Nuccio understands the sense of frustration that surrounds the purchase of an air conditioner, or any part of your heating and cooling comfort system. It is quite different from the purchase of any other home appliance. Learning to get the most out of your home comfort system may be one of the most important things you will do as a homeowner.
Take a walk from room to room in your home. Are any of these situations familiar?
* Cooking odors that linger in the kitchen for days on end.
* One room in your home that is always warmer or colder than others.
* A bathroom that’s humid and damp.
If any of these sound familiar. Your home is trying to tell you something. Your house is not just a floor plan; it’s an environmental system. And that system can gradually slip out of balance. In other words, maybe it’s time to take a look at your HVAC system.
How an air conditioner works:
A little chemistry, a little physics, and a whole bunch of tubes and wires. Here are the basics of staying cool: An air conditioner makes your home cooler, true. Although, in terms of how the system actually works, it’s more accurate to say that an air conditioner makes your home less warm. What it is really doing is drawing heat energy from the inside of the house and transferring it outside.
1. The refrigerant flows into the compressor, where high pressure turns the refrigerant into a liquid. The compressor pumps this chilly liquid through tubes to . . .
2. The evaporator coil. Here the cold, liquid refrigerant absorbs heat energy from the surrounding air and turns back into a gas. Also, humidity from warm indoor air condenses on the evaporator and drains away. Meanwhile . . .
3. A blower draws warm air from the house, moves it through the evaporator where heat energy is removed and blows this air on through the ductwork into your house — cooler, dryer and altogether more pleasant. As for the heat energy removed from that air . . .
4. The refrigerant carries that heat energy back to the outdoor unit, here the refrigerant passes through the condenser (sometimes called the condensing coil) where metal fins around the tubing transfer heat to the surrounding air, which is moved over the condenser by . . .
5. An exhaust fan. So you see, that air blowing out the top of your outdoor unit is so hot because it contains heat energy that was inside your house just a couple of minutes before.
So what about this heat pump thing?
A heat pump does two jobs, but it uses the same principles for both. On warm days, it extracts heat from inside your home and transfers it to the outdoors. On cold days, it pumps heat energy from the outdoors into your home.
How can the machine pump heat out of cold air? Because the system’s refrigerant evaporates at such low temperatures, drawing heat from the surrounding air. Strange as it may seem, even if it’s freezing outside there’s still enough heat energy in the chilly air for a heat pump to warm your home.
Of course, the colder the weather, the more difficult this becomes. So air handlers (the indoor part of a heat pump system) have supplemental electric heating that kicks in when the temperature is extremely low. This makes ANY heat pump a more-than-adequate heating system for homes in all areas of the country. In the colder parts of the country, some heat pump owners prefer to have a gas furnace to run on the most frigid days.
How do these energy ratings work?
How much efficiency is enough? Depends on how fast you want your system to pay for itself. 13% SEER, 15% SEER, 80% AFUE, 90% AFUE – don’t get too bamboozled by trying to figure out where all the numbers come from. Simply put, these are relative measures of fuel economy — SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating) numbers for air conditioners, or AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency) for gas furnaces. The higher the number, the more heating or cooling you’ll get for your energy dollar.
As you shop around, use the numbers, not vague terms like “high efficiency” or “super high efficiency,” to really compare systems. Any air conditioner or furnace on the market today can be called “high efficiency” compared to the equipment of just a few years ago. What was called high efficiency then — say 9 SEER for an air conditioner or 70% for a gas furnace — wouldn’t even be permitted on the market today!
* 13% SEER — the minimum efficiency allowed by law for new central air conditioning systems
* 15% – 19% SEER — trade up to this level from your old system and you’ll probably be delighted at how much lower your electric bills are
* 21% SEER plus — pushing the upper limits of what’s possible with today’s technology
* 78% — the legal minimum for new furnaces on the market today
* 80% — another once-impossible degree of efficiency that means drastically lower gas bills than you probably have with an old furnace
* 90-plus % — currently the highest efficiency you’ll find (but we’re working to change this)
The most intelligent thing you can do when you are looking to purchase a replacement unit is to educate yourself. By doing so, you will get the most out of your home comfort system.