An AC contactor is a $25 mechanical relay that uses low-voltage power from the thermostat to switch 220-volt high-amperage current to the compressor and condenser fan. AC contactors can wear out and are at the top of the list of common air conditioning service failures. Even if your AC contactor is working, it pays to replace it every five years or so. Unscrew the old AC contactor before removing the wires. Then move the wires to the new unit (Photo 6).
Energy efficiency can be improved even more in central heating systems by introducing zoned heating. This allows a more granular application of heat, similar to non-central heating systems. Zones are controlled by multiple thermostats. In water heating systems the thermostats control zone valves, and in forced air systems they control zone dampers inside the vents which selectively block the flow of air. In this case, the control system is very critical to maintaining a proper temperature.
An EER certifies the cooling efficiency of HVAC units. It's calculated by the rate of the cooling in British thermal units (Btus) per hour and divided by the rate of energy input in watts at a specific temperature. The calculation goes as BtuH/WATT at dry bulb (db) versus wet bulb (wb) temperatures. The optimal rating for a cooling unit is about 80db/67wb inside and 95db/75wb outside.
The performance of vapor compression refrigeration cycles is limited by thermodynamics. These air conditioning and heat pump devices move heat rather than convert it from one form to another, so thermal efficiencies do not appropriately describe the performance of these devices. The Coefficient-of-Performance (COP) measures performance, but this dimensionless measure has not been adopted. Instead, the Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) has traditionally been used to characterize the performance of many HVAC systems. EER is the Energy Efficiency Ratio based on a 35 °C (95 °F) outdoor temperature. To more accurately describe the performance of air conditioning equipment over a typical cooling season a modified version of the EER, the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER), or in Europe the ESEER, is used. SEER ratings are based on seasonal temperature averages instead of a constant 35 °C (95 °F) outdoor temperature. The current industry minimum SEER rating is 14 SEER.[dead link]
You've probably noticed many appliances boasting an Energy Star Certification. What this means is that manufacturer voluntarily built the product to help reduce greenhouse gases and meet non-regulatory guidelines offered by the Environmental Protection Agency. To earn an Energy Star rating, a product or system must be tested by a third party that has been recognized by the EPA for meeting their testing qualifications.
Concrete Blocks -- Concrete blocks are used in foundations and are often found in full basements. Insulating the spaces in the blocks is not the way to insulate them as the heat energy will travel along the concrete itself. The best way to insulate with concrete blocks is to use insulated concrete blocks, which have polystyrene incorporated into them.
In addition to the information below, see these two articles for the general care and maintenance of your air conditioner: Preparing Your Air Conditioner for Summer and How to Replace Furnace & AC Filters. Most noteworthy, you should replace the filters at least twice a year, before the heating and cooling seasons. For information on furnace problems, please see Furnace Not Working.