Whether you realize it or not, there’s a lot going on beneath the hood of your air conditioner—and HVAC systems get even more complicated when you add in your home’s duct system, registers, heating units, and filters. With that much going on in your system, true efficiency is about more than just purchasing a high performing unit. You need to get the right size for your home’s rooms, and have it installed properly to really ensure the best energy savings.
Unfortunately, not every installer is an expert in efficiency. While the HVAC installation industry as a whole has made significant strides to green its practices and equipment, just hiring any old contract isn’t a guarantee that you’ll get sound advice—or that they’ll follow best practices—to keep your unit running as efficiently as possible.
These problems are why ENERGY STAR designed their verified HVAC installation program. Their system allows you to choose from a list of qualified contractors to make sure that you get one who knows what they’re talking about. More specifically, here are some of the benefits ENERGY STAR hopes to provide.
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The Basics of ENERGY STAR Verified HVAC Installation
We tend to think of the ENERGY STAR program as a rating system for individual products. But it’s also a certification process. Notably, in late 2016, the EPA revamped its ENERGY STAR Verified HVAC Installation program (also known as ESVI), which redirects focus away from the rated efficiency of HVAC equipment, and toward a more holistic approach of total system efficiency.
The new program allows you to choose from a selection of participating contractors, who work with you to design a system with the highest efficiency for your home. Contractors not only pay attention to the performance of your furnace and air conditioner, they also concentrate on duct sealing and assessing the proper size unit for a space.
Once your system is finished, it gets inspected by a local program sponsor who gives the installation and equipment an okay. After you pass, the ENERGY STAR program sends you a certificate verifying your system’s efficiency. Pretty simple, right?
Why Would You Want to Get Your HVAC System ENERGY STAR Verified?
It’s easy for installers to swap out an old air conditioner for a more efficient unit—but it takes a lot more planning and know-how to ensure that your ducts are all sealed, and that the airflow in your unit is right. Specifically, the ESVI program focuses on the following:
- Gauging the proper equipment size. It turns out that a lot of contractors aren’t all that great at sizing an HVAC system. In fact, according to some sources, at least half of HVAC installers may be regularly getting it wrong, although that figure is certainly up for debate. When it comes to your heating and air conditioning, bigger is not necessarily better. A too-big unit may be prone to temperature swings, and won’t properly dehumidify your home—which is important, since humidity plays a huge role in how hot or cold your home feels. Plus, it means your system is just not all that efficient. Unfortunately, though, in the older days of HVAC, it was common to oversize units. At least it won’t be too small, the thinking went. In fact, even today, some contractors will size up if they can’t find the exact right equipment for your home. According to ENERGY STAR, though, the ESVI program places special importance on unit design and sizing, so you can feel more confident that your system is the right size, in addition to having the most efficient internal components in your unit.
- Paying attention to duct sealing. Leaky ducts are definitely bad news for your energy bills. According to ENERGY STAR, inefficient ducts can drive up your heating and cooling costs by as much as i 20 percent. They can also make your rooms uncomfortable, and may even backdraft combustible gases from gas-powered appliances. When designed properly, your HVAC system represents a delicate balance between two opposites: your supply and return ducts. Return ducts push conditioned air into your home, and supply ducts suck older air out to be reheated or cooled and filtered. When you have leaks on one side of your system, it can throw that balance off. For instance, maybe you won’t get as much heated air returned into your interiors. And that means your unit has to work harder, making it—you guessed it—less efficient. ESVI contractors perform specialized tests when they install your system to ensure that ducts are working at their peak.
- Improving system airflow. Along a similar vein, airflow in your unit must be optimized to achieve the best performance. Notably, too much or too little airflow can affect your AC’s refrigerant, causing the evaporator coil to work harder than necessary. And that makes your unit less effective, and can even make it break down over time. ESVI requires HVAC contractors to check airflow during installation—and to install units according to manufacturer recommendations.
- Properly charging heat pumps and air conditioners. HVAC units run on refrigerants. Inside the evaporator coils is a liquid agent that helps cool the air blowing through your system. But just like everything in your unit, your AC can only perform its best when the exact right amount of refrigerant is running through its coils. An ENERGY STAR Verified Installation guarantees that your unit has just the right amount of refrigerant to keep your AC running smoothly and efficiently.
Additionally, third-party verification has the potential to improve your home’s value on the market as well. A number of studies show that buyers are being ever-more drawn to green features in a home—but the real value of those features can sometimes be difficult to communicate. An official certification gives your home prestige, and could, in theory, reduce your home’s time on the market, particularly if the public’s interest in efficiency continues to grow. That means that with the right HVAC system, you can become an energy trend-setter!