The Green Home

High cooling bills? New HVAC isn't always the answer

Posted June 14, 2010 8:49 p.m. EDT

As somebody who makes part of his living from installing new HVAC systems, folks look at me strange when I tell them that new HVAC isn’t always the best way to cut their bills or improve comfort in their home. Often there are simpler, cheaper solutions.

Every home is different

It’s impossible to offer generalizations about the best path to lower bills – there are just too many factors at work. The age of your home; the size, quality and state of repair of your HVAC system; whether duct work has been sealed properly; and the quality of your insulation will all significantly affect how your home performs. Even the location of your unit matters. (Bringing a HVAC unit inside a semi-conditioned space like a closed crawlspace or attic can drastically reduce costs.)

Assess the whole house

Before spending many thousands on a new HVAC unit, I usually recommend having an approved home energy auditor assess whether that is the best option. Sometimes all you will need is a proper tune up, and some air and duct sealing, to the tune of a few hundred dollars. (The audit will usually turn up other opportunities for savings, as well.)

Behavior matters

Even spending some time thinking about how you and your family use your AC can yield impressive results. Making sure windows and doors are closed; using ceiling fans when you are in a room (and turning them off when you leave); and properly using a programmable thermostat can have a massive impact on how much energy you use.

Many people don’t realize that even changing light bulbs can help – Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFLs) and LED’s don’t just use less energy than regular bulbs, they also produce significantly less heat.

Sometimes a new HVAC system is the answer after all

Of course, sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and replace your unit. But by making sure that other low hanging fruit have been addressed first, you will not only be ensuring your new unit runs as efficiently as possible – you may even be able to save on the cost of that unit. Ultimately a more efficient house needs a smaller HVAC unit. And smaller HVAC units cost less money. (The proper sizing of HVAC units is a topic in and of itself – over or undersized units are often the cause of high bills and other problems in the first place.)

Whatever you do with your home, the most important thing is to work with a contractor who understands the house as a complete system. Sometimes that means your contractor will make recommendations that are different than what you were expecting – but the end goal should always be a healthy, efficient, comfortable and economical home for you and your family.

About this Blog:

Bobby Ferrel, founder of Green Horizon oversees The Green Home blog. Ferrel is co-founder of Green Horizon, with offices in the Triangle and Charlotte, offering home owners and builders a one-stop shop for energy efficiency and green building. Services include home performance assessments, weatherization, closed crawl spaces, all types of insulation, HVAC and geothermal installation and maintenance. Reach Bobby directly at or visit him online at