1. Change the blower filter at least twice a year – once before the heating season and once before the cooling season. More often if you live in a more dusty area.
2. Keep components clean, especially the outdoor condenser/compressor unit. Remove dirt & debris, and cut back vegetation at least two feet on all sides.
3. Use a programmable thermostat: When you’re away from home or at night when sleeping, allowing the temperature to fall (in the winter) or rise (in the summer) by 10 degrees for 8 hours or more can save 5%-15% on heating and cooling costs. With a heat-pump, however, only use this tip during the summer, as the heat pump’s heating cycle is more efficient when left at a steady temperature.
4. Have your HVAC system serviced by a trained technician once a year. While there are cleaning tasks that most homeowners can accomplish, other tasks, like checking combustion in gas furnaces or ensuring there are no leaks in a refrigerant line, are best left to experts.
5. Insulate and air-seal your home properly – HVAC equipment is much more efficient if the home’s shell is efficient. (for a diy guide, check out this one from EnergyStar.gov.)
6. When planning for a new HVAC system, whether installing for the first time or replacing an old system, insist that the HVAC contractor perform exhaustive “Manual J” calculations to calculate the system size. Systems that are either too small or too large will not run efficiently, provide poor comfort, not properly address the home’s humidity needs, and will likely fail earlier than necessary.
7. In any home, regardless of the type of fuel used for HVAC or other purposes, install and maintain smoke and carbon monoxide alarms for your family’s safety.
8. If you heat and cool with electricity, consider upgrading to geothermal heating and cooling. These systems cost a bit more up front, but they last up to twice as long as air-source heat pumps, operate more quietly, and save money on energy bills. As an option in these systems, waste heat generated by the air-conditioning cycle in the summer can be used to heat your domestic hot water for free.