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October 2, 2015
One of the primary benefits all of these technologies share in common is that they help to curb harmful carbon emissions caused by burning coal to produce electricity. Coal is, according to the United States Energy Information Administration, by far the largest source of electricity in the United States. Unfortunately, as Greenpeace has found, coal is responsible for up to a third of all carbon emissions worldwide. Renewable power sources like solar, as well as high-efficiency HVAC equipment, can help to reduce dependence on coal, keeping the air clean for future generations. We’ll take a look at 5 options for sustainability in HVAC.
1. Programmable Thermostats
Programmable thermostats offer great energy savings. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency has found that these devices can save the average person about $180 a year in energy costs. As The Refrigeration School notes, programmable thermostats that can connect to the Internet have a multitude of helpful capabilities, such as remote programming, the ability to recall a preferred temperature setting and the ability to monitor humidity levels in respect to temperature. These thermostats can also use an area's zip code to adjust the thermostat setting according to the regional climate.
2. High-Efficiency Heat Pumps
Heating your home with a furnace and cooling it with an air conditioner can use a lot of electricity. In fact, it could account for more than half of your home’s energy use, according to the Department of Energy (DOE). Heat pumps offer an energy-efficient alternative. They work by moving heat from the outside air into your home in the winter and out of it in the summertime, providing climate control comparable to furnaces and A/C units at as little as 25% of the cost for the electricity, notes the DOE. Here are three different types of high-efficiency heat pumps:
• Air Source Heat Pumps (ASHPs): Utilizing air for heat transfer, air source heat pumps are among the most common types of heat pumps. Not only can ASHPs cut heating-related electricity usage by 30% to 40%, they’re better than central A/C units at dehumidifying the air. ASHPs distribute the conditioned air throughout the home via the ducts, which are a system of controlled pathways, usually constructed of sheet metal, fiberglass, or insulated plastic, for air flow.
• Mini-Split Heat Pumps: If you don’t have ducts in your home, you could opt for a mini-split heat pump. The DOE states that these heat pumps are great for new homes that only need a conditioning system for a small space or for those that need zoning, which is the process of only heating or cooling individual areas instead the entire house. Zoning is a great way to reduce energy costs in larger homes by only conditioning spaces when they are being used.
• High-SEER Options: The Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) is a rating for the cooling efficiency of a heat pump. The SEER describes how much energy will be necessary for a specific cooling output, explains the DOE. Old systems are often rated at 6 or less, while SEER 13 was set as the federal minimum standard in 2006. As of January 1, 2015 the federal standard increased to SEER 14 for the south and southwest regions. SEER ratings for heat pumps have reached unheard-of heights in recent years; for example, the manufacturer Westinghouse offers systems that operate at SEER 25.5. While the initial cost may be steep, homeowners will recoup much of the cost in cost savings over time—and they can feel good about the light carbon footprint that accompanies the units.
3. Geothermal Heating and Cooling Systems
Installing a geothermal heating and cooling system is yet another way to save money and reduce a home’s impact on the environment. Geothermal heat pumps use 25% to 50% less electricity than conventional HVAC units, and the Department of Energy estimates that the average homeowner can recoup the cost of buying and installing a geothermal unit in anywhere from two to ten years through lower utility bills.
A geothermal heating and cooling system also raises a home's value by $20 for every single dollar in utility bill savings on an annual basis, according to a study published in The Appraisal Journal. In other words, a homeowner whose electric bill goes down by $100 a year will find that his or her home is now worth $2,000 more than it was before. Furthermore, Earthlinked Technologies reports that installing a geothermal heating and cooling pump can enable a homeowner to qualify for federal tax credits and better mortgage interest rates than would otherwise have been available.
The Department of Energy indicates that while Desiccant Enhanced Evaporative Air Conditioning (DEVAP) systems, a relatively new technology, will reach commercial enterprises first, they will likely later become available for residential installation. How does it work? This revolutionary technology relies on innovations in evaporative technologies, and utilizes certain materials (known as desiccant materials) to remove humidity from the air. DEVAP uses up to 90% less electricity and 80% less total energy than conventional HVAC systems, representing significant savings for average homeowners. As the EPA reports, the typical household pays an average of nearly $1,100 on heating and cooling costs alone, a figure that may significantly decrease should homeowners switch over to DEVAP HVAC units in the future.
5. Solar Energy
Solar energy is growing in popularity, and it’s a great alternative to using electricity from fossil fuels to power your HVAC equipment. Any air conditioner or heating system that runs on electricity could theoretically be converted to solar power. Some systems, on the other hand, have solar panels built into them. For example, solar water heating systems are typically composed of a solar collector, insulated piping, and a hot water storage tank. These can easily be coupled with a traditional in-floor radiant heating system.
Fortunately, the cost of solar panels has significantly declined in recent years, according to Clean Technica. SEIA also provides an overview of other solar heating and cooling systems and how they work. It should also be noted that the cost of conventional energy derived from coal and other fossil fuels is expected to rise over the coming decade. Those who want to avoid having to pay rising utility bill fees might wish to consider installing a solar-powered heating and cooling unit. The more efficient your HVAC equipment is, the less you would need to spend on your solar array to offset the energy used.
Achieve Financial and Environmental Goals
Environmentally friendly HVAC technologies have much to offer. They use less energy than conventional equipment, enabling a homeowner to potentially save hundreds of dollars every year. What is more, it is also possible to increase home value by installing the right heating and cooling system. In addition, green HVAC trends and developments have the potential to greatly decrease carbon emissions brought about by burning coal for electricity. Fortunately, there are a number of options to choose from, and it’s possible for a homeowner to create a comfortable indoor climate that meets both budget and sustainability goals.
By: Monica Gomez
Monica Gomez is a freelance writer studying journalism. She specializes in writing about technical blue collar businesses such as; HVAC, welding, and green tech.
Clint Wood, Homeowner, Bellvue, CO
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