How to Lower Your Energy Bill

Our family has owned and operated Williams Heat, Air & Refrigeration, Inc., since 1997. What is provided here is the benefit of our years of experience in helping families and businesses to truly save a substantial amount of money on their heating and cooling electricity costs.

While it is true that there are some basic things homeowners can do to keep their units functioning efficiently — keeping the filters changed and coils cleaned on a regular basis, having the unit maintained on a once or twice yearly basis, and paying attention to the settings on the thermostat — there is one not-so-obvious consideration when it comes to saving on the electric bill.

While it is helpful to select the most energy efficient model of equipment you can afford and replace units that are old and well past their energy efficiency prime, there is no one particular brand of equipment that excels another when it comes to energy efficiency superiority. Eager contractors will promote their brand of equipment over a competitor’s brand to make a sale — and some are well worth considering — but the brand of equipment you select is not the true source of where your energy savings will come from.

Are you ready for this piece of news? The true source of the majority of energy savings or losses involved in heating and cooling your home is in your duct work. This is particularly helpful to know for people who are about to begin building a new home, but it is equally helpful for those who already own a home and have central heating and air. Your duct system and how it is insulated and designed should be the real focus when you are considering energy costs.

One way to tell that your duct system is poorly designed is that there are areas within your home that are either hotter or colder than other areas — and your compressor has a hard time keeping up to get all the rooms to a comfortable temperature and satisfy the thermostat setting. (A unit that runs continually can also be because it is undersized for the amount of square footage in your home, and this should be ruled out.) Another tell tale sign is to take a look at your duct work — does it look like a mass of spaghetti noodles with ducts running all over the place, or does it have a main trunk line from which uniform-length ducts are running to each room? Are the ducts kinked or bent and starving for air? Are any more than 25 feet long while other ducts are only 10 feet long?

Here’s an important tip: you can spend top dollar for the most energy efficient heating/air equipment on the market BUT if your duct system has been poorly designed, contains air leaks or is improperly insulated, you are not benefiting from any type of energy savings that that high efficiency unit can provide. Your duct system is the key to reducing your electricity costs — particularly if it is poorly designed — and the cost savings are so significant that it’s worth having your existing duct system inspected and/or replaced.

When we became aware of the relationship of duct system design and energy savings, we went to our local electric company (Habersham EMC) and asked them to begin monitoring the energy usages of customers who had their duct systems redesigned. In a majority of these cases, the customers did not replace their old units — they simply had their duct work redesigned. To our amazement — and the amazement of the electric company — customers were achieving a 15%-25% savings on their monthly power bill and were reporting that their homes felt more comfortable, had equal temperatures throughout and that the units were not running continually to keep up with the thermostat. When most of these customers finally do replace their units, they can expect an even further savings on their energy bill. Our local electric company has since become a proponent for change in local heating and air installation practices.

Depending on the size of the house, it can cost a family as little as $1,500 to $3,500 to have a poorly designed duct system redesigned, modified or replaced. That investment in their homes is usually recovered within two years from energy savings alone — plus the duct system becomes a permanent fixture and should never need to be replaced again. These families are continuing to reap the energy savings throughout their years of living in the home.

The key is to find a heating and air contractor who is licensed and knows how to properly design and install a duct system and has a reputation for doing so. A properly designed duct system requires specialized engineering skills for which all contractors have received training but which not every contractor is willing to take the time to do correctly. Not all do this properly because it involves extra time and labor — and unfortunately, most homeowners, builders or building inspectors are not educated well enough to know they are not getting a properly designed duct system. Look for contractors who specialize in duct modification and design.

How can you tell the apples from the oranges? A good way to start is to interview several contractors and ask them to draw or sketch their plans for how your system will be designed — and then explain why they are doing it the way they are. A good contractor will be able to educate you about air flow rates (known as CFMs) and will build a design that includes what is known as a trunk system — which is a system of primary ducting that usually runs the length of the house and from which all the secondary ducting is attached which run to each room. A trunk system provides equal air flow to every part of the house.

If your contractor’s drawing does not include a trunk system but instead relies on the secondary duct work to carry all the airflow, run! Your duct system will look like a tangle of spaghetti noodles, and the airflow in each room will be different from one part of the house to the other. Unscrupulous or lazy contractors will not want to do all the extra work involved to install a trunk system. Conscientious contractors will — and they will be able to explain why in a way you can understand.

In this era when more and more families are looking for ways to save money and “go green” — a home’s duct work is a good place to start.

UPDATE 2018: Most counties in Georgia now require HVAC contractors to perform a heat load calculation before installation within newly constructed residential homes. A heat load calculation insures that the duct system and unit are properly sized to achieve optimum energy savings. Make sure your contractor knows how to perform and provide you with a heat load calculation upon request.

Copyright 2018. Williams Heat, Air & Refrigeration, Inc.