There aren’t many bills as dependent on our habits and know-how as our energy bills. The first step in reducing your energy costs is to address the equipment that we use to control the climate in our house − since they can also take control of our energy bills if left poorly maintained. That being said, it leaves me scratching my head when I hear comments about how all HVAC maintenance should be left to licensed technicians and the most extreme DIY purists.
Why should we leave all aspects of maintenance to these people? Throughout my 23 years of working with clients as an HVAC technician, I’ve heard a great deal of hesitation from the usual homeowner that maintaining their equipment seems too intimidating. Meanwhile, a great portion of my calls are for simple routine maintenance procedures. (Other times, my work entailed picking up the pieces of a ruined system because nobody followed through with this routine maintenance. Remember that before engaging in any HVAC repair, turn off your system until all parts are back in-place. Now, here are a few ideas anyone can use to reduce their energy bills, lengthen the lifespan of their equipment, and refrain from unnecessarily hiring a technician:
1. Regularly replace your air conditioner’s filter
- Cost: $0.00-5.00
- Savings: 5-15% on energy costs
The first, easiest step to take in achieving better energy efficiency and a healthier system is a bullet point that will make even novice DIY-types roll their eyes, but it needs to be said: regularly cleaning or replacing your filter is absolutely necessary in keeping system (and budget) healthy. Dirty filters can block your airflow causing your system to work harder meaning more energy spent and time off the lifespan of your air conditioner. This takes little effort and planning, and the cost you’ll be paying ranges from free to the change hiding in your couch cushion.If your filter has a cardboard frame, you’ll have to spend a few dollars on replaceable frames. (These frequently come in convenient discounted bulk packages, and they’re extremely easy to replace.) Otherwise, if they’re permanent filters, simply remove the filter, vacuum away debris, rise the filter with warm water, and allow it to air dry for several hours.Depending on the needs of your household, you might have to perform this maintenance more frequently than others. Those with heavily shedding pets or members of the household with allergies will have to be more diligent, meaning monthly attention to their filter is a good idea. Otherwise, filters can go without TLC for 3 months. If you’re unsure of your needs, check your filter on a bi-weekly basis and see how quickly dust accumulates.
2. Know when to clean your ducts
- Cost: $300-600 for professional service, $0.00-10 for DIY or $100-400 for vacuum method
- Savings: 0-40% on energy costs or up to $600 for DIY method
This routine merits some reservations. Often, duct cleaning services are offered as ways for homeowners to instantly improve their air quality and reduce their energy costs. In fact, small amounts of dust that cling to the walls of ductwork have little to no proven impact on system efficiency and air quality. Be wary of any contractor offering their duct cleaning services if they haven’t first inspected your home to even see if it might be necessary.
So, is duct cleaning worth it? It depends on your circumstances, and answers can vary from “not at all” to “stop what you’re doing and do it right now.” Dust and dirt naturally accumulates in ductwork and this is not a problem for the most part. But if you visibly see particulates flying out with your airflow, suspect that pests might reside in your system, or smell a moldy odor coming from your system, duct cleaning is a must for the well-being of your family.
In terms of energy efficiency, duct cleaning can work wonders for your system if enough debris exists to put strain on your airflow. In my experience, customers rarely report savings more than a few dollars per month. But occasionally, clients have seen their energy costs reduced by up to 40 percent. Results such as these are rare, but duct cleaning might be a good route to look into for anyone with unexplainably high energy bills.
Professional service providers often perform this task in different ways for a reasonable price. However, there are some thriftier ways to tackle the job. If you already possess a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter and brush attachment, you can simply scrub and vacuum out the debris from your supply registers. If there’s a mold problem, an extremely mild 1/10th bleach solution can be used and the dead mold should be vacuumed out.
3. Keep your coils clean
- Cost: $5.00-10 for coil cleaner
- Savings: 300-40% on energy costs or up to $150-200 for DIY method
The coils inside and outside of your house can affect the efficiency of your system if they become dirty, with a difference as much as 40%. Rather than calling a technician to take care of this easy procedure, go to any home supply retailer and look for air conditioner coil foaming cleaner. This easy-to-apply cleaner can save you hundreds of dollars if you choose to seek it out rather than relying on a serviceman to bring their own. Remember that depending on your variety, you may need to rinse off the cleaner after application.
While the process can be a little tricky for those who aren’t as handy with a few simple tools, there are some easy to follow step-by-step instructions. These directions can help you specifically in locating the access panel and steps in reassembling pieces. Beware that faulty reassembly can result in serious damage to your system, but coil cleaning is a relatively simple process that shouldn’t result in any harm as long as care is taken.
What are your experiences in dealing with air conditioning? What other home repairs do you think homeowners should take into their own hands in order to save money and become more energy efficient?
About the author: Jason Wall is an HVAC technician of more than 23 years with Griffith Energy Services. When he isn’t on a project or spending time with his kids, he enjoys blogging and chatting with other professionals in the field.
Photo by: Flickr