Linda is a licensed gas fitter and has been with Enercare since 2002. She has specialized in HVAC for new-home construction for 13 years and offers excellent product knowledge and technical expertise. Linda is an active member of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association, holding a chair on its Board of Directors and serving on several committees.
New Home + Condo Guide asked HVAC specialist, Linda Oliveri Blanchard, to demystify heating and cooling systems in a new home, and offer up advice to new-home buyers on what to look for.
New Home + Condo Guide: Today’s newly constructed homes strive to be properly sealed to be more energy efficient than homes of the past. Because of this, new homes require mechanical ventilation systems to remove moisture and provide sufficient fresh air. But the ventilation world is filled with acronyms: HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning), HRVs (Heat Recovery Ventilators), and Energy (or Enthalpy) Recovery Ventilation (ERV). Could you clarify what these terms mean?
Linda Oliveri: An HVAC system is what is used to move air between indoor and outdoor areas and provide heating and cooling services to a building. These are the systems that keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer. These systems can also clean and filter indoor air in order to improve the quality, and they can maintain humidity levels to keep you comfortable. The most common combined system in new homes uses a single blower to circulate air via an internal duct system in the home.
An HRV system keeps a home supplied with fresh outdoor air by expelling stale air while drawing in outside air. As the stale, warm air is expelled, the HRV’s core warms the incoming fresh, cold air before it is further heated by the furnace and distributed to the home. This results in a constant supply of fresh air, less drafts, and greater comfort in the home.
An ERV also recovers heat like an HRV, but it also recovers the energy trapped in the humidity, therefore making it more efficient. Instead of just transferring heat, it transfers both heat and moisture.
NHCG: How much of a home’s typical energy costs come from its HVAC system?
LO: While the exact figure of a typical home’s energy usage being attributed to HVAC can vary due to multiple factors (for example size of home, number of occupants, lifestyle and habits of the occupants, etc.), it is generally accepted that up to 70 per cent of a home’s energy costs can be attributed to HVAC systems. This includes heating, cooling, domestic hot water consumption, ventilation, etc.
NHCG: How important is it to maintain HVAC equipment and how often should it be done? Would this include replacing air filters?
LO: It is very important to regularly maintain your home’s HVAC system, and an annual inspection and maintenance is recommended. Regular maintenance of your home’s HVAC systems can help with prolonging the life of the equipment, maintaining the efficiency and optimal performance of the equipment, and can even catch costly problems before they occur. Regular maintenance can improve the indoor air quality in a home as well. While an annual maintenance should be performed by a professional gas technician, homeowners can help the performance of their equipment by ensuring that they replace their furnace filters every three months.
NHCG: What is a programmable thermostat, where would it be located in a home and is it beneficial to have one?
LO: A programmable thermostat allows homeowners to set a schedule for how they would like their heating and cooling systems to run. This helps reduce inefficiencies in fuel consumption, and it also provides optimal comfort for the occupants of the home. As an example, homeowners can set a schedule to decrease the heating set point during the day while no one is home. Then they can increase the heating set point to be at a comfortable temperature in the evening when the occupants return from work or school. And then overnight, the temperature can be dropped again in order to provide comfort while sleeping. A thermostat is typically located in a central living area of the home, usually in a family room or hallway. It should not be located near entryways or exterior doors.
To take the idea of a programmable thermostat one step further, homeowners can also install Smart thermostats. These are programmable thermostats which also have the capability of being controlled remotely using an app installed on the homeowner’s smart phone or computer. This extra step can help increase energy efficiency even more, and provide homeowners with peace of mind while away from their home for an extended period of time.
NHCG: Many people have heard of tankless water heaters. How are they different from a traditional water heater and are they more energy efficient?
LO: A tankless water heater is very different than a traditional hot water tank. While a tank will store (on average) 50 gallons of water that it must keep hot at all times, a tankless does not store any water in it at all. It is a flow-through system. It will only ever turn on when a hot water tap is turned on in the home. As the cold water flows through the tankless water heater, it will be heated to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, since a tankless will modulate the amount of natural gas needed to heat the water based on the demand, it can potentially use a lot less fuel. This results in a much more energy-efficient water heater. As a comparison, while a traditional tank may have an energy efficiency of up to 0.67 EF (about 67 per cent efficient), a tankless water heater may have an energy efficiency of up to 0.97 EF (about 97 per cent efficient).
NHCG: Final thoughts: What advice would you give new-home owners on what factors to consider – or which systems to choose – to make their home as energy efficient as possible?
LO: I would suggest that homeowners strongly consider energy efficiency when investing in an HVAC system. While they may seem to have a higher cost upfront when compared to less efficient systems, the investment is worth the energy savings, indoor air quality, and homeowner comfort. I would also suggest that homeowners look into installing Smart Home systems which include Smart thermostats. These are a great tool for monitoring energy consumption in a home, and for providing ultimate comfort and peace of mind.