Buying a Central Air Conditioner
Installing a new central air conditioner can cost between $3,000 - $10,000 or more. In addition to the initial purchase price, you will have ongoing costs in terms of your monthly electric bill and maintenance costs.
This article presents the issues you should consider in purchasing central air, including;
- Which models do homeowners prefer?
- Are you paying a reasonable price for your air conditioner?
- What capacity of central air conditioner should you buy?
- Should you buy a high, middle, or low-efficiency air conditioner?
Which models do homeowners prefer?
Homeowners have submitted thousands of reviews of central air conditioners to this site. However, many of the reviews cover air conditioners that are no longer sold. We have combed the remaining reviews to find which models homeowners prefer.
For extremely high-efficiency models, Trane's XL series (which range from the SEER 16 XL15i to the SEER 20 XL20i) receives frequent rave reviews. Goodman's GSC13 and its higher-end cousin the GSX13 stand out at the minimal 13 SEER efficiency level. The GSX13 uses the environmentally "friendlier" refrigerant R-410a -- also known as Puron®, and has a parts warranty twice as long as the GSC13's 5 year warranty. According to our data, the GSX13 costs about 15% more than the GSC13 -- you'll have to decide whether the extra cost is justified in your case.
Are you paying a reasonable price for your Central Air Conditioner?
There are essentially two costs when purchasing and installing a new central air conditioner: equipment costs and labor costs. Depending on your situation, you may be able to reduce your costs in one or both of these areas.
Probably the single-greatest cost-saving solution is to buy your air conditioner from a direct-to-consumer retailer, and then hire a licensed HVAC contractor to install it. However, FurnaceCompare.com recommends that you consider both the costs and benefits of this approach before you adopt it.
As with installing a furnace or boiler, you will need to work with a good HVAC contractor when you install a new central air conditioning system. Make sure that you get quotes from at least three contractors. This will ensure you a low, medium and high bid, and give you a good sense of what it is reasonable to pay. Also, make sure to screen your potential contractors to ensure that they have happy customers and no complaints.
Choosing the right size Central Air Conditioner
As with sizing furnaces or boilers, it is important to have an HVAC Contractor perform a load calculation before you decide which size air conditioning system to buy. If you install an air conditioner which is too large, it will cycle on and off too often, substantially reducing the efficiency of the system. Too small, and your air conditioner may not be able to meet the demands of a hot, humid day.
The industry standard load calculation is called the Manual J calculation. It takes into account the size of your house, the amount of insulation installed, the square footage, and a host of other factors.
Central Air Conditioner Efficiency
The most common measure of the efficiency of a consumer central air conditioning system is the SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio). Since 2006 the US government has required all new central air conditioners to have a SEER of at least 13. Higher efficiency models have a SEER between 14 and 22.
A more common rating method for commercial air conditioners is the EER (Energy Efficiency Ratio). EER is a measure of the ratio of the amount of cooling (measured in BTUs) to the amount of electricity it consumes (measured in watt-hours). The EER is a steady state measure -- that is, the efficiency is only measured once the unit has started up and is running at a steady capacity. SEER takes into account the startup and shutdown time as well, making it a more accurate measurement for determining the actual energy costs for the end user.
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