energy costs

How to Interpret Energy Efficiency Ratings

AFUEKeeping your home at a comfortable temperature can be expensive. For the average homeowner, heating and cooling costs can total well more than half their monthly utility bills. Finding a system that keeps you and your family comfortable, yet operates efficiently is important for keeping expensive utility bills manageable.

If you are considering upgrading your current heating and cooling system, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by all the acronyms and numbers. These jumble of letters and numbers represent a system’s energy efficiency ratings.

A little understanding goes a long way in helping you make the most informed decision possible. Purchasing a new HVAC system, air conditioner, or furnace is a huge investment, and it will have a huge impact on your family’s day-to-day comfort.

Understanding the Different Energy Efficiency Ratings

Shopping for a new air conditioner or heat pump can be confusing. Every brand claims to be better than the competition. It is important to understand the different ratings so you can effectively compare your options and choose the best system to meet your needs.

SEER – Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio

SEER, or Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ration, is the measure of energy efficiency of cooling equipment. This figure is determined by dividing the cooling output of the system (measured in BTU or British Thermal Units) by the system’s electricity usage (measured in kilowatt-hours). Basically. SEER specifies how much electricity is needed to run the air conditioner compared to the cooling capacity.

A higher SEER rating means better energy efficiency. When comparing systems, even a small increase in SEER can greatly reduce your energy consumption, saving a significant amount on your annual utility bills.

The US Department of Energy sets SEER requirements. For northern states with cooler climates, air conditioners must have a  minimum SEER of 13. If you live in a state that has a typically hot summer, you will need a system with a SEER of at least 14.

EER – Energy Efficiency Ratio

Similar to SEER, EER (Energy Efficiency Ratio) is measured over higher temperatures and over an extended period. Usually, both SEER and EER ratings will be displayed on a cooling system. These numbers will help you understand exactly what to expect when it comes to performance and energy consumption.

HSPF – Heating Seasonal Performance Factor

Like SEER measures cooling efficiency, HSPF (Heating Seasonal Performance Factor) measures heating efficiency. This number is calculated in a similar manner to SEER, by dividing the total heating needed by the total electricity used by the system. A higher HSPF indicates better heating efficiency.

AFUE – Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency

AFUE stands for Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency. This number indicates the percentage of heat created for every energy dollar consumed. When fuel is converted to heat, a percentage of energy is always lost in the conversion. This number basically measures the efficiency fuel is transformed into heat.

For example, an AFUE of 80 means 80 percent of the fuel consumed is emitted as heat into the home. The remaining 20 percent to heat the home, while 20% is misplaced through venting or consumed in some other way. A higher AFUE signifies greater energy efficiency.

Energy Star

Created by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Energy Star is the government-supported symbol for energy efficiency. Products with the Energy Star label have met strict standards of energy efficiency. These products have been tested in a controlled laboratory environment by a neutral third party.

If you have questions about the energy efficiency ratings of your current heating and cooling system, contact your local HVAC professionals for help. If you are considering upgrading your current system, they can also help you determine which products are best suited for your home and your family’s specific needs.

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The Benefits of Proper Attic Ventilation

attic fanIf you’ve spent any time in an unfinished attic during the summer, you know just how hot that space can get. Because attics rarely have air conditioning vents, temperatures rise quickly, especially with the hot summer sun beating down directly on the roof right overhead. It isn’t uncommon for attic temperatures to reach 150 degrees or more in the middle of summer.

What are the Benefits of Good Attic Ventilation?

The benefits of proper attic ventilation extend beyond cooler attic temperatures. Here are just a few of the surprising advantages to having good ventilation.

Cooling Efficiency and Lower Utility Bills

Properly balanced attic ventilation will help your HVAC system run more efficiently all year long.

In the hot summer months, attic ventilation helps your home to breathe. Without proper air circulation, the air inside your attic rises like an oven, causing your air conditioner to work harder to remove the hot air that accumulates there.

Circulating air will lower attic temperatures by cooling your roof deck (the underside or base of your roof). This simple act will allow your air conditioner to cool the inside of your home more quickly and efficiently.

