Is Your A/C “Green” Enough?

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Residential energy costs (including heating and cooling) are a major environmental issue in our energy-driven society. Every budget-minded and environmentally-conscious household will want to be aware of how they can make their air conditioning more efficient and environmentally-friendly.

U.S. energy usageGraphic used by permission of Arctic Air Services

The following pointers will help you counteract the effects of dirt build-up, maximize air-flow, cut electrical costs and reduce your home’s carbon footprint.

A Clean Air Filter Means a Green A/C

There are several negative consequences associated with a dirty air conditioning unit — increased utility expenditures, damaged equipment, inefficient ventilation and wasteful energy consumption, to name a few. However, these hazards can easily be avoided by cleaning your A/C filters regularly and changing them out when necessary.

When a filter becomes weighed down by layers of dust, grime and harmful allergens, healthy air circulation declines significantly. As a result, the A/C unit launches into overdrive, causing gradual burn-out which will escalate your electrical bills, in addition to costly repairs.

A dirty filter also results in cooling coil malfunctions. When excess grime penetrates these coils, ice builds up inside the infrastructure, leading to insufficient cool air supply. Over time, this will freeze the coils and potentially ruin the entire HVAC system.

Another side-effect to consider is a possibility of overheating. During the winter, warm air can accumulate around the heat exchanger, causing the dehumidifier to overcompensate and the framework to crack. If this occurs, your heat exchanger must be replaced immediately; otherwise, housefires, system failure and carbon monoxide emission might result.

Prevent these issues from taking place by ensuring your filters are unobstructed by dust and grime particles. Energy Star recommends cleaning or even replacing A/C filters once per month, as this routine will allow safe untainted air-flow to freely infiltrate your home. Periodically cleaning the actual A/C unit is also advisable; however, you will need a professional and licensed contractor to demonstrate this more labor-intensive process.

Check the Ducts & Switch to Eco-Friendly Insulation

Air conditioning and insulation work jointly with each other which means that rooms without A/C ventilation — such as the attic — must be adequately insulated in order to maintain consistent air circulation and avoid drafts. These alternatives to traditional insulation methods, like foam or fiberglass, are both energy efficient and affordable to implement:

  • Wool: This natural, renewable and sustainable material is produced under “green” manufacturing conditions. Unlike fiberglass, the fibers are also breathable enough to both absorb and release moisture without compromising thermal performance. In addition, sheep’s wool is noncombustible which slows smoke progression in the event of a fire.
  • Cotton: This formaldehyde-free material is typically made from recycled denim in accordance with environmentally conscious initiatives. Studies also show that cotton insulates just as effectively as its less energy efficient fiberglass counterpart. Although this textile is expensive, its longevity and durability balance out the price tag.

Pay Attention to the Unit’s SEER Rating

When purchasing an air conditioner or discussing maintenance with your serviceman, inquire about its SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) rating. This measurement gauges how much energy the A/C system uses. Elevated SEER ratings indicate optimal “green” functionality.

Since January 2006, the federal government has mandated that all central air equipment be manufactured with a SEER-13 rating. The most eco-friendly units available can reach up to SEER-18 or even SEER-23.

So, how does a SEER rating determine whether your A/C is safe for the environment? Well, consider this scenario: If a homeowner in Florida installs a SEER-16 system, the savings amount to $2,070 in operating costs throughout the unit’s entire lifespan, while preventing nearly 30,000 pounds of greenhouse gases from being released into the atmosphere — the equivalent of removing three cars from the road each year or planting four acres of forest.

Clean & Clear Away Debris Around the Unit

If the vicinity surrounding your air conditioner is cluttered with dirt particles, the unit will once again be forced to overcompensate, so the area should remain entirely unobstructed.

Remove weeds or vines that grow in close proximity to your A/C and could potentially block air-flow through the condenser unit. Also, scoop leaves from the condenser base and make sure its drainage system is working properly.

Another option is to vacuum these debris and use a rag to wipe the blower’s fan blades. Finally, tighten any loose mountain bolts and add a few drops of lightweight oil spray or WD-40 onto the fan motor lubrication ports.

The Ideal Green Temperature

Finally, to ensure optimal performance level, your A/C should regularly run on 78 degrees, as even a 5 degree difference — either higher or lower in temperature — can use approximately 40% more energy. Energy Star confirms this 78 degree benchmark will maximize ventilation efficiency, thereby cutting utility costs and decreasing your household’s carbon footprint.

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