Sidebar: Clean the filters
Everyone knows the sheer joy of walking into a cool, air-conditioned room after spending some time outdoors in Cayman’s hot and sticky summer days.
But that soothing, cooling relief could be costing an unnecessary amount of money if a home is not properly sealed and insulated or if the air conditioning system is not energy efficient.
Air conditioning is not just about cooling the air, it also cuts down on humidity as cool air cannot carry as much moisture as warm air.
In fact, air conditioning was initially invented back in 1902 to combat humidity rather than heat.
The side benefit of cooled air was an added bonus, the inventor Willis Haviland Carrier discovered.
When choosing an air conditioner unit for a home, the buyer needs to take several aspects into consideration – the cost of the unit, the size of the area to be cooled, the efficiency of the unit and its placement.
Window units enable an owner to have a complete air conditioner in a small space. They are small enough to fit inside a standard window frame and are mounted within the frame. For larger spaces, split-system (also known as ductless AC) or central units are preferred.
Central air keeps an entire home cool, while a split system cools individual areas.
According to Polar Bear Air Conditioning, ductless air conditioning systems make an ideal alternative or adjunct to central air, especially in situations where a home has no existing duct work or if the central air covers most of the home but can’t reach one or two areas efficiently.
One important and often overlooked way to make sure an air conditioner runs more efficiently is to place the outdoor condenser units in a well ventilated, covered enclosure that is protected from the sun and rain, as the elements can shorten the lifespan of a condenser and can heat up the unit.
When choosing an air conditioning unit, the higher the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER), the better. The SEER rate is an indication of the efficiency of the unit and is a measure of the cooling output during a typical cooling season, divided by the total electric energy input during the same period.
As of January 2006, all residential air conditioners sold in the United States must have a SEER of at least 13, while ENERGY STAR qualified central air conditioners must have a SEER of at least 14.
The change fromw SEER 10 to SEER 13 represented a 30 per cent improvement in energy efficiency.
While SEER 13 is the standard system found in Cayman, air conditioners with SEER 10 can still be found in homes here, which is bad news on an island where electricity prices are far higher than those in the United States.
When shopping for a new, more efficient air conditioning system, choosing a high SEER unit may be more expensive option than a lower SEER. However, the investment pays for itself in lower power bills in a relatively short period of time, according to Polar Bear, which offers systems of up to SEER 23.
Even the best air conditioner with the highest SEER won’t work at optimal efficiency if the cool, dry air is leaking out and hot air from outside is creeping in through cracks and gaps in the windows, doors, ceilings and walls. That’s where insulation and the need for a sealed environment come in.
Styrofoam concrete form blocks are ideal options when building a home that needs to be as insulated as possible, but if you are moving into an existing home or want to better insulate your residence, then it’s time to explore the attic.
Spray foam is a popular and fast option to insulate a home so that all the cool air stays where it’s supposed to be. Spray foaming the ceiling and walls of an attic can help seal a home against air and moisture and also saves on costly electricity bills.
The thickness of the spray foam determines the efficiency of the insulation, explains Tommy Sofield of Cayman Islands Spray Foam, which supplies spray foam to homes and companies in Cayman.
“Because foam is also an air barrier, it is more efficient and thus we only need three inches or less to achieve a better envelope than conventional insulation,” he says.
There are many options out there, but there’s no need to lose your cool when juggling the various approaches to keeping your home a comfortable temperature.
Whether choosing a new air conditioner or insulating the attic, check with your local contractor for advice.