According to the United States Energy Information Administration, more than half of all residential power consumption goes strictly to heating and air conditioning during an average year. That means HVAC efficiency has a big effect on your power bills and how much money comes out of your bank account every month. So, which is the bigger culprit when it comes to skyrocketing your energy costs? Does running the air conditioner during the hottest summer months waste more energy, or are you “lighting money on fire” when you turn on the furnace in the winter months? Although results can vary based on factors individual to your own home, there is a general answer to this question — and it might not be what you expect.
The Reality of HVAC Efficiency Might Surprise You
The research bears it out: heating wastes far more energy than cooling does, sometimes up to more than three times as much energy. While we all might feel guilty about reaching for the thermostat when it’s blazing hot outside, how often do we give the same consideration to heating the house by a few degrees more when coming in from a chilly day? Across most types of furnaces and especially when we consider space heaters, they are less efficient than air conditioners and lose energy that often escapes as waste heat. You might want to think twice before firing up the furnace every day of the winter now.
Why Aren’t Furnaces As Energy Efficient As AC?
How could it be that an air conditioner wastes less energy than a furnace, which simply burns fuel to heat your home? It makes sense when you consider the mechanics of the refrigeration cycle, which occurs in air conditioners. Using the expansion and contraction of a gas under pressure, air conditioners transfer heat from inside your home and allow it to escape outside instead. It takes much more energy to combust fuel and add heat to a home than it does to remove the heat and make it colder inside. There is one exception — heat pumps are just as efficient as ACs because they use the same process in reverse.
Some Heating Options Are an Even Bigger Drain
When it gets cold, some people turn to space heaters, hoping they will be a more efficient solution than turning on the furnace. In some cases, that’s true — but not in others. If all you want to do is heat a single room in the house, a space heater is fine and even likely to save you some money. If everyone throughout the home uses a space heater individually, however, you’re going to pass the point of diminishing returns eventually. If you need to heat the whole home evenly, always opt for the furnace over the space heater, which should remain an individual’s solution.
Your Air Conditioning Could Still Inflate Your Energy Bills
Just because most furnaces tend to waste more energy because of the combustion process doesn’t mean that your air conditioner gets off scot-free. If not well-maintained, your AC could be a major source of financial headaches during the summer, too. When was the last time you had regular maintenance performed on the unit? Do you routinely change the air filter, or do you let it sit for months at a time? Without actively working to maintain your HVAC efficiency, it’s likely to cost you more.
Making a Home More Efficient in Winter
What can you do to save money in the winter while keeping your furnace as efficient as possible? “Winterizing” your home before the start of the season is always a good idea. Seal up drafty windows and ensure there is no damaged insulation in your attic. Add weather stripping to doors to prevent the escape of warm air. Use single room heating such as space heaters and avoid turning the thermostat too high. Most families find they can enjoy a comfortable space several degrees below the usual winter thermostat setting. Consider turning the furnace off overnight or using a program to warm the house slightly before your usual wake-up time.
Learn More About Your Home’s Energy Demands Today
Today, HVAC efficiency is the best it’s ever been thanks to continuing advances in technology, better home design, and better maintenance procedures. Even so, it’s still possible for your energy bills to climb out of control when the temperatures head to the extremes. Is your home as efficient as possible, or is the primary problem with the equipment you have? Scheduling a visit with an HVAC contractor is an easy way to explore whether your home is set up to minimize the amount of energy it uses. Find a trusted local resource and ask for an inspection and some insight into how to waste less energy at home.