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A Quest for Optimum

Heating and Air Conditioning Performance and Comfort

Why does my air conditioning system cost so much to run when it still doesn't keep me comfortable?

In the heating and air conditioning industry, we are beginning to understand the cause-and-effect relationships between inefficient building practices and wasting energy and money through energy losses.

New studies demonstrate that indoor air quality is degraded and biological allergy-causing agents are introduced into our homes by leaks in walls, ceilings, windows and air conditioning systems.

All over the country heating and cooling systems are running excessively never achieving acceptable levels of comfort or efficiency because houses are leaky and so are air conditioning duct systems.

Discomfort is rampant as high humidity takes over in homes built with new techniques and new materials but the air conditioning systems are not designed properly for these new homes. As the energy "footprint" decreases in a home, the size of heating and cooling systems should decrease proportionately. Ask the average HVAC contractor how many square feet can be cooled by a ton of air conditioning and he may very well tell you 500 square feet per ton is the standard. This could be an indication of faulty design practices. A casual rule of thumb that can have serious negative consequences.

 A Simple Example

 My house, for example, was built in 1977. If you were to calculate the amount of cooling capacity it would take to cool that home as built with R-19 rock wool insulation in the attic, R-13 fiberglass batts in the walls and vintage double pane aluminum windows, you would find that 500 square feet of that home could be cooled by one ton of air conditioning.

If however you took the same size house and built it today achieving the minimum requirements of today's more efficient building codes, you would find that the more efficient building structure would allow you to decrease the amount of cooling needed so that the square feet per ton ratio would be close to 750 square feet of living space per ton of cooling equipment. This is common sense rule of thumb reasoning.

To illustrate the point, imagine two glasses of iced tea on your kitchen table. One is a 16 ounce glass mason jar mug the other is a stainless steel vacuum insulated travel mug with a screw top lid. It doesn't take a degree in rocket engineering to figure out which container will keep the iced tea cooler longer.  To put it another way, which mug will have more ice left in it after one hour? You guessed it! The travel mug wins. So it is with your super insulated house; it is easier to cool with less cooling power. So this is a more with less equation. If you build a house with more insulation and more efficient windows, you can cool the same size house with less air conditioning plain and simple.

Old Homes Waste Energy

The median age of the existing homes built in America is about 1974. That means that half the homes that we live in today were built in a different era; before the energy crisis of 1973.

        How does this affect the we way we design our indoor comfort systems?

First of all, the way we approach the problem of design depends very much upon the way the house was built in the first place. When energy was cheap and conservation was not such a big concern in our culture, houses were built inefficiently. Air leaks were just a consequence of common construction practices. In older homes weatherization efforts must be undertaken to wisely control energy costs.

In newer homes, especially those built since the year 2000, much of that attention to detail such as caulking, sealing and enhanced levels of insulation has been required by minimum building code standards. 

Since there is such a variation in the efficiency of the building envelope of any particular house, critical attention must be paid to the performance of a home in order to properly match it with the right heating and cooling system.


An Underdeveloped Craft

The craft of air conditioning in this country is in many ways underdeveloped. Many contractors lack the basic skills to overcome the challenges that we face today concerning energy usage and the principles of true indoor comfort. Increased competition in the mass production home market inevitably results in lower prices and lower prices means cutting corners.This downward spiral in quality craftsmanship brings us to the point where we are today. 

Poor Performance of HVAC Systems is the New Normal

According to research conducted by the National Comfort Institute, the average performance of a typical air conditioning system installed in this country is 57%. That means that 43% of the energy consumed to cool a typical home is not translated into cooling and comfort but is wasted. In a time where we are all more conscious of the long term cost of wasting precious natural resources something needs to be done about this problem.


Performance Graph Before

Let the Buyer Beware

The average air conditioning contractor does not know how to solve these problems because it takes a knowledge of building science and heating and ventilating and air conditioning design principles to overcome problems that are created every day by technicians using the same old rule of thumb practices that have been rumored about over the last 40 years.

Today's air conditioning contractors and technicians must have a much broader range of skills and expertise than ever before. Modern homes are loaded with materials that are toxic to occupants unless the homes are supplied with controlled ventilation. Not all HVAC contractors are following these revolutionary practices that bring together excellent indoor comfort and maximum efficiency. In fact, you might have a difficult time finding a contractor that has put it all together so that you can reap all the benefits of a heating cooling system that can quietly and dependably serve you for many years. 

