How To Reduce Your Air Conditioning Costs During Summer
By Space Coast Daily // May 22, 2019
Selecting an Efficient Air Conditioning System
Air conditioning is the largest energy expense in most homes and commercial buildings during summer. Cooling costs are even higher in tropical climates, since air conditioning may be needed all year long. However, building owners can achieve an excellent return on investment with energy efficiency measures for air conditioning systems.
Air conditioning systems are available in various capacities and equipment configurations. For instance, a ductless mini-split for a single room and a chiller plant for a high-rise building are both considered air conditioning installations.
Equipment with a high nameplate efficiency has lower operating costs, but selecting the right system for each application is also important.
Importance of Good Insulation and an Airtight Construction
Air conditioning costs not only depend on the equipment itself, but also on building features. The thermal envelope of the building is very important: a well insulated and airtight construction requires less cooling than an identical property with air leaks and deficient insulation.
Cooling requirements also change depending on the usage of each building area. For example, a data center room with many servers requires more cooling than a meeting room of the same size.
Before planning an air conditioning upgrade, getting a building envelope inspection is a wise decision. A building with low insulation and air leaks gains more heat during summer, and the workload on cooling equipment is increased. In this case, even the most efficient air conditioner in the market wastes power.
Building envelope issues are difficult to detect because they produce no visible signs, and may stay hidden for years. However, energy consultants can use thermal imaging and other methods to detect them. When the building envelope is improved, the savings apply for space heating as well. In places with cold winters, insulation and airtightness also help conserve indoor heat.
Selecting an Efficient Air Conditioning System
There are many energy efficiency ratings for air conditioning equipment, but two, in particular, can be used to compare most units:
- The split-type air conditioning systems used in homes and small commercial spaces use the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, or SEER.
- Large air conditioning units such as packaged rooftop systems and chillers use the Integrated Energy Efficiency Ratio, or IEER.
Both the SEER and IEER are determined with testing procedures that are specified by the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI). However, they can be compared with the gas mileage value of vehicles. Just like a 40 MPG car uses half of the fuel needed by a 20 MPG car, a SEER 26 mini-split uses half the electricity needed by a SEER 13 unit.
Mini-split units are recommended for buildings that are separated into independent areas, such as a multifamily building.
On the other hand, a centralized design is normally used when all building areas have similar schedules: low-rise commercial buildings often use packaged rooftop units, and chiller plants are common in tall constructions.
Recently, variable refrigerant flow systems have emerged as a viable and energy efficient option with a wide range of applications.
If the building envelope is improved first, the savings from an air conditioning upgrade can be increased significantly. The new unit will not only have a higher nameplate efficiency, but also a reduced cooling load.
How Smart Thermostats Can Save on Air Conditioning
The temperature setting in the thermostat is another key factor that affects air conditioning costs. More energy is needed to sustain a large temperature difference: for every degree (°F) of reduction in the thermostat setting, cooling costs can increase by up to 3 percent.
A smart thermostat can be programmed to set back the temperature when cooling needs are reduced, yielding significant savings in the long run. According to the US Department of Energy, a thermostat setback of 10°F during 8 hours per day can cut cooling costs by 10%. There is no need to program a smart thermostat since it learns usage habits on its own.
Before using a smart thermostat, checking compatibility with the air conditioning system is important.
There are many air conditioner configurations, as previously mentioned, and some smart thermostats are only designed for certain types of equipment. The best recommendation is getting a professional opinion from qualified HVAC engineers before any purchase decision.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Tobias is the founder and principal of Chicago Engineers, an Inc 5000 Fastest Growing Company in America. He leads a team of 30+ mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineers from the company headquarters in New York City; and has led over 1,000 projects in Chicago, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland and California, as well as Singapore and Malaysia.
He is a graduate of Georgia Tech class of 2004, with a Bachelors of Mechanical Engineering with honors. His innovative approach to MEP engineering comes from graduating GE’s Engineering Leadership Program, where he designed wind turbines and biofuel power plant engines.
Michael’s passion within design is energy efficiency and green technology. His focus is on integrating MEP/FP engineering design with architecture to create as seamless a system as possible. He is an advocate for green design and technologies and has designed to both Passive House and Net 0 energy standards. He has spoken numerous times at the AIA, been featured in Georgia Tech’s Alumni magazine, and is an engineering expert on Discovery Channel’s show “Impossible Engineering.”
A New York native, Michael grew up in Rockville Centre, LI. He currently lives in Brooklyn with his wife and children. Outside of work, he enjoys exploring the outdoors, whether it’s on a bike, a pair of skis, or a surfboard. He is passionate about growing personally and professionally every day, and about doing innovative work in the engineering world to help disrupt the traditional construction industry.
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