How to Stay Cool, Save Energy, and Maintain a Healthy HVAC System

Is it hot in here or is it just you? With the heat on the rise around the DMV it’s important to understand how to keep your HVAC system running all summer long, keeping your home comfortable and your energy bills under control. At ecobeco, we’re dedicated to providing whole home design, comfort and health. Follow these easy tips to keep your HVAC system running better with a longer life while at the save time saving energy, and positively impacting your health and happiness levels. A true win-win. 

A/C 101 – How it Works

Picture yourself back at the turn of the 20th century when there was no such thing as air conditioning. Oh, the insanity, right!? Seeking relief from the stifling heat meant fleeing to the seaside, hanging wet laundry in doorways, sleeping on refrigerated sheets, or cooling homes using large blocks of ice and fans. Today, we greatly appreciate the invention of air conditioning, first developed into a workable system by Willis Carrier in 1902 and becoming more widely available for homeowners post-WWII.

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Credit: Vintage Lennox Advertisement

According to a recent survey by the US Energy Information Administration, 87 percent of US households now have air conditioning, with a dramatic increase in every region of the country since 1980. More than 95 percent of the homes built in the 2000s have central air compared to 30 percent of homes built before 1940. 

HVAC Glossary:

HVAC is short for Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning. Your air conditioner has 5 vital parts which function together to pull the hot air out of your home:

  • Evaporator Coil: Cools air by blowing it over a set of cold pipes (coil)
  • Refrigerant: Your evaporator coil is filled with this special liquid, which changes from liquid to a gas as it absorbs heat from the air — same idea as how cool you feel when water evaporates from your skin on a hot day
  • Condenser: The refrigerant is pumped outside your house to another coil where it gives up its heat and changes back into a liquid. This outside coil is called the condenser because the refrigerant is condensing from a gas back to a fluid, just like moisture condenses on a cold window.
  • Compressor: The pump used to move the refrigerant between the two coils and to change the pressure of the refrigerant so that all of the refrigerant evaporates or condenses in the appropriate coils.
  • Motor: The energy to do all of this is used by the motor that runs the compressor. The entire system will normally give about three times the cooling energy that the compressor uses. This odd fact happens because the changing of refrigerant from a liquid to a gas and back again lets the system move much more energy than the compressor uses. 

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Diagram Courtesy Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute

Why Things Go Wrong

Most A/C problems occur because a specific factor makes one of those 5 parts we talked about to be overloaded and get stressed out, become inefficient, or outright fail, causing the whole system to not work together to provide cooling. If you’re doing something that heats your home up more than usual when it’s already hot, like having more people or appliances running, or because of other changes in the house, your air conditioning may not be able to keep up, although it will try its hardest. 

Other possible problems may be that the system is not sized properly for your home, refrigerant (charge) leakage, reduced air flow across the outdoor (condenser) coil, indoor humidity-caused issues, or compressor failure. Key factors impacting your A/C’s performance often have to do with your ducts, air leaks in your home, or insulation issues and not with your actual HVAC unit. 

What Can You Do?

Change Filters

Filters work double-duty to remove particles from the air stream and help keep your air conditioning system clean. You might have a folded paper filter or a fuzzy one in a frame. This is an important functional gadget, and it needs your attention!

Not changing your filter when it’s dirty and clogged can reduce airflow and hurt the performance of your system by clogging the evaporator coil and even become a source of indoor air pollution. Know what the recommendation is for changing the filter for your particular system. Keep a reminder or log of when you last changed it and maintain a supply of the correct filters on hand. 

Professional Annual Maintenance

Other items which can become problems later on are harder to detect by yourself. A professional checkup at the start of each cooling season is recommended:

This service will include brushing dirt or other obstructions from the coils and the drains and checking to ensure refrigerant charge and airflow are at 100%. It’s well worth avoiding potential problems with a quick annual visit from your HVAC professional.

Be Good to Your Ducts

Ducts are not something most of us think about, but they’re a vital component of an efficient system and may need your help, too. In fact, duct system problems can cause up to a 40% loss of the cooling and heating energy put out by your HVAC system, according to the Department Of Energy. 

Many duct systems suffer because they are exposed to hot (or cold) outdoor conditions but the ducts aren’t adequately insulated for extreme temperatures, such as in an attic, garage, or crawlspace. Ducts may have substantial leaks, causing less air to get where it needs to go, or ducts may be improperly configured which creates constrictions and air flow imbalance problems.

The end result is that without properly configured and maintained duct work, your HVAC system will not properly cool your home in the summer or keep it warm in the winter, and you are probably spending a lot more than is necessary on your energy bills. Ecobeco can help you address these duct issues through our insulation, duct sealing, and redesign services which can make a big difference in the efficiency of your system and the comfort level in your home.

Your Outside Condenser Unit

Your outside unit needs to breathe, literally. It needs proper air flow to work efficiently. Make sure it’s not clogged or buried by a pile of leaves, and cut any encroaching plants back to clear some air flow space around it.

Great news: If you’re getting ready to replace your old system, you’ll be amazed at the new options for high efficiency systems available today. Ecobeco can help you learn how the newest options can benefit you, and we’ll get your new system installed. 

Have HVAC questions? Talk to Us!

Ecobeco is a qualified HVAC professional and a member of ASHRAE. ASHRAE is the world’s foremost technical society in the fields of heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration.

Reuven Walder, VP & Energy Efficiency Expert, can help you upgrade your HVAC system so you not only keep your cool this summer, but make sure you’re all set up for year-round home comfort, health, and energy savings. 

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Resources:
Nagengast, B., 1999, ‘Early Twentieth Century Air-Conditioning Engineering’, ASHRAE Journal, March (p.55)
ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 55, Thermal Environmental Conditions for Human Occupancy
ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 62.2, Ventilation and Acceptable Indoor Air Quality in Low-Rise Residential Buildings
US Department of Energy, 1999.  Improving the Efficiency of Your Duct System.  DOE/EE0109

 

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