Energy efficient HVAC strategies for relief from rising energy costs

| by Gary Wollenhaupt
Energy efficient HVAC strategies for relief from rising energy costs

Depending where you live, as much as half of the energy used in your home goes to heating and cooling, according to the U.S. EPA. And the brutal winter of 2014 left millions of homeowners thinking of ways to save money on heating and cooling their homes.

Economists predict fossil fuels costs will rise again by the fall as the heating season kicks in, so expect to pay more for natural gas, LPG and fuel oil. As more electrical generating capacity switches to gas, electric rates may rise also.

A more efficient heating and cooling system will help homeowners reduce their utility bills and also make their homes more comfortable.

If you're in the market for a new home heating and cooling system, look for Energy Star qualified equipment. Depending on where you live, replacing your old heating and cooling equipment with Energy Star qualified equipment can cut your annual energy bill by nearly $200.

But experts recommend that before you invest in a new HVAC system you should address big air leaks in your house and the duct system. Sometimes, fixing these problems can make your old system perform like new.

This exclusive feature reviews some of the top options for energy-efficient home heating and cooling in the marketplace today.

Geothermal Heating & Cooling

Geothermal systems don't burn fossil fuel to generate heat. As a result, a geothermal or ground source heat pumps leaves more disposable income in homeowners' pockets, insulates them from fuel price shocks and spares them the fear of running out of fuel when the next Polar Vortex threatens.

Instead of burning fuel, geothermal systems move heat from one location to another. The heat is transferred from the earth to the home in the winter and the process is reversed in the summer, pulling the heat from the home and releasing it into the cooler ground.

"Geothermal heating is a lot simpler than most homeowners realize. It takes the natural heat from the earth and transfers it through pipes in the ground into the house," said Steve Smith, president of Enertech Global,  a geothermal systems manufacturer. "It is a cost-effective solution for homeowners facing higher heating costs and the possibly of limited access to supplies during cold weather streaks."

With a geothermal heat pump, homeowners and property managers will see several benefits including:

  • Monthly heating and cooling bills can be reduced by up to 70% over conventional systems.
  • Average life expectancy is nearly 25 years compared to the 13 year average life expectancy of conventional systems.
  • Lower maintenance costs primarily due to geothermal equipment being indoors. There are also fewer moving parts reducing opportunity for malfunction.
  • Opportunity for hybrid hot water, which also reduces hot water costs in addition to heating and cooling.

Geothermal heat pumps offer a reliable, long-term solution, with state-of-the-art equipment and earth heat exchange loops with a life expectancy of over 100 years. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that geothermal heat pumps are the most energy efficient, environmentally clean and cost-effective space conditioning system available today.

Also, as part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, the United States federal government allows a 30 percent tax credit for Energy Star-qualified geothermal equipment installed before December 31, 2016.

Mini Split Heating and Cooling

Long popular in Europe and Asia, duct-free mini splits are finding their way into homes in the U.S. Building professionals like the design flexibility, and homeowners like the comfort and efficiency that mini splits deliver.

A duct-free split system is simply a reconfiguration of a traditional central air conditioner, consisting of three basic components: an outdoor condensing unit, one or more indoor units, and a compact conduit for refrigerant piping and wiring connecting the units. By placing an indoor unit directly in each room, Duct-Free systems reduce energy loss from air traveling through ductwork. 

As the name implies, duct-free split systems do not require the complicated ductwork like conventional HVAC systems and allow individual temperature control on a room-by-room basis.

Duct-free split systems allow homeowners to cool or heat their entire home or just a single room.

"LG HVAC systems install easily and homeowners don't need to stress about tearing down walls or altering their home's appearance," said Lorie Quillin-Bel, Go-to-Market Director for LG Electronics' Commercial Air Conditioning Division. "In many cases, a professional contractor can complete the installation in less than one day."

When should duct-free split systems be considered in a home?

Homeowners with one or more rooms that are always too hot or too cold, especially homes without traditional ductwork should consider duct-free. Duct-free systems are also great for homeowners who are either looking to eliminate a window unit or bring AC into a room addition. The attractive, sleek styling and compact design complements any décor. 

LG's ArtCool Multi F system allow homeowners to personalize the indoor unit with their own artwork or photography.

But looks aren't everything. Duct-free products are remarkably energy efficient and allow users to control the temperature on a room-by-room basis. Areas in the home where there is no air conditioning at all or insufficient air conditioning, such as that unbearably hot room over the garage, are ideal settings for duct-free systems.