Carbon Monoxide poisoning goes undetected until there is a health crisis, or worse. Fuel burning appliances are not adjusted for safety or efficiency at the time of installation because few technicians have the certification or the proper tools to do so and most installers assume that appliances come safe and efficiently adjusted from the factory. This a false and dangerous assumption.

What are the chances that your heating cooling system was put in by the lowest bidder? Probably higher than the performance of your system! You really can't afford to pay for high efficiency heating and cooling equipment and have it installed by the poorest installer around. So much depends on the craftsmanship of the installation that you would be better off buying equipment that does not rate as highly in terms of efficiency and paying for more attention to detail in the installation.

Now the Good News

The good news is, adherence to sound building principles and proper HVAC design have easily resulted in savings of energy up to 30% to 40% and the elimination of sickening environments in the home. Energy efficiency, comfort and safety are not only important goals, but are routinely attained in homes that follow these common sense designs.
Breakthrough methods in proper design methods, accurate performance testing, and precision air balancing of residential air conditioning systems have revolutionized our industry! Concerned air conditioning contractors have literally gone back to class to learn these new or old forgotten skills. When these methods are put into practice, the resulting improvements in performance can be truly amazing.

Performance Graph After


Performance Based Contracting

This is a key term to look for when choosing a quality contractor for your HVAC design installation and maintenance services. Performance based contractors trained by the National Comfort Institute ( deliver the kind of performance shown in the chart above consistently in every aspect of their service to you. Tradewinds provides essential design services to these highly trained contractors so that you can experience the best performance and comfort for the money.

Important information concerning humidity!

If you have a tightly built house in a humid climate zone, you need to talk to us about humidity and dehumidifiers. According to ASHRAE (The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers), high efficiency air conditioners might not remove humidity adequately in hot humid climates in tightly built houses.

This is especially true for spray foam, ICF and SIP homes, but it is also true for homes built to the ENERGY STAR™ guidelines or even the 2004 IECC code and beyond.

If you feel warm or clammy when the thermostat says you should be cool and comfortable, check your humidity levels. Go to the Air Quality page for a discussion on humidity.

Remember, ventilation alone is not enough in a hot humid climate!


The Answer

You need simple, straight-forward, common sense answers to everyday problems with your heating and cooling system.

We chose our company name based on the philosophy that appropriate technologies, simple, readily available technologies—easily applied—without resorting to radical techniques or exotic materials, can make a huge difference in your health, comfort and finances.

These technologies are used together to accomplish
what some people call green building.

Are you confused about what "Green Building" is?

Is is very easy to be confused because it means different things to different people. It is our job as energy consultants to help you be as "green" as you want to be with your home or business energy use and not break the bank to do so.

In a nutshell, Green Building is finding the best way to use energy efficiently in a building and by doing so, to be ecologically friendly.

Unfortunately, if you don't have an energy consultant, you can spend a lot of "green" trying to do Green Building.

It just doesn't make sense to throw money at your building and hope you can make it "green".

We believe that you should actually save money and improve comfort levels as you make energy efficiency improvements.

The cost of the improvements should not take more than a reasonable time to be recovered by the savings. It is not ecologically wise to waste money and resources trying to be a good steward of the planet.

It is the job of our energy and comfort consultants to find the right solutions for the best cost possible.

To accomplish that task, we apply many building science, diagnostic and air conditioning design skills.

Our energy and comfort consultants are
competent in a wide range of skills and expertise.

click here to read about energy consulting

Read about the new True Performance Home protocol.
We design and specify the HVAC systems and then test to
make sure the contractors deliver according to the specs.

Click here to see the True Performance protocol

Tradewinds has developed a certification for spray foam installations.
We inspect and test the quality of the installation before the
walls are covered so you know that you are getting what you paid for.

Click here for the spray foam protocol

Be sure to read the Indoor Air Quality page for important information
about your comfort and healthy indoor environment

Important information concerning
spray foam, SIP or ICF Homes

We have seen that designers do not realize that the new super-insulated homes cause a strange phenomenon for warm southern climates.

Builders do not design for heating loads primarily there. However, in  a super-insulated home with a slab floor, we need to take into account the heat loss of the slab. The slab becomes the largest energy hog in these homes. The designer should specify an insulated slab to overcome this problem.

Contact us for more information.

Tradewinds Appropriate Technologies, LLC

Energy, Comfort and Indoor Air Quality Solutions

Residential Energy Consulting, Testing, AccuRated Home Performance,
Custom HVAC and Alternative Energy Load Calculations,

 HVAC System Design and HVAC Design Training

Call 254-799-1326


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