When we think of air conditioning, we think of cooling our home during our hot, humid summers here in Hampton Roads. It’s interesting to note that cooling has been around in one form or another for thousands of years. Early civilizations such as the Romans and others circulated water from their water sources within the walls of their buildings in addition to several other methods to help cool their buildings. Needless to say, modern air conditioning has been one of the major advances in science and technology that has allowed us to enjoy the comforts of living in our modern world.
In light of the above, when we think of air conditioning we think of cooling. But the more accurate meaning of air conditioning is an integrated system which includes the implementation, maintenance, and control of heat, cooling, humidification, de-humidification, ventilation, and the removal of dust, micro-organisms, and other unhealthy bodies from your home. Ultimately, air conditioning should address affordable comfort and health.
Proper air conditioning for your home starts with system design, which includes an accurate calculation of the heat and cooling requirements, air distribution (ductwork) and ventilation requirements and the cost of the various types of systems available. One note is that ventilation is becoming a very important requirement in today’s homebuilding world as houses are becoming tighter and tighter due to modern construction techniques and energy codes. Also the use of germicidal devices such as UV (ultraviolet) lights are lethal to mold spores, bacterial, and other micro-organisms and help provide for a healthy indoor environment.
Fortunately whether you are building a new residence for your family or remodeling your existing one, you have a variety of options from which to choose depending on your home’s design. Naturally, the higher the energy efficiency rated system you select, the higher the cost. Though the air distribution system usually remains the same, the higher efficient equipment costs more. A state licensed, experienced builder or state licensed, experienced HVAC contractor can help you choose the proper system for your needs and pocketbook to help you create a healthy, comfortable home that you will enjoy for years to come.
Without fully describing each type of available system, here is a brief explanation of some that are available in today’s marketplace:
- Split System Cooling – These systems consist of an indoor cooling coil which is connected to an outside mounted condensing unit and require a separate source for heating your home, such as a gas or oil furnace.
- Standard Air to Air Heat Pump System – This is one of the most prevalent types of air conditioning used in our moderate climate. This is also a split system which uses a reverse cycle for heating and cooling your home. Air to air heat pumps require some source of backup heat such as an electric heat strip because the system efficiency drops as the outside air temperature drops.
- Hybrid Gas/Heat Pump – This option uses a split heat pump system in conjunction with a gas furnace. When the heat pump becomes less efficient, the heat pump shuts down and the gas furnace heats the home. This is an extremely efficient combination and gives the best comfort and lower energy bills.
- Mini-Split Ductless Systems – This option gives you the benefit of not requiring ductwork. Mini-Splits can be floor, ceiling or wall mounted. One outdoor condensing unit can serve several indoor units thus giving you the opportunity to have zoning for separate rooms or areas. These come as either cooling or heat pump systems.
- Ground Source Heat Pump (My Favorite) – The ground source heat pump uses the ground you walk on to heat and cool your home. It is the most efficient type of air conditioning system available. In our area, the earth’s ground temperature below approximately six feet is about 60 degrees year around. In the winter, through a series of horizontally or vertically installed pipes, heat is transferred from the earth and, in conjunction with a heat pump, heats your home. In the summer, the heat pump reverses its cycle and removes the heat from your home and transfers it to the much cooler 60 degree earth. Also available is an option that can provide an abundant supply of domestic hot water, virtually free in the summer months. A major plus to this type of system is that there is no outside piece of equipment that is subject to our harsh sea coast environment. And guess what? There is no outside equipment noise.
As one can see, there are many options from which to choose. Plus, there are numerous products manufactured today that can help you create a healthy home while increasing your leisure time, such as remotely operated programmable thermostats that allow you to control the temperature in your home from anywhere. And there are numerous manufacturers of electronically controlled zoning systems that allow you to control the temperatures in individual areas using only one central air conditioning system. In addition to the UV light mentioned earlier, very efficient filtering systems are available for your health and comfort. Many of today’s homes are built so tight (energy efficient) that outside air is required. The installation of a central, energy efficient ventilation unit can provide you and your family with clean, fresh outside air while exhausting the stale inside air to the outdoors creating a healthy indoor environment.
Last but not least is the proper maintenance for this healthy, energy efficient system you have just purchased. Proper care not only helps maintain the efficiency of the system but will increase the lifetime of the equipment, giving you a long lifecycle for your investment. Proper maintenance should include tasks such as cleaning the indoor and outdoor coils and cleaning condensate drain pans and installing algae tablets in the pans to prevent algae and slime buildup in the drain pans. Filters should be changed on a regular basis, normally every 90 days depending on your indoor environment. Electrical components should be inspected and temperature readings should be taken and recorded for future maintenance tune-ups and proper cleaning. Fans and other mechanisms should be checked for proper amperage draws and all major components should be inspected and cleaned. Professional tune-ups and cleaning is a must for maintaining an efficient operating system.
Remember, an efficient air conditioning system is one of the best investments one can make. Some highly efficient air conditioning systems have paybacks within anywhere from three to five years. Where else can you make a basically risk-free investment and get a 20% to 33% return while at the same time provide your family with a comfortable and healthy home?
Chris Ettel is founding partner of VB Homes. He serves on the Tidewater Builders Association board of directors, serves as past chairman of the TBA Remodelers Council and is a longtime board member of the Virginia Beach Public Schools Education Foundation. For more information, contact Chris@vbhomesliving.com or go to www.vbhomesliving.com.