without using air conditioning?
-- from Demola Livingthedreamplan Eff on Facebook

MS: There are a few techniques that are useful for staying cool without turning on your air conditioner:

  • When the outside conditions are cooler than inside, open your house up to mechanical ventilation -- such as whole-house fans -- or natural ventilation. This will remove the heat generated inside your house.
  • Keep your house cool by reducing the sources of heat. These can either be internal, such as the appliances in your kitchen, or external, such as sunlight.
  • Air motion of any kind makes the body feel cooler -- at least until the air gets above body temperature. A ceiling or portable fan can make you feel cooler by creating a wind chill.
  • If there are big day-night temperature differences, ventilate by opening windows at night to pre-cool the house and minimize temperature rise during the day.

We have a forced air system that is used for cooling and heating. Is it less costly to close the door of a room that is used very little? Or is it generally more beneficial to leave that door open so the air is circulated to the rest of the house?
-- from Darneson12 via email

MS: If there is a room in your house that you don’t use, you’ll save costs by isolating it from the rest of the house. To do so, you could shut the door and also shut the supply register to that room. But don’t do this to too many rooms at once because it could cause problems for your central system. If too many registers are blocked off, the pressure in the duct system will build up and reduce the airflow in the system. Not only can this result in new duct leakage and lower efficiency, it could also cause the system’s cooling coils to freeze up.

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Tips: Programmable Thermostats

You can save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling by simply turning your thermostat back 7°-10°F for 8 hours a day from its normal setting. (If you have a heat pump, don't do this without a programmable thermostat). You can do this automatically by using a programmable thermostat and scheduling the times you turn on the heating or air conditioning. As a result, the equipment doesn't operate as much when you are asleep or not at home.

Programmable thermostats can store multiple daily settings (six or more temperature settings a day) that you can manually override without affecting the rest of the daily or weekly program.

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Built to Last: York LX Series Packaged Units

At York, creating quality home comfort products is our central commitment to every customer. This focus led to creating a completely new packaged unit design that delivers outstanding performance and reliability. Our team of engineering and manufacturing experts used a unique quality process.

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Evaporative Coolers

In low-humidity areas, evaporating water into the air provides a natural and energy-efficient means of cooling. Evaporative coolers, also called swamp coolers, rely on this principle, cooling outdoor air by passing it over water-saturated pads, causing the water to evaporate into it. The 15°- to 40°F-cooler air is then directed into the home, and pushes warmer air out through windows.

When operating an evaporative cooler, windows are opened part way to allow warm indoor air to escape as it is replaced by cooled air. Unlike central air conditioning systems that recirculate the same air, evaporative coolers provide a steady stream of fresh air into the house.

Evaporative coolers cost about one-half as much to install as central air conditioners and use about one-quarter as much energy. However, they require more frequent maintenance than refrigerated air conditioners and they're suitable only for areas with low humidity.

Sizing and Selection

Evaporative coolers are rated by the cubic feet per minute (cfm) of air that they deliver to the house. Most models range from 3,000 to 25,000 cfm. Manufacturers recommend providing enough air-moving capacity for 20 to 40 air changes per hour, depending on climate.

Installation

Evaporative coolers are installed in one of two ways: the cooler blows air into a central location, or the cooler connects to ductwork, which distributes the air to different rooms. Central-location installations work well for compact houses that are open from room to room. Ducted systems are required for larger houses with hallways and multiple bedrooms.

Most people install down-flow evaporative coolers on the roofs of their houses. However, many experts prefer to install ground-mounted horizontal units, which feature easier maintenance and less risk of roof leaks.

Small horizontal-flow coolers are installed in windows to cool a room or section of a home. These portable evaporative coolers work well in moderate climates, but may not be able to cool a room adequately in hot climates. Room evaporative coolers are becoming more popular in areas of the western United States with milder summer weather. They can reduce the temperature in a single room by 5° to 15°F.

Small, portable evaporative coolers on wheels are now available as well. Although the units have the advantage of portability, their cooling ability is limited by the humidity within your home. Generally, these units will provide only a slight cooling effect.

