While you can’t do anything about the heat outside, you can achieve lower air conditioning bills by preparing your cooling system and your home for hot weather. A well-maintained cooling system and a house that resists heat gain will put you on the fast track toward summer energy savings.
Prioritize the Cooling System
Getting your HVAC system into top cooling condition won’t take long. The licensed professionals from TemperaturePro will go through it carefully, cleaning and adjusting the components, testing the electronics, and checking the refrigerant pressure. Each of these elements of a tune-up immediately improves the efficiency of the system.
Beyond cutting your energy bills, a clean system will:
- Run dependably. All air conditioners use an evaporator coil that houses the refrigerant used to extract the heat. A dirty coil won’t be able to absorb as much heat because the dust insulates it. The coil may start to freeze over, which stops cooling altogether and contributes to compressor failure.
- Sometimes mold and biofilms grow on evaporator coils, and besides slowing heat removal, its presence can be a health hazard.
- Run safely. Whenever the electrical contacts and components are overly dirty, they won’t conduct electricity as quickly. Heat builds on the parts, sometimes to the point where they or the wiring starts a fire. An HVAC pro will remove the dust and oxidation and apply nonconductive lubricants to protect these parts.
- Run efficiently. Improper refrigerant levels aren’t uncommon in cooling systems. A low level may cause the evaporator coil to freeze over and it will drive up energy costs. The technician will look for leaks in the refrigerant lines before adding more to bring the level within the range the manufacturer requires.
- Run clean. Undetected ductwork leaks can drive up energy costs in proportion to their size. Uncomfortable rooms or dust that collects near the registers often indicate problems with the ducts leading to that room. Unless they’re fixed, leaking ducts will continue to drive up energy costs and degrade indoor air quality.
Homeowner Maintenance Chores
Make it a point to check the air filter throughout the cooling season. A clean filter promotes energy efficiency and protects the parts inside the air handler. Before selecting a new filter, check your owner’s manual to learn the maximum density you can use with your system.
Higher quality filters will trap more airborne particulates, but they could slow the air flowing through the air handler more than the manufacturer recommends. Check with your owner’s manual or your HVAC contractor before upgrading to a better filter.
It’s important to keep the outdoor condenser clean throughout the summer. It houses the condensing coil that exhausts the heat the refrigerant picks up inside your home. When the coil is clean, the heat dissipates more quickly. You may need to gently hose it off to loosen the dust. Pointing the lawn mower away from the condenser prevents grass clippings from covering the coil that also retard cooling.
It’s also important to keep vegetation away from the condenser and other objects that could slow the airflow through the coil. The condenser has a large fan that pulls air over the coil in order to cool it faster. When the airflow is blocked, cooling slows down.
Lower the Load
Besides the weather, the characteristics of your home that make your HVAC system run more often and longer are called its cooling load. Fortunately, you can lower the cooling load by identifying where your home has weaknesses in its shell that contribute to air leaks and heat gain.
Step 1: Get an Energy Audit
Licensed HVAC contractors and energy auditors can show you how energy efficient your home is and where to improve it. They use tools to find exactly where your home is losing energy.
The blower door test is the centerpiece of an energy audit, along with thermographic imaging. Blower doors use large fans surrounded by an adjustable metal frame that fits inside exterior door frames.
The auditing team gets your home ready by closing all the windows and doors and blocking off fireplaces and furnaces. When ready, they turn the fan on and as it pulls the air from your home, the auditors watch the pressure gauges closely to see how fast the pressure falls.
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 has leaks in its envelope, including the walls, doors, windows, foundation and attic.
As the auditors run the blower door fan, they use thermographic devices to pinpoint the leakage. Variances in temperatures show up as different colors, and if 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 so that the incoming air temperature shows a stronger contrast with the indoor air.
The thermographic scan will also show you where your home needs more insulation, another quick and affordable effective way to cut cooling costs. The scan will also show the amount of heat entering your home through the windows, which occurs through air leaks, and as heat transfer through the glass and the frames.
Step 2: Adding Insulation
Since heat is always moving to colder temperatures, it’s moving inside 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 in the attic to slow this heat movement.
The most common types of insulation are fiberglass batts and loose cellulose. Both types have similar insulating values and work well when there’s adequate room. Rigid foam board and sprayed foam insulating products, used primarily in smaller spaces, provide better protection against heat transfer, but 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:
- Working in an attic can be difficult and uncomfortable.
- Protective clothing, eyewear and breathing apparatus should be used.
- Care needs to be taken to avoid leaving gaps in the insulation that will conduct heat.
Using a contractor who specializes in adding insulation may not be an expensive project. They have access to wholesale pricing that homeowners don’t, as well as the equipment to do an effective job.
Step 3: Seal Air Leaks
Most air leaks are fairly easy to seal with caulk, expanding foam and weatherstripping. When buying the materials, read the labels carefully. Caulk 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’re 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 element depends heavily on the maintenance you do and the work your HVAC pro provides. The second way you can achieve lower energy bills is to cut the demand for air conditioning by lowering its cooling load. Sealing air leaks and adding insulation are projects that will pay for themselves every day of the year. So contact TemperaturePro today to help lower your cooling bills!