........The Cajun Contractor, Michael King.........
..................Michael King
...........The Cajun Contractor

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  The ABCís of Efficient A/C

You probably think of an air conditioner as something that puts cool air in your home, but what it really does is remove heat from your house and put it outside. So an understanding of how heat gets indoors is the key to choosing the most cost-efficient ways to cut summer utility bills.

The sources of summer heat gain in a typical newer home, in order of greatest to smallest are:

  • Inside sources (appliances, lighting, people)
  • Windows (solar heat gain)
  • Attic and ductwork
  • Infiltration of outside air
  • Walls

Surprised? Many people expect just the opposite. Although the proportions of heat gain from each source varies among houses and lifestyles, the top three offer the greatest opportunity to save money and stay cooler.

For a typical home, here are the top six investments you can make to reduce your summer utility bills. The sequence is loosely based on typical potential benefits balanced with cost, but will vary from house to house.

  1. WINDOW SHADING. Sun control is usually a much better investment than storm windows. An exterior shading strategy should be used for any glass that receives direct sunshine, or even reflected radiant heat from pavement. Reflective interior windows treatments help, but are not nearly as effective as exterior or glass solar control.

Solar screens are an inexpensive, do-it-yourself treatment that can block up to 70 percent of solar heat while preserving the view.  Solar films (window tints) provide a wide range of choices to fit your needs. Spectrally selective films allow more visible daylight through while blocking heat. Look for a solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) around 0.4 (no higher than 0.6) and a visible light transmittance (VT) of 0.5 or greater. The lower the SHGC, the better, the higher the VT, the better.

Landscaping is a great way to shade both glass and walls as well as add value to the home. Awnings are another good option with aesthetic benefits, but cost more.  

  1. LIGHT-COLORED EXTERIOR SURFACES.  When repainting, re-siding, or reroofing your home, choose white or light colors. It might not make a huge difference, but changing color is a no cost way to reduce heat. Among roofing options, a white metal roof provides the greatest benefit, while light-colored shingles yield a much smaller benefit.
  2. APPLIANCE AND LIGHTING CHOICES. In general, each three kilowatt hours of energy saved in the home can reduce the need for cooling buy an additional kilowatt hour. So you save energy and money two ways.

Leaving lights, computers, TVs, and even ceiling fans on add heat needlessly. Ceiling fans are considered an energy saver by keeping you cooler at higher thermostat settings, but they end up being a net energy loser if you leave them on continuously in unoccupied rooms. Turning everything off when not needed is free. If that is a difficult habit to enforce then consider installing time or motion sensors.

When replacing appliances, look for the EnergyStar label, a verification of high energy-efficiency. Also, compare the big yellow EnergyGuide labels to reveal the hidden cost (operating cost) of different models. Investing in higher efficiency will pay off. Refrigerators and freezers are especially important since they run (and give off heat inside your home) continuously.

Replace your high-use incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps, or CFLs. CFLs have a higher price tag, but use about a third of the electricity, produce a third of the heat and last about 10 times longer.

  1. ATTIC IMPROVEMENTS. If space permits, increase attic insulation to R-38. In

coastal south Louisiana and where you cant fit R-38, you can use R-19 attic insulation with either a truss-mounted radiant barrier system or a light-colored metal or tile roof. Ridge and sofit vents provide better attic ventilation. 

  1. SEALED DUCT SYSTEM. If your home is typical, your ductwork might be losing 30-40 percent of cooled air. Thatís because most ducts are quite leaky, and the ductwork is located in the hottest place on Earth: the attic. The entire duct system should be sealed with mastic and mesh (not duct) tape, tested by a trained professional with specialized equipment and insulated (if in an unair-conditioned attic) with R-8 or better.
  1. HIGH SEER A/C. When itís time to replace you air conditioner, invest in a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, or SEER, of at least 12 (SEER of 10 for room-size units) Make sure it has a moisture-removing capacity (latent capacity) of at least 25 percent, or choose a variable speed unit that will provide good humidity control in mild seasons (especially important if choosing a SEER of 14 or higher). Insist that the unit is not oversized.

More is not better. An oversized air conditioner will cool, but will not dehumidify adequately; it will cost more to operate and will not last as long.




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