Heating & Cooling

Ceiling Fans

ceiling fan in a bedroomBy themselves in mild weather, ceiling fans offer a low-cost alternative to air conditioning. Used in conjunction with air conditioning in hot weather, ceiling fans combine old and new technology to keep your family comfortable and your utility bills low.

In the summer — When it’s warm, the blades of a turning ceiling fan normally push air downward, causing cool air near the floor to travel outward and mix with air at the edges of the room. The process makes for more even cooling, and just the air movement in the room alone can make it feel cooler by 4° or more!

In the winter — Most fans have a switch on the motor housing that changes the direction in which the blades turn. Instead of forcing air downward, the blades will push air up toward the ceiling, where hot air normally rises, and drive it back down around the edges of the room. That can result in more even heating.

Central Heating, Ventilation & Air Conditioning (HVAC)

central HVAC outside of houseTypically, 44% of your utility bill goes for heating and cooling. Like many other appliances, HVAC systems have improved in energy efficiency in the last decade. As a result, you can save money and increase your comfort by properly maintaining and upgrading your HVAC equipment.

Central air conditioning units are usually matched with a gas or oil furnace to provide heat through the same set of ducts. There are also central HVAC units called heat pumps that combine both the heating and cooling functions. If you heat your home with electricity, a heat pump system is the most efficient unit to use in moderate climates.

Heat pumps and most central air conditioners are called “split systems” because there is an outdoor unit (called a condenser) and an indoor unit (an evaporator coil). The job of the heat pump or air conditioner is to transport heat from one of these units to the other.

There is another configuration called a “packaged” air conditioner that combines the condensing unit and the evaporator coil into one outdoor unit. Which type you should choose depends on your home’s location and construction.

The efficiency of central air conditioning systems is rated by a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating (SEER). SEER ratings typically range from 10 to 17, with the highest numbers indicating the most efficient units that offer the most energy savings year after year.

Heat pumps also have heating efficiency ratings, indicated as a Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF). In general, the higher the HSPF rating, the less electricity the unit will use to do its job.

Higher efficiency units usually cost more to purchase initially, but save money in the long run on operating costs.

Dual Fuel Heating System

small propane gas tank against side of house outsideIt is a system that combines two fuel sources – electricity as a primary source – and an alternate fuel such as LP gas or oil, as a secondary source.

Your dual fuel heating system is connected by radio control to a central control station. During peak periods, when demand for electricity is highest, a dispatcher can switch your home – without interruption of service – from electricity to the secondary fuel for a few hours. Another signal will switch your home back to electric heat.

From 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. during the winter months, the demand for electricity is highest. Installing dual fuel in as many homes as possible can significantly reduce these costs and allow for better load management. Therefore, dual fuel participants are eligible for a lower electric heating rate, and everyone benefits.

Fireplaces & Woodburning Stoves

fireplaceFireplaces are relatively inefficient devices for heating the home and if there is no fire and the damper is left open, a fireplace can actually have a “negative efficiency” as warm air from the house escapes through the chimney. Fortunately, there are ways to improve fireplace efficiency:

  • Dampers
  • Glass or metal doors or heat shields
  • New fireplace designs
  • Fireplace inserts

You can also increase your fireplace’s efficiency — if not its beauty — by installing a wood stove in front of it. The existing fireplace chimney becomes the exhaust for the stove. Before you buy, make sure a wood stove meets local air quality regulations. Once you’ve bought and installed a wood stove, notify your local building department to conduct a final inspection to ensure that all safety requirements are met before you use the stove.

Geothermal Heat Pumps

house illustration of geothermal heat pump with coils undergroundGeothermal heat pumps are similar to ordinary heat pumps, but instead of using heat found in outside air, they rely on the stable, even heat of the earth to provide heating, air conditioning, and, in most cases, hot water. In the winter, they move the heat from the earth into your house. In the summer, they pull the heat from your home and discharge it into the ground.

Studies show that approximately 70% of the energy used in a geothermal heat pump system is renewable energy from the ground.

Added to an already built home, an efficient geothermal system saves enough on utility bills that the investment can be recouped in two to ten years. Geothermal heat pumps are durable and require little maintenance.

Few people are aware of its potential. The Department of Energy’s Office of Geothermal Technologies, however, wants to increase installations of geothermal systems to about 400,000 a year by 2005. If the goal is reached, that would mean that 2 million systems would be in service, saving consumers over $400 million per year in energy bills and reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by over 1 million metric tons of carbon each year.


thermostat on wallAs a homeowner, leaving the temperature inside your home constant day and night will most likely cost you money. It’s more economical to turn the heat down when no one is home, or at night when you’re asleep. And if your home has a setback thermostat, you’ve got a simple way to do just that. Many new homes are being designed with an automatic setback thermostat. If you have an older home that doesn’t have one, you can usually replace your existing wall thermostat with a setback model very easily. Savings with a setback thermostat can be impressive. Recent studies show that properly using your automatic thermostat could cut your heating costs from 20 to 75%. In summer, such devices may shave your cooling costs by 15 to 25%.

Whole-house Fans

whole house fan in the ceilingEven if your home has air conditioning, consider installing a whole-house fan. Whole-house fans use far less energy than air conditioners and they cut cooling costs. In fact, whole-house fans typically use about one-tenth of the electricity of comparably sized air conditioners, and they are relatively inexpensive to install.

Whole-house fans are designed to operate in the early morning and after sundown, when the outside temperature drops below 80 degrees. The idea is to turn off the air conditioning and to turn on the whole house fan. With your windows open, fresh, cool air is drawn into your home, forcing out the hot air. Your entire house is then cooled by outside air, without the needed help of your air conditioner.

Window Air Conditioner

window air conditionerIf you have a small area to cool in the summer – say, one or two rooms – a room air conditioner may be a more economical choice than a central air conditioning unit. It will cost less initially and it will cost less to operate in the long run.

Make sure to get the correct size, and consider an air conditioner’s Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER). The EER approximates the unit’s operating cost as compared to similar models. The Higher the EER number, the less it will cost you to operate.