Winter is one of two times during the year when you really test the limits of your HVAC system. Your air conditioner has to keep up with the summer’s heat, and your furnace has to try to keep you warm even on the coldest days.
If your furnace is new or has had a recent maintenance visit, it’s probably good to go for the season. But if you’re looking at your gas or electric bill and wondering if you can improve its performance, we have some tips.
At Fire & Ice, we’ve had thousands of conversations with homeowners, and we get asked a lot if there are ways of reducing costs. The answer is Yes, but it depends on many factors. Are you willing to bear an upfront cost to lower future bills? Are you willing to turn down your furnace while you’re away from home, knowing that when you return, your house will be colder than you want?
And so on.
This article is for you if you’re looking for advice. We’re here to provide answers so that you can be both comfortable in your home and stay warm enough.
This is not a comprehensive list of money-saving ideas. This is a list of how to cut back on the HVAC portion of your bills.
1. Change Your Furnace Filter
This is an easy fix and doesn’t require you to shell out a lot of money. If your furnace filter is dirty to the point that it’s restricting airflow, it’s causing a host of problems.
The filter does its job until it can’t. Once it traps a certain amount of debris, it won’t anymore. The air coming through the return vents has to go somewhere, and it will run into a brick wall.
The air then goes around the sides and top of the filter, carrying with it dust and debris that should have gone into the filter. That dust then starts clogging the insides of the furnace: the blower and the coils get covered with grime, which will make the furnace work much harder. A clogged filter can make the furnace use 15% more energy than a clean one, according to the Department of Energy.
Another problem is that a filthy filter creates an excess of static pressure. The air starts backing up because it can’t go forward freely. If there’s too much static pressure on the return side of the ducts, the blower will work harder and probably wear out sooner.
If the system is heating and it can’t dissipate that heat quickly enough because of airflow issues, you’ll get other internal issues, such as premature cracks in your heat exchanger.
If the blower loses some of its power, it might not be able to move the air completely through the ductwork. That will leave cold spots. More than likely, they will be at the far ends of the home. So you’re using more electricity and getting a poorer result.
Changing your filter is going to help keep your HVAC operating at maximum efficiency.
2. Schedule Regular Maintenance
Regular maintenance will help your furnace attain peak efficiency. Your burners will be clean, your gas pressure will be checked. Maintenance will catch small problems before they become bigger ones.
Here’s a laundry list of tests and checks that should be performed at least once a year:
- Test for carbon monoxide.
- Test for gas leaks up to furnace shut-off valve.
- Check air filter, replace if necessary.
- Test and adjust the operation of safety and operating controls.
- Inspect flue pipe and draft diverter.
- Monitor for combustion leaks.
- Test gas valve operation.
- Check blower motor (and belt if applicable).
- Test and tighten all wiring and connections.
- Adjust burner for maximum efficiency.
- Clean burners and inspect heat exchanger.
- Clean and adjust the thermostat.
- Lubricate all motors, bearings, fans, and circulators.
- Clean and adjust pilot assembly.
- Clean flame sensor.
3. Adjust Your Thermostat
While this may seem counterproductive when you want to stay warm, you likely won’t notice if you lower the temperature slightly when you’re home. You won’t feel much difference if you lower the temperature by a couple of degrees. However, those few degrees could save about 5% to 10% on your heating costs.
You don’t need the inside temperature to be 72 degrees throughout the winter. When there’s no one else at home, it makes sense - and will save you money - if you lower the thermostat a few degrees.
How many? You want to be careful about turning it down too much while you’re away, especially if it’s really cold. Your furnace will have to work harder to catch up when you get back. But if you’re away for eight hours, it’s worth it.
You can turn down the thermostat during key times of the day. You can change it for four basic times: awake, sleeping, away, and home. If you have a schedule where everybody leaves in the daytime, you can turn it down. That can help you save up to 7 - 12% on your utility bills.
You might also consider turning down the temperature during overnight hours. You can probably go as much as 4-6 degrees. You’ll be saving money for eight hours.
You can program smart thermostats to do it automatically. If it’s a smart unit, it probably has settings for daytime hours, workweek hours, weekend hours, and overnight hours. If you follow a regulated schedule, it will do the thinking - and energy savings - for you.