Operation

An evaporative cooler should have at least two speeds and a vent-only option. During vent-only operation, the water pump does not operate and the outdoor air is not humidified. This lets you use the evaporative cooler as a whole-house fan during mild weather.

Control the cooler's air movement through the house by adjusting window openings. Open the windows or vents on the leeward side of the house to provide 1 to 2 square feet of opening for each 1,000 cfm of cooling capacity. Experiment to find the right windows to open and the correct amount to open them. If the windows are open too far, hot air will enter. If the windows are not open far enough, humidity will build up in the home.

You can regulate both temperature and humidity by opening windows in the areas you want to cool, and closing windows in unoccupied areas. Where open windows create a security issue, install up-ducts in the ceiling. Up-ducts open to exhaust warm air into the attic as cooler air comes in from the evaporative cooler. Evaporative coolers installed with up-ducts will need additional attic ventilation.

Optional filters remove most of the dust from incoming air -- an attractive option for homeowners concerned about allergies. Filters can also reduce the tendency of some coolers to pull water droplets from the pads into the blades of the fan. Most evaporative coolers do not have air filters as original equipment, but they can be fitted to the cooler during or after installation.

Evaporative Cooler Maintenance

Save yourself a lot of work and money by draining and cleaning your evaporative cooler regularly. Build-up of sediment and minerals should be regularly removed. Coolers need a major cleaning every season, and may need routine maintenance several times during the cooling season.

The more a cooler runs, the more maintenance it will need. In hot climates where the cooler operates much of the time, look at the pads, filters, reservoir, and pump at least once a month. Replace the pads at least twice during the cooling season, or as often as once a month during continuous operation.

Some paper and synthetic cooler pads can be cleaned with soap and water or a weak acid according to manufacturer's instructions. Filters should be cleaned when the pads are changed or cleaned. Be sure to disconnect the electricity to the unit before servicing it.

Two-Stage Evaporative Coolers

Two-stage evaporative coolers are newer and even more efficient. They use a pre-cooler, more effective pads, and more efficient motors, and don't add as much humidity to the home as single-stage evaporative coolers. Because of their added expense, they are most often used in areas where daytime temperatures frequently exceed 100°F.

Drawbacks of Evaporative Coolers

Evaporative coolers should not be used in humid climates because they add humidity to the air in your home. Also, they cool your house down to a higher temperature than an air conditioner would, and they require simple maintenance about once a month. If the cooler is installed on the roof, there is some roof deterioration caused by routine maintenance trips. A sunlit rooftop cooler will be about 1°F less effective than a shaded cooler. Rooftop maintenance also requires using a ladder, which may be an inconvenience.

By their nature, evaporative coolers also continually use water. In areas with limited water supplies, homeowners may be concerned about the water-use impact of adding an evaporative cooler.

What does this mean for me?

  • If you live in a warm, dry climate, you can save money on utility bills and stay comfortable during the cooling season by installing an evaporative cooler.
  • Evaporative coolers add humidity to indoor air, a benefit in dry, warm climates.
  • Unlike air conditioners that recirculate air, an evaporative cooler adds fresh air to your home.

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Room Air Conditioners

Room or window air conditioners cool rooms rather than the entire home or business. If they provide cooling only where they're needed, room air conditioners are less expensive to operate than central units, even though their efficiency is generally lower than that of central air conditioners. For ways to save on cooling costs with a room air conditioner, check out our Energy Saver 101 Infographic: Home Cooling.

Smaller room air conditioners (i.e., those drawing less than 7.5 amps of electricity) can be plugged into any 15- or 20-amp, 115-volt household circuit that is not shared with any other major appliances. Larger room air conditioners (i.e., those drawing more than 7.5 amps) need their own dedicated 115-volt circuit. The largest models require a dedicated 230-volt circuit.

Energy Efficiency of Room Air Conditioners

A room air conditioner's efficiency is measured by the energy efficiency ratio (EER). The EER is the ratio of the cooling capacity (in British thermal units [Btu] per hour) to the power input (in watts). The higher the EER rating, the more efficient the air conditioner. National appliance standards require room air conditioners to have an energy efficiency ratio (EER) ranging from 8.0–9.8 or greater, depending on the type and capacity, and ENERGY STAR® qualified room air conditioners have even higher EER ratings.

