Monthly Archives: July 2011

What is the COP and Why Is It Important?

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If you’ve been researching air conditioners, you’ve probably seen all sorts of numbers associated with each model. One of these numbers is the Coefficient of Performance (COP). While it’s good to gather as much data as you can before you make a purchasing decision, you also need to know what that data means if it’s going to help you make the best selection possible.

Measuring COP

Calculating the COP for any air conditioning model is relatively simple. The number you see displayed on the box is the ratio of energy input to cooling output. For the most part, the air conditioners you’re probably been looking at have a COP of between 2.5 and 4.0, although newer models are beginning to appear with COPs of up to 5.0.

The higher the COP, of course, the more efficient the air conditioner, so it makes sense to take this number into account when you’re making your purchase. You should also keep in mind, though, that the COP is not a constant measurement. The warmer it is outside, the lower your unit’s COP will be. However, this is standard across all units, so a relative COP comparison is still a viable evaluation method.

If you’re not sure what COP you should look for or whether a lower number will be effective for your home (especially if you only need to cool a small space), you should talk to a professional who can help you match the right COP level to your particular living space.

Improving Efficiency

While it’s always a good idea to get an air conditioner with the best energy efficiency ratings possible, that’s not the only thing you can do to reduce your energy usage and keep your cooling costs down. For instance, there are plenty of ways to keep your home naturally cooler without even turning on the air conditioner.

Even when you do need to flip it on, anything else you can do to reduce the indoor temperature will make it easier for your air conditioner to keep your house comfortable. So put up some awnings, run the ceiling fan and close the blinds to block out that harsh afternoon sun. The more you can do to reduce your indoor temperature naturally, the less your air conditioner will have to do, and the lower your cooling costs will be.

Air Conditioners and Energy Use by Percentage

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It’s no secret that air conditioners use up a lot of electricity and can add substantially to your energy bills during those warm summer months. But did you know that they actually account for an estimated 11% of the total energy used in all buildings in the US each year? This is a staggering figure and makes it easy to see why it’s best to invest in the most energy efficient system possible.

Keeping Your Consumption Down

There are plenty of reasons to try and keep your energy consumption down. You want to save on your energy bills, and the less energy you use, the better it is for the environment. The best and most straightforward way to go about this is to purchase only highly energy efficient appliances and equipment, and that includes air conditioners.

Because air conditioner usage accounts for such a substantial part of the total energy used in this country, putting more energy efficiency models into use is the best way to cut that usage down.

Supplementary Cooling

However, there are other ways to reduce the workload of your air conditioner. For instance, you can use a ceiling fan to maintain good air circulation and keep your home cool. Using a ceiling fan with an air conditioner, even on the hottest days of the year, allows you to turn up your thermostat a bit to conserve energy while still enjoying a comfortable indoor environment. And because ceiling fans use so little energy to operate, you’ll come out ahead on your energy bill.

Passive Cooling

There are also several passive cooling methods you can employ to keep the temperature in your home down. Blocking out sunlight is the most important of these, so keep your blinds closed on any windows that receive direct sunlight, particularly in the early afternoon. Alternately, you can have awnings put up, which allow you to block the direct sun while still keeping the blinds open.

Shade is another effective passive cooling device. Planting trees around your home to block out the sun at the hottest times of day is a totally energy-free way of keeping your home cool and reducing the workload on your air conditioning system. The less your air conditioner has to work, the less energy it consumes and the lower your energy bills will be.

Who Invented Air Conditioning?

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For hundreds of years, people have been trying to figure out how to stay cool in the heat of the summer. But it wasn’t until 1902 that the first modern air conditioner was put into service in Brooklyn, NY. Since then, many adjustments and improvements have been made to make air conditioning available and convenient for people to use in their homes and cars. But through it all, the basic principles used in that first air conditioner have remained constant.

The Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing Company

The heat and humidity in New York in the summer isn’t something to be taken lightly, but it posed particular problems for the owner of the Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing Company. The conditions inside his facility were such that the paper used was warping and the dimensions fluctuating, causing the printing to constantly come out misaligned.

To try and solve this problem, he hired the Buffalo Forge Company, which itself had just hired Willis Haviland Carrier, a recent recipient of a Master’s Degree in Engineering from Cornell University. Carrier approached this problem by trying to find a way to cool air by passing it over cold coils in the same way air was heated in those days by passing it over hot coils.

