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Top 11 Ways to Get Better HVAC Energy Efficiency

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Last Updated on January 23, 2019


hvac energy efficiency

There’s a saying about saving power: the cheapest kilowatt-hour is the one you don’t use. HVAC energy efficiency starts with a mindset of using less and getting the most out of what you have. Since HVAC systems represent a significant portion of typical energy costs (experts say as much as 50 to 60 percent), these measures can make a big difference.

Today we’re sharing with you the top 11 ways to increase your HVAC energy efficiency.

Before we get started, let’s clear up some frequently used terms about HVAC energy efficiency. These ratings will help you better understand what you’re getting out of your temperature control system.

SEER- Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio
This is the ratio of cooling output in BTU (British thermal units) divided by electricity usage in kilowatt hours. The higher the number, the more HVAC energy efficiency it has. The SEER rating uses real seasonal cooling, not laboratory conditions.

EER- Energy Efficiency Ratio
This number is like SEER except it doesn’t use seasonal averages, but instead calculates the ratio from strict laboratory conditions. A higher number reveals better HVAC energy efficiency.

HSPF- Heating Seasonal Performance Factor
This is a ratio for heat pump efficiency. Heat pumps can cycle in both directions to produce heat and cool air. This measures the total space heating needed in BTU over total electricity used by heat pump in kilowatt-hours. A higher number indicates a more efficient heat pump.

1. Retrofitting

There are many reasons for retrofitting. Are you:

  • Tired of fixing an old unit?
  • Moving to a new location? You might not want to invest in a new system when you’re leaving soon.
  • Need to buy time before you can invest in a new system?
  • Looking for increased HVAC energy efficiency and better comfort?

Good candidates for retrofitting are well-maintained, energy intensive, large systems that get a lot of use. The Department of Energy has found that you can save up to 35% annually in energy costs if you increase HVAC energy efficiency by adding or replacing parts. Retrofits put off total upgrades and can improve comfort with consistent temperatures and humidity. You can retrofit both air conditioners and heating equipment.

You might even be eligible for a rebate from your energy company. Learn more: Be a Hero: Save Money on Energy For Your Business with Energy Rebates

Methods of retrofitting air conditioners include:

  • Replacing the compressor
  • Adding condenser fan controls
  • Adding demand-controlled ventilation
  • Adding air side economizers, which take advantage of cool outside air

2. Programmable controls and thermostat

Forgot to turn down the thermostat when no one’s in the office? Everyone’s done it. Increase HVAC energy efficiency with an automated system that controls lights and the thermostat. You can always adjust so that the conditions go on and off at your schedule. Replacing old lights with compact fluorescent or LED bulbs will also help save power.

Read more about automated thermostats: Smart Thermostat Reviews: Nest Learning & Honeywell Wi-Fi

3. Invest in energy efficient HVAC equipment

You can get double or triple return on investment if you’re replacing a system that’s at least 10 years old. Newer models have higher SEER ratings, which means more HVAC energy efficiency. Today’s SEER ratings are around 14 to 18, a significant improvement over units built a decade ago. Also, look out for Energy Star rated models, which adhere to strict guidelines.

4. Insulate: don’t lose that valuable conditioned air

You may lose a lot of conditioned air to a poorly insulated building. Get better HVAC energy efficiency by trapping in all the air (as well as heated or cooled air) that it produces. Consider adding insulation to walls and windows. Pipes, ducts, and outlets are also usual suspects for energy loss that you might not have considered. You can wrap them in insulation to save energy. The amount a material insulates a space is called the r value. The higher the r value, the more it traps in conditioned air.

Learn more about ducts and ventilation: What is Ventilation and How Does It Impact Your HVAC Comfort?

5. Preserve airflow

Help HVAC energy efficiency by keeping units clean and clear of debris, leaves and dust. Also ensure vents and ducts are not blocked by furniture. Preserving airflow is also important to the efficient operation of an AC unit.

Related article: Top 10 Causes of HVAC Airflow Problems

6. Be vigilant about maintenance

Regular maintenance serves to keep your equipment running efficiently to maximize HVAC energy efficiency. Be sure to keep your appointments for seasonal maintenance, at the start and end of heating and cooling seasons at a minimum (your commercial HVAC service company can recommend the right schedule based on your usage). You’ll also save money by avoiding lump-sum costs of expensive repairs.

Related article: Air Conditioning Maintenance Doesn’t Cost. It Pays.

Get the guide to understanding your HVAC System's hidden costs.

7. Tweak your thermostat

Ever find yourself complaining about a heat wave because the temperature went up one whole degree? No? People aren’t usually perceptive of temperature changes within two or three degrees Fahrenheit. Setting your thermostat closer to the temperature outside will save you quite a bit and increase your HVAC energy efficiency.

When it’s hot outside, a HVAC system set at 75 degrees will use 18% more energy than one set at 78 degrees. And setting it at 72 degrees uses 39% more energy than 78 degrees. You should turn it up even more when people are not present. A programmable thermostat makes temperature control like clockwork.

8. Change air filters

Blocked air filters are a common cause of HVAC energy efficiency issues. When a filter gets clogged, your equipment runs longer and uses more power. Filters trap dust before it can enter the system and damage parts. When the filter clogs, dust can collect on fan blades and other motor parts, slowing the unit down and wasting electricity.

Wondering why air filters are so important? Find out more: What Happens When You Don’t Change the AC Filter

9. Power down electronics

Turn off electronics like exercise equipment, computers, machinery, and media systems while not in use. Not only does it save you the energy that these items are drawing, it will also generate less heat. Your AC will use less energy to cool down your space.

Even while not in use, electronics draw electricity just by being plugged in. The US Department of Energy has found that dormant, constantly-plugged-in appliances account for 5 to 10% of total residential energy use. To save the most energy, combine HVAC energy efficiency with overall energy efficiency in order.

10. Switch to a VRF (Variable Refrigerant Flow) HVAC

If you are looking to upgrade your HVAC or need to replace your system entirely, consider getting a VRF, or a Variable Refrigerant Flow energy efficient HVAC system. These systems provide cooling and heat, even simultaneously in different parts of the same building. With such individually controlled zones, your unit never uses more energy than it needs. The compressor has variable speeds and only runs at the capacity it needs, which increases HVAC energy efficiency.

Other types of compressors include Tandem and Scroll. Tandem compressors use multiple compressors working together. Each compressor receives a lighter load, which means they are less likely to break and last longer. Scroll compressors use a more efficient refrigerant that saves energy and makes it more reliable.

Learn more about choosing the right type of air conditioning system for your NYC commercial space: The Ultimate Guide to NYC Light Commercial Air Conditioning.

11. Make education about HVAC energy efficiency a priority

Employees and tenants should know about consumption reduction measures so they can do their part. Employees and especially tenants should be made aware that you are monitoring energy use. Have a meeting and inform everyone about the benefits of turning lights off and turning thermostats up. Education will help them support your initiative for HVAC energy efficiency.