Indoor comfort and energy efficiency can easily go hand in hand when marking home improvements and renovations. By using new HVAC technology, you can improve the efficiency and performance of your heating and cooling system. With some carefully planned home efficiency renovations and improvements, you can reduce the amount of contaminants in your indoor air while also making your living spaces warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. The following outline should help you understand where and under what conditions these changes and expansions can be made in your Texas home.
HVAC Technology Upgrades
HVAC technology continues to advance, bringing homeowners better HVAC systems and improved components that make home heating equipment work better, more efficiently and at a lower cost. Some of this new HVAC technology includes:
- High-efficiency HVAC systems: Whole systems with dramatically improved energy efficiency are available in the current marketplace. Newer and more modern fuel-burning HVAC systems can have efficiency levels that approach 100 percent. A common measure of HVAC system efficiency is annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE). This rating describes, in percent, how much energy in the fuel is converted to heat and how much is lost through ventilation and other factors. Many older heating systems commonly have AFUE ratings around 80. This means that 80 percent of the energy in the gas or oil used by the system becomes heat, while the other 20 percent is lost. Newer high-efficiency heating systems can reach AFUE levels of 95 or higher. Even more remarkably, it’s not uncommon for heat pumps to reach 400 percent efficiency because of the way these systems capture and move heat without needing to burn fuel.
- Programmable thermostats: Programmable thermostats provide homeowners with a set of controls that allow precise and efficient operation of their home HVAC systems. Older mercury switch thermostats were little more than on/off switches for furnaces and air conditioners. The HVAC equipment would turn on in response to indoor temperature changes and run at its highest level until the thermostat sensed an appropriate change in temperature. Programmable models also turn HVAC systems off and on, but they allow you to take advantage of features that limit HVAC operation when it’s not needed. For example, they have set points, pre-programmed temperature settings that reduce HVAC system operation during the day when your house is empty and that automatically increase operation to ensure your home is comfortable when everyone returns from work or school.
- Variable-speed fans and blowers: Blowers are the powerful fans that force heated or cooled air out of the HVAC unit, into the ductwork, and through your home. Older style blowers usually ran on one speed, no matter how much heating or cooling was needed. Newer models have the ability to operate on a lower speed that saves energy and money when less indoor conditioning is required.
- Smart controllers: Some new HVAC systems can be operated by smart controllers that allow monitoring and adjustments to be made via a smartphone app or Web browser. With these devices, you can remotely track your home’s indoor temperature and make adjustments wherever you are. For example, you can increase the heating level while sitting in traffic to ensure the temperature is just right when you get home.
There are four major areas in your home that can benefit from improvements and renovations to increase energy efficiency.
Attics are a major potential source of air loss and energy waste in your home. In the winter, warm air can travel upward and escape from a poorly sealed and insulated attic space. In the summer, an unfinished attic can get extremely hot, and that excess heat can radiate downward into your living spaces. An attic insulation and sealing project can reduce these problems and improve both energy efficiency and home comfort.
- Increase attic insulation to prevent energy loss. Insulation can be added in the attic floor, ceiling and walls. Blanket-style insulation is commonly added between beams and joists. If the attic area is hard to reach with regular insulation, loose fill insulation pellets made of cellulose or fiberglass can be blown into the space.
- Seal gaps, cracks, holes and other openings in the attic walls where air leaks can occur. Look for these types of openings behind knee walls, at dropped soffits and recessed lights, at switch boxes or electrical outlets, at points where wiring enters the walls, and at wall or ceiling penetrations for chimneys, vent pipes, or attic fans.
- Secure doors, windows and walls. It can be very obvious to see how conditioned air is lost when doors are opened, but sometimes even closed doors and windows can let heated and cooled air escape. The same is true of poorly insulated walls; you may not be able to see it, but heat can either get into or escape from your home where insulation levels are low.
- Seal around door and window frames and casings with latex caulking.
- Seal around window panes with silicone caulking.
- Add weatherstripping around the edges of windows and doors to fill gaps and stop drafts.
- Install or increase insulation in walls. An energy audit can help you determine where insulation levels are low. Blanket insulation added between wall beams and joists is the most common material used for this project.
- Add energy-saving window treatments that keep out excess sunshine that can increase indoor temperatures in the summer.
- Ensure fireplace dampers are closed in the summer and when the fireplace isn’t being used in the winter.
- Seal around any penetrations in the walls, including points where electrical wiring, plumbing pipes, or utility connections come in. Latex caulking usually works well for this project.
- Seal around electrical outlets and switch boxes in the walls. Latex caulking is also a good choice here.
Since all of the heated or cooled air that controls indoor temperatures has to travel through the HVAC system’s ductwork, there’s an increased chance of costly air loss in this air distribution network. Ductwork should be checked, repaired and upgraded during every professional maintenance inspection.
Your HVAC professional should:
- Check to make sure the interior of ductwork is clean and free of dirt or other debris that could be blown out into your living spaces.
- Ensure all sections of ductwork fit tightly together and that there are no loose, missing or damaged sections.
- Apply mechanical fasteners such as screws to ductwork connections if necessary.
- Make sure all ductwork connections are properly sealed to prevent air leaks. Duct sealing is usually done with mastic, a specialized rubbery sealant intended especially for use on ducts.
- Ensure ductwork is properly insulated to prevent energy loss through the ductwork material. Rigid fiber board insulation in commonly used on ductwork. Ducts can also be wrapped with standard blanket-style insulation.
Basement and Crawl Space
Basements and crawl spaces, including foundation walls, are often not insulated, which means they’re a prime location where energy loss can occur.
- Locate and seal holes, cracks, gaps and openings where air leaks can occur. These openings can typically be found around windows, at structural penetrations for pipes or wiring, between rim joists, under the sill plate, and around crawl space doors.
- Add or increase the amount of insulation in between wall beams and joists, in larger holes, and in gaps between foundation and house frame.
Healthy Home Benefits
After investing in these HVAC technology upgrades and home efficiency improvements, what kinds of benefits can you expect to experience in your home?
- Improved indoor air quality: When openings that cause air leaks are closed, it also decreases the chance that dust, pollen, mold and other particulates can get into your home through those same openings. This increases indoor air quality by preventing contamination and giving your HVAC system an improved chance of filtering your indoor air. There will be less chance for allergies, asthma or other respiratory conditions to be aggravated by airborne material.
- More consistent heating and cooling: Insulation and air sealing stop the loss of conditioned air that keeps your indoor spaces comfortable. With proper insulation and sealing, temperatures in your home will be more consistent and occupants will be more comfortable.
- Increased monthly savings: When conditioned air leaks from your home, you’re not only losing air that you’ve already paid to heat or cool, you also have to pay more to condition more air to make up for the loss. A properly insulated and sealed home presents fewer opportunities for air leaks, which means you’ll pay less to keep your home at the comfort level you prefer. You’ll also extend the life of your HVAC system by reducing stress on the equipment to make up for the air loss.
Learn more about Conditioned Air’s HVAC services and products, or give us a call at (281) 561-6911 for around-the-clock attention.