As it turned out, this process worked to reduce both the temperature and the humidity in the area and Carrier’s first air conditioner began running at Sackett-Wilhelms in July of 1902.

The Next Steps

As the potential for this new technology became more and more apparent, demand for Carrier’s device grew in all sectors of the economy. Employers were delighted by the way air conditioners increased the productivity of their workers during the hottest months of the year, and in order to keep up with demand, Carrier eventually founded the Carrier Air Conditioning Company which still exists today.

The coolants used in the earliest air conditioners were generally either highly flammable or toxic, and often both. In order to make air conditioning safer and easier to use, a safer coolant needed to be introduced, which was what drove Thomas Midgley, Jr. to develop Freon in 1928. Freon was initially made up of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), but as the disastrous environmental impacts of those chemicals became apparent, usage shifted first to hydrogenated chlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and then to the hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) that are predominantly used today.

Inverter vs Conventional Models

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When trying to pick out the right air conditioner for your home, you’ll probably stumble across mention of inverter technology. Air conditioners using inverter technology are quite similar to conventional air conditioners in many respects, but they have some distinct advantages under certain circumstances.

What’s the Difference?

A conventional air conditioner is set up to switch on when the indoor temperature reaches a particular level. When it comes on, it introduces cool air at a constant speed until the desired temperature is reached and then it shuts off completely. Your indoor environment remains more or less the same temperature, but you will be blasted periodically with a lot of cold air. While the air conditioner is off, the air in the room gradually warms up until the temperature gets high enough to trigger the air conditioning system to come on again.

An inverter, on the other hand, comes on powerfully at first to achieve the desired temperature, and then reduces its fan speed gradually to maintain that temperature without shutting off completely. This method of cooling maintains the desired temperature more consistently than a conventional system can. It also requires a lot of careful measurements, not only for how much cooling power is needed in your room, but for the speed at which the cool air will dissipate from that room.

Initial Installation

One big reason that more people didn’t opt for an inverter air conditioning system in the past was that the initial installation cost was often considerably higher than that of a conventional system. However, advances in the technology have made inverter air conditioners much more affordable in recent years. Digital programming, more accurate measurements and efficiency in every aspect of the field are responsible for the drop in price.

Savings over Time

While inverter air conditioning systems are still typically more expensive than their conventional counterparts when it comes to initial cost, they provide excellent savings over time that can more than make up for the difference in purchase price. This is particularly true in areas where air conditioners are not running at full blast constantly.

When they are both maxed out, a conventional air conditioner is more efficient than an inverter. But when the temperature is such that a conventional model would switch on and off all of the time, an inverter will easily outstrip it in terms of energy efficiency.

To ensure you get the right model for your home, carefully calculate the difference in installation costs, the amount of cooling your home needs and the current efficiency of your cooling system. If everything lines up perfectly, an inverter system may be right for you.

How to Use AC Most Efficiently

Air conditioning is definitely something most of us wouldn’t want to try and get through the summer without. And for a lot of people, because of medical or other conditions, it’s an absolute necessity. But just because you need to run your AC unit all summer doesn’t mean you need to suffer under the weight of astronomical cooling costs.

So if you’re interested in ways to save on cooling without sacrificing comfort, here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Get a Programmable Thermostat – When you come home at the end of a long day, you want your home to be cool and comfortable. But if you only have a basic thermostat, you would have to leave your air conditioning on all day in order to make this possible. Paying to cool an empty house is probably the last thing you want to do. But what is the alternative?Programmable thermostats offer the best solution in a case like this. These devices can be easily integrated into just about any home air conditioning system and they allow you to set different temperatures for different times of the day. That means you can have your air conditioning off while you’re not home and set it to come on a half hour or so before you get there. This way, you get the pleasure of walking into a cool, comfortable house without paying extra to keep it that way when you’re not home.
  • Incorporate Passive Cooling – The design of your home and how you use it can also have an effect on how hard your air conditioning system needs to work. Taking steps as simple as closing the blinds to block out the afternoon sun, putting up awnings and making sure that the exterior of your home is painted a lighter color to reflect sunlight rather than a darker one that will absorb it are all excellent ways to reduce the load on your air conditioner.
  • Supplement Your System – You can also take a good chunk out of your cooling bills by using things like ceiling fans in conjunction with your air conditioner. A ceiling fan can effectively lower the indoor temperature several degrees on its own, allowing you to set your thermostat a little higher.

