While you can’t do anything about the heat outside, you can achieve lower air conditioning bills by preparing your cooling system as well as your home for hot weather. A well-maintained cooling system and a house that resists the transfer of heat into your home will put you on the fast track toward summer energy savings.
Prioritize The Cooling System
Getting your HVAC system into optimum cooling condition won’t take long. The licensed professionals from TemperaturePro will go through your system carefully, cleaning and adjusting the components, testing the electronics, and checking the refrigerant pressure. All these elements of a tune-up will immediately improve the efficiency and regulation of the system.
Beyond cutting your energy bills, a system that is clean will:
- Run dependably. All air conditioners use an evaporator coil that houses the refrigerant used to withdraw the heat. A dirty coil won’t be able to absorb as much heat as the dust insulates it. The coil may start to freeze over, which altogether stops cooling and contributes to compressor failure within your A/C system. Sometimes biofilms and mold grow on evaporator coils, and besides slowing heat removal, its presence can be hazardous to the resident’s health.
- Run safely. The electrical contacts and components won’t conduct electricity as quickly whenever they are excessively dirty. In some cases, heat builds on the parts to the point where they or the wiring starts a fire. An HVAC professional will remove the dust and oxidation and apply lubricants that are non-conductive to protect these parts.
- Run efficiently. Improper refrigerant levels in cooling systems aren’t uncommon. A low level may cause the evaporator coil to freeze over and will likely drive up energy costs. Before adding more coolant to bring the level within the range the manufacturer requires, the technician will look for leaks in the refrigerant lines and replace those lines if necessary.
- Run clean. Undetected ductwork leaks can drive up energy costs, those costs determined by their size. Uncomfortable rooms or dust that collects near the registers often indicate complications with the ducts leading to that room. Leaking ducts will continue to drive up energy costs and degrade indoor air quality unless they are fixed promptly.
Homeowner Maintenance Chores
It is important to check the air filters all through the cooling season. A clean filter protects the parts within the air handling unit and promotes energy efficiency. Before selecting a new filter, check your owner’s manual to learn the maximum density you will be able to use with your HVAC system.
More airborne particulates are likely to be trapped using higher quality filters, however, they could slow the air flowing through the air handling unit more than the manufacturer recommends. It is a good idea to check with your owner’s manual or your HVAC contractor before upgrading to a better filter.
It’s also important to keep the outdoor condenser clean throughout the warm summer months. The outdoor condenser houses the condensing coil that exhausts the heat the refrigerant picks up inside your home. The heat dissipates more quickly when the coil is clean. Gently hosing it off will help to loosen the dust. Pointing the lawn mower away from the condenser prevents grass clippings from covering the coil which can also hinder the cooling process.
Keeping vegetation away from the condenser and other objects that could slow the airflow through the coil may also be necessary. The condenser has a large fan that pulls air over the coil in order to cool it more quickly. Cooling slows down when the airflow is blocked.
Lower the Cooling Load
Aside from the weather, the characteristics of your home that make your HVAC system run longer and more often are called its cooling load. Fortunately, you can lower the cooling load by identifying the areas within your home that may be weak which can contribute to air leaks and heat gain.
Step 1: Get an Energy Audit
Energy auditors and licensed HVAC contractors can demonstrate and explain how energy efficient your home is and where to improve it. They use tools to discover exactly where your home is losing the most energy.
The blower door test is the centerpiece of an energy audit, alongside thermographic imaging. Blower doors use large fans surrounded by an adjustable metal frame that fits inside exterior door frames. These tests are used to determine the air-tightness and air infiltration rate of a home.
The auditing team gets your home ready by closing each of the windows and all of the doors and blocking off fireplaces and furnaces. When ready, the auditors turn on the fan and watch the pressure gauges closely to see how fast the pressure falls as it pulls the air from your home.
Homes that lose pressure quickly have few air leaks because the home’s exterior walls are tightly sealed. A building that doesn’t lose much pressure likely has leaks in its interior or exterior covering, including the walls, doors, windows, foundation, and attic.
They use thermographic devices to pinpoint the leakage as the auditors run the blower door fan. Variances in temperatures show up as different colors, and when the temperatures are the same indoors and out, the auditing team may ask you to use your HVAC system to either cool or heat your home. This will show a stronger contrast between the incoming air temperature and the indoor air temperature.
The thermographic scan will also show you where your home needs more insulation, another effective way to quickly cut cooling costs. The scan will show the amount of heat entering your home through the windows, which can occur through air leaks, and as heat transfers through the glass and frames.
Step 2: Add Insulation
Heat is constantly moving, coming into your home in the summer and leaving it in the winter primarily through the attic. The U.S. Department of Energy recommends that most homes have from 16 to 20 inches of insulated attic space to slow this heat movement.
The most common types of insulation are fiberglass batts and loose cellulose. Both types have similar insulation values and work well when there’s adequate room. Sprayed foam and rigid foam board insulation products, primarily used in smaller spaces, provide better protection against heat transfer, however, they also cost more.
While adding more insulation can be a do-it-yourself project, it does require some knowledge and skill to install. Challenges include:
- Uncomfortable and difficult working conditions in attics
- Use of protective clothing, eyewear, and breathing apparatus during installation
- Especially careful insulation necessary to avoid leaving gaps.
Using a contractor who specializes in adding insulation may not be as expensive a project as one may think. They have access to wholesale pricing that homeowners don’t and the equipment to do an effective job.
Step 3: Seal Air Leaks
Most air leaks are relatively easy to seal with caulk, weatherstripping, and expanding foam. Read the labels carefully when buying the materials. Caulk that is high in silicon can be hard to remove once it cures. Some expanding foam products have a specific use around wiring, flues, or chimneys. If you are not comfortable sealing around electrical fixtures, especially recessed lights or flues, ask a contractor for help.
Lowering cooling bills is a two-step process whose most important elements depend greatly on the maintenance you do as a homeowner and the work your HVAC professional provides. The second way to achieve lower energy bills is by cutting the demand for air conditioning by lowering its cooling load. Adding insulation and sealing air leaks are projects that could pay for themselves every day of the year.