Frequently Asked Questions & Additional Information
What is the single biggest user of electricity in my house?
If your house has central air conditioning, the air conditioner is probably the biggest user by far. Although used only a few months of the year, the annual cost can be much greater than the annual cost of your refrigerator, which is typically the next largest user. In our part of Texas, the annual air conditioner cost can exceed a thousand dollars. You can get a very rough idea of what your air conditioner is costing you by subtracting the electric portion of your bill in a spring month when you aren't using your air conditioner from the electric portion of the bill in the summer when you do use it. This gives you the monthly cost. Multiply this by the number of months you use your air conditioner to arrive at your approximate annual cost.
Refrigerators are typically the largest users in houses without air conditioning or in climates where the air conditioners are used only a few days of the month during the cooling season. If your refrigerator is more than ten years old you should consider replacing it. New efficiency standards went into effect in 1992, and older refrigerators are typically two to three times more expensive to run than a new unit. For more information go directly to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy's list of most efficient refrigerator-freezers.
What are the most common mistakes people make in trying to save energy around the house?
Here are a few mistakes that people commonly make:
~letting the furnace or air conditioner salesperson sell them a unit that is much bigger than they need
~not getting the ducts checked for leakage when installing a new heating and cooling system,
~thinking that "since heat rises, we only need to insulate the attic." Floors over a basement or crawlspace, walls and windows also matter.
~not using ceiling and portable fans to improve comfort in the cooling season. They use very little electricity and use can use them to circulate air in the house. If you want to make the house feel cooler by doing this, the thermostat setting for your air conditioner can be raised to 85°F, and still maintain the same comfort as the lower setting.
Why are my bills so high?
There are a number of factors that cause differences in energy bills, so comparing your bill to someone else's is like comparing apples to oranges. The ages of major appliances, especially refrigerators and air conditioners, can make a dramatic difference in your bill. In addition, if your house leaks air like a sieve while your neighbor's house was just weatherized and insulated, you will have much higher heating and cooling bills. Other factors that can result in significant differences in bills are the number and kinds of lighting fixtures, thermostat settings for heating and cooling, the number of loads of laundry, old refrigerators out in the garage, and hobbies which result in electricity use.
We have an older house. Which should we do first: insulate or replace the furnace?
Whether you should insulate or replace your furnace first depends on the situation in your house. Factors that influence this decision are the age and efficiency of your furnace, and the amount of insulation currently present in the house. In general it is more cost-effective to upgrade insulation than it is to upgrade your furnace. However, if your furnace is old, and you are planning on replacing it anyway, you might want to upgrade the furnace if you have to choose between the two options. The average lifetime for a furnace is between 15 and 20 years. The efficiency of furnaces has increased over the years, so the older a furnace is, the more likely that furnace is to be inefficient. The average efficiency of new furnaces has increased from 63% in 1972 to 83% in 1995. Older furnaces, and furnaces which are used a lot are more cost-effective to replace than newer or infrequently used furnaces. Also, if you insulate your house at the time of furnace replacement, you might be able to buy a smaller capacity furnace and save money on the price. The same holds true for A/C and other heating and cooling equipment.
Is brand the most important factor in energy-efficiency?
It's HOW it's done, not what is done. Consumer Reports in June 1998 found that one fifth of the A/C contractors surveyed said that the primary reason for their service call was IMPROPER APPLICATION OR INCORRECT INSTALLATION. The brand you choose has only minimal effect on what an installed system may cost in the end.
Texas A&M University- A 23% refrigerant undercharge could result in a 52% efficiency loss.
Louisiana State University- Consumers save approximately $30 per month over the life of a system if it is properly cleaned and serviced versus a system that is not maintained.
U.S. Department of Energy- Typical duct systems waste 20%-40% of it's heating or cooling capability through leaks or lack of insulation.
North Carolina Alternative Energy Corporation This is a non-profit organization that examined air conditioning units for actual efficiency after installation:
1) 90% of units exhibited some for of an energy wasting problem.
2) 50% of units had an improper refrigerant charge
3) 40% of units failed to meet proper air flow criterion.
What is Duct Cleaning?
Most people are now aware that indoor air pollution is an issue of growing concern and increased visibility. Many companies are marketing products and services intended to improve the quality of your indoor air. You have probably seen an advertisement, received a coupon in the mail, or been approached directly by a company offering to clean your air ducts as a means of improving your home's indoor air quality. These services typically -- but not always -- range in cost from $450 to $1,000 per heating and cooling system, depending on the services offered, the size of the system to be cleaned, system accessibility, climatic region, and level of contamination.
Duct cleaning generally refers to the cleaning of various heating and cooling system components of forced air systems, including the supply and return air ducts and registers, grilles and diffusers, heat exchangers heating and cooling coils, condensate drain pans (drip pans), fan motor and fan housing, and the air handling unit housing (See diagram).
If not properly installed, maintained, and operated, these components may become contaminated with particles of dust, pollen or other debris. If moisture is present, the potential for microbiological growth (e.g., mold) is increased and spores from such growth may be released into the home's living space. Some of these contaminants may cause allergic reactions or other symptoms in people if they are exposed to them. If you decide to have your heating and cooling system cleaned, it is important to make sure the service provider agrees to clean all components of the system and is qualified to do so. Failure to clean a component of a contaminated system can result in re-contamination of the entire system, thus negating any potential benefits. Methods of duct cleaning vary, although standards have been established by industry associations concerned with air duct cleaning. Typically, a service provider will use specialized tools to dislodge dirt and other debris in ducts, then vacuum them out with a high-powered vacuum cleaner.
In addition, the service provider may propose applying chemical biocides, designed to kill microbiological contaminants, to the inside of the duct work and to other system components. Some service providers may also suggest applying chemical treatments (sealants or other encapsulants) to seal or cover the inside surfaces of the air ducts and equipment housings because they believe the sealant will control mold growth or prevent the release of dirt particles or fibers from ducts. These practices have yet to be fully researched and you should be fully informed before deciding to permit the use of biocides or sealants in your air ducts. They should only be applied, if at all, after the system has been properly cleaned of all visible dust or debris.
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Alergens in your home
Indoor Air Quality
Heat Pumps Explained
Air Conditioners Explained
All About Thermostats
High Energy Bills
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