When it comes to systems in your home that are decidedly un-green, air conditioning ranks pretty near the top of the list. According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, air conditioning accounts for nearly 50 percent of the energy use in the United States during peak summer months, and air conditioning is responsible for nearly 100 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year. That said, green air conditioning is available for homeowners who wish to reduce their carbon footprint without sweltering away during the summer months.
The Cost and Value of Green Air Conditioning
How much is going green going to cost you when it comes to air conditioning? The real question should be how much it’s going to cost you if you don’t. It’s true that green air conditioning will require a higher initial investment. Yet, you can reduce home energy usage by 20 to 50 percent by going green in the cooling department. So it’s easy to see how this is one instance where going green is almost guaranteed to pay for itself, and more, as time goes by.
Check out our AC Cost Calculator to compare prices between different home air conditioners.
Reduced utility bills aside, the real value of going green extends far beyond the energy savings you’ll enjoy. In the case of air conditioning, going green means a healthier home environment for you and your family, a reduction in fossil fuel consumption and the creation of greenhouse gases, and the peace of mind in knowing that you’re doing your part in creating a better, more environmentally responsible world for your children and grandchildren.
Tips for Green Air Conditioning Use
- Increase Your Attic Insulation—Adding more insulation is one of the best investments you can make. It will provide a return on investment in a matter of a few months to a few years.
- Install Radiant Heat Barriers—Radiant heat barriers are a thin layer of metal insulation (usually tin foil with a paper backing or a metalized mylar sheeting), which can reduce radiant heat transfer into your attic by as much as 95 percent.
- Install Ceiling Fans—The breeze created by a good ceiling fan can eliminate the need to run your AC on cooler days, and will allow you to set the thermostat a few degrees higher on days when your air conditioning is in operation. Ceiling fans also help distribute warm air in the winter, helping to reduce energy costs year round.
- Seal and Insulate Ductwork—Poorly sealed ductwork can drastically reduce the cooling efficiency of your air conditioning system, as can ductwork that runs through un-insulated spaces like attics, garages, and crawl spaces.
- Install Programmable Thermostats—Multiple zone, programmable thermostats help reduce energy consumption since you won’t have to remember to turn the AC up or down. In addition, every degree higher you set your AC will reduce your home cooling costs by 3 to 5 percent.
Tips for Green Air Conditioning Systems
- Purchase a High-Efficiency Unit—Replacing an older model with a high-efficiency air conditioner can reduce home cooling costs and energy usage by 20 to 50 percent. For central air conditioners look for SEER ratings of 14 or higher. For window units, look for an EERE rating of 10.7 or better.
- Purchase a Properly Sized Unit—Air conditioners that are too large or small for the area they are meant to cool will run inefficiently, waste energy, and wear out more quickly than an AC that’s been properly sized for your home by your HVAC contractor. In addition, they don’t dehumidify well if they are constantly turning on and off. You want an air conditioner sized to run as constantly as possible.
- Consider Ductless Air Conditioners—Ductless air conditioners, also referred to as split systems, allow you to individually regulate the temperature in rooms that you are occupying. Doing so is more efficient than central air conditioning. These units can also incorporate some of the best heat pumps on the market for winter use.
- Install a Whole House Fan—Whole house fans are installed in the ceiling leading into your attic, and cool your residence by drawing cool outside air through open windows into your home, and expelling warmer air up and out through ventilated attic space. A whole house fan can eliminate the need for air conditioning in mild climates or can supplement air conditioning in hotter regions.
- Install an Evaporative Cooler (a.k.a. Swamp Cooler) —Swamp coolers are quite a bit less expensive to purchase and install than air conditioning, and they run on about 1/10th of the energy of central air. Unfortunately, they won’t do you any good if you live in more humid areas of the country.
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Green Air Conditioning that’s Right for You
If you’re feeling unsure about how green you’re willing to go, there’s no need to worry. Going green isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition, and not every homeowner has the time or the resources to purchase the most energy-efficient air conditioner on the market, install a whole house fan, and move ductwork into an insulated area all in one fowl swoop. The truth of the matter is that any step you take in a green direction is a smart one, especially when it comes to the high costs and heavy energy consumption that go hand-in-hand with artificially cooling your home. If you do think green is the right choice for you, talk with an HVAC contractor about adopting a green remodeling philosophy, find a contractor who specializes in green building and remodeling, or seek out the services of a green consulting firm so you can be sure that your approach to cooling your home is as green as it gets.