An Energy-Smart Deal On Home Heating & Cooling...

  • Ask your builder, installer, or home supply outlet about the EnergyGuide label, and the fact sheets or product directories that go with them.
  • Use the information to compare the energy efficiencies and operating costs of competing brands and models.
  • Consider both purchase price and estimated operating costs when deciding what to buy.

Heating and cooling systems are some of the most important investments you will ever make in your home. Whether you are buying a new house, renovating an old one, or making an emergency purchase because "old faithful" finally conked out, there is a lot riding on the choices you make. Your comfort and safety are at stake. So is your wallet.

Americans typically spend 45 to 60 cents of every dollar they pay in utility bills for "space conditioning." You have an opportunity to lower those costs--by a little or a lot--when you select the most energy efficient equipment that meets your needs and fits your budget.

The efficiency and operating cost information on home heating and cooling equipment is intended to help you do just that.

Is there really that much of a difference among equipment on the market?

All products must meet federal minimum energy efficiency standards set by the Department of Energy. That's the law. But many products beat the standards and use even less energy.

Why should I care about energy efficiency?

Because the more efficient a product is, the less it costs to operate. That's money in your pocket. And because using less energy is good for the environment. It can reduce air pollution and help conserve natural resources.

Shouldn't I leave these decisions to folks who know more about heating and cooling systems than I do?

They may build it, sell it or install it--but you are the one who is paying the tab. So it's up to you to question not just the sticker price, but the "second price tag" that will show up on your monthly energy bills.

What makes one system more efficient than another?

Most of the differences are on the inside in the motors, compressors, pumps, valves, gaskets, and seals, or in electronic sensors that make today's products more "intelligent."

Why can I trust the EnergyGuide?

Manufacturers must use standard tests developed by the Department of Energy to prove the efficiency of their products. Many have these tests performed by independent laboratories. The test results are reported in the EnergyGuide materials.

Before You Buy...

  1. Use an energy audit to help pinpoint your needs. Audits help detect energy waste and gauge the efficiency of your current heating and cooling systems. Do-it-yourself kits are available. Ask if your utility offers free or low-cost energy audits. Or hire specialists to do a comprehensive audit. These audits will cost more.
  2. Make sure your home is properly weatherized. Check the caulking, weatherstripping and insulation. You may be able to install a smaller, less expensive heating or cooling system to get the same performance results.
  3. Investigate the options. Study the product literature. Will the product do the job? Will it handle your needs today? Ten years from now? What are your budget limits? How much noise does it make? How energy efficient is it? What is the repair history on this brand?
  4. Ask about special energy efficiency offers. Ask your local utility or salesperson whether there are cash rebates, low interest loans, or other incentive programs in your area for buying energy efficient products--and how you can qualify.
  5. If you need to hire a contractor, get at least three bids before signing a contract. Get all of the details in writing. Check experience, references, and Better Business Bureau records. Ask whether you will need a permit, who will get it, and what it will cost. Can you save money by buying the equipment and materials yourself? Beware of contractors whose price is too good to be true. Know your cancellation rights.
  6. If you are buying a home, look into getting an energy-efficient mortgage (EEM). EEMs allow home buyers to qualify for a larger mortgage. Lenders use the lower monthly energy bills you'd pay in an energy-efficient house to offset a higher mortgage payment. Ask your lender if local EEMs are available - or contact federal lending programs like the VA, FHA, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

Different Ways to Say "Efficiency"

  • Furnaces and boilers - annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE)
  • Room air conditioners - energy efficiency ratio (EER)
  • Central air conditioners and heat pump cooling - seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER)
  • Heat pump heating - heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF)

Heating and cooling capacity is expressed as "BTUs per hour." The larger the area you need to heat or cool, the more BTUs per hour you will need.

Tips for Lowering Your Monthly Energy Bill

Being an energy-smart consumer means getting the most from the energy you use.

  • Shade your room air conditioner from direct sun. This will reduce its workload. Clean the filters monthly and replace as necessary. This will save energy and reduce dust and pollen in the air. Don't leave it turned up to the highest setting when you go out. Set the controls to a lower setting to reduce operating costs.
  • Because dust can sabotage heating efficiency, vacuum air vents, baseboard heaters, and radiators regularly and keep them unrestricted by furniture, carpet or curtains. If your baseboard heaters have movable deflectors or vents, open them for the winter and close them for the summer.
  • Schedule annual tune-ups for your heat pump, furnace or boiler. Check with your utility company to see if they provide this service.
  • Leaky ducts are prime sources of energy waste. Hire a professional to seal and insulate ducts. That can save 10 to 15 percent on your home heating bills. More savings are possible if you have proper insulation where conditioned space is next to unconditioned space. Check your attic, attic stairway, attached garage walls, and basement.
  • If your home has crawl space under it, open the foundation vents in the spring to promote air flow. Close them in the winter.
  • Prune back shrubs that may block airflow to your air conditioner or heat pump.
  • Think about installing ceiling fans. The air circulation spreads cooling in the summer and boosts heating efficiency in the winter.

For More Information

These sources of consumer information can help you make informed decisions about energy efficient products or systems.

Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy Clearinghouse
U.S. Department of Energy - EREC
P. O. Box 3048, Merrifield, VA 22116
Toll free 1-800-DOE-EREC
TDD 1-800-273-2957

Your state and local energy offices

Your local utility company


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