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Best Central Air Conditioners: 2018 Buyer's Guide

Updated: Apr. 10, 2018

2018 marks the fifth year that we have published a list of the 10 best central air conditioners sold in the US and Canada. The reviewers that consistently give the highest satisfaction ratings to their AC units tend to own high efficiency units. However, a 13 SEER unit (the lowest efficiency sold in the US) also made our top 10 list this year.

This year, Goodman's DSXC18 once again took the top spot, with units by Amana, Bryant, Carrier, Coleman, Ruud and York rounding out the list.

Comparative Rankings

Rank Brand and Series Consumer Rating Reviews
1 Goodman DSXC18
  • 4.5
Reviews
2 Goodman GSX16
  • 3.73
Reviews
3 Amana ASX14
  • 3.67
Reviews
4 Goodman GSX13
  • 3.61
Reviews
5 Carrier Infinity 21
  • 3.5
Reviews
6 Bryant Preferred
  • 3.4
Reviews
7 Coleman Echelon
  • 3.4
Reviews
8 Ruud Achiever
  • 3.33
Reviews
9 Amana ASXC18
  • 3.2
Reviews
10 York LX
  • 3.17
Reviews

The 10 Best Central Air Conditioners of 2018

#1. Goodman DSXC18

Satisfaction Rating 4.5 out of 5
Efficiency Rating up to 18 SEER
Sound Rating as low as 71 - 74 decibels
Pricing as low as $1,967

The Goodman DSXC18 air conditioner features a two-stage Copeland scroll compressor and built-in diagnostics. The unit also is manufactured for quiet performance due to an efficient variable-speed ECM condenser fan motor, a high-density foam sound blanket to muffle compressor noises and a wire fan discharge grille.

Compatible with Goodman's ComfortNet system. ComfortNet was introduced in 2010 and it offers a number of benefits:

  • Simplfies the wiring between the indoor and outdoor components of the system.
  • Auto-detects both indoor and outdoor components and auto-configures air flow and operating characterstics based on those components
  • Monitors the system for problems, and displays problems that it finds on the diagnostic touchscreen.

The compressor is covered by a lifetime limited warranty. Other parts are covered by a 10-Year limited parts warranty.

Read individual reviews


Pros

  • Highly efficient
  • Inexpensive
  • Better than average warranty (it is very common for the compressor to only have a 10 year limited warranty).

Cons

  • On the noisier end of the highly rated highly efficient air conditioners
  • Goodman is the brand of choice for contractors trying to provide the lowest cost bid. Be sure to vet your contractor thoroughly, because a small percentage of these low-priced contractors are not qualified to install these units

#2. Goodman GSX16

Satisfaction Rating 3.73 out of 5
Efficiency Rating up to 16 SEER
Sound Rating as low as 71.5 - 73 decibels
Pricing as low as $1,621

Goodman's GSX16 air conditioner features a two stage scroll compressor and a two-speed PSC condenser fan motor. A factory-installed liquid line filter drier provides protection against moisture and contaminants, and the unit's heavy-gauge galvanized steel cabinet has a powder-paint finish with 500-hour salt spray approval.

Compatible with Goodman's ComfortNet Communications System.

The compressor is covered by a lifetime limited warranty. Other parts are covered by a 10-Year limited parts warranty.

Read individual reviews


Pros

  • Mid-level efficiency
  • Inexpensive
  • Better than average warranty (it is very common for the compressor to only have a 10 year limited warranty).

Cons

  • Goodman is the brand of choice for contractors trying to provide the lowest cost bid. Be sure to vet your contractor thoroughly, because a small percentage of these low-priced contractors are not qualified to install these units

#3. Amana ASX14

Satisfaction Rating 3.67 out of 5
Efficiency Rating up to 15 SEER
Sound Rating as low as 70 decibels
Pricing not available

Amana's ASX14 air conditioner has an energy-efficient scroll compressor and a single-speed condensor fan motor, along with a factory-installed inline filter drier to protect against dirt and moisture. It features Copeland CoreSense Diagnostics, which contantly monitor the system and reduce failures.

Compressor and functional parts are covered by a 10-Year limited warranty.

Read individual reviews


Pros

  • Moderately efficient

Cons

  • Warranty is a little weaker than many. (The compressor is only covered for 10 years, rather than a limited lifetime warranty).

