Heating and cooling systems are some of the most important investments you’ll ever make in your home. Whether you’re buying a new house, renovating an old one or making an emergency purchase because “old faithful” finally conked out, there’s a lot riding on the choices you make. Your comfort and safety are at stake, but so is your wallet.
Americans typically spend about 46 cents of every dollar they pay in utility bills for “space conditioning.” You can lower those costs by selecting the most energy-efficient equipment that meets your needs and fits your budget.
The EnergyGuide label on home heating and cooling equipment is intended to help you do just that. These labels provide a “snapshot” of the more in-depth energy efficiency and usage information that manufacturers are required to provide with their products — generally through a fact sheet or industry association directory.
Why should I care about energy efficiency?
The total cost of an appliance has three components — the purchase price, the cost of repairs and maintenance, and the cost to operate it. The more energy efficient an appliance is, the less it costs to run and the lower your utility bills. Using less energy is good for the environment, too; it can reduce air pollution and help conserve natural resources.
Is there really that much of a difference among the various models on the market?
All products must meet minimum energy efficiency standards set by the Department of Energy. But many products beat the standard, use even less energy and cost less to run.
What makes one system more efficient than another?
Most of the differences are on the inside — in the motors, compressors, pumps and valves. So even if two models look the same from the outside, these less-obvious features can mean a big difference in your monthly utility bills.
How can I be sure energy efficiency claims are not just sales hype?
Manufacturers must use standard tests developed by the Department of Energy to prove the efficiency of their products. Many have these tests performed by independent laboratories. The test results are reported on the EnergyGuide labels, and through fact sheets provided by the manufacturers or in industry association directories.
An Energy-Smart Deal On Home Heating & Cooling…
- Ask your builder, installer or home supply outlet about the EnergyGuide label and the fact sheets or product directories for each system you’re considering.
- Compare the energy efficiencies and operating costs of competing models.
- Consider both the purchase price and estimated operating costs when you decide what to buy.
Before You Buy…
- Weatherize your home. Check the caulking, weather stripping and insulation, and make any necessary repairs. This may enable you to install a smaller, less expensive heating or cooling system to get the same results.
- Compare the performance of different brands and models. Study the product literature. Will the product do the job? How energy efficient is it? Will it handle your needs today? Ten years from now? Does it fit your budget?
- Estimate how much the appliance will cost to operate. The more energy an appliance uses, the more it costs to run. Consult the EnergyGuide labels, the manufacturers’ fact sheets or the industry association directory to compare the energy efficiency of different models. The difference on your monthly utility bill can be significant, especially when considered over the lifetime of the product. You can save money over the long run by choosing a more energy-efficient model, even if it costs more initially.
- Ask about special energy efficiency offers. Ask your salesperson if there are cash rebates, low-interest loans or other incentive programs in your area for buying energy-efficient products — and how you can qualify.
How Do You Say “Efficiency”?
- Heating and air conditioning systems have a language all their own…
- If you’re referring to furnaces and boilers, it’s “annual fuel utilization efficiency,” or AFUE.
- For room air conditioners, it’s “energy efficiency ratio,” or EER.
- For central air conditioners and heat pump cooling, it’s “seasonal energy efficiency ratio,” or SEER.
- For heat pump heating, it’s “heating seasonal performance factor,” or HSPF.
Tips for Lowering Your Monthly Energy Bill
- Being an energy-smart consumer means getting the most from the energy you use.
- Clean the filters monthly and replace as necessary to save energy and reduce dust and pollen in the air. Lower the setting when you go out to reduce operating costs.
- Vacuum air vents, baseboard heaters and radiators regularly to remove dust that reduces heating efficiency. Move furniture, carpet or curtains that restrict their operation. If your baseboard heaters have movable deflectors or vents, open them in the winter and close them in the summer.
- Schedule annual tune-ups for your heat pump or furnace.
- Hire a professional to ensure that the airflow distribution system serving your heating or cooling equipment is operating at peak efficiency.
- Check your attic, attic stairway, attached garage walls and basement to ensure that you have proper insulation between conditioned and unconditioned spaces.
- Prune back shrubs that may block airflow to your air conditioner or heat pump.
- Consider installing ceiling fans. The air circulation promotes cooling in the summer and heating efficiency in the winter.
For More Information
The Federal Trade Commission offers a wide range of business and consumer education information online at www.ftc.gov. This information also is available by calling the toll-free helpline at 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357) (TDD: 202-326-2502) or by writing: Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Response Center, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20580.
The Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Network offers a clearinghouse of energy-efficiency information at www.eren.doe.gov. This information also is available by calling the toll-free hotline at 1-800-DOE-EREC (363-3732) (TDD: 1-800-273-2957) or by writing: U.S. Department of Energy B EREC, PO Box 3048, Merrifield, VA 22116.
Your state and local energy offices and local utility company also may be valuable sources of information.
You can file a complaint with the FTC by contacting the Consumer Response Center by phone: toll-free 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357); TDD: 202-326-2502; by mail: Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20580; or through the Internet, using the online complaint form. Although the Commission cannot resolve individual problems for consumers, it can act against a company if it sees a pattern of possible law violations.
The FTC publishes free brochures on many consumer issues. For a complete list of publications, write for Best Sellers, Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20580; or call toll-free 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357), TDD 202-326-2502.