HVAC refers to heating, ventilation and air conditioning. HVAC systems are responsible for more than half of energy use and costs in commercial buildings in the United States. HVAC systems have changed dramatically over the past decades. The industry has moved away from the energy-intensive designs used when energy costs were lower. Today's energy-efficient technologies better control when and how a system uses energy. While reducing heating and cooling demand and improving performance are the most cost effective methods of improving efficiency, upgrading your HVAC system can achieve sizeable results.
Choosing the right HVAC system can be a daunting task. For many building owners, comfort is even more important than building energy costs or efficiency. Reducing heating and cooling loads is the first step in maximizing HVAC system energy performance. For example, more efficient lighting systems, building envelope, and appliances can significantly reduce heating and cooling loads.
When purchasing a new furnace, look for one with a high Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE), which indicates the percentage of the energy consumed by your furnace that is being converted to heat. For example, an AFUE of 80 means that 80% of the fuel consumed is being is being converted into usable heat, while the other 20% escapes as exhaust with the combustion gases. Federal regulations mandate that new furnaces achieve a minimum AFUE rating of 0.78 (at least 78 percent efficient). ENERGY STAR label furnaces are required to meet a minimum AFUE of 0.90 (90% efficient).
For heat pumps, check the unit's Coefficient of Performance (COP). COP is used as an efficiency rating for heat pumps. The COP value is the ratio of energy input to energy output.
For air conditioning, check the unit's Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER), an efficiency rating that takes into account regional climate. A specific SEER value is the ratio of total seasonal cooling output in BTUs to total seasonal energy input in watt-hours. For example, a SEER 10 AC unit removes 10 BTUs per watt-hour of energy input. In 1987, federal regulations mandated the minimum efficiency of 10 SEER for all newly manufactured HVAC equipment. In January 2006, new federal laws raised the minimum efficiency for all HVAC manufacturers to 13 SEER or higher.
Energy efficient HVAC systems can save approximately $3-4 per square foot over the life of the equipment. For example, a 6,000 square foot building using an ENERGY STAR qualified HVAC system could save $18,000 to $24,000.
The Department of the Interiors Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Page provides a wide range of resources to help green facilities
ENERGY STAR is a government-backed program helping businesses and individuals protect the environment through superior energy efficiency. The Energy Star HVAC site provides good information on energy efficient HVAC products and national rebate programs.
The Department of Energy's Building Technologies Program works to improve the efficiency of buildings and the equipment, components, and systems within them. The program supports R&D activities and provides tools, guidelines, training, and access to technical and financial resources.
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy Online Guide to Energy-Efficient Commercial Equipment provides background information on high performance HVAC systems.
The Consortium for Energy Efficiency is a nonprofit public benefits corporation that develops initiatives for its North American members to promote the manufacture and purchase of energy-efficient products and services.