The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers reports that the average EER of room air conditioners rose 47% from 1972 to 1991. If you own a 1970s-vintage room air conditioner with an EER of 5 and you replace it with a new one with an EER of 10, you will cut your air conditioning energy costs in half.

When buying a new room air conditioner, look for units with an EER of 10.0 or above. Check the EnergyGuide label for the unit, and also look for room air conditioners with the ENERGY STAR label.

Sizing and Selecting a Room Air Conditioner

The required cooling capacity for a room air conditioner depends on the size of the room being cooled -- room air conditioners generally have cooling capacities that range from 5,500 Btu per hour to 14,000 Btu per hour. A common rating term for air conditioning size is the "ton," which is 12,000 Btu per hour.

Proper sizing is very important for efficient air conditioning. A bigger unit is not necessarily better because a unit that is too large will not cool an area uniformly. The oversized unit will also cool the room to its thermostat set point and shut down prior to properly dehumidifying the room, leaving the area feeling damp or "clammy." A small unit running for an extended period operates more efficiently and is more effective at dehumidifying than a large unit that cycles on and off too frequently.

Based on size alone, an air conditioner generally needs 20 Btu for each square foot of living space. Other important factors to consider when selecting an air conditioner are room height, local climate, shading, and window size.

Verify that your home's electrical system can meet the unit's power requirements. Room units operate on 115-volt or 230-volt circuits. The standard household receptacle is a connection for a 115-volt branch circuit. Large room units rated at 115 volts may require a dedicated circuit and room units rated at 230 volts may require a special circuit.

If you are mounting your air conditioner near the corner of a room, look for a unit that can direct its airflow in the desired direction for your room layout. If you need to mount the air conditioner at the narrow end of a long room, then look for a fan control known as "Power Thrust" or "Super Thrust" that sends the cooled air farther into the room.

Other features to look for include:

  • A filter that slides out easily for regular cleaning
  • Logically arranged controls
  • A digital readout for the thermostat setting
  • A built-in timer.

Installing and Operating Your Room Air Conditioner

A little planning before installing your air conditioner will save you energy and money. The unit should be level when installed, so that the inside drainage system and other mechanisms operate efficiently.

Don't place lamps or televisions near your air-conditioner's thermostat. The thermostat senses heat from these appliances, which can cause the air conditioner to run longer than necessary.

Set your air conditioner's thermostat as high as is 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 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 unnecessary expense.

Set the fan speed on high, except on very humid days. When humidity is high, set the fan speed on low for more comfort. The low speed on humid days will cool your home more effectively and remove more moisture from the air because of slower air movement through the cooling equipment.

Consider using an interior fan in conjunction with your window air conditioner to spread the cooled air through your home without greatly increasing electricity use.

Remember that efficient operation of any air conditioning system relies on a properly insulated and air sealed home. For more information, see Home Energy Audits and Detecting Air Leaks.

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Ductless Mini-Split Air Conditioners

Ductless, mini split-system air-conditioners (mini splits) have numerous potential applications in residential, commercial, and institutional buildings. The most common applications are in multifamily housing or as retrofit add-ons to houses with "non-ducted" heating systems, such as hydronic (hot water heat), radiant panels, and space heaters (wood, kerosene, propane). They can also be a good choice for room additions and small apartments, where extending or installing distribution ductwork (for a central air-conditioner or heating systems) is not feasible. Check out our Energy Saver 101 infographic on home cooling to learn how ductless, mini-split air conditioners stack up against other cooling systems.

Like central systems, mini splits have two main components: an outdoor compressor/condenser, and an indoor air-handling unit. A conduit, which houses the power cable, refrigerant tubing, suction tubing, and a condensate drain, links the outdoor and indoor units.

