From tax incentives for environmentally friendly HVAC systems to the savings realized by installing more efficient heating and cooling technology, going green is becoming more and more attractive for many homeowners. But as SmartPlanet’s David Worthington points out this week, improperly installed ‘green’ systems can also backfire — driving energy costs through the roof and sometimes even posing health risks to homeowners.

Worthington posted an earlier piece about how going green could raise home value.  That sparked a lengthy response from HVAC industry expert Todd Witt, president of Synergy Airflow and Ventilation, an Alabama-based company that designs and tests HVAC systems. Witt pointed out many of the lesser known downsides and risks of faulty conversions.

Improperly sized HVAC units, for instance, raise energy costs and can cause issues with moisture and indoor air quality, high radon concentrations, premature HVAC compressor, and fan motor failure. Issues like these can evade building inspectors and cascade into larger issues. According to Witt, homes that are too tightly air-sealed or over-insulated can actually create an environment more prone to accumulating and trapping airborne pollutants.  But many of these problems aren’t easily diagnosed. As Witt notes:

“The truth is that many of those at fault don’t know any better and are actually trying to do the right thing.  However, it’s not very comforting to the customer when we have to report that their home has major issues that will cost thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars to repair,” said Witt.

Here are a few tips Witt passes along — to homeowners and HVAC techs alike:

  1. An improperly sized and installed high efficiency unit is not efficient. Witt recommends that you demand documentation of your home’s Manual J Load Calculation and Manual D duct design. “Call your local building department and ask them why the International Residential Code requirements for Manual J and Manual D are not being enforced.”
  2. Demanding fresh air ventilation and returns/jumper ducts in every bedroom.
  3. Demanding a static pressure test, interior pressure testing, and air balancing.
  4. Having the depth and density of your attic insulation inspected, and having attic rulers installed throughout your attic.
  5. Eliminating traditionally vented crawlspaces and replace them with closed crawlspace construction.


ABOUT Sara Suddes

San Francisco-based contributor Sara Suddes writes frequently about small business, the economy and technology.