Are you an eco-conscious homeowner who also wants to cool their home? Going green doesn’t have to mean sweltering away in the summer heat. Whether your home isn’t air conditioned, uses energy-zapping window units, or has an older, inefficient system, take a look at what you need to know about your residential AC choices and the environment.
Are All Air Conditioners Equal?
No, all air conditioners are not equal. Home air conditioners differ in several ways — some of which won’t make much of a difference to your green lifestyle and some will impact the environment. These include everything from where you place or install the air conditioner to the amount of electricity it uses to cool your home. The primary differences green homeowners should consider include the type of AC system used and the overall efficiency and environmental impact of the air conditioner.
What Types of Air Conditioners Are Available for Residential Use?
The type of air conditioner you choose for your home can affect overall energy consumption, interior comfort, noise levels, and the environmental impact. The three most common types of residential cooling options include:
- Central forced air systems. These whole-home systems force cooled air through ducts and into rooms through vents. To install this system you will need air ducts inside of your home, a central unit, and an outdoor condenser.
- Mini-split AC systems. Like a central system, a mini-split air conditioner requires an outdoor condenser. But instead of a central unit and ducts, this system relies on individual air handlers. This allows you to create a zoned type of cooling plan.
- Window air conditioners. These easy-to-install units sit in the window and can cool one space or room. Unlike central or mini-split systems, a window unit is movable and plugs into a wall outlet.
Along with these types of air conditioning options, some homeowners choose smaller portable units. These are typically not energy efficient and won’t cool larger spaces effectively.
What AC-Related Energy Issues Should You Consider?
Energy use has a major environmental impact. A low efficiency AC system is not part of a green or sustainable home plan. Not only do low efficiency systems use much more electricity than necessary, these air conditioners may not keep your home’s interior cool and comfortable. Before you invest in a new air conditioner, consider these cooling environmental issues:
- SEER. SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. This is the cooling output of the system divided by the power used during the warmest months of the year. The higher the SEER number the better. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, new energy efficient systems may have a SEER up to 26.
- EER. EER stands for Energy Efficiency Ratio. Like SEER, the higher the number the better. Central systems and window units have EER numbers.
- Ducts. Air ducts can cause cooling loss. Small breaks in ducts allow air to leak out. This can increase a central forced air system’s overall energy usage and make it less efficient than what the SEER or EER rating would lead you to believe.
- Installation. Improper sizing or installation can reduce energy efficiency. This makes it important to work with a qualified HVAC contractor who understands your home’s energy needs.
- Type of AC. Multiple window units will typically use more energy than a single central or mini-split system. If you don’t need to cool your whole home, a mini-split option offers energy reduction possibilities though a zoned approach.
Even though high SEER and EER models may offer initial energy usage benefits, poor (or lack of) maintenance can significantly reduce your air conditioner’s efficiency. To maintain an energy efficient household, schedule regular pre- and post-season service calls.
What Other AC-Related Environmental Issues Should You Consider?
Energy efficiency is a major issue for green homeowners. But energy usage isn’t the only way that residential cooling systems impact the planet. The refrigerant in a home’s air conditioner could contribute to the depletion of the Earth’s ozone layer, but it doesn’t have to. If you’re not sure how your system already impacts the ozone layer (and the Earth’s environment) or what you need to know about new systems, points to discuss with your HVAC contractor include:
- CFC and HCFCs. Older systems often use ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) as refrigerants. In the late ’90s, the U.S. government began phasing out CFCs. The U.S. stopped importing and making HCFC-containing refrigerants in January of 2020.
- R-410A. This is the type of refrigerant used to replace previous options. Unlike CFCs and HCFCs, R-410A refrigerant does not have the same environmental impact on the ozone layer. If you purchase a new system, it should use this type of refrigerant.
- Leaks. Any refrigerant leak is bad for the environment. The chemical should stay contained in your home’s system. Leaks in lines allow it to leach out into your yard and potentially contaminate the surrounding area. A qualified technician can inspect the system for leaks and discuss replacement options.
A low-impact refrigerant combined with a high-efficiency system can help you to green your home. To learn more about your options, discuss brand choice, installation, and upgrades (such as smart systems) with your contractor.
Are you ready to make a change and install a new HVAC system? Contact Steele Brothers Heating, Inc. for more information.