Advantages

The main advantages of mini splits are their small size and flexibility for zoning or heating and cooling individual rooms. Many models can have as many as four indoor air handling units (for four zones or rooms) connected to one outdoor unit. The number depends on how much heating or cooling is required for the building or each zone (which in turn is affected by how well the building is insulated). Each of the zones will have its own thermostat, so you only need to condition that space when it is occupied, saving energy and money.

Ductless mini split systems are also often easier to install than other types of space conditioning systems. For example, the hook-up between the outdoor and indoor units generally requires only a three-inch (~8 centimeter [cm]) hole through a wall for the conduit. Also, most manufacturers of this type of system can provide a variety of lengths of connecting conduits. So, if necessary, you can locate the outdoor unit as far away as 50 feet (~15 meters [m]) from the indoor evaporator. This makes it possible to cool rooms on the front side of a building house with the compressor in a more advantageous or inconspicuous place on the outside of the building.

Since mini splits have no ducts, they avoid the energy losses associated with ductwork of central forced air systems. Duct losses can account for more than 30% of energy consumption for space conditioning, especially if the ducts are in an unconditioned space such as an attic.

Compared with other add-on systems, mini splits offer more flexibility in interior design options. The indoor air handlers can be suspended from a ceiling, mounted flush into a drop ceiling, or hung on a wall. Floor-standing models are also available. Most indoor units have profiles of about seven inches (~18 cm) deep and usually come with sleek, high-tech-looking jackets. Many also offer a remote control to make it easier to turn the system on and off when it's positioned high on a wall or suspended from a ceiling. Split-systems can also help to keep your home safer, because there is only a small hole in the wall. Through-the-wall and window mounted room air-conditioners can provide an easy entrance for intruders.

Disadvantages

The primary disadvantage of mini splits is their cost. Such systems cost about $1,500 to $2,000 per ton (12,000 Btu per hour) of cooling capacity. This is about 30% more than central systems (not including ductwork) and may cost twice as much as window units of similar capacity.

The installer must also correctly size each indoor unit and judge the best location for its installation. Oversized or incorrectly located air-handlers often result in short-cycling, which wastes energy and does not provide proper temperature or humidity control. Too large a system is also more expensive to buy and operate.

Some people may not like the appearance of the indoor part of the system. While less obtrusive than a window room air conditioner, they seldom have the built-in look of a central system. There must also be a place to drain condensate water near the outdoor unit.

Qualified installers and service people for mini splits may not be easy to find. In addition, most conventional heating and cooling contractors have large investments in tools and training for sheet metal duct systems. They need to use (and charge for) these to earn a return on their investment, so they may not recommend ductless systems except where a ducted system would be difficult for them to install.

What does this mean for me?

  • A ductless mini-split air conditioner is easier to install than a central air conditioning system.
  • A ductless mini-split air conditioner provides zoned air conditioning without ducting.
  • A ductless mini-split air conditioner is relatively easy to install and does not provide an entry point for intruders as some room air conditioners do.

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Air Conditioning

Two-thirds of all homes in the United States have air conditioners. Air conditioners use about 5% of all the electricity produced in the United States, at an annual cost of more than $11 billion to homeowners. As a result, roughly 100 million tons of carbon dioxide are released into the air each year -- an average of about two tons for each home with an air conditioner. To learn more about air conditions, explore our Energy Saver 101 infographic on home cooling.

Air conditioners employ the same operating principles and basic components as your home refrigerator. Refrigerators use energy (usually electricity) to transfer heat from the cool interior of the refrigerator to the relatively warm surroundings of your home; likewise, an air conditioner uses energy to transfer heat from the interior of your home to the relatively warm outside environment.

An air conditioner cools your home with a cold indoor coil called the evaporator. The condenser, a hot outdoor coil, releases the collected heat outside. The evaporator and condenser coils are serpentine tubing surrounded by aluminum fins. This tubing is usually made of copper.

A pump, called the compressor, moves a heat transfer fluid (or refrigerant) between the evaporator and the condenser. The pump forces the refrigerant through the circuit of tubing and fins in the coils.

