Tips: Heating, Cooling Equipment

There are a lot of ways to stay warm, save energy, lower costs and reduce pollution this winter, EPA says.

Replacing old cooling and heating equipment with more efficient, ENERGY STAR qualified systems can save the average homeowners up to 20 percent on annual energy bills. The average family spends more than $1,500 dollars a year on energy bills, half of which goes for heating and cooling. Other ways to save include: maintaining your existing equipment; using a programmable thermostat; finding and sealing air leaks and tightening up your ducts.

An ENERGY STAR programmable thermostat allows you to automatically adjust the temperature of your home to save money and increase comfort levels when you are home, sleeping or away. A programmable thermostat with four settings can save you about $100 a year in energy costs.

Proper Use Of Programmable Thermostats

1. Keep the temperature set at its energy savings set-points for long periods of time (at least eight hours), for example, during the day, when no one is at home, and through the night, after bedtime.

2. Thermostats let you temporarily make an area warmer or cooler, without erasing the pre-set programming. This override is cancelled automatically at the next program period. You use more energy (and end up paying more on energy bills) if you consistently "hold" or over-ride the pre-programmed settings.

3. Units typically have two types of hold features: (a) hold/permanent/vacation; (b) temporary. Avoid using the hold/permanent/vacation feature to manage day to day temperature settings. "Hold" or "vacation" features are best when you're planning be away for an extended period. Set this feature at a constant, efficient temperature (i.e. several degrees warmer temperature in summer, several degrees cooler during winter), when going away for the weekend or on vacation. You'll waste energy and money if you leave the "hold" feature at the comfort setting while you're away.

4. Cranking your unit up to 90 degrees or down to 40 degrees, for example, will not heat or cool your house any faster. Most thermostats, including ENERGY STAR qualified units, begin to heat or cool at a programmed time, to reach set-point temperatures sometime thereafter. Units with adaptive, "smart," or "intelligent" recovery features are an exception to this rule -- they reach desired temperatures by the set time, since they use formulas that are based on your historical use.

5. Install your unit on an interior wall, away from heating or cooling vents and other sources of heat or drafts (doorways, windows, skylights, direct sunlight or bright lamps).

6. Many homes use just one thermostat to control the whole house. If your home has multiple heating or cooling zones, you'll need a programmed setback thermostat for each zone to maximize comfort, convenience and energy savings throughout the house.

7. Don't forget to change the batteries each year. Some units indicate when batteries must be changed.

Maintaining Existing Equipment

If you are not ready to replace your cooling and heating systems, remember that you can still save money and energy by properly maintaining your existing equipment. Have a professional licensed heating contractor clean and check your system. A checkup should include:

  • Tighten all electrical connections and measure voltage and current on motors. Faulty electrical connections can cause unsafe operation of your system and reduce the life of major components.
  • Lubricate all moving parts. Parts that lack lubrication cause friction in motors and increases the amount of electricity you use.
  • Check and inspect the condensate drain in your central air conditioner, furnace and/or heat pump (when in cooling mode). A plugged drain can cause water damage in the house and affect indoor humidity levels.
  • Check controls of the system to ensure proper and safe operation. Check the starting cycle of the equipment to assure the system starts, operates and shuts off properly.

You don't have to be a professional to help. Change your heater filters every month. Dirty filters make your system work harder and use more energy. If you have hot water heat, "bleed" radiators of trapped air. Less air means warmer rooms and saves energy. Air leaks in your home and a poorly insulated attic can lead to chilly rooms and higher energy costs. By properly sealing leaks and adding insulation your home can be more comfortable and cost you less.

Additional information on heating and cooling equipment can be found at http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=heat_cool.pr_hvac.

Tips from EPA/ENERGY STAR

This article originally appeared in the 12/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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