The Google Nest thermostats, for instance, can tell if you’re not in a room for a certain amount of time, and then automatically turn down the heat. This may prove to be inconvenient, of course. If you’ve moved to another room for an hour but plan on returning, you’ll be returning to a room that’s cooler than you want it. Fortunately, some of these functions can be overridden.
4. Invest in a High-Efficiency Furnace
Furnace’s efficiencies are measured in percentages. Specifically, AFUE, or Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency, is the ratio of the furnace's or boiler's annual heat output compared to its total annual fossil fuel energy consumed. An 80% furnace means that out of every dollar put into energy costs, the furnace uses 80 cents of it, and 20 cents is exhausted as waste. A 96% furnace has a loss of 4%.
If you’re willing to invest in a new furnace, you can certainly see a lower energy bill in the future. If your furnace is 15 years old or more, a new one is much more satisfactory than spending hundreds, or even thousands, on repair costs.
A 10- to 15-year-old furnace is about 70%-80% efficient or worse. New models can go up to 98%. You can get up to 18 cents more out of a dollar. Especially if you don’t plan on moving out of your home for the next 15 years, the savings can offset the upfront cost.
5. Invest in a Two-Stage or Modulating (Multi-Stage) Furnace
Here’s another option that comes with a high initial investment, but the payoff is worth mentioning: You might want to upgrade your furnace to one that has multiple stages.
Furnaces come in three basic varieties: single-stage, two-stage, and modulating.
The standard, single-stage furnace unit has two settings: ON or OFF. It has only one heat setting.
Two-stage furnaces will have a secondary setting that’s usually 60 or 70% of the maximum heating output.
Why does this matter? After all, will one additional setting really make a ton of difference? As it turns out, yes.
The first is that it can reduce the number of times your furnace has to start and stop. This creates wear and tear on various parts. Over many years, this can add up, and can result in needing repairs or having a noisier furnace.
Second, do you always need 100% heating capacity? If the thermometer is satisfied, and all you need is a little bit of heat to maintain it, that’s what you get. And when it’s running at a lower capacity, you save money.
Modulating furnaces have multiple heating stages, from 100% capacity to around 40%. They modulate between these stages to provide optimal comfort to a home. The exact number of heating stages will vary depending on brand and model.
If two stages of heating are a noticeable improvement over single-stage in a few areas, the same is true of two stages vs. multiple stages. The same benefits - lowered energy costs, increased comfort, and less starting and stopping - will be true here as well.
6. Schedule a Thorough Air Duct Cleaning
A thorough air duct cleaning is going to improve airflow if your ducts are clogged with dust, mold, or even construction debris. Anytime you improve airflow, you’re going to improve the efficiency of the whole HVAC.
If you get a duct cleaning from a company that will take the time to clean parts of your furnace, the airflow will benefit. A blower caked in dust is heavier, and won’t turn as freely. If it’s clean, it will improve. Dirty evaporator coils can rob you of heat. Having a furnace with cleaner parts won’t lower your gas bill by ten percent, but incremental efficiency adds up.
Air Duct Cleaning in Columbus
Dirty air ducts are a leading cause of a number of problems faced by homeowners. Common reasons for duct cleaning include removing mold particles or excessive dust from the home that is living inside your ductwork. The service can also ensure proper airflow in a home. Learn more about Fire & Ice’s air duct cleaning service
Don’t Close Too Many Vents
If you heat less of the house, you won’t have to spend as much, right? And to heat less of the house, you can simply close off a few vents.
You can close vents to rooms that no one spends much time in. But your furnace doesn’t know the difference. It works at the same rate, still tries to put out the same amount of air as if you hadn’t closed vents. The system was designed to move this much air, this much capacity.
If you have 12 vents, you can close one or two of them; it’s not a big deal. Don’t close 4 or 5 of them. You’re going to choke the system.
Unless you have a two-stage furnace, you can’t just say I’m going to block off half of it and it will be fine. It will increase static pressure, so the blower in the furnace will have to work harder. It’s going to increase the use of electricity.
Saving Money on Your Utilities in Columbus, Ohio
The cost of heating and cooling is about 50 percent of your energy bill. A harsh winter that lasts until March can put a serious crimp in the household budget.
Implementing some of the advice in this article can at least lessen the impact. These tips may seem inconsequential, but small changes add up and can have a big effect.
And if you’re looking to talk to an HVAC expert in Columbus, Ohio, we’re happy to answer your questions or provide additional information. Just click on the map below to see if you’re in our service area.
We look forward to talking with you.