The liquid refrigerant evaporates in the indoor evaporator coil, pulling heat out of indoor air and cooling your home. The hot refrigerant gas is pumped outdoors into the condenser where it reverts back to a liquid, giving up its heat to the outside air flowing over the condenser's metal tubing and fins.

Throughout the second half of the 20th century, nearly all air conditioners used chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as their refrigerant, but because these chemicals are damaging to Earth's ozone layer, CFC production stopped in the United States in 1995. Nearly all air conditioning systems now employ halogenated chlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) as a refrigerant, but these are also being gradually phased out, with most production and importing stopped by 2020 and all production and importing stopped by 2030.

Production and importing of today's main refrigerant for home air conditioners, HCFC-22 (also called R-22), began to be phased out in 2010 and will stop entirely by 2020. However, HCFC-22 is expected to be available for many years as it is recovered from old systems that are taken out of service. As these refrigerants are phased out, ozone-safe hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are expected to dominate the market, as well as alternative refrigerants such as ammonia.

Switching to high-efficiency air conditioners and taking other actions to keep your home cool could reduce energy use for air conditioning by 20% to 50%.

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Common Air Conditioner Problems

One of the most common air conditioning problems is improper operation. If your air conditioner is on, be sure to close your home's windows and outside doors. For room air conditioners, isolate the room or a group of connected rooms as much as possible from the rest of your home. For a list of common air conditioner problems and what to look for, check out our Energy Saver 101 infographic on home cooling.

Other common problems with existing air conditioners result from faulty installation, poor service procedures, and inadequate maintenance. Improper installation of a central air conditioner can result in leaky ducts and low airflow. Many times, the refrigerant charge (the amount of refrigerant in the system) does not match the manufacturer's specifications. If proper refrigerant charging is not performed during installation, the performance and efficiency of the unit is impaired. Unqualified service technicians often fail to find refrigerant charging problems or even worsen existing problems by adding refrigerant to a system that is already full. Learn what to ask for when hiring a technician to maintain your air conditioner.

Air conditioner manufacturers generally make rugged, high quality products. If your air conditioner fails, begin by checking any fuses or circuit breakers. Let the unit cool down for about five minutes before resetting any breakers. If a central air conditioner's compressor stops on a hot day, the high-pressure limit switch may have tripped; reset it by pushing the button, located in the compressor's access panel.

Refrigerant Leaks

If your air conditioner is low on refrigerant, either it was undercharged at installation or it leaks. If it leaks, simply adding refrigerant is not a solution. A trained technician should fix any leak, test the repair, and then charge the system with the correct amount of refrigerant. Remember that the performance and efficiency of your air conditioner is greatest when the refrigerant charge exactly matches the manufacturer's specification, and is neither undercharged nor overcharged. Refrigerant leaks can also be harmful to the environment.

Inadequate Maintenance

If you allow filters and air conditioning coils to become dirty, the air conditioner will not work properly, and the compressor or fans are likely to fail prematurely.

Electric Control Failure

The compressor and fan controls can wear out, especially when the air conditioner turns on and off frequently, as is common when a system is oversized. Because corrosion of wire and terminals is also a problem in many systems, electrical connections and contacts should be checked during a professional service call.

Sensor Problems

Room air conditioners feature a thermostat sensor, located behind the control panel, which measures the temperature of air coming into the evaporative coil. If the sensor is knocked out of position, the air conditioner could cycle constantly or behave erratically. The sensor should be near the coil but not touching it; adjust its position by carefully bending the wire that holds it in place.

Drainage Problems

When it's humid outside, check the condensate drain to make sure it isn't clogged and is draining properly. Room air conditioners may not drain properly if not mounted level.

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Natural Ventilation

Natural ventilation relies on the wind and the "chimney effect" to keep a home cool. Natural ventilation works best in climates with cool nights and regular breezes.

The wind will naturally ventilate your home by entering or leaving windows, depending on their orientation to the wind. When wind blows against your home, air is forced into your windows on the side facing into the wind, while a natural vacuum effect tends to draw air out of windows on the leeward (downwind) side. In coastal climates, many seaside buildings are designed with large ocean-facing windows to take advantage of cooling sea breezes. For drier climates, natural ventilation involves avoiding heat buildup during the day and ventilating at night.

