Space Heating and Cooling
Heating and cooling account for about 56% of the energy use in a typical U.S. home, making it the largest energy expense for most homes. A wide variety of technologies are available for heating and cooling your home, and they achieve a wide range of efficiencies in converting their energy sources into useful heat or cool air for your home. In addition, many heating and cooling systems have certain supporting equipment in common, such as thermostats and ducts, which provide opportunities for saving energy.
When looking for ways to save energy in your home, be sure to think about not only improving your existing heating and cooling system, but also consider the energy efficiency of the supporting equipment and the possibility of either adding supplementary sources of heating or cooling or simply replacing your system altogether.
Sizing Heating and Cooling Systems
Older space conditioning systems (more than 10 years old) are often unreliable and much less efficient than a modern system. When it’s time for a new replacement, choosing one of the correct size (heating and/or cooling output) is critical to getting the best efficiency, comfort, and lowest maintenance and operating costs over the life of the new system. Some national surveys have determined that well over half of all HVAC contractors do not size heating and cooling systems correctly.
The most common sizing mistake is in oversizing. This not only makes the new system more expensive to install, but also forces it to operate inefficiently, break down more often, and cost more to operate. Oversized heating equipment also often creates uncomfortable and large temperature swings in the house. Oversized air conditioners (and heat pumps) do not run long enough to dehumidify the air, which results in the “clammy” feeling and unhealthy mold growth in many air-conditioned houses
Incorrect Sizing Methods
It is the installer/contractor’s job to perform the correct sizing calculation for the building. However, many installers only check the “nameplate” (the label on the unit that has the Btu per hour output among other things) of the existing system and sell you one just like it, or even worse, one that’s larger. This is a not a correct sizing method and not in your best interests! Other methods include simple “rules of thumb” based on the size of your home or using a chart that accounts for a variety of factors. While these methods might provide a first estimate, they should not be used to size your system.
Why Most Older Systems are Oversized
Before the era of tightly constructed homes, it was not uncommon to install furnaces and air conditioners that had two to four times the necessary capacity. Since many people have added new windows, caulking, weather-stripping, and insulation to their homes, going by the nameplate is likely to result in an oversized system. Making improvements such as these to reduce heat loss in the winter and heat gain in the summer should allow you to install a smaller systems while still being comfortable, as well as saving large amounts of energy.