In simpler times, choosing heating and cooling equipment amounted to calling a contractor or two, getting what seemed like a good price, and letting the contractor do the rest.
Those days are rapidly disappearing. Faced with whole new categories of equipment that were virtually unknown a generation ago, homeowners have many more choices of what to buy, some of which are not familiar to old school contractors. They also face more nuanced questions about the heating and cooling equipment they choose. Which is more important, lower initial cost or lower operating costs? Should the equipment be all-electric, or is it OK in the era of climate change to buy appliances that burn fossil fuels? Is it safe to invest in new technology, or will that turn out to be an expensive mistake?
So-called low-load homes, built to exceed basic requirements of the building code, with more insulation and better air sealing, present another level of opportunity as well as complexity.
Energy and design consultants working with computer models can offer precise estimates of heating and cooling needs and the type of equipment—if not the manufacturer and model number—best suited to meet them. When the goal is to certify a new or renovated house under a rating program such as Passive House or the Living Building Challenge, that level of detail is a must. Energy consumption right down to the kilowatt hour is a make-or-break question for certification.
Whether a computer-armed consultant is in the cards, having a grasp of heating and cooling basics is a good idea for anyone building a new house or renovating an old one. Why bother? You won’t be spending money unnecessarily. You’ll at least know the right questions to ask the HVAC contractor you’re thinking about hiring. And you’ll be investing in equipment…