The 4-1-1 on Eco-Friendly Home Heating and Cooling

The 4-1-1 on Eco-Friendly Home Heating and Cooling

As knowledge about global climate change and our individual and collective carbon footprint grows, big changes are coming to the home heating and cooling industry.

Responsible for roughly 43 percent of our home energy use and a major drain on non-renewable resources, heating and cooling systems are a major focus of the push toward greener building techniques. National changes will start in just two years as the ozone-depleting refrigerant R-22, which is used in nearly all heating and cooling systems, begins a 10-year phase-out. By 2010, it will be prohibited, replaced by a more environmentally-friendly refrigerant called R-410A.

Locally, more changes are coming to Jackson County’s residential building code. This month, higher minimum requirements for new homes include under-floor insulation, insulation that’s rated R-10 or higher under all heating slabs and the installation of Energy Star-rated windows.

“And at least 50 percent of permanent lighting fixtures must use the compact fluorescent high energy light bulbs,” says Cathy Cartmill, energy analyst and inspector with the City of Ashland’s Conservation Division.

How does this affect your upcoming purchase of a major heating and cooling system?

“You want to learn about what options are out there, especially as the units become more energy efficient,” says Marty Maurer, owner of Medford Heating & Air Conditioning.

Avoid making a purchase based purely on sticker price. “It’s not only payback — it’s also about comfort and efficiency,” Maurer says.

Choose a new system based on indoor humidity control; the less relative humidity in your home, the cooler it will feel at a lower temperature. “And that will cost you less in energy bills,” says Maurer.

Proper sizing of heating and cooling equipment is even more important. When the unit is large enough to efficiently cool and heat the space, it doesn’t have to run as often, conserving power and money.

Maurer recommends hiring a company that does heating and cooling load calculations on individual homes.

Units with zone systems — where multiple thermostats are used to control different areas of a house that have different needs, such as an upper floor that requires more cooling than a lower floor during summer months — are money savers. “This gives you a balanced house without consuming as much energy,” Maurer explains.

Environmentally-friendly upgrades will likely cost more today, but prices will drop as soon as new refrigerants become the standard. If you must purchase a new system with R-22 refrigerant, grill your contractor and salesperson about the future availability of replacement parts, which may not be very easy to find once the phase-out begins.

Also consider an alternate heating choice such as a free-standing wood stove built to radiate heat on very little fuel.

“Tulikivi stoves are made of soapstone,” says Abraham Harris, manager at Phoenix Organics. “They’re radiant heat so you don’t use any ducting in the home. And they’re Green Seal-certified.”

These stoves cost from $5,000 to $25,000 before installation and are designed to burn small pieces of wood in a super-hot fire for just 15 to 20 minutes, twice a day.

“You’re saving money because you don’t need to buy cords of woods,’ says Harris. “You can obtain all your heating materials by maintaining your yard.”

In any case, do your pocketbook and the planet a favor by having your existing duct system checked for leaks.

“A blower door test measures where there are leaks you can seal up in the house and if you’ve got a leaky house, you’re losing energy all over — up to 30 percent,” says Cartmill. “And if you’re going to spend money on a high efficiency system, you should definitely look at your ducts.”

Taking these steps will save more than a handful of precious dollars — they’ll also save barrels of non-renewable fuel and an untold impact on our climate and environment.

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