The chimney effect relies on convection and occurs when cool air enters a home on the first floor or basement, absorbs heat in the room, rises, and exits through upstairs windows. This creates a partial vacuum, which pulls more air in through lower-level windows. The effect works best in open-air designs with cathedral ceilings and windows located near the top of the house, in clerestories, or in operable skylights.

Passive solar homes are often designed to take advantage of convection to distribute heat evenly through the home. These homes encourage natural ventilation by placing operable windows and skylights on the top floor.

Natural ventilation can be enhanced or diminished through landscaping. Depending on the house design and wind direction, a windbreak like a fence, hedge, or row of trees that blocks the wind -- can force air either into or away from nearby windows.

What does this mean for me?

  • If you live in a part of the country with cool nights and breezes, you may be able to cool your house with natural ventilation.
  • If you’re building a new home, design it to take advantage of natural ventilation.

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Air Conditioning Troubleshooting Guide

Get basic answers to common operating questions to keep your York® system running at peak performance.

Keep your system up and running with these convenient tips that address common operational issues. If these simple steps do not solve your problem, please call your York® Dealer with your model number for service.

  • Is your thermostat set in the "cool" position (or “warm” for winter heat pump operation)? 
  • If so, is your outdoor air conditioning or heat pump unit running? 
  • Did the circuit breakers in the circuit breaker box (or electrical panel) trip to the “OFF” position? 
  • Is the outdoor "disconnect switch" on your outdoor unit in the "ON" position? (The disconnect switch is usually a small metal grey box mounted on a wall near the outdoor unit.) 
  • Is the blower motor in your furnace or air handler running when your thermostat is activated? (Make sure the furnace switch is in the "ON" position.) 
  • Have you changed your filter? (A blocked filter can cause your unit to shut down due to lack of proper airflow.)
  • Are the air registers (supply or return ducts) plugged?

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York® - Quality Built To Last

York's robust line of products is designed and manufactured to the highest standards. We ensure these standards through performance, reliability and efficiency testing, right here in our North American factories. When it comes to home comfort, we never compromise on quality.

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Home energy saving tips when on a budget

This winter have you procrastinated making changes to your home that could save you big bucks?

NBC 25'S Ilse Lujan-Hayes visited Mundy Township's Home Depot for some energy saving tips that could keep the cold out and keep more money in your wallet.

One of the first steps experts recommend is to do a simple home energy check up around your home.

You'd be surprised at how many problems can be corrected by first determining where your house is losing energy.

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Expert offers tips to keep homes more energy efficient

With extreme temperatures on the way, home heating companies are getting calls around the clock.

Experts say there are some things you can do on your own to make sure your home is working more efficiently.

Sometimes people have a tough time with air flow, keeping the entire home warm--especially when it gets downright cold--but experts have a few simple tips to help you out.

Bitterly cold temperatures are in the forecast, and while most of us want to hunker down and just keep warm, service techs at Bartholomew Heating and Cooling in Kalamazoo are working 24/7.

"We're also getting a lot of furnace calls for failing furnaces, furnaces that have been working really hard, pushed to the limit in the last month or so," said owner Brad Bartholomew.

He adds that there are a few things you can take care of on your own, to keep your home feeling comfortable.

For instance, your thermostat:

"If you set back 6 degrees, cut it down to 3 degrees maybe overnight or not at all," he said.

Bartholomew says while turning down the temperature overnight is a great energy saving move, most of the time it's not a good idea when battling extreme temperatures.

Another savings point, your registers:

"Just make sure that these registers are in the full open position, and then that way we're not taxing the system," Bartholomew said.

He says it's also important to pull couches and other furniture or items away from registers, to make sure your system is working at full capacity.

Don't forget about the furnace filters as well.

"When the systems are going to be working at their maximum capacity, we want to make sure that the air filters are as clean as possible," Bartholomew said.

