How to Maximize the Efficiency of Your Air Conditioner or Heat Pump

Updated on April 28, 2018
Cre8tor profile image

Dan has been in the HVAC industry for 22 years with experience ranging from installation and service to sales and distribution.

Air Conditioning Efficiency Isn't a Promise, It's a Potential

Many homeowners (and even some HVAC contractors) don't truly understand HVAC equipment efficiency ratings. They think that the higher they are the better. Often times, they think that because they bought a unit with the potential to be highly efficient that it will actually be highly efficient. If it were only that simple.

The train of thought here isn't wrong, however. If you stop there, you could find yourself paying a lot of money for a system that has the potential to be highly efficient when, in fact, it isn't or won't be if not cared for properly.

I want to share with you the things that you, as a homeowner, can do or have done to maintain the highest efficiency performance of your air conditioner and/or heat pump once it's installed. But before I do, let's try to get a better understanding of these efficiency ratings so you can make a wise purchase in the beginning.

Energy Guide Example Image

Note the "this rating depends on" statement and the map showing SEER ratings by region.
Note the "this rating depends on" statement and the map showing SEER ratings by region.

SEER Ratings: What You Need to Know When Buying a High Efficiency Air Conditioner or Heat Pump

I'm not going to get into the nitty gritty science of SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) ratings and how they are calculated since that in and of itself could take many days of classes and reading a lot of books to fully understand. Instead, I'll stick with what I think is important to you as a homeowner at the time of purchase, which is getting what you pay for.

Nearly every air conditioner or heat pump will have (or should have) the words "up to" in its sales literature or perhaps "may vary based on other equipment" on the Energy Guide tag of the unit when referring to it's SEER rating. This is part of why I say efficiency is a potential, not a promise.

A 16 SEER condensing unit (the outdoor part of your system) for example means with the right air handler/furnace and evaporator coil, the unit can achieve a 16 SEER rating. However, if you put in that "other" coil because it's a bit cheaper or easier to install on your ductwork and then install the system on your existing 15-year-old furnace (though it may work just fine), you won't likely see that out of your unit regardless of what the salesman or sticker said it could do. Even when all brand new equipment is being installed, if not matched properly, it will never achieve the SEER rating it is capable of.

So how do you, the homeowner, know what you'll get?

Your HVAC contractor should be able to back his proposal of a 16 SEER (or 18, 20 etc...) system and provide you with an AHRI certificate that states what the actual SEER rating is that you'll receive based on the equipment selections he's preparing to install. It's not something he'll likely have on his person but should be able to obtain once the proposal is under serious consideration by the buyer. All this said, you may still only get 15.5 but that's not bad and at least you know you're in the ballpark of what your paying for.

NOTE: It is rather pointless to ask your contractor for this type documentation when purchasing minimum efficiency equipment. This would only be to make sure when you choose higher end equipment that you get what you pay for and have the needed documentation should you qualify for any energy rebates whether they be through your supplier or federal government. None of which applies to minimum efficiency units.

Bullet Points About SEER Ratings for Buying Air Conditioners and Heat Pumps

- It's rare that a unit will be able to reach its maximum SEER rating if being integrated with older equipment.

- All new equipment doesn't mean you'll reach maximum efficiency, the system must "match".

- Efficiency declines with age and poor maintenance.

- Don't expect reaching maximum efficiency to be cheap.

*** Minimum SEER ratings may vary by region and change semi-regularly. Ask your contractor what they are in your area.

Maintaining the Efficiency of Your Air Conditioner or Heat Pump

Now that our new equipment is installed we can just relax and enjoy the comfort it creates while saving money all along the way...right? Well, not exactly.

Regardless of your units efficiency rating or age, if it's not properly maintained, it will not perform as it should. I repeat, it "will not"...not maybe, not sometimes, not ever. As a matter of fact, not only will you not save money, you'll likely incur more expense in repair costs. It's science.

There are 3 main things a homeowner should do or have their HVAC contractor do on a regular basis.

- Keep your air filter clean.

- Keep your evaporator coil clean.

- Keep your condenser coil clean.

There are other things a homeowner simply needs to avoid to help protect the unit and make the cleaning process easier and/or less frequent.

- Don't let your lawnmower blow grass clippings towards your unit when mowing.

- Don't let your lawn grow up around the unit.

- Don't plant shrubs and bushes around your unit to hide it. (allow at least 3-4 feet)

- Avoid letting the kids play near the unit. (both for damage and their safety)

- Avoid letting your dog urinate on the unit. (see quiz below)

If I'm quite honest with myself, I know things can be easier to put off that I'm told to do when I don't understand why I'm being told to do them. Let me help take away the ability to procrastinate by informing your of why these things are important.

How Can Your A/C be Maintained if You Can't Get to It?

Not only is this hurting the function of your A/C, your service bill might have just gone up a few bucks since the tech has to work around this.
Not only is this hurting the function of your A/C, your service bill might have just gone up a few bucks since the tech has to work around this.

Interesting HVAC Knowledge

view quiz statistics

Why It's Important to Maintain Your Air Conditioners and Heat Pumps

The heating and cooling produced by air conditioners and heat pumps is based directly on the temperature/pressure relationship of the gas inside the system. The changing of the gas to a liquid, liquid to gas, and circulation of it is what ultimately impacts the air temperature in your home. Any changes in the required temperature/pressure relationship will adversely affect the systems efficiency and function.

If an air conditioner or evaporators coils get clogged, it changes the amount of airflow over those coils which is used to help control the evaporation and condensation of the refrigerant, in turn causing it's efficiency to drop. The air filter plays a very important role in this as well since even with clean coils, if the air cannot pass through the filter properly, it has the same affect.

Keeping this process in mind, you can likely see how the matching of the equipment we discussed above becomes important. If the coil is too small it won't catch as much air thus your high efficiency condenser isn't all that highly efficient. If the fan of the air handler or furnace is too powerful or weak you can see the same result as a mismatched coil and condenser. All of these components work together and matter when it comes to the actual efficiency you see out of your equipment compared to the potential ratings it is given.

What an Evaporator Coil Looks Like

You can see here how tightly together the fins on your evaporator coil are. It doesn't take a whole lot of debris to restrict the air that should be moving through them or clog that drain pan under it.
You can see here how tightly together the fins on your evaporator coil are. It doesn't take a whole lot of debris to restrict the air that should be moving through them or clog that drain pan under it.

Are You A Vigilant Homeowner?

How often do you check to see if your A/C equipment could use a cleaning?

See results

Improper Airflow in an HVAC System Is Bad News

You should now have a pretty good idea of how airflow impacts the efficiency of your air conditioner or heat pump and why. But beyond efficiency is the loss of comfort and gain of service calls.

Improper airflow impacts the operating temperature of motors, compressors, and ultimately the other components they use to control and operate your system. If getting the most bang for your buck isn't enough motivation to keep up on your systems maintenance, perhaps the increasing likelihood of other service calls for failed parts might get you going. Even being in the industry I didn't see the importance until I had a much better understanding of how it worked so trust me, those of us in the business can be just as guilty of neglecting our systems.

Thank you for reading and I hope I've provided you some information you can use as we head into another summer.

~ We're all in this together ~

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Dan Robbins

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, dengarden.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://dengarden.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)