During the cold winter months, a balanced ventilation system in the attic will keep humidity levels in check. By minimizing condensation in the attic spaces, you also reduce the risk of developing potentially dangerous mold and mildew.

Condensation in the attic will also dampen your insulation and cause it to compress. This reduces the efficiency of the insulation and can cause your heating system to work harder to heat the inside of your home and raising your utility costs.

Preserving Structural Integrity

As proper attic air flow reduces the accumulation of condensation and maintains proper humidity levels, it helps prevent wood rot and moisture damage.

How to Achieve Proper Attic Ventilation

Unless you plan to turn your home’s attic into a usable living space, it isn’t cost effective to install HVAC vents. If your attic is only used for storage, installing an attic fan is the more practical solution.

Attic fans work continuously to circulate air, replacing stagnant air with fresh air from outside. This help keep your attic space from turning into an oven.

There are two types of attic fans you can have installed to ensure proper attic ventilation.

Rooftop Attic Fans

Rooftop fans are installed right on top of your home’s roof. Solar powered rooftop fans are a popular choice. The sun is already there, beating down on your roof. Harnessing that power to help ventilate your attic space just makes sense. And since these fans run on solar power, they won’t add to your energy bills.

Gable Fans

Gable fans are also designed to circulate air. Unlike rooftop fans, this ventilation system is composed of two separate fans. They are mounted on the gables of your home, each on opposite sides. One fan works to blow out stagnant attic air, while the other blows in fresh air from outside.

Make Sure to Seal It

In order for an attic fan to work properly, it is important have a tight seal between your attic space and living space. If this tight seal doesn’t exist, your attic fan could actually have a detrimental effect on energy efficiency. The circulation created by your newly installed attic fans could suck the cooler air from your living space through small cracks and gaps in your ceiling.

Have your home properly inspected before your attic fans are installed. If there are any significant cracks in the barrier between these spaces, have them properly sealed. This will prevent the air conditioned air in your home’s upper level from escaping through your attic.

 

If you have any questions about attic ventilation or how to make your home more energy efficient, contact your local HVAC professionals.

 

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How Repainting Your Home Can Affect Energy Costs

One of the perks of being a homeowner is getting to picking out paint colors However, it may be more complicated than simply selecting colors that catch your eye, especially if your eye is drawn to dark, deep colors.

It may be thrilling to think about letting your inner angsty teenager to paint your bedroom walls solid black, but there is a reason your mom never turned the teenage you lose with a paint roller. The colors you choose for your home’s interior and exterior can have a serious impact on your heating and cooling bills.

How Colors Affect Heating and Cooling

Some colors absorb radiant energy, while others reflect it. When the sun hits a dark surface, like a black bedroom wall or a deep brown home exterior, some of the sun’s energy is absorbed. The absorbed energy is transferred into the home through conduction. The result is ambient heat gain.

Black and other dark colors absorb 70 to 90 percent of the radiant energy. In contrast, light colored surfaces, including whites, beige, and pastels, reflect most of the heat away from the surface. This reduces the amount of heat transferred into your home.

Keeping it Cool with Dark Paint

If your goal is to reduce summer cooling costs, the decision is an easy one. Pick light paint colors for both your home’s interior and exterior surfaces. However, if you just don’t like light colors, there are ways you still enjoy the darker side of the color spectrum without increasing your energy bill.

If dark colors speak to you, consider using them on the walls of an interior room with few windows. In this case, the color choice may make no difference since the room will have limited sun exposure.

Also, choose your window treatments wisely. Heavy curtains or drapes that cover the entire window will do the best job of blocking radiant heat. If you choose dark colored window treatments to match the room’s walls, make sure the window-facing side is a lighter color. This will help reflect light away from the room and minimize heat absorption.

If your heart’s desire is a dark color on your home’s exterior, consider using the power of sade trees to keep energy costs in check. Well-placed deciduous trees like oak, elm, and maple will provide a leafy shaded canopy in the bright summer months. This will help reduce the amount of sunlight that hits your home’s exterior surface.

In the fall, these trees shed their leaves allowing your home to be exposed to more warm sunlight. This is a way to passively heat your home and could potentially save you on heating costs.

