The Split

Breaking up with your old furnace and window air conditioner units

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By Brion Shreffler

If your air conditioner or heater won’t make it another season, it may be time to think about a highly-efficient (and space saving) mini-split system. It’s easy to zone your home, so that you aren’t heating and cooling each room all the time. The small units can be installed through through a relatively small, three-inch hole in the wall to connect the inside and outside air handlers.

“These systems are usually about 18-20 inches high and about 30 inches long and they come away from the wall about 5 or 6 inches. So they really don’t take up much room,” says Michael Yaede, the service manager at Global Services in Bensalem.

Tom Molieri, owner of South Philadelphia based Air Master (he also owns Green Street Coffee with his brother, Chris Molieri), says that “If the duct work is already there, the efficiency angle isn’t that enticing [for heating]. It’s cheaper to stay with the heating system that’s already in place. If you’re talking AC, then it’s a good option. It’s probably the most efficient for air conditioning,” Molieri says, adding that the up front costs are comparable to other systems.

The savings will be in your energy bill. Yaede says you can save up to 5 percent on yearly energy use. Users can also count on rebates from PECO based on the system they purchase.  

“The minimum energy efficiency on these things is 21 SEER [Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio] which is a pretty high rating compared to a traditional system and you can control them room by room so you’re not heating or cooling the whole house. At night, you can shut them off in sections and you’ll save a ton of electricity that way.” He says more and more of his customers are choosing the systems. “Where people are rehabbing homes—close to 40%,” he says. “Mini-split systems have the advantage of being highly efficient while offering a level of control you don’t get with a furnace or boiler.”  

Especially for older homes going through a renovation, where tearing into the walls can give you all sorts of surprises, Molieri says it’s a good option. “I’ll get calls from people in the city who live in a row home or just outside the city in a hundred year old house that wasn’t designed for duct work. There’s plaster and lath and you’re not cutting through that without a question mark in years to come if the entire wall is going to crack where you cut into it.”

Bottom line: It’s not for every application, but it’s worth looking into when you’re planning for an upgrade, or for that fateful morning when your window unit or boiler has unexpectedly said goodbye.

News Alert: The Energy Caps Come Off

Prepare yourselves: In January 2011, electricity rates in Philadelphia will increase, if not skyrocket. Back in 1997, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a deregulation measure that capped utility rates for consumers in preparation for allowing competition—or “Energy Choice”—in the market. PECO’s cap will expire next year, but citizens in other areas of the state are already feeling the heat from rising bills. The caps for PPL Electric Utilities, which services 25 percent of Pennsylvanians, expired January 1 of this year. The company estimates customers’ monthly bills will increase by 29.7 percent (18.4 percent for small businesses and 36.1 percent for mid-size businesses). These rate hikes make it more important than ever to retrofit and weatherize homes and businesses.

For information on this complicated set of changes, visit  puc.state.pa.us/utilitychoice.

The Energy Issue

Philly runs on uncertain energy. It’s hard to imagine, but our electricity actually costs less than it could. Currently, our bills are lowered through rate caps applied by the state. On December 31, 2010, those caps expire, prices are expected to spike and no legislation is in place to protect us.
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Sun City

Alternative energy entrepreneur Mike McKinley talks about what solar can do for Philly

by Dana Henry

Mike Mckinley was a cognitive neuroscientist working for Pfizer in southern California when the lights went out. Utility spikes caused by the deregulations of Enron and Reliant Energy (the same will happen with PECO in 2010) had led to a series of rolling blackouts better known as the California Electricity Crisis of 2000. When the lights came back on, Mike had electric bills of over $300 a month for a 750 square foot apartment. He also had a new outlook. The Philadelphia native and graduate of Central High School decided it was time for a career change. He commuted to New York and went back to school for solar technology.

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