Bartholomew says many homes have high-efficiency filters that you only need to change once per season, but adds that's probably not the case this winter, because furnaces are working even harder, and will get plugged up much sooner.

In addition, when it gets this cold, you'll want to turn down humidifiers.

Bartholomew says if you don't, you could get water on your windows.

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Energy Saver 101 Infographic: Home Heating

Space heating is likely the largest energy expense in your home, accounting for about 45 percent of the average American family’s energy bills. That means making smart decisions about your home’s heating system can have a big impact on your energy bills. Our Energy Saver 101 infographic lays out everything you need to know about home heating -- from how heating systems work and the different types on the market to what to look for when replacing your system and proper maintenance.

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Simple tips to keep home energy costs down and the cold out

As temperatures fall, our energy costs usually rise.

But as forecasters call for temperatures to take a steep dive over the next few days, there are tips homeowners can follow to keep costs down and the cold out.

"You walk into most homes and the thermostat is right by the front door," said Jay Karwoski, from Consumers Energy. "And if you have cold air leaks into your home. That (cold air) leaking under your door is causing your thermostat to think there are different temperature conditions in your home than there really is."

Karwoski is an energy efficient expert and uses a specialized device to pinpoint trouble spots in a home.

"When you have a comprehensive audit done, you know what's causing you issues in each room of your home," he said. "And the contractor will prioritize work based upon the issues you are experiencing in your home."

In a basement..Karwoski says the fix to make the area energy efficient is simple.

"Some really easy things to do on the furnace is changing your furnace filter," Karwoski said. "Everybody hears about that but it really makes a big difference. When your filter is clogged, air has a harder time flowing through it. Your furnace is working harder to deliver you heat and that ultimately costs you more money." 

And don't forget the hot water pipe wrap.

"It prevents all the heat escaping off the hot water line before it makes it's way up to your shower in morning," he said.

Covering your windows prevents heat from escaping.

"There are window film protectants," Karwoski said. "They are super easy to apply. There is a two-sided tape that goes around the edge of your window. You put the plastic on that, smooth out all the wrinkles with a hair dryer and you almost don't even notice they are there."

If you think a fireplace is going to save you money on your heat bill, think again.

"It might be nice and toasty in the room you are in that has the fire place," Karwoski said. "But the rest of your home, once you go into the other areas, you are going to feel that it is significantly colder and it also causes your furnace to work harder." 

Karwoski says becoming energy efficient can save you a lot of cash this winter 

"Our bill even in harsh winter months is typically no higher than $100.

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Renovating or adding an addition to your home in 2015? York ductless mini-splits are a perfect

York® Mini-Split Systems

York® mini-split systems fit more comfort into more places with our space-saving ductless design. They’re the perfect solution for homes without ductwork — and for room additions or remodels — as they eliminate the typical cost and hassle of installing ducts.

Affinity™ Series Mini-Split Systems

Affinity™ Series mini-split systems are all ENERGY STAR® qualifed models that offer at least 15% higher energy efficiency than standard models — and are available in heat pump or air conditioning only models. Learn more about Affinity™ mini-split systems.

LX Series Mini-Split Systems

LX Series mini-split systems are flexible — with heat pump, air conditioning only and multiple split models to fit your needs. Learn more about LX mini-split systems.

Factors to Consider in a Mini-Split System

Efficiency

To help you compare systems, Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) rates cooling efficiency and Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF) rates heating efficiency — with high numbers indicating high efficiency.
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Space Savings

To help save space, a mini-split system uses a smaller outdoor unit — and a compact wall-mounted indoor unit — to fit the needs of a variety of situations and areas.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the difference between a mini-split and a central home comfort system?

A: A central air system circulates air from your living space to an air handler that conditions the air to the desired temperature before returning it to the space. A mini-split circulates refrigerant to a small indoor coil with a fan that conditions only the room where it is located. Some mini-split systems are available that can condition up to five rooms with one outdoor, bringing some of the advantages of central air conditioning without bulky ductwork.

Q: Should I be concerned about mini-split Indoor Air Quality?