Consider the Accents

If you are concerned about dark paint colors increasing heat transfer, there are other options. You can still enjoy dark colors as a contrasting accent.

Dark colors make a bold statement as accents in rooms with lighter colored walls. Building elements like door and window frames can be striking when painted a dark color to contrast the lighter color of their surroundings.

An accent wall painted a single bold color also makes a bold design element. Choose a wall that doesn’t face any windows to reduce the amount of heat the dark wall absorbs.

Check Your Paint’s LRV

Before deciding on a new color for your home, be sure to check the paint’s Light Reflectance Value, or LRV. LRV is measured on a scale that ranges from zero to 100 percent. Measuring the percentage of light a paint color reflects, the higher the LRV the more light it reflects.

Darker colors have a low LRV and lighter colors, like white, have the highest. To save on cooling costs, be sure to choose a paint with a high LRV.

Most household paints have the color’s LRV printed on the swatch cards or pint cans. This makes it easy to know how much radiant heat will be absorbed or reflected with any specific color.

Check with the Professionals

Your local HVAC professionals aren’t likely to help you with painting or other home remodeling tasks. However, if you have large remodeling plans in mind, it is always a good idea to check with the experts to determine the impact your renovations may have on your HVAC system’s efficiency and effectiveness.

 

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Should You Turn Your Pilot Light Off This Summer?

pilot lightAs the weather warms up, it is time to put your gas fireplaces and furnaces to rest for the summer. Since it will be several months before you need to fire up the heat again, it is worth considering turning off your system’s pilot light.

Deciding to Turn it Off or Keep it On

Turning off the pilot lights on gas fireplaces and furnaces when not in regular use can save energy and money. First, your pilot light burns gas, costing you money and potentially eating up the surrounding area. If you switch your pilot light off, your air conditioner won’t have to work as hard to reverse the heating effect of the pilot light.

Your furnace only uses a small amount of gas to power the pilot light. Turning the pilot light off, only saves a few dollars each month. If you don’t mind spending a few cents a day, don’t mess with it. However, as utility costs continue to rise, you may decide every dollar saved is worth it.

Reasons to Leave Your Pilot Light On

Trying to decide whether it is worth turning your pilot light off for summer can be difficult. Here are a few basic questions to ask yourself.

  1. Does my gas company charge a minimum service fee? If the gas company has a minimum monthly charge, it may be better to keep your pilot light on. Keeping your pilot light running is unlikely to burn enough fuel for you to exceed the minimum charge. You probably won’t see any savings on your summer gas bills if you don’t meet the minimum charge.
  2. Do I know how to relight my pilot light? Cold weather often returns unexpectedly. If this happens, you will want to relight your pilot light immediately so you have access to heat. During cold weather, it may take a few days for a technician to make it to your house to professionally relight the pilot.
  3. Is my furnace located where insects could easily move in? If your furnace is located in a basement or other dark secluded spot, turning off your pilot light could seem like an invitation for them to set up house in your furnace. In this case, leaving the pilot light burning is probably in your best interest.
  4. Do I plan on scheduling regular fall maintenance? If you are committed to scheduling fall maintenance, so that a professional can check the state of your equipment, including your pilot light, you may consider switching it off.

Other Ways to Save on Utilities

If you decide turning of your pilot light isn’t worth the hassle, there are still other ways to save energy during the summer. Here are a few ideas to save money this summer.

  1. Turn your thermostat up a few degrees. Energy.gov reports that adjusting your thermostat by only a few degrees will allow you to see an energy usage reduction of 5 to 15 percent on your annual bill.
  2. Use blinds and curtains. By covering your windows, especially south-facing windows, to block out hot sunlight, you can lessen the amount of heat that enters your home.
  3. Install a smart thermostat. You can program a smart thermostat to automatically adjust the temperature to be cooler during the hours that you are home. Customize the settings to keep temperatures comfortable for sleeping or watching television with a higher setting for when you aren’t home. This will offer you significant savings over the course of the summer.
  4. Schedule spring maintenance with a qualified technician. Professional maintenance will ensure your entire unit is functioning properly and efficiently. Call your local technician to schedule an AC tune-up before the heat gets extreme.