#4. Goodman GSX13

Satisfaction Rating 3.61 out of 5
Efficiency Rating up to 13 SEER
Sound Rating 72 to 77 decibels
Pricing starting at $836

The Goodman GSX13 air conditioner uses an energy-efficient compressor which is protected by a factory-installed liquid line filter drier. It features a copper tube / aluminum fin condenser coil and a heavy-gauge galvanized steel cabinet. A three-bladed design combined with a louvered sound control top helps lower operating sound levels. The unit offers maintenance access on both the top and side, as well as easy access to internal controls through one panel.

Compatible with Goodman's ComfortNet Communications System.

Compressor and functional parts are covered by a 10-Year limited warranty.

Read individual reviews


Pros

  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • Warranty is a little weaker than other Goodman warranties. (The compressor is only covered for 10 years, rather than a limited lifetime warranty).
  • Loudest of the air conditioners on our top 10 list

#5. Carrier Infinity 21

Satisfaction Rating 3.5 out of 5
Efficiency Rating up to 21 SEER
Sound Rating as low as 65
Pricing not available

Carrier's Infinity 21 air conditioner has a two-stage scroll compressor with a filter drier system to protect it from contaminants and moisture. The Silencer System II feature, along with a compressor sound blanket and forward swept fan blades, helps to keep operating sound levels low. The unit's Infinity touch control provides accurate temperature and humidity management, along with other programmable features.

Compressor and functional parts are covered by a 10-Year limited warranty.

Read individual reviews


Pros

  • Most efficient of the units on our top 10 list
  • Very quiet unit

Cons

  • Warranty is a weaker than other warranties. (The compressor is only covered for 10 years, rather than a limited lifetime warranty).

#6. Bryant Preferred

Satisfaction Rating 3.4 out of 5
Efficiency Rating up to 17 SEER
Sound Rating as low as 66
Pricing $2,259

Bryant's Preferred air conditioner is available with either a single- or two-stage compressor, with an efficiency of between 13 - 17 SEER. Each galvanized steel unit features DuraGuard Plus protection, which increases durability by protecting against the weather. Other features include an copper tube / aluminum fin coil and corrosion-resistant interior parts.

Compressor and functional parts are covered by a 10-Year limited warranty.

Read individual reviews


Pros

  • Some of the series are very quiet

Cons

  • Some series in this line have SEER ratings too low to install in some US states.
  • Warranty is a bit weaker than other warranties. (The compressor is only covered for 10 years, rather than a limited lifetime warranty).
  • These can be a bit more expensive than some models

#7. Coleman Echelon

Satisfaction Rating 3.4 out of 5
Efficiency Rating up to 18 SEER
Sound Rating as low as 69
Pricing not available

The Echelon was named one of Energy Star's most efficient products of 2015. These units feature a two stage scroll compressor and numerous features design to reduce sound levels.

Limited lifetime warranty on the compressor and a 10-Year limited warranty on other functional parts.

Read individual reviews


Pros

  • Better than average warranty (it is very common for the compressor to only have a 10 year limited warranty).
  • Owners have 90 days to register their warranty after date of purchase.

Cons

  • Several reviewers have complained about the coils, although this can be an installation and/or problem in harsh environments

#8. Ruud Achiever

Satisfaction Rating 3.33 out of 5
Efficiency Rating up to 16 SEER
Sound Rating as low as 70.7
Pricing not available

Ruud's Achiever series of single-stage air conditioners use scroll compressors and PSC fan motors. The unit has a composite base pan designed to prevent corrosion while reducing operating sound. The Achiever features PlusOne Expanded Valve Space, which provides a minimum working area of 27 square inches, and PlusOne Triple Service Access, which offers 15-inch wide corner service access for faster repairs and easier reassembly.

Compressor and other functional parts have a 10-Year limited warranty.

Read individual reviews


Pros

  • Mid-level efficiency
  • Cabinet is designed to give service techs easy access to the internals

Cons

  • Warranty is a bit weaker than other warranties. (The compressor is only covered for 10 years, rather than a limited lifetime warranty).

#9. Amana ASXC18

Satisfaction Rating 3.2 out of 5
Efficiency Rating up to 18 SEER
Sound Rating as low as 68
Pricing $2,860

The ASXC18 features a two-stage scroll compressor, a two-speed ECM condenser fan motor, a galvanized steel cabinet and a powder finish with salt-spray approval. Units are Energy Star certified, and have numerous sound-dampening features.

Compatible with Goodman's ComfortNet Communications System.

The compressor is covered by a lifetime limited warranty. Other parts are covered by a 10-Year limited parts warranty.

