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About two-thirds of an average home's energy costs go to heating and cooling, making these systems key to looking for energy savings. Replacing old cooling equipment with more efficient models will save energy and money.

heating and cooling system

Photo Courtesy of DOE/NREL

But it's also important to think of your home's cooling equipment as part of a larger system. It is important to properly maintain existing equipment, use a programmable thermostat, seal air leaks, test air ducts for leaks, and maintain adequate ventilation.

It's equally important to work on reducing the need for cooling equipment by putting "cool " finishes on your roof, home and windows, working with awnings and trees to provide shade, and working with Mother Nature by opening windows on cool nights and closing them tight in the morning.


Here are some ways to reduce your need for mechanical cooling systems:

  • Replace incandescent lighting with compact fluorescent lamps. Incandescent lamps provide more heat than light. You can tell they are like mini-heaters if you hold your hand near a light that has been on for awhile.

  • Keep your windows, shades and doors closed during the day and open them at night when the outside temperature cools down.

  • Install a whole house fan to draw hot air out of your home.

  • Be sure you have adequate attic insulation. The Department of Energy recommends Colorado attics have up to R-49 insulation levels.

  • Seal holes or cracks around windows and doors.

  • Keep windows and window coverings closed on hot, sunny days.

  • Inefficient windows can add up to 75 percent of summer heat gain. Replacement windows should have low-e coating to save energy.

  • Plant tall trees near east and west facing windows to create shade from the sun.

  • Moving air is less expensive than cooling it. When it cools down at night, open windows and use fans to remove hot air from the inside and introduce cool air from the outside.

  • Install an attic fan and increase the number of soffits to remove hot air. Use light colored roofing materials.

  • Wait until evening to take care of heat-generating activities such as running your dishwasher.

Among the benefits of improving your cooling systems:

Energy Savings

If you have an older, inefficient air conditioner or evaporative cooler, upgrading to high efficiency equipment can cut your costs by more than one-third. Using a programmable thermostat adds even more savings. Your energy costs will decrease 1% for every 1 degree you raise the thermostat.

The additional savings from installing smaller cooling equipment is significant. Properly sized equipment runs more efficiently, thus lasting longer and requiring less maintenance. Smaller equipment requires that the home "envelope" be tight, which means adequate insulation, sealing air leaks, and having efficient windows. It is also critical to evaluate and address any leaks or defects in the duct work.For a handy reference tool, download ENERGY STAR's guide to energy efficient heating and cooling (

Comfortable Living

Your cooling system is the engine that keeps your home comfortable. By addressing air and duct leakage, your cooling system will actually cool the rooms you live in by fixing the problems that allow expensive conditioned air from escaping to the outdoors or into wall cavities where it doesn't get the job done. You will enjoy living in a more comfortable home that costs less to cool every month.


Individual actions at home can add up to a lot of pollution prevention. If just one in ten households bought ENERGY STAR heating and cooling products, the change would keep more than 17 billion pounds of pollution out of the air.

Cooling equipment comes in a variety of types, including:

Central Air Conditioners.

Air Conditioners are rated by a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER). The higher the number, the more efficient the air conditioner. The American Council on an Energy Efficient Economy recommends a SEER of at least 14.5 . If your air conditioner is more than 12 years old, you could save up to 30 percent on your cooling bills by switching to a model that has earned the ENERGY STAR. If you are not replacing the air conditioner, keep it properly maintained. A new or cleaned filter helps conditioned air reach each room, decreases motor wear and tear, and lowers electricity consumption. An air conditioner tune-up performed by a qualified contractor can give the unit a new lease on life while lowering monthly utility bills and increasing comfort.

Air-Source Heat Pumps

Electric air-source heat pumps use the difference between outdoor air temperatures and indoor air temperatures to cool and heat your home. Such systems use either electricity or the natural gas furnace, whichever is more efficient to heat your home depending on the outdoor winter temperature. In the summer, the heat pump works in reverse to provide central air conditioning. ENERGY STAR models are 20% more efficient than standard models.

Room Air Conditioners

Select a unit which qualifies for ENERGY STAR ratings: ( These units are designed to cool just one room so may work for a home office, for example.

Evaporative Coolers

Properly installed evaporative coolers may cost as much as central air conditioning to install, but are 2-3 times more efficient. There is a new generation of evaporative coolers that introduce less humidity into your home. These two-stage (or indirect) coolers include a heat exchanger that pre-cools the air without adding moisture.

Air Ducts

Leaky air ducts are a major source of cooling inefficiency. A Fort Collins , CO study of 38 new homes found that the ducts leaked, on average, 12 times more than what is considered acceptable for a good duct work system. There are some repairs you may be able to do yourself, in places where the ducts are accessible such as the attic, basement and crawl space.

Making sure you have the right ventilation levels is a health and safety issue. Using mechanical ventilation allows you to control the ventilation in your home, saving money and improving indoor air quality. There are three primary types of ventilation: exhaust or "spot", supply and recovery.

Questions to ask

Quality heating & cooling contractors will evaluate your home with an on-site inspection. Do not accept over-the-phone estimates because there is no way for a contractor to properly size and design your new heating system without an on-site inspection.


Look for heating & cooling contractors that are certified by North American Technical Excellence (NATE). NATE is the only certification that is supported by the entire industry, and the testing process is quite rigorous. The core test covers basic math, customer relations, and fundamentals of electricity, heat transfer and comfort. The specialty tests cover system components, applied knowledge, diagnostics, troubleshooting, and service and installation topics. The certification is good for five years, and then the technician must re-certify to maintain their NATE accreditation. Learn more online, (http//

Air Duct cleaners are certified by the National Air Duct Cleaners Association. Learn more online, (http//

References, licensing, insurance

It is always important to speak with previous customers, check with the Better Business Bureau and ask for verification of the necessary licensing and insurance requirements. Download a home improvement hiring checklist from the Federal Trade Commission (



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