A: According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), your exposure to air pollutants can be up to 100 times higher indoors than outdoors. York mini-splits use advanced filtration technology, plus a dehumidification feature on select models, to maintain high indoor air quality.

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Getting the Seal and Insulate Job Done – Hiring a Contractor

In our last seal and insulate blog post, ENERGY STAR Product Manager Doug Anderson gave advice on how to identify problems that may be keeping your home from achieving energy efficient comfort during the hot days of summer. Now that those issues have been identified, today’s post shows you how to select a contractor to fix any problems.

Unless you enjoy working in hot, cramped attics, it’s best to just pour yourself a cool drink and call a contractor to properly seal air leaks and add insulation to your attic during the summer.  Insulation contractors have all the equipment and experience to do the job right and do it much quicker than you can. Let them do the hard work. Your job is to find a good contractor.

Shop Around – Selecting a Contractor

As with any home improvement project, you want to make sure you’re getting a good price and that the work will be done right:

–          Check with your electric utility or state energy office to see if they offer incentives for improvements or have pre-screened program contractors. (See www.dsireusa.org or www.energystar.gov/dime for lists of incentives)

–          Get several estimates from contractors (know the square footage of your attic).

–          Make sure the contractor is licensed and insured in your state.

–          Ask if the crew chief is certified to do insulation work.

–          Ask how the contractor will keep your house clean during the work.

–          Make sure the contractor understands you want attic holes and gaps sealed before any insulation is added. If they do not agree to “seal before insulating,” call another contractor.

Some locations in the U.S. have pre-screened, trained and certified contractors available through the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program.  These programs are run by local utilities or State Energy Offices and are a great place to start looking for contractors to help you with your project.  To find out if a program exists in your area, click here.

Make Sure the Job’s Done Right – What to Look For

When hiring a contractor, make sure that you clearly understand the work they’ll be doing. Don’t hesitate to ask questions before the contractor starts, and stay involved throughout the process. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

–          Contractors should seal air leaks in the attic floor before adding insulation. It’s much easier to seal first to ensure you get the full performance out of your insulation.

–          If you have air ducts in the attic, make sure contractors do not step on or damage them.

–          Burying any ducts on the floor in insulation is OK to do – it can even improve efficiency. Just make sure the ducts are well sealed first.

–          Unless your old insulation is wet, moldy, smelly, or contains animal waste, contractors can just add new insulation on top. It is usually not necessary to remove existing insulation.

–          Most contractors use blown-in, loose fill insulation for attic floors, which is quick and easy to install with the right equipment. Typical materials include fiberglass or cellulose – both contain some recycled content (glass or ground up paper) and are inexpensive and safe. If traditional insulation rolls are used for the attic floor instead, be sure that it is “unfaced” (no foil or paper backing needed) so moisture does not get trapped.

–          Any project estimate should also include installing insulation baffles (rafter vents). This ensures that as you add insulation, soffit vents (which allow outside air to enter the attic) are not blocked and your attic has proper air flow.

 

Installing a Baffle (or Rafter Vent)

–          If you have older recessed light fixtures (can lights) that stick up into the attic floor, the contractor should cover and seal them before installing insulation using specially designed covers that are available at most home improvement stores.

–          Contractors should also seal the chase (hole) in the attic around the plumbing vent pipe.

–          It’s also important to weather strip and insulate the attic hatch or door. There are several off-the-shelf products available for standard-sized openings.

–          EPA recommends having a professional contractor conduct combustion safety testing before and after any air sealing, as this may affect the drafting of any combustion (oil or gas) appliances in the house.

Finally, tell the contractor that you expect documentation at the end of the job to show how much insulation has been added and what the new insulation R-value is for your attic. When it’s done, take a picture and compare it to the pictures you took earlier to see the improvement. Then, you can sit back and enjoy the rest of your summer knowing your home is more comfortable and efficient.

If you would like more information, including details on doing this work yourself, ENERGY STAR has expertise you need.  Check out our website for details.

About the Author: Doug Anderson is an ENERGY STAR Project Manager and has been with EPA for 14 years. He works on issues related to the home envelope, including insulation products and energy efficient residential windows.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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