Making HVAC Systems More Environmentally Friendly

Published: 08th April 2010
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In recent years, homeowners have become more concerned about reducing their families' carbon footprints and doing their parts to preserve the environment. What role do HVAC systems play? What should the environmentally responsible homeowner understand about HVAC systems and the environment? Here, an HVAC professional, Aris Parviz of Able Air-1, Inc., explains how HVAC systems impact the environment and what you can do to make your home heating and cooling system more environmentally friendly.



These days, much has been reported on the detrimental environmental impact on processes and products we've simply taken for granted for years. In addition to concerns about damage to the ozone layer, there is also growing concern over fossil fuel consumption and the environmental impacts of burning these fuels. And so, like all industries, the HVAC industry also faces pressures to improve energy efficiency.



Fossil Fuel Consumption

Fossil fuels, including coal, oil and natural gas, provide about 95% of the world's energy. The consumption of fossil fuels, however, poses serious environmental problems. When fossil fuels are burned, gases and particles like ash, sulfur, nitrogen and carbon are released into the atmosphere, all of which can be harmful to the environment. The processes of extracting and transporting fossil fuels are also of environmental concern since they often disrupt local ecosystems and require A tremendous amount of energy. Furthermore, fossil fuels are a limited resource as there is a finite supply. Reducing energy consumption and finding alternative energy methods are essential to ensuring that the world's fossil fuel supplies are not depleted.



Improved Refrigerant

Their potential contribution to ozone depletion is the primary environmental concern with home HVAC systems. Most early air conditioning units used a refrigerant called R12. Like many types of early refrigerants, R12 is a chlorofluorocarbon (CFC). CFCs are a group of compounds that have been found to have unusually high potential to damage the ozone layer. R12 fell out of favor with manufacturers of home HVAC systems when new standards were imposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the mid-90s, so it is unlawful to vent R12 into the atmosphere.



Newer refrigerant called R22 has been used in place of R12 for the last 15 years or so. Although still harmful to the ozone layer, R22 represents a significant improvement over R12. However, R22 is being phased out in favor of more environmentally sound refrigerants thanks to updated environmental protection regulations which take effect this year. The replacement, R410A, is much more reliable, which contains no ozone depleting chemicals and operates much more efficiently.



Improvements in HVAC Efficiency

Thanks to new EPA standards designed to reduce fossil fuel consumption and associated emissions, heating and cooling systems are becoming more energy efficient. Not only are high-efficiency HVAC systems reducing the amount of energy it takes to heat or cool your home, but new construction methods and improved insulation are also making it easier for HVAC systems to warm or cool your home.



Variable speed motors and geothermal heat pumps are just two examples of recent improvements in HVAC efficiency. Variable speed motors improve efficiency by maintaining a more constant temperature and by eliminating energy-hogging "blasts" of heated or cooled air. The most energy-efficient heating option available to homeowners today, a geothermal heat pump transfers heat into home from the ground in winter, and pulls heat from the home in summer to provide a cooling effect. Geothermal heat pumps use 30% to 40% less energy than their traditional counterparts.



Additionally, HVAC systems are all assigned a SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating). The higher the SEER number, the more efficient the system. A SEER of 10 was common for systems manufactured in the early 1990s, but by 2006, a rating of 13 was the norm. Now we're able to achieve a SEER of 15 or higher, which translates to much lower energy costs for homeowners and less environmental impact.



Aris Parviz is a writer for Yodle, a business directory and online advertising company. Find an HVAC contractor or more HVAC contractor articles at Yodle Consumer Guide.




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