Green Builder Media

5 Ways an HVAC Upgrade is Healthier for the Planet

Written by Michele Lerner, Associate Editor | Apr 8, 2024 8:53:52 PM

To make a big impact on Earth Day, consider upgrading your heating and air conditioning to a more eco-friendly option.

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On April 22, plenty of people will take the opportunity to plant a tree, pick up litter in their community or donate to a group that addresses environmental issues in honor of Earth Day. Since approximately half of the energy used in your home goes to regulating the temperature in your home, another impactful Earth Day activity is to adjust your heating and air conditioning use.

To save energy and save about 10% annually on your heating and air conditioning bills, Energy Star recommends lowering your thermostat by 7° to 10° for eight hours while you sleep. A Wi-Fi connected programmable smart thermostat that makes automatic adjustments and can be controlled remotely with a smartphone simplifies the management of your home temperature.

While every Earth Day action has value, homeowners looking to make a bigger impact and reduce their personal carbon footprint may want to consider upgrading their heating and air conditioning system to one that provides greater energy efficiency.

Systems such as electric heat pumps, ductless split systems and geothermal heat pumps are healthier for the planet now, contribute to goals for the reduction of carbon emissions in the future, and save money compared to older heating and air conditioning options. Here are five ways an upgrade to your HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system can benefit you and the planet.

1. Electrification: A Path to Eliminate Fossil Fuel

The United States is committed to a goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, with at least a 50% to 52% reduction in carbon emissions by 2035 compared to emissions in 2005. To achieve these goals, steps taken by the public and private sector, including homeowners, can incorporate electrification, reduced use of fossil fuels and natural gas, increased use of clean energy sources and higher energy efficiency standards.

One of the biggest actions homeowners can take to lower their carbon footprint is replacing a gas furnace with an electric heat pump system such as Carrier’s Infinity® variable-speed heat pump with Greenspeed® Intelligence. Swapping a heat pump system for a gas furnace can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 38% to 53% over a 15-year period, according to research by the University of California Davis, and can reduce 20-year global warming potential by 53% to 67%.

In addition, air conditioners are estimated to contribute 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Exchanging an older less efficient air conditioner for a new energy efficient model like Carrier’s Infinity® variable-speed air conditioner with Greenspeed® Intelligence can have a significant impact on your energy use, your carbon footprint and your utility bills without sacrificing your comfort during extreme heat events.

2. Downgrade Energy Use with an Upgraded Electric Heat Pump

If your HVAC system is more than 10 years old, it’s likely time for an upgrade. If you choose a higher efficiency ENERGY STAR rated system, you can save as much as $140 annually on your electric bill depending on your local climate and typical energy use.

As of January 1, 2023, new SEER2 (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) regulations went into effect that set a minimum SEER2 rating for new HVAC systems that vary by region, the type of system you have and the capacity. SEER2 ratings measure the cooling output of your system and divide it by the electric energy input. In general, a higher the SEER2 rating indicates a more energy efficient system. The minimum SEER2 ratings range from 13.4 to 14.3.

HVAC units with a SEER2 rating above 16 have lower energy costs than units with a standard SEER2 rating, which translates into higher energy savings. If you have an older unit with a SEER rating of 8, for example, upgrading to a unit with a SEER2 rating of 15.3 could save you roughly 50% on your energy bill. Some units such as Carrier’s Infinity® air conditioner or heat pump, offer up to 26 SEER2 and 24 SEER2 respectively for premium energy savings. 

3. Lower Energy Use with a Ductless Mini Split

If you’re building a home or remodeling and want to add air conditioning or heat to new or existing spaces, a ductless mini split system may be ideal.

All electric ductless split systems include both air conditioners and heat pumps and can be configured to fit in almost any space without needing ducts inside your walls. They are wall mounted air handlers that avoid energy losses – which can be as much as 20% of your heating and cooling energy - that occur in the ductwork of central forced air systems.

Depending on the size of your system and your climate, you can save as much as 30% on your energy costs with a ductless system.

4. Lower Carbon Emissions with a Geothermal Heat Pump

Another option to consider if you’re building a home or replacing your HVAC system is a geothermal heat pump, which can save you as much as $500 - $1,500 annually on your heating and air conditioning costs.

Geothermal heat pumps use the stable temperature from the earth below and around your house instead of outside air to heat and cool your home, which can save as much as 70% on your annual heating and cooling costs depending on your climate.

In addition to saving energy and lowering your utility bills, a geothermal heat pump, which relies on a renewable energy source, can reduce a home’s CO2 emissions by 25% to 65% annually.

5. Lower Global Warming Potential Refrigerants in New Systems

The Environmental Protection Agency established a new rule requiring all new heat pump and air conditioning systems built after January 1, 2025 to be designed to work with some refrigerants that have a lower global warming potential (GWP) impact than others. Some refrigerants have been found to have a greater negative impact on the climate than the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide.

While homeowners with older HVAC systems are not required to replace them, new ducted and ductless heat pumps and air conditioners are designed to work with a new refrigerant that is less harmful to the environment such as Carrier’s Puron Advance™ which has a GWP of 466 and is a 75% reduction in GWP compared to the current refrigerant.

Replacing your HVAC system with a new heat pump, ductless mini split system or a geothermal heat pump can generate a lasting impact on your carbon footprint and your utility bills.