As duct-free split systems eliminate the need for ductwork, the installation process is greatly simplified for building professionals. The contractor can also easily satisfy homeowners' concerns about compromising the design aesthetics of the home, as there are a range of stylish indoor unit options including ceiling concealed. Because building professionals don't need to spend time tearing down walls for the installation, installing a duct-free system is a quick and efficient process.

Are they suitable for new builds and existing homes?

Duct-free systems are well suited for new buildings as well as existing homes. They can be applied in older homes, sunrooms and additions, as well as in light commercial buildings such as restaurants, hospitals, schools, nursing homes, retail establishments or places of worship. Systems such as LG's Multi F system allow for an indoor unit to be installed in up to eight rooms all connected to single compact outdoor unit.

Duct-free systems find a place in high-performance homes

One of the goals of a high performance home is to be more energy efficient. LG's innovative systems are highly sustainable, and have earned the government-backed Energy Star label. In fact, 14 of LG's duct-free air conditioning models received the coveted distinction this year.

The engineering and design enhancements, including inverter technology makes LG duct-free systems highly compatible for high performance homes, Quillin-Bel said. The inverter-driven compressor, housed in the outdoor unit, allows the air-conditioning system to ramp up or down to maintain comfort levels.


 

"After the set temperature is reached, the inverter-driven compressor and smart electronics allow the system to "coast," using only the minimum amount of energy to ensure that the room stays comfortable," she said. "Think of it as driving your car downhill with your foot off the accelerator. the car is maintaining speed but is not using gas."

One of the ways efficiency is measured is SEER. SEER, an acronym for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, is the industry-wide rating measurement that conveys energy consumption information to consumers. The higher the number, the more efficiently a product will produce cool air. LG's Art Cool Premier line offers a SEER of up to 27.5.

Conventional heating and cooling

Today's conventional gas furnace and electric air conditioning systems are more energy-efficient than ever, with furnaces available up to 95 percent AFUE rating, about 20 percent higher than the minimum standard.

Trane offer the Trane XC95, one of the market's most efficient gas furnaces that attains up to a 95 percent AFUE rating. A high-efficiency gas furnace save up to 40 percent on home heating costs.

For air conditioning,  the Trane XL20i is among the highest energy efficient  available today. Its SEER of up to 20.00 exceeds the minimum efficiency of 13 SEER set by the Department of Energy. A SEER rating of up to 20.00 can mean a savings of up to 60 percent on a family's annual cooling costs, if the system it's replacing is 10 years or older.

In some parts of the country, oil-fired furnaces and boilers are still popular. There are Energy Star-certified options for oil-fired boilers that heat water for radiant heating. 

Radiant floor heating

Radiant heated floor systems, like the sun, feel warm even when the air is cool. These floors may be heated through electric resistance heating elements in the floor, or via hydronic systems that use water circulating through tubes in the floor.

Either choice can be very energy efficient, depending on the type of heat source. For electric floor heat, renewable energy can be used such as wind or solar to offset the electric load.

For hydronic floor heating, geothermal or solar thermal systems can heat the water in the floor, as well as wood stoves, oil burning stoves, or electric or gas water heaters.

Heated floor systems only indirectly warm the air, so homeowners can turn down their thermostats 5 or 6 degrees and still feel as comfortable with heated floor systems as with convection heat. Utilities report a savings potential of 3 percent to 5 percent for every 1 degree the thermostat is dialed down.

The American Society of Heating Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers quantified the radiant heat savings this way: "The average 65°F radiant comfort temperature with 59 F day/night setback should reduce building heat load by 25 percent to 35 percent over convective systems."

Heated floor systems can be installed room by room with individual thermostats so there is no need to heat all rooms to the same temperature or to heat rooms that are not being used.

With reduced building heat load of 25 percent to 35 percent, the elimination of heat lost in the ductwork and the potential for room-by-room installation, significant energy savings is achievable with radiant floor heat systems.

Read more about energy-efficient heating and cooling.


Topics: Building Green, Cost of Ownership, Energy Audits, Energy Star, Geothermal Heating & Cooling, Heating & Cooling, Radiant Heat

Companies: Enertech Global, LLC, LG HVAC



Gary Wollenhaupt

Gary Wollenhaupt is an experienced writer and editor, with a background as a daily newspaper reporter as well as corporate and agency public relations and marketing. He is constantly looking for affordable green upgrades to make to his home in eastern Kentucky.

wwwView Gary Wollenhaupt's profile on LinkedIn

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