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Tech advancements help keep homes cool in summer
West Orange Times & Observer Thursday, Jul. 16, 2015 3 years ago

Tech advancements help keep homes cool in summer

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by: Catherine Kerr

Homeowners in the United States use more energy to heat and cool their homes than they use for any other purpose — it can often be as great as 40% of a home’s energy consumption, on average.

In Florida’s climate, it can be particularly costly to keep interiors at a comfortable temperature during the summer. 

Don Cross, a home solutions specialist at Armstrong Air and Heating, based in Winter Garden, said one of the easiest ways to save money on air costs is to have systems regularly maintained.

“We try and educate homeowners to think of their AC systems like cars,” Cross said. “Most people won’t go a year without changing oil and rotating tires, so why go a year without servicing your AC system?”

Central air conditioning units are more efficient than room air conditioners. And for homes with central air, there are some new technologies for people who wish to cut their electric costs and carbon footprint, as well as some improvements to familiar methods that have always been considered effective. 

ENERGY STAR

As of Jan. 1, 2015, federal standards dictate that new air conditioning systems on the market must have a SEER rating of 14 or higher. The SEER, or seasonal energy efficiency ratio, is the cooling output during a typical cooling season divided by the total electric energy input during that season.

The efficiency of a system increases with the SEER. Systems that are certified by Energy Star have a SEER of 15 or higher.

Some Energy Star-certified systems increases efficiency by having a two-stage compressor that can operate at two speeds.

“Variable capacity is able to provide the precise amount of cooling your house needs by ramping itself up and down,” Cross said. “High speed for the really hot days and to get your house to temperature, and a low speed to maintain that temperature.”

Energy Star-certified systems tend to be more expensive to purchase than standard systems, but the cost difference is paid back over time through lower energy bills. 

CEILING FANS

In many Florida homes, air vents are located on or near the ceiling. As the cold air drops and the warm air rises, the whole room is cooled. But effective ceiling fans help the air-conditioning system by maintaining a steady air flow.

“It doesn’t raise or lower the temperature in the room, but it evens it out so that the AC doesn’t have to work as hard,” said Darby Serra, a representative of Dan’s Fan City in Ocoee.

AC systems and fans can complement each other if they are up-to-date and properly maintained.

“The more efficient the AC system, the better the fan will work for you,” Serra said. “I personally would tell you I never shut (my fans) off. I run them all on medium or low. It costs right around $2 a month.”

Fans with DC-powered motors use about half the power on high speed than regular fans, which have AC-powered (alternating current) motors. Because they are relatively new to the market, they currently are more expensive than AC-powered fans, but advances in technology and consumer demand will lower the price with time. 

THE FUTURE OF AIR

As the importance of sustainability continues to increase in our world, researchers and manufacturers will progress in the products they offer that make efficiency a priority.

In 2015, researchers at the University of Central Florida were the only collegiate team in the nation that received a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop and demonstrate energy-efficient methods of home cooling systems. UCF’s portion of the Building America grant was $1 million.

“This research will help us develop integrated approaches to making homes more energy-efficient, while keeping them comfortable, healthy and durable,” said Eric Martin, the project leader and program director for the Florida Solar Energy Center’s Building Research Division at UCF.

UCF will be specifically focusing on humidity control, indoor air quality strategies and high-performance ventilation systems. 

As for ceiling fans, as the DC-powered fans become more commonly used, they will become less expensive.

“It’s probably going to be the future of ceiling fans, but currently, a good-quality AC motor will do it just fine,” Serra said.

Solar power is also on the rise, which will help homeowners save energy not just on air, but on all electric-powered expenses. There has been a rise in the number of solar-power systems in the South every year in the last decade, including a particularly sharp jump from about 12,700 systems in 2013 to 19,200 in 2014.  

Contact Catherine Sinclair at [email protected].

WORDS OF WISDOM

The Environmental Protection Agency offers these strategies for saving money and energy on heating and cooling costs:

• Change your air filter regularly. A dirty filter decreases air flow and makes the system work harder.

• Install a programmable thermostat.

• Seal your heating and cooling ducts to reduce leakage, particularly in ducts that run through the attic, crawlspace or garage. Insulate the ducts after they are sealed.

• If your HVAC equipment is more than 10 years old, have it evaluated by a professional contractor and consider an upgrade. 

NEST LEARNING THERMOSTAT

A new product called the Nest Learning Thermostat is available on the market and has been shown to save customers time, energy and money. Nest stores information about the temperatures that a household prefers according to the time of day, and it automatically regulates this schedule. It also saves energy by automatically powering down when no one is home.

For decades, it has been difficult to prove that programmable thermostats truly save energy. But a recent study from three independent research teams showed that the Nest system helped homeowners decrease their cooling costs by about 15%.

Nest syncs with smartphones. If homeowners forget to make an adjustment before they leave the house, they can use their phones to change the temperature and save energy and money while they are away.

A leaf appears on the Nest control screen to alert homeowners when they have made an adjustment that saves energy compared with their typical usage.

Certified Nest installers residing in West Orange County include: Airetronics, Armstrong Air and Heating, Florida Smart Homes, Help My Auto, Integrated Electronics and Keep It Cool.

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