In many areas, there is a reliance on central air conditioning systems to make the indoor temperatures comfortable. When it’s hot and humid, it can be difficult to get anything done and even our quality of sleep is degraded. But, using an AC system comes at a price, the energy expenditure for cooling systems is usually the largest portion of a monthly energy bill. In recent years, there has been a growing interest in the topic of energy availability and rising costs due to policy and the state of the global economy. So, it may seem strange to suggest that investing a significant sum into a new high-efficiency AC system is a good way to save money.
Is This a Viable Strategy?
The short answer is yes. Although the upfront costs of a new high-efficiency air conditioning system are considerable, there is no doubt that they can lower the monthly utility bills. It is true that energy saving can be made in other ways including scheduling a home energy audit, adding extra layers of insulation, weatherstripping doors, upgrading ductwork, and more. But, the biggest source of performance loss and energy inefficiency is usually the air conditioning itself. This is especially true if the AC system is reaching the end of its useful lifespan which is typically 12-15 years. The system will last further towards the upper end of that range if it’s regularly maintained by a professional HVAC technician.
Every year after the AC system is new, it will lose a little performance and energy efficiency which can be offset to a certain degree with maintenance. But, there will come a point when it becomes less financially viable to repair an aging AC system and it makes better financial sense to replace it entirely. This is when some people opt for a budget system to save money upfront over a good quality high-efficiency system that will save them far more in the medium to long-term. In fact, the costs of a high-efficiency AC system can be recouped in the form of lower energy bills faster than you may imagine.
Understanding the SEER Rating
When you’re in the market for a new AC system, you will notice that they all have a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) rating. This is a grading system and it informs the consumer on how efficiently the system can transform electricity into cooling for your home. A detailed explanation of how the SEER rating is calculated is beyond the scope of this article. The only thing that you need to remember is that higher SEER ratings indicate that the AC system is more energy efficient.
Recent legislation to improve air conditioning systems has to a certain extent driven technological advances in energy efficiency. This trend is set to continue, by 2023 all AC systems installed in the Northern States will have a minimum SEER rating of 14. To put this into some perspective, in the late 90s the lowest standard was a SEER rating of 10! Many cooling experts agree that a switch to a mid-range AC system with a SEER rating of 16 could lower air conditioning bills by up to 38% annually.
Although there are AC systems with higher SEER ratings up to 25, these are reserved for clinics, hospitals, clean rooms for manufacturing, and other high end applications. The problem is that higher SEER ratings mean that the air has to be cycled through denser air filters. By necessity, this means that the air needs to be forced through the filter and this requires a powerful motor that is energy intensive to use. So, there is a tradeoff! This may change in the future due to technological innovation, but right now a SEER rating of 14-16 is the sweet spot.
The AC Size Matters
When some people choose a new AC system, they go with the largest and least expensive unit that they can find. This is a flawed approach, the system cannot be too large or small or it will cause considerable problems in the home. If the system is too small, it will run constantly and it won’t have sufficient power to bring the home down to a comfortable temperature. If the system is too large, it may cool the space too quickly and turn off and on rapidly which is known as short-cycling. These issues can overwork the system leading to damage, which is expensive to fix. But, these problems also consume more energy which will increase the utility bills for no gain in performance.
The best way to find an AC system that is properly sized for your home is to carry out a load calculation. There are free online tools to do this for you, but they are only based on the square footage that you input into the calculator. There are many factors that need to be considered to complete an accurate load calculation including the orientation of the home, the number of windows, the insulation, the number of rooms, and many more. So, to get accurate results, it’s a great idea to contact your local heating and cooling specialist and ask them to carry out a load calculation for you. This will ensure that you get a system that will work efficiently in your home.
Choose a Professional Installation
It may be tempting to consider a DIY installation or to hire a local “handyman” to install a new high-efficiency AC system. This is a flawed approach because the quality of the installation will have a huge impact on the performance and energy efficiency characteristics. Even the best AC equipment cannot work to its full potential if it has been poorly installed. It’s also important to recognize the value of your investment, a new AC system isn’t cheap and it can be damaged during an amateur installation. It makes good sense to protect your investment, after all, you wouldn’t let an amateur work on your car either.
If you’re considering a high-efficiency air conditioner upgrade, contact your local heating and cooling specialist.