Air conditioning is a major expense that most of us are resigned to paying, but there’s no reason to pay more than necessary with so many strategies available to save money.

IAQ – Filters

Installing air filters in your home is a great way to make sure the air your family breathes every day is safe and free of contaminants. But you shouldn’t just go out and buy the first air filter you see. When it comes to quality air filtration, HEPA filters are the industry leaders, and for good reason. They can remove up to 99.97% of indoor air contaminants that measure 0.3 microns or larger, a phenomenal success rate unmatched by any other filters on the market.

Proper HEPA Filter Practices

To be effective, even HEPA filters need to be installed and maintained properly. Consulting with an HVAC professional is the best way to ensure that the air filtration system you get is completely compatible with your home heating and cooling system. The filter must also be installed in the appropriate place so it can catch the most contaminants. Especially if you have a forced air heating and cooling system, there are a lot of potential locations for your filters. A good HVAC professional can help you determine which spots will serve you best.

Changing Your HEPA Filters

Once your filtration system is in place, you should maintain it properly so it continues to catch and remove all those unwanted particles from your indoor air. Keeping up with the proper filter changing schedule is a big part of this. Every HEPA filter comes with manufacturer’s recommendations on how often the filter needs to be changed. Prefilters often need to be changed more often, sometimes even once every 90 days, so you should find out if your system has one of these as well.

Many HEPA filters only need to be changed once every year or two, but the conditions in your home can make it necessary to change them more often. For example, if your home has a lot of dust or other specific air contaminants, you may need to change your HEPA filter as often as once a year.

Both HEPA filters and prefilters are quite easy to remove and replace. If you’re not sure how to do it, have your technician show you the next time they come out for a routine maintenance visit or when they put install the system. As long as you replace your filters regularly, you should have no trouble maintaining high indoor air quality with a HEPA air filtration system.

Indoor Air Quality Options

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Maintaining high indoor air quality is always worth investing time and money in. After all, if the air inside your home isn’t healthy, it can cause all kinds of health problems for you and your family. The state of the art home heating and cooling systems we have today make it possible to enjoy a perfectly temperature controlled indoor environment all year long, but they also trap indoor air pollutants and contaminants inside without proper ventilation.

Choosing a System that Works

Luckily there are a number of great products out there designed to remove these pollutants before they cause you and your family discomfort or illness. Before you run out to buy a new system, however, you should first consider what each has to offer and what pollutants you need to remove. You might have some idea about this already, but the best thing to do is talk to a professional who can help assess your indoor air and determine which types of contaminants are most prevalent in your home.

Different types of indoor air cleaners are better at targeting different types of contaminants. For instance, HEPA filters can remove up to 99.97% of particulate contaminants that measure 0.3 microns or larger. This includes things like pollen, pet dander, dust mites and mold spores, so if these are the things you want to target, an indoor air system that uses HEPA filters is probably right for you.

However, if you’re more concerned with getting rid of smoke odors and cooking fumes, you probably want a system that targets even smaller particles. Air ionizers are more appropriate for these types of indoor air quality issues, as they can effectively remove much smaller particles than most HEPA filters. On the flip side, ionizers aren’t as efficient at removing the larger contaminant particles, so if you want to target both small and large contaminants, you need a system that combines both of these technologies.

Bacteria and viruses are also a problem when they find their way into your indoor air and they can be particularly tricky to get rid of. HEPA filters and air ionizers both have trouble completely eradicating these pathogens, but UV germicidal lights can be incorporated into your indoor air cleaning system to tackle biological contaminants effectively.

No matter what type of home air quality problem you have, there is a system on the market that will target and remove the pollutant. The key is to know which pollutants effect you the most and which products will do the best job of removing them from your home.

How to Maximize Savings in Your Home

When you are thinking about different ways you might be able to save money around the house, the tendency is to think big. Maybe you need to upgrade to a more energy efficient furnace, or it could be time to install a new central air conditioning system. Maybe it is even a good idea to switch to solar or geothermal power.

But before you do any of that, you may want to try some quick and easy ways to save money around the house with the equipment you already have. Here are some great ways to cut your power usage and keep those energy bills down without investing a lot in new equipment.

