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Tips for choosing an energy-efficient, eco-friendly HVAC system

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The majority of Americans (74 percent) care about the environment, according to Pew Research. If you recycle regularly and have a programmable thermostat, you’re already doing something positive for the environment. But when it comes time to replace your heating, ventilation and cooling system, will you know how to make choices that protect your wallet and the environment?

Your home’s HVAC system accounts for about half of all the energy your home uses, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. You can lower your utility bills by choosing an efficient HVAC system that uses less energy. A more efficient system can also reduce your home’s environmental impact. NPR reports that heating a home with natural gas produces about 6,400 pounds of carbon dioxide and about 4,700 pounds if you heat with electricity. Air conditioning can produce up to 6,600 pounds of CO2 if you live in a warm climate.

Many factors can affect how efficient your HVAC system is, and how it affects the environment both inside and outside your home. An inefficient system or an older one that’s no longer functioning at its best can cause uneven heating and cooling, make loud noise, create humidity and run in frequent stops and starts. All these factors can affect your home’s comfort level. If you’re experiencing these problems, it’s likely time to replace your furnace, air conditioner or possibly both.

Learn about rating systems

Rating systems are intended to help consumers better understand what they’re getting when they make a purchase, and make more informed decisions about what to buy. When you’re evaluating the energy efficiency of an HVAC system, it’s important to understand these ratings and what they mean:

  • SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) — SEER speaks to the efficiency of a system’s air-conditioning unit by measuring performance over a hypothetical cooling season. The ratio compares the amount of cooling provided by the AC unit (measured in British thermal units, or BTUs) with the amount of energy the central system consumes (measured in watts per hour). The size and installation of the equipment, and your energy use patterns, will determine the unit’s actual efficiency, but SEER can give you an idea of probable performance.
  • AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency) — AFUE measures heating efficiency for furnaces, boilers and water heaters. Manufacturers use AFUE to help them complete the federally required EnergyGuide label you’ll see on these appliances. The label gives an idea of how much energy the equipment will use, compares it to similar products, and approximates the annual operating costs. AFUE is also a factor in equipment qualifying for ENERGY STAR certification, which requires manufacturers to demonstrate their products are energy efficient.
  • HSPF (Heating Seasonal Performance Factor) — For electric heat pumps, energy efficiency is measured a bit differently. HSPF uses BTU information to calculate heat output divided by the total electricity the heat pump consumes during a heating season.

Right-sizing your system

Many homeowners have no problem understanding a system that’s too small for their home won’t function efficiently or do its job well. However, purchasing a system that’s too large for your home can be just as bad. Systems that are too large waste energy and boost utility bills, create uneven temperatures, are poor at controlling humidity and can develop maintenance problems over time.


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