Seal, insulate, and equip: Toward better HVAC efficiency

Seal first.

If you’re working to increase the efficiency of your HVAC system at home or at work, your best move is to start by sealing any air leaks. Most people think first of those that arise around doors and windows, but attic access doors and lighting fixtures are also big offenders. In fact, the many ways air is moving through your home will probably surprise you. The U.S. Department of Energy has a great list of tips for finding and sealing leaks.

“I always tell people to seal first,” said POWER MOVES Energy Efficiency Programs Manager Laura Matney. “And from there, you want to put in proper insulation. That comes second, because if you have air moving through the insulation, it’s not going to work.”

If after taking those steps you find you’re still getting a low return on the dollars you spend to heat and cool your house, it might be time to look into new equipment.

“Seal, insulate, equip,” Matney said. “That’s the way to do it, because if your house is well sealed and well insulated, you might need a smaller piece of equipment to stay comfortable. And that smaller piece of equipment is less costly to purchase and run!”

The surest way to find answers to each of those steps is to have an energy audit.

“When you have an energy audit, you find out where you need to seal and insulate, and that helps determine which equipment you want or need,” Matney said. “If you plan ahead and get all the information, you’re ready when your own equipment fails. And then you can spend less money on a piece of higher-efficiency equipment.”

Many people, Matney finds, wait until they absolutely need a new furnace or air conditioner, and then they’re in the position of making a quick decision. At crunch time people tend to spend more and get less because they’re desperate to get a replacement and make their homes or businesses comfortable again.

“Ideally, you think about upgrading before you need to,” Matney said. “Otherwise, you’re scrambling for a replacement when the heat goes out on the coldest day of winter. In that case, you tend to take the first answer instead of the best answer.”

She advises that homeowners start doing some research when their HVAC equipment is about 8 years old.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to replace at that time,” Matney said, “but it’s a good time to start thinking. And if it’s 10 to 12 years old, you’re ready to get more serious about it.

“Give yourself time to research and get an idea of what options—and rebates—are out there.”

Tackle improved efficiency now by contacting your local co-op to schedule an energy audit.