Read individual reviews


Pros

  • High-level efficiency
  • Good warranty

Cons

  • A bit more expensive than some comparable units from other brands

#10. York LX

Satisfaction Rating 3.17 out of 5
Efficiency Rating up to 17 SEER
Sound Rating as low as 69
Pricing $1,294

The LX is a series of compact, single stage air conditioners that vary in efficiency from 13 SEER to 17 SEER. The 17 SEER YCG is Energy Star certified,

The compressor and functional parts are covered by a 10 year limited warranty. Most of the LX series offer a 1-year labor warranty, which is extremely uncommon from the manufacturer. Homeowners have 90 days to register their unit for the warranty.

Read individual reviews


Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Mid-level efficiency
  • 1 year labor warranty from the manufacturer

Cons

  • In their 2016 Product Reliability Survey, Consumer Reports found that York had the highest rate of system failure of the 10 brands that they studied.

Sound Ratings

Generally speaking the top 10 series in our ratings generate between 65 - 74 decibels of sound under ideal conditions. But, how loud is that?

Several universities and noise control websites suggest that a car driving 65 miles per hour about 25 feet away generates about 70 decibels of sound. Other comparisons include a shower or the sound that a typical dishwasher makes when running.

The sound ratings are measured in decibels (dB) -- the lower the decibels, the quieter the air conditioner. The actual number of decibels produced by an air conditioner is a function of both its capacity (how many BTUs of cooling it generates) and the other components to which it is connected (such as a furnace or air handler used to distribute the cold air). In general, when you see a volume range, the lowest number of decibels is for the units with the smallest capacity that are paired with quiet components (typically components made by the same brand).


Decibels are a non-linear measurement scale meaning that only half as much sound is generated at 60 dB as at 70 dB.

The quietest split-system air conditioners on the market today generate sound levels between 53 - 59 decibels. These series include:

What Makes a Central Air Conditioner More or Less Efficient?

All split system central air conditioners consist of two units: the condensing unit (aka "condenser"), which is placed outdoors, and the air handler / evaporator coil, which is located indoors. (If you have a furnace, the furnace -- with the addition of an appropriate evaporator coil -- can also perform the function of the air handler). The condenser is responsible for cooling the air, and the air handler is responsible for distributing the cooled air throughout your home.

The outdoor condenser itself is made up of several components, such as the compressor, the condenser fan and the expansion valve. The compressor uses the largest amount of electricity of any of these components, and so there have been many innovations to reduce the amount of electricity required by the compressor. Compressors come in three varieties: single stage, two stage and variable speed (or modulating).

Understanding the Role of the Compressor

A single stage compressor has two states: off and on. When your thermostat sees that the temperature in your home has exceeded the threshold you set, it tells the air conditioner to turn on and cool down the home. The single stage compressor immediately turns on, and continues to run until your thermostat sees that the temperature is lower than the threshold. Then, the compressor turns off.

There are two primary benefits of a single stage compressor: they are simple and cheap. There are three downsides. The first two are related to your compressor's ability to cool your home, and these two are that single stage compressors are both less efficient, and often louder than their more sophisticated counterparts. The third downside has to do with the level of humidity in your home. Air conditioners remove humidity as a side effect of cooling air. Because single stage compressors are either not cooling your home at all (ie they're off), or they're working at 100% capacity to cool your home, they tend to be "on" less than two-stage and variable speed compressors. As a result, they have less time to dehumidify your home. [When were single stage compressors developed?


A two stage compressor has three states: off, low and high. When your thermostat determines that the temperature in your home is below the threshold you set, the compressor is off. As the thermometer crosses that threshold, the two stage compressor will start in "low" mode. If that low mode is effective at reducing the temperature below your threshold, then the compressor will never cross into its highest capacity state. (If the lower capacity state doesn't reduce the temperature enough, then the system will eventually shift into high gear to combat the rising heat). [when were two-stage compressors developed?]

The advantages of a two stage compressor over a single stage compressor is that it often uses less electricity than a single stage compressor, it often runs more quietly, variations in temperature in your home are often less dramatic, and it usually dehumidifies more consistently. The disadvantages are that the system is mildly more complex, meaning that there are more moving parts to break, and the upfront (and replacement) costs are higher.

A variable speed compressor can run at many different speeds: it can, of course, be off entirely. However, when the thermostat requests cold air from the air conditioner, the variable speed compressor can run at 25 - 30% of capacity. Or it can run at 90-100% of capacity. When outdoor temperatures are high variable speed compressors tend to run for much longer periods of the day than a single or two-stage compressor might, but draw much less electricity to keep the temperature below the threshold required by the homeowner. Because of these long run times, homeowners are likely to notice much more consistent humidity control as well.