Turning Off Your Pilot Light

If you decide you still want to switch off your pilot light for the summer, it is a fairly simple process.

  1. Determine whether your fireplace or furnace actually has a pilot light. Some systems don’t have a pilot light that constantly burns.
  2. Locate the flame. Before you switch off the pilot light, be sure to locate the flame. This will make relighting it much easier when the time comes.
  3. Turn off the light. Often, turning off the pilot light is as simple as turning a knob to “off.” For other systems, you may have to push a small lever out of the way in order to turn the knob. Whatever you do, don’t force the knob. This could result in costly repairs. If you have trouble switching it of, leave the light alone or call a qualified technician for assistance.

 

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Cutting Energy Costs With Shade Trees

shade treesWhile there are many upgrades you can make to your HVAC system to help make your system more efficient, one of the most cost effective additions has nothing to do with your system. Shade trees planted around the exterior of your home not only improve your home’s curb appeal, they can also help cut summer cooling costs.

Early spring is the best time to choose and plant shade trees so you can start reaping their natural cooling benefits.

Benefits of Shade Trees

Healthy shade trees have all kinds of benefits. Not only are trees beneficial to the planet, they are also beneficial to the average homeowner.

Shade trees are good for thirsty summer lawns. By slowing water evaporation, trees decrease the amount of water your lawn needs to stay looking plush and green in hot weather.

Healthy, mature shade trees can also increase your property value. A well-planted yard is not only pleasing to the eye, it can also raise the value of your property by as much as 15 percent.

One of the most overlooked value of shade trees is the amount of energy they help homeowners conserve. By planting three simple trees in strategic locations around your home, you can cut summer air conditioning needs by up to 50 percent. By reducing the amount of energy needed to cool your home, you help reduce carbon dioxide and other pollution emissions from power plants. And the reward for cutting energy costs is extra money in your pocket.

You can also plant trees around the air intake of your air conditioner. By shading the area around your air conditioner, your system will pull in cooler air. This way, your system doesn’t have to work as hard to maintain a comfortable indoor air temperature during the hottest months of the year, allowing you to save even more on your cooling bills.

The Best Shade Trees

Choosing the best shade trees for your yard starts with understanding your local climate. The type of trees that thrive in hot, humid areas will not flourish arid areas. Selecting species that are native to your area will help ensure you’ll be enjoying the benefits of your shade trees for years to come.

If your main goal of planting trees is to help raise the efficiency of your HVAC system, deciduous trees should be at the top of your list. Deciduous trees develop a broad, leafy canopy during the spring and summer. These leafy trees help shade your home and yard, helping keep temperatures cooler. In the fall, deciduous trees shed their leaves. Without leaves to cast shade, sunlight beams right through to add warmth to your home just when you need it most.

For more information regarding which types of trees are best suited for your area, check out the Arbor Day Foundation’s Guide to Choosing the Right Tree.

Deciding Where to Plant Your Shade Trees

Before you start digging holes for your new trees, make sure you are aware of the location of any underground wires or gas lines. It is always a good idea to consult your local utilities provider before you begin to dig. They can help you understand the safest places in your yard to dig.

You should also consider consulting a professional landscaper to help you determine the best location to plant your new shade trees. You want a location that will offer everything your new tree needs to survive and grow.

For example, you want to ensure your new trees get the proper amount of sunlight. Also, make sure you plant trees 10 to 20 feet from your home’s exterior. This distance will help protect your home’s foundation from creeping tree roots as your shade trees grow while allowing the limbs and leaves to protect your windows from the hot summer sun.

To help HVAC system get the most out of your new shade trees, follow these basic rules for tree placement.

  1. Plant shorter shade trees on the east and west sides of your home. This is where the sun will shine closest to the horizon, making shorter trees the best shading options.
  2. Plant taller shade trees along the southern side of your home. This will help provide ample midday cover and shade your windows and roof during the hottest part of the day.

 

Now is the time to start planning ways to trim summer cooling costs. Be sure to contact your local HVAC professionals for more energy-saving options.

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