One of the items that is often overlooked during the planning and construction of a new home is the potential for an enhanced air conditioning (A/C) system. In many cases, the new homeowner is not aware of the various system options available beyond the system that comes standard with the house. Often home builders themselves are not educated on the potential value that an enhanced comfort A/C system can provide to a new homeowner. Many new homes today are being built with minimum standard A/C systems or systems that meet the minimum efficiency required to obtain energy credits or rebates. That does not mean that there is anything wrong with these systems, as a matter of fact because of the increases in efficiency standards over the last several years even a basic system being installed today could be called high efficiency by early 2000 standards. But what has not changed and where value is being missed is in the area of increased comfort.
Some of the key contributors to reduced comfort are uneven cooling and/or heating (hot and cold spots), sound and especially poor humidity control. All of these problems can be addressed in just about any home. However, the best and least expensive time to put in a great comfort system is during the construction of a new home. For example, during construction it is easier and less expensive to install proper ducting and potentially a zoned system (different sections or rooms of the home are heated and cooled independently) which is a great way to ensure the right temperature where you want it without conditioning areas that don’t need it. In addition, a zoned system can save you money by reducing the load on the system.
Zoned homes work best with modulated capacity A/C systems. Modulating systems allow the A/C unit to adjust to the cooling or heating load called for from the home. Besides providing the appropriate cooling capacity, these systems allow for control of humidity levels and tighter temperature control. The improvement of comfort from proper humidity control can be very dramatic and in some cases may even have health benefits. In addition, modulated systems, especially with good duct work, are quieter overall both inside the house and at the outdoor unit.
In general there is an increased upfront cost for these types of systems. However, there is also the added value in terms of added comfort and in most cases lower monthly energy bills. In addition, there are rebates and incentives that vary by location and a very good tax credit that applies to geothermal heat pump systems. The geothermal heat pump is simply a high efficiency unit that transfers the heat underground instead of to the outside air. The tax credit on these units is 30% of the cost with no upper limit, including installation costs. On construction of a new home this could include the duct work and any added zoning for a very substantial savings. Of course every situation is different making it important to do some research on what is available in your area and consult with a tax advisor as appropriate.