Ready for summer? Or maybe the better question is whether your AC system and wallet are ready. Some people say we are in for a blast. “South Carolina summer expected to be even hotter than normal,” said a Charleston Post and Courier story.  “Full steamy ahead,” said the Old Farmer’s Almanac.  Before a hot summer is a good time to be an educated energy user.

Cooling systems can be 15% of our electric use says the Energy Information Agency. Combined, heating and cooling account for almost 50% of the energy use in a typical home, making it the largest energy expense for most homes, according to the Department of Energy.

When it was time to get a HVAC new system I realized how much I did not know about new systems. Here are several concepts I found most useful, but of course, do your own homework.

SEER: This is a rating on central AC systems’ seasonal energy efficiency ratio. SEER is a gauge of the amount of energy needed for a specific cooling output. I understand that some older systems have SEER ratings of 6 or less; new systems are 13 and higher. ENERGY STAR® and EnergyGuide labels could guide you to a system. (ENERGY STAR is a consumer resource on saving energy and using renewable energy technologies at home.) One source said that a SEER 13 system could increase home efficiency by 30%.

Programmable and smart thermostats: Not the same things. Programmable thermostats help people plan out their heating and cooling. Set a schedule, even a week ahead. A smart thermostat can be Wi-Fi connected for remote control. Some systems can know when you are away and make adjustments to save energy, or optimize your AC system. Both kinds of thermostats can help energy efficiency. I show my old trusty thermostat that served me well, and the new thermostat here.

An HVAC professional told me that installation – not just the hardware – can make a big difference. According to Energy.gov website, when installing a new central air conditioning system, some items that your contractor should note:

  • Adequate indoor space for the installation, maintenance, and repair of the new system, and installs an access door in the furnace or duct to provide a way to clean the evaporator coil
  • Using a duct-sizing methodology such as the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) Manual D
  • Ensuring there are enough supply registers to deliver cool air and enough return air registers to carry warm house air back to the air conditioner
  • Installing duct work within the conditioned space, not in the attic, wherever possible
  • Sealing all ducts with duct mastic and heavily insulates attic ducts
  • Locating the condensing unit where no nearby objects will block airflow to it
  • Verifying that the newly installed air conditioner has the exact refrigerant charge and airflow rate specified by the manufacturer.
  • Locating the thermostat away from heat sources, such as windows or supply registers. (Some new thermostats let you place sensors in various rooms and control the temperature by an average of those room temperatures.)

One home advice site reports that a national average cost on a new HVAC system is about $5,400. There is a wide range to that figure, depending on a number of factors, of course. It is an investment worth the homework on the system and the installation. Being an educated energy consumer can help make you more comfortable, and a saver, this summer.