Business Articles - Specialty and Trade

Choosing Green Air Conditioning and Alternatives

When it comes to systems in your home that are decidedly un-green, air conditioning ranks pretty near the top of the list. According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, air conditioning accounts for nearly 50 percent of the energy use in the United States during peak summer months, and air conditioning is responsible for nearly 100 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year. That being the case, green remodeling experts are constantly on the hunt for ways to reduce, or eliminate, our reliance on this costly modern convenience.

Go Green with David Johnston
Fortunately for ServiceMagic customers, we've partnered up with green remodeling expert David Johnston to bring you some answers. Johnston is the founder of the green consulting firm What's Working, Inc., author of the Nautilus Award winning book Green Remodeling: Changing the World One Room at a Time, and is a 35-year veteran of the building industry. He's also agreed to be our point man when it comes to bringing you reliable advice on what you can do to go green when it comes to cooling your home. Just what does he have to say? Read on to find out.

The Cost of (NOT) Going Green with Your AC
How much is going green going to cost you when it comes to air conditioning? The real question should be how much it's going to cost you if you don't. It's true that you may be looking at a higher initial investment if you choose an energy-efficient air conditioner, and a wise homeowner will gladly spend extra on other projects to help reduce their reliance on air conditioning in the first place. But when you consider Johnston's claims that you can reduce home energy usage by 20 to 50 percent by going green in the cooling department, it's easy to see how this is one instance where going green is almost guaranteed to pay for itself, and more, as time goes by.

The True Value of Going Green
Reduced utility bills aside, Johnston is also quick to point out that the real value of going green extends far beyond the energy savings you'll enjoy. In the case of air conditioning, going green means a healthier home environment for you and your family, a reduction in fossil fuel consumption and the creation of greenhouse gases, and the peace of mind in knowing that you're doing your part in creating a better, more environmentally responsible world for your children and grandchildren. Benefits of that magnitude are tough for any homeowner to place a dollar amount on, making it easy to see what Johnston means when he says that the true value of going green goes far above your bottom line.

Green Tips for Reducing Air Conditioning Use
The easiest way to save money and cut into your energy bills come summer is to use your air conditioning less, or eliminate your need for it all together. Green remodeling places a premium on home improvements that make this feat possible, including these favorites from Johnston to help you reduce your reliance on air conditioning in the first place.

  • Increase your attic insulation—Adding more insulation is one of the best investments you can make. It will provide a return on investment in a matter of a few months to a few years and will put cash in your pocket in the coming years as electricity gets increasingly expensive.

  • Install Radiant Heat Barriers—Radiant heat barriers are a thin layer of metal insulation (usually tin foil with a paper backing or a metalized mylar sheeting), which can reduce radiant heat transfer into your attic by as much as 95 percent when installed to the underside of your roof.

  • Install Ceiling Fans—The breeze created by a good ceiling fan can eliminate the need to run your AC on cooler days, and will allow you to set the thermostat a few degrees higher on days when your air conditioning is in operation. Ceiling fans also help distribute warm air in the winter, helping to reduce energy costs year round.

  • Install a Whole House Fan—Whole house fans are installed in the ceiling leading into your attic, and cool your residence by drawing cool outside air through open windows into your home, and expelling warmer air up and out through ventilated attic space. A quality whole house fan can eliminate the need for air conditioning altogether in mild climates, or it can be an excellent supplement to air conditioning in hotter regions, especially during the spring and fall, and on summer days when nighttime lows drop to comfortable levels.

  • Install an Evaporative Cooler (a.k.a. Swamp Cooler) —Swamp coolers are an excellent alternative to air conditioning in hot and dry climates like the desert southwest and the mountain west. Swamp coolers are quite a bit less expensive to purchase and install than air conditioning, and they run on about 1/10th of the energy of central air. Unfortunately, they won't do you any good if you live in more humid areas of the country.

  • Make the Most of Natural Ventilation—Opening windows and setting up fans in windows on the downwind side of the home (make sure fans are facing out!) will help to create a steady flow of air through your home, providing natural cooling power when outside temperatures permit.

Green Tips for an Energy-Efficient Air Conditioning System
Ceiling fans, evaporative coolers, and whole house fans might help eliminate the need for air conditioning in some areas of the country, but for the rest of us, air conditioning is still a necessary evil during the dog days of summer. That doesn't mean there aren't steps you can take (in addition to those mentioned above) to help reduce energy consumption associated with cooling your home. Here's a list of suggestions from Johnston to help make the purchase, installation, and use of air conditioning in your home as green as possible.

  • Purchase a High-Efficiency Unit—Replacing an older model with a high-efficiency air conditioner can reduce home cooling costs and energy usage by 20 to 50 percent. For central air conditioners look for SEER ratings of 14 or higher. For window units, look for an EERE rating of 10.7 or better.

  • Purchase a Properly Sized Unit—Air conditioners that are too large or small for the area they are meant to cool will run inefficiently, waste energy, and wear out more quickly than an AC that's been properly sized for your home by your HVAC contractor. In addition, they don�t dehumidify well if they are constantly turning on and off. You want an air conditioner sized to run as constantly as possible.

  • Consider Ductless Air Conditioners—Ductless air conditioners, also referred to as split systems, allow you to individually regulate the temperature in rooms that you are occupying. Doing so is more efficient than central air conditioning, helping to reduce your home's overall energy costs. These units can also incorporate heat pumps into the design in order to provide heat for your home.

  • Seal and Insulate Ductwork—Poorly sealed ductwork can drastically reduce the cooling efficiency of your air conditioning system, as can ductwork that runs through un-insulated spaces like attics, garages, and crawl spaces.

  • Install Programmable Thermostats—Multiple zone, programmable thermostats help reduce energy consumption since you won't have to remember to turn the AC up or down. In addition, every degree higher you set your AC will reduce your home cooling costs by 3 to 5 percent.

  • Avoid Unwanted Sources of Heat—Electric freezers, clothes dryers, dishwashers, and ovens all pump heat into your home. Move them to garages or basements, or use them during cooler periods of the day to avoid heating up your home unnecessarily. Also, shade east and west facing windows to reduce unwanted passive solar heat gain.

Which Shade of Green is Right for You?
While thinking green when it comes to cooling your home is a smart choice for your pocketbook and the environment, it's not unusual for homeowners to feel a little overwhelmed when presented with the full scope of green remodeling options. If you're feeling unsure about how green you're willing to go, there's no need to worry. Going green isn't an all-or-nothing proposition, and not every homeowner has the time or the resources to purchase the most energy-efficient air conditioner on the market, install a whole house fan, and move ductwork into an insulated area all in one fowl swoop. The truth of the matter is that any step you take in a green direction is a smart one, especially when it comes to the high costs and heavy energy consumption that go hand-in-hand with artificially cooling your home.

If you do think green is the right choice for you, talk with an HVAC contractor about adopting a green remodeling philosophy, find a contractor who specializes in green building and remodeling, or seek out the services of a green consulting firm so you can be sure that your approach to cooling your home is as green as it gets.

David Johnston
We are proud to partner with David Johnston, internationally recognized green building expert, to provide our homeowners and service professionals with the information necessary to "green" their projects.
• To learn more about David Johnston, click here.
• To learn more about Green Certification training, click here.

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