It’s 7:30 in the morning in the middle of January in Cleveland, and you have to be at work by 8:00. Knowing it takes you at least 20 minutes to get there without traffic, you fill up your travel mug with coffee, grab the bagel from the toaster, slip on your shoes, grab your bag, and head out the door.
But what you forgot about until you were sitting at your desk for an hour was that you left your thermostat set to 72 degrees. Now your home is going to be nice and toasty for no one in particular during the next 8 hours.
And it’s not the first time you’ve done it. It’s become a reoccurring theme without any notice.
You’re spending unnecessary costs on the HVAC components of your home or office every day. Maybe you believe there is no way around it, but there are several solutions that can help you cut spending and gain better control over your energy use.
Most new, replacement equipment is more energy efficient than the equipment you’re currently using. But is replacement always the best solution?
HVAC equipment replacements can be more than your budget initially called for. If your home or office is not set up for the type of replacement you’re looking to install, it will require new construction components, causing a mess in your space and a deeper hole in your wallet.
Or maybe it’s within your budget initially, but you were not expecting all of the maintenance it requires afterward – and long term equipment support can begin to mount in just a short amount of time.
So what can be done about it? What can curb your energy usage habits and save you money without construction to your home or eating away at your finances?
Retrofit equipment is a modified appliance created to run in conjunction with current fixtures. The installation is usually noninvasive and requires little to no construction or mess. Plus, most retrofit jobs can be completed in a relatively short amount of time.
There are several different retrofit options you could include in your home or office updates, so let’s take a look at three.
Like in our earlier scenario, it’s easy to walk out of the house or apartment during the morning rush to get to work and forget to adjust your thermostat down for your away-hours. If this is a constant routine, you could be running your HVAC system at a high temperature when you’re not using it for upwards of 160 hours each month. It’s not difficult to see how this would drive up your electric bill.
One solution to this problem is a programmable thermostat.
Programmable thermostats allow you to set a schedule (usually for each day of the week) to your comfort level, with options for home and away, for specific hours of the day. It follows your family’s schedule and optimizes your HVAC unit for energy efficiency – and if you opt for a smart thermostat like NEST, it can learn the variations in your daily calendar and adjust the temperature without you having to walk over to the thermostat or change it on your smartphone.
Many homes do already have a form of this type of thermostat, but they are not using them to their advantage.
If your thermostat has programmable capabilities and you do not have a schedule set, you’re wasting money and energy – you’re no better off than you would be with a standard thermostat. There also won’t be any noticeable difference in your savings if you don’t lower your heating or cooling enough when you are away from home.
You can save up to 2% on your utility bill for every degree you lower your heat in the winter or air conditioning in the summer.
Holding periods also need to be set for longer times to have the best outcome – usually 8 hours long, like the hours when you’re at work or asleep. You can override the system settings for comfort, but if they’re invariably changing, there will be no effect on energy savings; in fact, energy usage will most likely increase in those scenarios.
Not every home is readily equipped to add a standard air conditioning unit. However, with warm, humid summer months like we get in Northeast Ohio, it’s difficult to live without some manner of cooling system in our living and work spaces.
Many older homes, apartments, and office buildings in the Greater Cleveland area use boiler systems for heat which means they do not have conventional ductwork, and there’s nowhere for a central A/C system to send conditioned air.
In order to install a standard air conditioner in such a building, an entire duct work or mini-duct system would need to be added as well. That usually requires a severe amount of construction, causing living and working in the area to be quite uncomfortable and distracting until the work is completed.
If you already have one, you’ve probably felt the cost of upkeep. These systems require continual maintenance to function at peak performance, and if your system is on the older side, it is not going to be as energy efficient as the newer models (especially if you don’t change your air filter often enough).
Enter the mini-split system.
Also called ductless air conditioners, these systems work in two main parts:
1) An outdoor compressor unit is located outside the home or office and reaches the inside unit through a small bundle of cables and tubing.
2) An indoor unit is mounted on a centrally located wall and can cool large space or multiple indoor units can be installed for optimal zone control.
A mini-split system does cost more up front, unfortunately, and some homeowners have qualms about the attractiveness of the indoor wall-mounted part, but there’s little maintenance involved once the units have been installed.
You also need to make sure a certified technician (like Stack) completes the installation. If you try to do it yourself or have someone who is not well-versed in this type of equipment, the system could run inefficiently and cause an increase in utility costs.
The system is small in size, so even mounting the indoor unit to the wall would not be much more aesthetically distracting than a baseboard unit or upper wall register.
Say you have an air conditioner, and you’re happy with it; but there are probably moments when you would like to take advantage of the outside weather. For instance: cooking or baking in the kitchen can bring an uncomfortable level of heat to the room. To cool it down to a more suitable temperature, would it be easier to turn on a fan and wait for it to circulate the air or just open a window?
Economizers work in the same fashion, lowering energy consumption by utilizing cooler, fresh air from outside to bring the temperature down in a designated area rather than running the A/C unit. It’s more efficient to use already cooled air from outside than to reprocess indoor air and send it back to the room or building.
In cooler weather, it mixes a minimal amount of the outside air with the recirculating return air, so the temperature of the space does not drop too low.
No significant mechanical or structural changes are required to add an economizer to your cooling system, making it one of the most ideal retrofit additions to air conditioning. It’s simply attached to an outside wall or roof and paired with outside and return dampers placed inside the ductwork, so even the visual elements of your workspace are kept intact – it’s a money- and an eye-saver.
SO WHICH OPTION IS BEST FOR YOU?
The deciding factors of which retrofit option is best for you are your preference and your space.
If you have a regular, daily schedule, a programmable thermostat is going to be a right choice for you. The same applies to small businesses if you conduct your business during regular 8:00-5:00 hours. However, if you are a stay-at-home parent or conduct business out of your home, a thermostat on a schedule is not going to save you much over the course of a year.
Mini-split systems are going to be most beneficial for those in older buildings and homes with no standard ventilation system since adding ductwork will be an added and extensive cost.
Economizers are going to cause the highest savings for businesses rather than homes. However, that is not to say homes won’t benefit at all – there /is/ still savings to be had, but not as robust. Areas of the United States which are hot and humid for a majority of the year (mostly the Southern states) won’t find relief from this type of retrofit equipment, but areas with cooler, calmer weather like here in Cleveland will find the most benefits from the system.
If you are not sure which style of retrofit opportunity will fit best with your home, contact Stack, and we can assist you with a system evaluation.