All too often, new a/c installs fail to deliver on the HVAC contractors’ promises to customers. Very few homeowners actually see a reduction on their utility bills. This is because the success of an a/c unit is predicated on a lot more than its efficiency.
Most contractors fail to take into consideration the entire home ecosystem in which the a/c unit is situated. More precisely, they’re ignoring the home’s performance. This holistic treatment includes not only architecture like ducting, attic insulation, and windows, but also analysis of key data, such as energy load and a unit’s cost per hour.
At Jon Wayne Heating and Air Conditioning, we have been offering home-performance services for many years. But, how do we do it, and what exactly are we doing?
The first service we offer is an energy audit. An energy audit enables us to show the customer the exact amount their current system is costing them and how much savings they will accrue with a new system. This is a service very few HVAC contractors offer; thus, offering energy audits immediately allows you to stand out from the competition. And, of course, once you prove to the customer (with data) that a new system will save them money, they’re much more likely to opt for a system replacement.
Next comes the home-performance testing phase. This entails an audit of all existing ductwork, attic insulation, and windows. During this exercise, we’re primarily looking for areas in the home susceptible to air leaks. Fixing leaks is crucial to ensuring the new system gives the customer the best return on investment.
A larger-scale inspection of the ducting system is perhaps the most important part of this phase, as poor ducting is a very common reason a/c systems fail to live up to expectations. Indeed, the U.S. Department of Energy states that 25-40 percent of energy from a unit is lost through poor ducting. If ducts are leaking excessively, a home’s comfort can be reduced and contaminated air can enter via the attic, crawlspace, or other exposed areas. This can negatively affect the wellbeing of a home’s occupants and damage the a/c equipment’s internal components.
Also part of the home-performance testing phase is an airflow analysis using an infiltrometer blower door. For those unfamiliar, this is a large fan that is placed on the main entryway of a home. It sucks air out of the building, which allows a tech to quickly identify areas of leakage and calculate a home’s air-infiltration rate. We offer this analysis when the performance of the ductwork needs to be tested more thoroughly.
Additionally, while inspecting the ductwork, make sure to look for ducts that are not designed thoughtfully. In many cases, ducting doesn’t distribute air evenly throughout a home and leaves some pockets of the house cooler than others.
ATTIC INSULATION AND HEAT-LOAD CALCULATIONS
Attic insulation can sometimes contain dirt or grime, which is a sign that air is traveling through the insulation and out of the home. Upgrading a home’s attic insulation will improve the thermal envelope of the home, thus enabling the customer to get by on a smaller system.
The final piece of our home-performance offering is ACCA heat-load calculations. Bigger a/c units are not always better; in fact, a unit that is too big can cause large swings in temperature that both damage the unit and create a home that is overly humid. These swings can also increase utility bills. A heat-load calculation should be performed before work begins on any a/c replacement.
VERIFY THE WORK
In order to ensure all this home-performance work doesn’t go to waste, a tech must ensure the new system is installed correctly. This starts with correctly connecting the current ductwork to the system — a step many contractors fail to execute correctly. Also, ensure the refrigerant charge is measured appropriately. As much as 79 percent of newly installed systems have too much or too little refrigerant. This can increase utility bills, hinder the unit’s cooling capability, and even cause the new system to fail.
Finally, be sure to replace both the indoor and outdoor evaporator coil. Many contractors simply use the indoor coil from the old system. This will lead to a more inefficient unit that costs more and creates more problems down the road.
Get out of the system replacement paradigm and consider the a/c unit within the context of the entire home ecosystem. Customers will be better off, and the contracting company will make more money.
Publication date: 4/18/2016