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Variable Speed Heating - What Is It and Why It Is Worth It

The efficiency of your home heating system has a significant impact on both the comfort level inside your home and the amount of money you pay every month to maintain that comfort. Efficiency and performance can be affected by particular components of the system. One of the more significant elements that influence HVAC efficiency is the blower motor in the air handler. This motor and fan combination controls how much heating gets distributed through your home. Variable speed heating, which involves a blower motor that can run at more than one speed, will keep your indoor living spaces at a more consistent temperature while also reducing energy use and monthly heating costs. Here is a brief guide to variable speed heating and what you can expect to gain from it.

Variable Speed Heating Defined

At its simplest, variable speed heating allows your furnace or heat pump to operate at different functional levels, depending on the amount of heating needed inside your home. Variable speed heating takes advantage of more sophisticated motor technology to allow heat to be distributed at two different speeds.

The blower or air handler is the equipment that actually moves heated air from where its produced inside your heating system. This powerful fan and motor combination forces heated air into the ductwork and out at heating vents placed throughout your home. In this way, warm air is distributed everywhere in your home that the duct network reaches.

Older single-speed air handling systems could move air at only one speed. They often contain permanent split capacitor, or PSC, motors. These types of motors are solid and reliable and can move plenty of air, but they are not energy efficient. PSC motors run only on high in response to indoor temperature demands. Every time one of these motors operates, it consumes the most energy possible even if small amounts of heating are needed. This often means that more heated air than necessary is distributed by the system. In addition, PSC motors use a significant amount of energy switching on and off as temperatures shift up and down in your home.

Variable speed heating systems use advanced electronically commutated motors, or ECMs. These motors work at different levels in response to thermostat settings and indoor temperature needs. The units have build-in speed and torque controls that allow the ECM motor to operate at the speed that's needed instead of constantly on high.

For example, a variable speed blower motor usually starts at about 2/3 full speed. If more heating is needed after about 10 minutes of operation, the motor will shift to full speed until the temperature demands are met. This means that the ECM will run more often at lower speeds, which will:

  • Improve overall heating system efficiency.
  • Reduce energy consumption.
  • Decrease the amount of wear on the motor.
  • Trim energy costs and monthly heating bills.

Benefits of Variable Speed Heating

The benefits of variable speed heating extend beyond the significant cost savings that you'll see from using this type of technology. In general, these monthly savings alone are enough to justify the use of a variable speed heating system. In addition, however, you can expect to see benefits such as:

  • Better indoor temperature control: A variable speed air handling system offers a more precise level of control over indoor temperatures. The shifting speeds and longer operating cycles produce more consistent heating everywhere in your home.
  • Improved indoor air quality: Variable speed units usually run at a lower level, more continuously, which means your indoor air moves through the system more frequently than with a traditional single-speed blower. This means the air moves through your filtration system more frequently, allowing for more efficient removal of airborne particulates.
  • Quiet operation: ECM motors run quietly in general, and since the fan will work more often at lower speeds, system noise will be reduced even further. Even the shifts between speeds are quieter within these types of heating systems.
  • Appropriateness for zoning: If you're using a zoning system to separate your home into different heating and cooling zones, variable speed equipment will work better at helping you maintain independent temperatures within those zones.

Customers in northwest Indiana, southwest Michigan and the Chicago area can rely on Comfort24-7.com for expert home heating and cooling services, including sales, installation and repair. Contact us today for more information on variable speed heating and how a variable speed furnace can improve your indoor comfort while also trimming your monthly heating bills.

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