What’s Your Return on Comfort?
It's 9:45 p.m. You need to run to the store for a gallon of milk. How do you get there?
The store is less than a mile from your home. If you were determined to use the least expensive, most efficient method of transport, you would go by foot.
But it's dark outside! You'd have to walk through some unlit areas. It doesn't seem safe. You're also kind of sleepy. You'd like to be in bed within an hour, and walking to and from the store might keep you up later than planned.
So, what do you do? You crank up your car, a contraption that weighs 2.2 tons and requires the extraction and refinement of a fossil fuel in order to operate. Using an automobile is actually one of the least efficient, most expensive ways to travel a short distance, yet you do it anyway.
Many of us do it anyway. Why?
Cost and efficiency matter, but so do comfort and safety.
We pay for comfort and safety in all kinds of ways. For example, we drive (rather than walk) down dark streets, purchase expensive houses because they're in desirable neighborhoods, and opt for fresh produce over Cheetos (sometimes). We also invest in nice door locks - or security systems - and use them with vigilance and consistency.
Return on comfort matters as much as return on investment. And that's true with heating and cooling, too.
We know. We know. In a world full of specs - SEER, BTU, CFM, etc. - ROI and energy efficiency are a very "in your face" aspect of any HVAC purchase. Manufacturers use them as a selling point; they're how you structure your energy savings calculations and compare that savings to the up-front equipment and installation costs.
But while energy efficiency is important, comfort matters, too. Big time. So does safety. In fact, improvements in comfort and/or safety often supercede efficiency and ROI when choosing the best HVAC equipment and services for your home.
That's why it makes sense to make HVAC decisions in terms of comfort improvements, not just efficiency gains. Here's the question you ought to be asking: How much comfort can I get for my dollar?
Case in point: Humidity, comfort, and your energy bills
Let's say you've got really efficient air conditioning equipment. 18 SEER, variable speed compressor, variable airflow air handler… you're good to go. Nothing can stop you from enjoying a comfortable summer.
Nothing, that is, except springtime.
The thing about spring is that the temperature isn't quite high enough to justify running your ultra-efficient AC. So you don't. And the humidity inside your home becomes almost unbearable.
The solution is to air seal your home to improve the envelope. If you've still got high indoor humidity after doing that, you'll need to install a dehumidifier to stay comfortable during the shoulder seasons.
"Wait a minute," you say. "Those things are going to cost money. And the dehumidifier won't do anything to my energy bills except increase them."
You'd be right, of course. Air sealing has up-front costs, and you'll only make up the difference over a period of years. Then there's the dehumidifier, which definitely will increase your monthly energy consumption, especially during the shoulder seasons when you aren't running the AC or heat.
The question is whether the return on comfort is worth it. Lower indoor humidity helps you sleep better at night, enjoy your home without sweating everywhere, and avoid aggravating your allergies (yep, dust mites thrive when relative humidity exceeds 60%). When you keep relative humidity between 40% and 50%, you will be more comfortable. There's no question.
So should you take action?
Let's look at it from a different angle. Suppose your home doesn't have an energy efficient HVAC setup at all. You've just got a standard, single-stage air conditioner. When it's time to replace the old system, do you go with the 18 SEER unit and the variable speed compressor? Or do you just get another single-speed system that meets the bare minimum SEER requirement?
It's a question of cost and efficiency, sure. But it's also a question of comfort. When it's running, the variable speed compressor dehumidifies your air more effectively than a single-stage model. The system also eliminates many hot and cold spots throughout your home because it runs more often at a lower, quieter speed. You'll be more comfortable than you were before.
It's up to you to determine whether the return on comfort justifies the cost.
Another example: Combustion safety and the new furnace
In anticipation of a furnace replacement, you've been reading up on 80% vs 95% AFUE furnaces. The 95% models are, by definition, more efficient. You know that.
But your current furnace is in your attic. You know that it doesn't really make sense to install a 95% furnace in a vented space unless you're willing to pay for construction of the new venting arrangement. So you've decided to save some money and go with another 80% furnace.
There's just one little problem: the furnace exhausts gases into your chimney.
Unfortunately, it is common for damaged chimney liners to create a backdraft situation in which exhaust gases enter your living space. And that's dangerous.
Let's say you have a contractor perform a combustion safety test, and all is well. For now. Should you just go with the 80% furnace, reuse the existing exhaust vent, and pay less? Or should you take the safer route and avoid ever having a carbon monoxide problem by going with a 95% furnace and paying to have the new exhaust apparatus installed?
Much like return on comfort, your return on safety is important. When it comes to safety vs. efficiency or safety vs. cost, it should be an easy choice.
Comfort and safety are the cornerstones of the whole home approach.
When we talk with clients about HVAC systems and services, comfort and safety are high priority items. We want to be sure that any service we provide or any equipment we install:
- Ensures the client's long-term comfort
- Keeps our clients safe
The safety concern should be self-evident. As for comfort, let's put it this way: We can always install the most energy efficient systems available. But if our clients aren't comfortable, they will always call us back and tell us about it. The result would be more service calls, more equipment modifications, and, ultimately, higher costs for the consumer.
We don't want that, and neither do you.
Saving energy and lowering costs is great. There's no doubt about it. But staying comfortable in your home, year-round? Sometimes, it's worth another buck or two.