From the Delta to the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, every town in our area has its own special feel—but there’s something unique about Davis. Maybe it’s because it’s a college town filled with science professors and agriculture students, but every time I’m there, I notice that folks are working hard to make their houses as environmentally-friendly as possible. In fact, I was recently passing through Davis and saw a sign that said “UC Davis Solar Decathlon House” in front of a lot where a group of college-aged kids was building a house. I’ve always been interested in solar power, as well as home construction, so I stopped to chat.
The students told me that every year a group from the university builds a solar house for a competition with other universities to see who can make the most environmentally-friendly living quarters. They showed me some of what they were working on—energy meters in the house to monitor overuse, big water basins repurposed as benches, stuff like that—and I, of course, asked about the HVAC. I told them that an eco-friendly air conditioner for environmentally conscious Davis homeowners is a must. They thanked me for the tip, and I wished them luck in their competition.
Although these green-minded students are some of the most notable earth-friendly home builders in town, they are by no means the only ones. I’d strongly suggest eco-friendly air conditioners and cooling methods for any environmentally-focused home. The right choice can lead to better results for the planet—and for your power bill. You just need the expertise to make an informed choice.
What Is the Criteria for an Eco-Friendly Air Conditioner?
While Davis is at the forefront of communities adapting cooling methods, like air conditioners, to be eco-friendly, the technology isn’t all that wide spread yet. You can’t call an HVAC company and just ask them to bring over one of their eco-friendly air conditioner models because the truth is, there really aren’t central AC units marketed expressly to be good for the planet. That’s the bad news. The good news is that standard air conditioners are slowly becoming more naturally eco-friendly, and an expert HVAC company can help you find the right options to make a choice that will be the right fit for both your home and the environment.
There are many ways to discern if your AC unit is greener than most, starting with:
- Unit size: Like I’ve talked about in the past, it’s important to know if you should upsize or downsize the AC unit in your home. An undersized choice will fail to keep your home cool, wasting electricity while it struggles. A larger unit will short cycle, which basically means that it’s turning off and on all the time—and this uses unnecessary energy, too. Picking a good fit is key, and a professional HVAC tech can help you find the exact right sized air conditioner for the unique needs and dimensions of your individual house.
- A heat pump: Another thing I’ve talked about in the past is how you can capitalize on the Davis renewable energy craze by installing a hybrid heat pump. I’ve brought it up in the context of warming your home during the winter months, but these pumps can also convert warm outdoor air into cool air for the inside of your home during the summer. While pricey to install at about $3,500 on average, they often pay for themselves by saving you money on your energy bill (between 30 and 40 percent of heating and cooling bills). If you’re paying about $100 a month, a heat pump will pay for itself in about 10 years, while its lifespan is 15 to 20 years.
- Two-stage compressors: The part of the AC that uses the most power is always the compressor. Always. This is the component that works hard to create cooled air. The compressor circulates the refrigerant under pressure, thus generating the cool air. A two-stage compressor will circulate refrigerant twice, and they almost always have the added benefit of automatically working less on cooler days in order to save you money. This is especially valuable in a town like Davis where the temperature tends to fluctuate in the spring and the fall.
Choosing an Eco-Friendly Air Conditioner
When choosing an eco-friendly air conditioner for your home, there are two basic considerations that you should start with:
- Energy Star Ratings: This is the rating designated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and it’s the most credible gauge of whether the equipment you’re buying is truly good for the environment or not. To get its Energy Star Rating, an air conditioning unit must meet or exceed the energy efficiency of the average AC available on the market, as calculated by the EPA. To better understand this rating and how they are determined, you have to be well-versed in the next item on our list.
- SEER Ratings: SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating, and what it means is the amount of cool air created compared to the level of energy that is being consumed. There is no simple way to describe how this is determined, but I can tell you that it involves taking the cool air output over the course of a season, and then dividing it by the total electric energy input during that same time frame. If you’re really interested in doing a deep dive into this stuff, here’s a link to the 2008 Performance Rating of Unitary Air-Conditioning & Air-Source Heat Pump Equipment study that the rating is still based on. If you live in Davis, you probably have a neighbor or two who works at the University. Maybe they’d be willing to help you wade through the report. In terms of the basics, however, you need to know that the average SEER rating is 13, and the higher the rating, the more environmentally-friendly the AC unit is.
Making sure that you’re picking an eco-friendly air conditioner to fit in with the environmentally-friendly Davis climate is a complicated business, one that can feel like you’re actually taking a science or engineering course alongside those students I recently met building the solar house. You want to make sure that you have a reliable, expert HVAC company to guide you along the way, ensuring that your AC has a high enough seer rating, key components such as a heat pump and a two-stage compressor, and the exact right size for your home’s layout and square footage.
Investing in green HVAC tech can be expensive but, over the long run, eco-friendly air conditioners can actually save you money on your home cooling costs. As I’ve noted throughout, an AC unit that’s better for the planet is one that uses less electricity, which is better for your bills as well.
Learn how to invest in your home and the planet with an eco-friendly AC unit. The trained HVAC professionals at Bell Brothers can help you make the green choice.
Image courtesy Unsplash user Drew Coffman