Our local electric utility company offers a free (and poorly advertised) service where you can have an HVAC contractor come to your house to do an audit and install a few energy-saving devices. I called around and found an HVAC company that processes the rebate directly with zero out-of-pocket expenses and booked an appointment. A few days later a tech showed up at my door and proceeded with the energy use checkup.
He asked for our electric bill which has 12 months of usage history, looked it over and said that it’s one of the lowest he’s ever seen in a house this size (3,000 sq. feet). Almost all of our bulbs are CFLs and we use box fans to cool the house unless it’s miserable outside, which happens all too often here in the Southeast. The market leading portable AC’s we bought for the first and second floor are low energy and we only use on those really hot days. We try to turn off the lights when not in use. We have an electric oven and cook most meals at home. We use our electric dryer with every wash, which seems daily now that we have a kid. Our electric bills average under $70 per month over the last 6 years – more in the summer and less in the winter. I know we can do better if we try, especially in the laundry department, but I’m OK with our current electricity usage… At least for now.
Yet the tech said that our neighbors average double, triple and even quadruple what we spend, which is not surprising given the lack of open windows in the neighborhood and air conditioners humming 24×7 from April to October. I bet they don’t set the thermostat at 79 degrees either; 70-72 is more likely. Our utility company has a neat website that allows you to compare your energy usage to that of your neighbors and this fun exercise seems to confirm what the HVAC tech was saying.
He did not find much to fine tune except a couple of seldom-used incandescent light bulbs that he replaced with CFLs. We also got two smart power strips which are pretty cool. In my office, a smart power strip will now automatically turn off the monitor and the printer when the computer is switched off, saving a bit of electricity consumed in standby mode. I used to do it manually but there were definitely times when I’d forget, so having it done automatically is a very nice feature.
The tech also installed washable filters on all air returns, which is actually something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. When we bought the house we had reusable filters already installed and not knowing any better I threw them out and started buying disposable ones. I remember talking to some dude at Lowe’s who told me that disposable ones were better. Yeh, better for Lowe’s! If you are still running throwaway filters in your HVAC system you should really look into getting washable and reusable air filters which will save you money and time spent running to the store to constantly get replacement filters. Slightly less garbage in a landfill doesn’t hurt either.
Since the tech spent much less time than anticipated, I asked him to take a look at my two AC units outside while he was here. The entire HVAC system is from the 90s and it’s getting old quickly. Just look at the picture – that’s one of the two sad-looking units I’ve got on life support! One of the reasons I try to minimize its usage (with box fans, etc) is to simply postpone its looming replacement!
I told the tech that both units had to be charged with refrigerant about 5 years ago and he hooked up his gauges to check the R22 levels. I can’t say I was surprised to hear that both units were low on refrigerant again.
If there’s a recurring leak in an HVAC system it’s wise to repair the leak and then charge it up with refrigerant. R22 is expensive – it costs anywhere from $60 to $120 per pound and in two leaking units it adds up fast. If your system is leaking you’re throwing money out of the window 24×7.
Problem is that finding a refrigerant leak isn’t easy, even with all the fancy tools that your HVAC guy has. I was told that he’d charge by the hour with a minimum fee of $100, which still does not guarantee that a leak will be found. Then, if the leak is found there will be additional charges to fix it. For example, if the leak is in the coil then it can cost over $1,000 to replace that coil. None of this sounds appealing to me, especially considering that I have two units and they are too old to dump that kind of money into.
I thanked the HVAC guy for doing the audit and measuring refrigerant levels and got on the internet to do some research on finding and fixing R22 leaks. I watched many videos that only confirmed what I already knew – leaks are not easy to find and expensive to fix. You can spend some money on tools and try to DIY, but it all adds up and there are no guarantees.
Then, I found a product that sounded like a perfect solution for my situation and DIY friendly. Nu-Calgon A/C Easy Seal Leak Sealant promised to find any HVAC leaks and seal them permanently. It seemed way easy and too good to be true, but the reviews were mostly positive and at around $100 for 2 cans needed for my 2 units I decided it was worth a shot. I ordered Nu-Calgon 4050-02 kit which included everything necessary to fix the leak(s) myself.
I watched Nu-Calgon’s instructional video and read the directions on the can. Based on my experience with this product, pretty much anyone should be able to do it in about 5 minutes start to finish. Of course, there is really no way to tell whether or not this worked right away. My plan is to get an HVAC tech to come out again and charge up the refrigerant and hope that Nu-Calgon did it’s job.
A nice bonus is that now that the sealant is in the system it will supposedly auto plug any future leaks as soon as they appear, preventing precious (and dangerous) R22 escaping into the air. If that’s really the case, I don’t see why all AC units shouldn’t have Nu-Calgon in them from the beginning since even a new system will eventually develop a leak and it would be nice to auto plug it as soon as it happens. I guess we’ll have to wait a couple of years and get refrigerant levels measured again to see if Nu-Calgon really worked.
If your HVAC guy tells you the bad news about a “Freon leak” you might want to give Nu-Calgon Easy Seal a try first. There is a good chance it will permanently fix the issue without costing you hundreds or thousands of dollars.
On the other hand, if you have a system that does not leak it might be a good idea to consider adding Nu-Calgon as a preventative measure (*see a note about Easy Dry in the comments). I’m thinking about doing just that with the AC unit at my rental condo. The AC currently works fine but if spending $50 on one can now saves me that dreaded call from the tenant about “AC not cold enough” it’s worth it!
I also recommend you call your utility company to find out if they offer any energy audit, HVAC tune up or other similar initiatives in your area. These programs are not widely publicized but can save you a lot of money!