HVAC Energy Waste & How to Stop It

How is your heating and cooling bill? Too high? That's what most folks think. Given how common HVAC energy waste is, they might be right. Way too many people have an HVAC system that operates ineffectively and costs them a lot of money. Are you unintentionally falling into one of these ten HVAC energy waste traps.

Top 10 HVAC Energy Waste Traps to Avoid

#10. Improperly Sized Systems

How big is your air conditioner? Your gas furnace? Either one too big or too small for your home? If so, then you're definitely paying way, way too much for heating and cooling in any season. This is a major source of HVAC energy waste.

Modern central heating and air systems are built to properly heat and cool the house they're designed to accommodate. It's probably obvious to most people than an HVAC system too small for a given property is obviously going to work to hard, and waste money. Investing in a larger air conditioner than needed does the same thing, and can actually create inferior air comfort at the same time.

So, what do you do?

If your current HVAC setup is improperly sized, you need to get a trained pro to conduct a Manual J heat load calculation on your house. They'll determine the right sized HVAC system for you based on directional facing, door and window quality, insulation level, seasonal highs and lows, and many other factors. The long and short of it is that a Manual J heat load calculation is the only way to know for sure if you've got the right sized AC or furnace for your house. Anything else is just guessing.

#9. Dirty, Dirty, Dirty

You vacuum your floors, dust the furniture, do the dishes, wash your clothes, and you probably even clean out your gutters. Are you cleaning your central heating and air system on a regular basis? If not, then HVAC energy waste is probably affecting your utility bill.

Anything that decreases operating efficiency means your system has to work harder to do its job, and a dirty system reduces energy efficiency. So, what do you need to keep clean on an HVAC system?

  • Changing your air filter on a regular basis is something most people know about, but they may not know how hard it is. Do it once a month or more!
  • Dirt and debris can easily build up on evaporator and condenser coils. Remove this with a soft brush, because the build up can reduce the efficiency of your refrigerant.
  • Keep grass, twigs, trash, and other debris out of the vents on any exterior condenser. Blocked airflow will lead to a higher bill.
  • Make sure there aren't any materials blocking your air vents. It's pretty hard for stuff to get inside the vents, but a blockade can cause serious issues.

Keeping a clean HVAC system is a good way to keep your heating and cooling costs as low as you can.

#8. Outdated & Inefficient Unit

How old is your furnace? When was your air conditioner installed? If you're using really, really outdated HVAC systems, then you're definitely using, and buying, more energy than you have to be. Older systems are a major offender when it comes to HVAC energy waste crimes against your wallet.

Modern heat pumps, air conditioners, and furnace units have to meet stricter energy efficiency requirements than previous generation technology. They also benefit from years of additional research and development, computer aided engineering, and technological advancement. In virtually every way, new units are far more energy efficient than previous generation installations.

How much more efficient?

That exact difference between your currently installed system and its modern equivalent varies. If you're still relying on a furnace installed in the 1950's, you're in desperate need of an upgrade. An air conditioner from the late 1980's or early '90's isn't much better. Of course, the real question is can you save enough over time to justify the new expense?

If you invest in a high efficiency system while taking advantage of local utility, state, and federal incentives, you can definitely make a new HVAC purchase more than worth your while.

#7. Insufficient Insulation & Drafty Doors

You might have a 98% AFUE gas furnace using the very best heat exchanger on the market and a state-of-the-art blower motor, but if your house is improperly sealed and insulated you will waste money. How do you know?

It's actually pretty easy to figure out if you need new doors and windows, or if they ones you have are improperly weather sealed. Basically, if you can see daylight through a crack in the frame, you're losing conditioned air. The more extreme the interior/exterior temperature difference in summer or winter, the harder your unit is going to have to work.

When it comes to insulation you want to make sure you have good wall and ceiling insulation along with a sealed foundation in winter. If your house is not an antique, you should have plenty of wall insulation. You may or may not have sufficient ceiling insulation, but hiring a contractor to blow additional insulation into your attic is not as expensive as you might think. It's also very easy to seal your foundation which is doubly important if you want to avoid frozen pipes when the temperature drops low.

#6. You Don't Use Your Programmable Thermostat

Pretty much every home in America has a thermostat to run their central heating and air system. A lot of those thermostats are programmable thermostats.

Did you know a properly used programmable thermostat could save the average homeowner up to 30% every year? Did you know virtually no one actually uses a programmable thermostat like they should?

Sadly, it's quite true.

If you have a programmable thermostat, then you need to be using it. Ignoring this simple device means you are almost certainly pay 20% - 30% more than you have to be.

