Latest heating, cooling technology offers convenience, higher efficiency
Denny Mumau, co-owner of Anderson’s Heating and Air Conditioning, in Indiana, in business since 1980, remembers installing air conditioning equipment years ago that had a SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) of 8.
The SEER of a unit is the cooling output divided by the total electric energy input. The higher a unit’s SEER rating, the more energy efficient it is.
Now a SEER of 13 is the minimum that can be installed, and some recently manufactured equipment has a SEER of 20 and higher.
[This is a sample of the feature stories appearing in the SPRING HOME SHOW special section of The Indiana Gazette, Tuesday, March 12.]
Those higher efficiencies, and the money they can save on heating and cooling expenses, are why many homeowners are upgrading their homes’ furnaces and air conditioners, Mumau said.
Many gas furnaces now boast efficiency ratings of 95 percent, and some oil furnaces have efficiencies in the 80-plus percent range, he said.
If a home furnace is 20 years old or older, it probably makes sense to consider replacing it with a new, higher-efficiency model, in Mumau’s opinion.
MINI-SPLIT HEAT PUMPS
Available for a few years, mini-split air conditioners and mini-split heat pumps are another home cooling and heating option growing in popularity.
Mini-splits are typically mounted on walls and are ductless.
“A lot of people don’t have a way to install ductwork” in their homes, Mumau said. And because a mini-split’s compressor/condenser is on the outside of a home, the system is whisper-quiet, so quiet they are well-suited for use in churches and even recording studios, Mumau said.
They’re also a handy feature in sunrooms where glass walls allow the rooms to get very warm or very cold, depending on the season.
Communicating units are another popular trend in home energy management, Mumau said. Communicating units allow indoor and outdoor heating and air conditioning equipment to interact with a home’s thermostat, enabling the homeowner to control cooling and heating functions remotely by a cellphone.
To further reduce their energy expenses, more homeowners are also switching to “on-demand” water heaters. Instead of keeping a large tank of water constantly hot and ready for use, electric- or gas-fired on-demand heaters heat water only when it’s needed.
“It doesn’t run if you’re not running water,” Mumau said.
An on-demand heater’s response in providing hot water is nearly instantaneous, Mumau said.
CAN PAY FOR ITSELF
According to a U.S. Department of Energy website, for homes that use 41 gallons or less of hot water daily, on-demand heaters can be up to 34 percent more energy efficient than conventional storage tank systems. In other words, in three or four years an on-demand water heater can pay for itself in savings.
Dave Allison, owner and president of Davis Brothers Heating and Air Conditioning, of Indiana, said on-demand water heaters have another advantage.
Unlike a hot water tank that can eventually run out of hot water, an on-demand heater provides unlimited hot water as long as it is sized properly for the application.
Davis Brothers has been helping heat and cool Indiana-area homes and businesses since 1946, and has been a Lennox dealer since 1965. Allison, too, has seen overall efficiency of heating and cooling equipment steadily rise, and Lennox now makes an air conditioning system with a SEER of 25.
Allison recommends that if a home furnace is 15 years old or older, it’s time to think seriously about upgrading to a much more efficient model.
Among Davis Brothers customers, WiFi thermostats are a popular option because they can be operated from anywhere through Internet access, allowing homeowners to better manage heating and cooling systems.
And Davis Brothers continues to install more geothermal systems for homes and businesses as people learn more about those, Allison said.
Closed loop geothermal heat pumps circulate a carrier fluid through pipes buried in the ground near a home.
As the fluid circulates underground it absorbs heat stored in the ground, and the heat is released as the fluid circulates back through the home.
The same system can be used to circulate and cool the fluid underground for cooling a home in the summer months.
The upfront costs of a geothermal system are higher, but the payback comes through the system’s high efficiency.
“Especially if you take advantage of tax credits” that can pay for 30 percent of a geothermal system, Allison said.
The tax credits bring geothermal systems closer in line with the cost of a conventional heating-cooling system.
As a rule of thumb, Allison said, a homeowner planning to stay in his or her home at least 10 years should consider a geothermal system, because through higher efficiency it will pay for itself in that time, and probably sooner.