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Using Less Energy this Winter Won’t Leave You Cold

This winter, you can save money by using less energy — without sacrificing that nice warm feeling generated by your home’s heating system. You can do it yourself with a three-step plan. Or you can ask your local Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) contractor to handle the technical work for you.

Manage the Thermostat
When you come home from work, don’t give into the temptation to move the thermostat to a very high setting to heat the house faster. Heating systems are designed to pump out a set volume of warm air per minute. When you turn the thermostat up an extra 10 degrees, the system runs longer, overshoots your temperature mark and wastes energy. Instead, select the lowest possible temperature that will keep you and your family comfortable. Remember, energy use goes down 3 to 4 percent for every degree you lower the temperature below your normal set point. Before going to bed at night, set the thermostat down a few degrees. When you get up, put it back to the regular setting — or leave it alone until everyone returns from work and school in the evening. A better way to manage the temperature is to install a programmable thermostat. Program the thermostat so the temperature goes down a few degrees at night and when no one is home. 

Yea, Yea, Change the Filter
At the risk of telling you something you’re tired of hearing, replace the air filter in your furnace. Dirty air filters reduce the amount of air flowing through a system and make the furnace work harder to maintain the temperature. So change the filter every month. Enough said about filters. If you have a heat pump, clean the outside condensing coil. Dirt, leaves, grass and other debris can block airflows and reduce efficiency. Clean up around the unit, removing all obstructions within a distance of a foot or so. As a safety measure, homeowners with fossil fuel burning systems should consider installing carbon monoxide (CO) monitors to ensure the safe quality of the indoor air.

Rate Your System
Home heating and cooling systems typically last for 15 years. When a unit begins to show its age, you have two choices. You can overhaul the system or replace it. Because heating and cooling technologies improve over time, a new system designed with newer, more energy-efficient equipment makes sense, especially if your system is 10 or more years old. If your system has reached a critical age, ask an ACCA contractor for advice. He or she can estimate the cost of a new system as well as a payback schedule that will show you how newer technology will pay you back in lower energy usage.

The One-Step Method: Professional Preventive Maintenance
If you aren’t comfortable dealing with heating, ventilating and air conditioning equipment, an ACCA contractor can look after your system better than you can. A qualified professional should check your system once or twice a year. A professional can change the filter, clean up and inspect the system to ensure all the components are working properly. Here’s what an inspection entails:

  • Ensuring supply and return ducts are tightly connected, insulated and sealed to prevent the loss of air, heat and dollars
  • Cleaning and servicing humidifiers to keep them operating efficiently
  • Inspecting heat exchangers for defects and cracks
  • Verifying controls and safeties are working properly
  • Evaluating vents and chimneys to make sure all toxic combustion products flow to the outside
  • Ensuring the proper amount of combustion air is being fed into furnaces and boilers. Maintaining the heat pump by testing the airflow and charging the refrigerant as necessary. Studies show a 10 percent loss of refrigerant raises energy use (and costs) by 20 percent.
You can ask your ACCA contractor to handle these chores under a preventive maintenance agreement or PMA. PMAs typically cover one or two full-service maintenance visits per year, provide discounts for parts and service work and ensure you receive priority service should a system failure occur during the cold of the winter or the heat of the summer. Whether you look after your system yourself or with a PMA, a well maintained heating system will use less energy to heat your home this winter.

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