  1. Seal Up Your House – No matter how energy efficient the heating and cooling systems are in your house, you will be using more energy than necessary if your house is not tightly sealed. Make sure there are not cracks or places where drafts can get in and you will start saving money right away.
  2. The Right Thermostat Setting – Are you really going to notice the difference between 72°F and 69°F? Probably not, but you will save about 3% off of your monthly heating bill for every degree you turn the thermostat down. The same goes in the summer too, just backwards.
  3. Programmable Thermostats – And while we are on the subject of thermostats, it is a good idea to invest in a new one with programmable settings. That way you will be able to set your house to be warm when you will be there and you do not have to pay to keep it warm all day long if it is empty.
  4. Ceiling Fans – Ceiling fans can help keep you cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Plus, they cost very little to run so they are a great investment.
  5. Light Bulbs – Switching to energy efficient fluorescent bulbs all over your house will save you a ton even though they cost a bit more to begin with.
  6. Lights Out – But energy efficient bulbs will only get you so far. You should also be sure to turn off the lights in any room you are not using.
  7. Insulation – Proper insulation will go a long way towards keeping in the temperature controlled air that you want and keeping out the outdoor air that you do not.
  8. Power Strips – Many home appliances draw a small amount of power even when they are not turned on. Use a power strip to easily cut the power to them completely and eliminate that drain.
  9. Sealing Windows – Plenty of air can come and go through your windows as well. Upgrading to more energy efficient windows is certainly an option, but you can also help to seal up your home inexpensively by covering your windows with plastic.

Save Money with Coupons

HVAC services are not things that you usually think about using coupons for. After all, you almost never call an HVAC specialist unless there is an emergency, and that means you probably do not have time to go hunting for a coupon. You are going to go with the person who is able to respond quickly and get the job done fast.

But that does not mean you should have to pay too much for emergency or other HVAC services. In fact, if you know where to look, you can find coupons for great deals on anything from annual maintenance to full new system installation. Of course, not all of these deals are that great. But even saving a little on each service will add up over time. Plus, gathering up some coupons ahead of time will make it easier for you to choose a good HVAC service because you can see which one in your area offers the best deals.

So where do you find these great coupons? Well, a lot of them can actually be tracked down online. A simple search for HVAC coupons in your area should turn up quite a few results for services you could use now or in the future. Some of these offer quite substantial savings as well, so even if they are for something you do not need at the moment, take a look at the expiration date. Even if you are not sure you will be able to use the coupon in that space of time, there is certainly no harm in holding onto it just in case.

It is also important to remember that you do not need to stay with the same company that installed your system, for instance, if you can find a coupon for great savings on annual maintenance with someone else. Just about every company in this field is well versed in handling all types of HVAC equipment and they can easily take care of a system that another company installed.

Particularly if you are not satisfied with the service that you get from the company you are now using, look around for coupons from someone else. That is a great way to figure out which new company is worth a try.

Maintenance Really Does Save Money

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When it comes to your home heating and cooling systems, you really cannot go wrong with proper annual maintenance. While it may seem like an unnecessary expense, especially if your systems are relatively new, you will save a lot in the long run if you pay that small fee once a year for each system.

During a maintenance visit, a technician can thoroughly clean out your heating or cooling system and check all parts to make sure they are not showing signs of excessive wear and tear. If they do find a problem or a part that needs to be replaced, they will be able to make the necessary repairs quickly and you will not have to worry about calling someone out later for an emergency visit.

Also, catching problems early like this means that repairs will likely involve fewer parts and cost much less than they would if you let the problem go and it became more widespread. The truth is that your heating or cooling system can continue to work when one or another of its parts is not working correctly, but that means that other parts of the system have to work overtime to create the same result.

Your heating or cooling system will also be much more energy efficient if it receives regular tune ups and attention from a professional. Even the best new systems lose a small percentage of their efficiency each year that they are in operation. While this is not much from year to year, the cumulative effect will soon cause your energy bills to climb higher than necessary.

Paying for regular maintenance, then, can actually save you money because it will mean you pay less each month to run your system. And it is never too late to start. Even if your heating or cooling system is not new, it will benefit from a thorough cleaning and tune up. You may be quite surprised how much your energy bills go down after this type of service has been performed.

Annual maintenance can also help you to get more for your money by extending the useful life of the heating or cooling system. Many systems that are properly maintained can last even beyond their expected life span, meaning that you will not have to replace it as soon as you would have otherwise. For all of these reasons, the minimal cost of an annual maintenance visit is well worth paying over the long term.