Homeowners and single-family property owners alike know how energy-intensive their heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems can be. In fact, HVAC systems account for on average 39 percent of all electricity used in commercial buildings.
But according to the U.S. Department of Energy, upwards of 30 percent of HVAC costs are lost to waste. It’s reasonable, therefore, to conclude that improving the energy efficiency of a building can significantly reduce overhead costs.
Energy efficiency is a win-win scenario. Homeowners and business owners benefit by saving money, and Mother Nature benefits when upgrades reduce their environmental impact.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Americans are responsible for about 18 percent of the world’s primary energy consumption, while representing less than 5 percent of the world’s population. But commercial buildings in the United States could save as much as $60 billion by increasing energy efficiency investments by just 1-4 percent. And the 37 percent of Americans who live in rental properties are also better served by HVAC systems that are energy efficient.
Gone are the days when property owners installed large air-conditioning units and heaters. Now, they are far more likely to opt for smaller units that deliver energy-efficient climate control.
What is an energy-efficient HVAC system? Obviously, it’s one that utilizes the least-possible amount of energy to regulate a home’s indoor temperature. The SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating) scale was developed to educate consumers on the energy consumption and costs of HVAC systems.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), homeowners and property owners who replace an older air-conditioner with a model that scores a higher SEER can save up to 40 percent on their cooling costs.
The green approach may require a higher initial cost, but the savings over the course of time make it a valuable investment. According o the National Institute of Building Sciences’ Whole Building Design Guide, installing a high-performance HVAC system in conjunction with an energy-efficient building design can result in a 30-percent reduction in annual energy costs for an initial investment that can be paid back within three to five years.
Business owners and property managers seeking to reduce their environmental impact – and save money – can choose to make energy efficient improvements, reduce a building’s heat load, perform HVAC upgrades or even install a new state-of-the-art HVAC system.
Energy Efficient Improvements
Before investing in a new HVAC system or making other HVAC upgrades, the DOE recommends property owners first ensure the building is properly sealed and insulated. If the building is air-tight and well insulated, you can likely get away with a smaller HVAC unit. Other energy-efficient improvements could include installing double-paned windows, upgrading to programmable thermostats and regularly changing HVAC filters.
Reduced Heat Load
Every energy efficient improvement made to a house alters its head load. According to the DOE, by improving ceiling and wall insulation, upgrading to double-paned windows, increasing window overhangs and eliminating duct leakage, the heat load of a 2,000 square foot house in North Carolina could be cut in half.
But when the heat load is reduced, the existing HVAC system will be far too large for the building. Only by upgrading to a system sized appropriately for the reduced heat load will the property owner truly maximize energy efficiency.
The DOE even evaluated the efficiency of the same North Carolina home with and without an HVAC upgrade. The original 4-5-ton system would allow for a 54 percent savings in heating and 47 percent savings in cooling costs after other improvements were made. But by upgrading to a smaller, 2-ton system that can still accommodate the lighter heat load, the homeowner would save 63 percent on heating consumption and 53 percent on cooling costs.
According to Pacific Gas and Electric, simply properly sealing heating and cooling ducts can improve HVAC efficiency by at least 20 percent. Plus, regularly changing dirty air filters can reduce wasted energy by as much as 10 percent.
Regular maintenance will also extend the lifetime and lower costs associated with an HVAC system. By proactively performing maintenance regularly, the overall costs of maintaining a system can be reduced by 40 percent, in addition to ensuring units are always using the least amount of energy necessary.
Sometimes the costs of replacing parts and other ongoing HVAC maintenance becomes greater than simply replacing the system with a newer model. Often equipment that has outlived its usefulness continues to operate, and property owners might be reluctant to invest in new equipment. But eventually that antiquated equipment will deteriorate beyond use, so it might as well be replaced once it has outlived its efficient usefulness.
HVAC systems more than 10 years old can be replaced with ENERGY STAR-certified products. These air conditioners and heat pumps reduce energy costs by as much as 20 percent. Rooftop HVAC units can even be retrofitted with advanced digital economizer controls and sensors so that air is only ventilated as needed.