For example, let's say you spend about $100 a month on electricity. That adds up to $1200 per year. Which means you're paying around $360 each year that you don't have to simply because you won't learn how to use something you already own.

Find the owner's manual for your programmable thermostat. Read it. Program your thermostat, then save literally hundreds of dollars every year.

#5. You Believe in an 'Open-Door' Policy

A modern home heating and air system is designed to work in a well insulated and weather-proofed house. As you might imagine, open doors and windows kind of put a kink in its operation. Fortunately, most people weren't born in a barn, so they close the door after they use it, but that's not what we're talking about.

Some people think turning the AC off on a hot summer day, then opening doors and windows while they're gone will save money. Sure, you're not running the air, but cooling down a hot house in a short period of time, like when you get home, can be a lot harder on your unit than maintaining an even temperature all day long.

So, what should you do?

Keep the AC running, but adjust the temperature about 10 degrees higher than you want. This will keep your unit from running full strength all day, and it won't have to wear itself out changing the temperature by 20 or 30 degrees when you get home at night. Better yet, program your thermostat to automatically adjust the temperature based on your work schedule, and you won't have to do it manually.

Whatever you do stop turning the AC off completely on hot summer days, since that pretty much doesn't help at all.

#4. You Live in Alaska with a Space Heater

Folks who live in Alaska or other northerly states know what a cold winter feels like, and they also know how expensive it can be to stay warm in the middle of a blizzard. People try all sorts of crazy things to save money during extreme cold. Sometimes they make poor decisions like relying on inferior heating systems.

What exactly are we talking about?

Have you ever closed the vents in certain rooms of your house, shut the doors to those same rooms, turned down the thermostat, and then turned on a space heater in the great room or kitchen? If so, then you're guilty of relying on an inferior heating system and, most likely, HVAC energy waste.

Your central heating and air system is designed to heat your whole house. Turning off vents and closing doors for long periods of time really doesn't do much to save money, but it can actually make your furnace work less efficiently. Meanwhile, if you're relying on an electric space heater over a gas furnace, you're using a heating tool that is far more expensive in terms of capacity.

Stop doing that. Trust your furnace and your central heating system. It works, so use it.

#3. Same Air Filter Since 1981

Your nose traps pollen, dust, pet dander, and other foreign objects from getting into your lungs. Imagine if you didn't blow your nose for six months or a year. If you haven't changed your HVAC air filter in that long, then think about how your central heating and air system feels! It's clogged with the same sort of things your nose keeps out of your lungs.

The simplest thing any homeowner can do is change their air filter on a regular, and by that we mean monthly, basis. This will save you money long term by maintaining even operating efficiency, and preventing the corrosion that leads to mechanical failure. Plus, you'll cut out a significant source of HVAC energy waste.

It will take you a minute, maybe two, to change an air filter, and they're pretty cheap to buy at any major hardware or home goods store. Go buy a dozen, and change your air filter every month. If you don't, you'll pay a lot more than the cost of a cheap filter.

#2. Ice Machine Air Conditioner

Your air conditioner is a pretty amazing machine. It's capable of transforming a hot, sweltering house into a cool, crisp oasis of comfortable temperatures and even humidity. Does your air conditioner ice up? Have you ignored this problem for a long time?  Then you're an HVAC energy waste offender.

Sometimes an air conditioner or heat pump will develop a coat of ice on the coils. This is a sign of something wrong, because no HVAC system is supposed to do that. Or at least not one made by any company we know of!

In short, you have a problem, and it might be:

  • Condensate may not be draining properly. Check the drain and the drain pan. If there's a clog, clean it out.
  • You might have low refrigerant in the coils. If you think this is the case, arrange a service call with a trained HVAC professional to check and, if necessary, replace any lost coolant.
  • You could be unintentionally using a refrigerator ice maker to cool your home. Stop doing that, and buy a real air conditioner.

#1. Burning Money to Stay Warm

When it comes to staying warm in winter you should rely on a modern gas or propane furnace, modern boiler, geothermal heat pump, energy efficient heat pump, or any other system designed to provide ample warmth without costing an arm and a leg. If you're using an inefficient and outdated heating system, you might as well be literally burning money to stay warm. Inferior heating is a major source of HVAC energy waste.

For example, suppose you use an electric furnace to warm your house in Wisconsin. Wisconsin has extremely cold winters, and an electric furnace is far from the most cost effective way to stay warm. You'd save a lot more money investing in a propane or natural gas furnace, maybe even a fuel oil furnace, rather than continuing to rely on crude electric heating.

So, don't do that, or any of the other things we mentioned, because you're just paying too much.

Unless, of course, you're into that.

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