It's worth explicitly addressing one of the potential disadvantages of two-stage and variable speed compressors: Simpler systems tend to break less often than more complex systems, and they tend to be cheaper to fix when they do break. This argues in favor of single stage compressors. While in general this "simpler is better" ethos may be true, you still may prefer a more complex system because of the benefits it offers. In general, compressors tend to have the longest manufacturer's warranty coverage of any component. Here are some questions to consider:

  • How many days a year will you use your air conditioner? The fewer the days the less likely that the savings from a more efficient system will offset the risk of failure caused by a more complex product.
  • Who is going to pay the electrical bill for the air conditioner? If it's a tenant, or if you're planning to sell your home in a few years, you may prefer to install a simpler machine.
  • How important a factor is the environment in your decision? The higher the efficiency, the less impact your air conditioner has on the environment.

What are Scroll Compressors?

Reciprocating compressors move pistons up and down, while scroll compressors move in a circular motion.

Until the 1990s the most common compressors in a condenser were reciprocating compressors. However, most air conditioners now ship with scroll compressors. Scroll compressors were invented in 1906, so they are a hardly new technology. However, they have a number of benefits over reciprocating compressors:

  • They require fewer moving parts, which tends to improve reliability
  • They can be more efficient
  • They tend to work more quietly
  • They are more compact

Should the presence of a scroll compressor affect your decision about a central air conditioner? Probably not. In 2018 even many 13 SEER condensers (the lowest efficiency that can be manufactured and sold in the United States) use scroll compressors. We were not able to find any higher efficiency condensers that used a reciprocating compressor.

Scroll compressors are found in single-stage, two-stage and variable speed configurations.

How Does the Condenser Fan Affect the Efficiency?

In air-cooled residential air conditioners heat is transferred from the coolant to fins around the outside of the unit. A condenser fan draws air across the fins to disperse the heat. There have been a few improvements to the shape of the condenser fan that improves its efficiency -- but, the overall impact on overall efficiency is relatively minor (2%-4% improvement). The newer fan shapes do decrease the amount of noise created by the condenser as a side benefit.

There are two types of condenser fan motors, PSC and ECM. PSC motors can be either single-stage or two-stage. Single-stage PSC motors can be either on or off, two-stage PSC motors can be either off, on low or on high. ECM motors are variable speed motors. As with compressors, variable speed motors tend to be both more expensive and more efficient.

Is It Important to Match your Outdoor Condenser to your Air Handler?

If you want to get the advertised efficiency (SEER) from your air conditioning system, you must match the condenser with the air handler. That's because the evaporator coil in the air handler must be matched to the condenser coil in the condenser. In fact, a 2008 study from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy [https://aceee.org/files/proceedings/2008/data/papers/1_692.pdf] found that "Improperly matched evaporators and condensers can reduce efficiency by 4 to 27%".

One way to think about how an air conditioner works is that the evaporator coil absorbs heat from inside your house, and transfers it to the condenser coils, which are located outside the house. The condenser coils then discard the heat. Therefore, the condenser coils must be able to discard as much heat as the evaporator coils are capable of absorbing. In general, then a 3 ton evaporator coil must be matched with a 3 ton condenser coil.

Let's imagine, for a moment, that you paired a 4 ton evaporator coil with a 2.5 ton condenser coil. The evaporator coil will send more heat to the condenser coil than the condenser coil can release, so the condenser coil will return heat to the evaporator coil. This will limit the evaporator coil's ability to absorb heat, so the system will have to run longer than it ideally would. This reduces its efficiency.

Not only will mismatched coils result in lower efficiency, they will also put stress on the cooling system and cause the premature failure of the coils, and in severe cases, failure of the compressor.

However, this does not mean that you must match an air handler / evaporator coil with an outdoor unit of the same brand. While those pairings have typically been tested (and guaranteed) by the manufacturer, the most important step is to match the sizes. Any qualified and licensed heating contractor can help you choose the appropriate units.

What Else Affects the Efficiency of my Central Air?

So far we have only discussed how the components of the condenser and air handler affect the efficiency of your system. However, there are at least two other important factors: the size of your system and the health of your ductwork.

Homeowners looking to replace their central air conditioner on the cheap often consider buying their units directly from a wholesaler. However, it is at least as important to work with a qualified contractor during the planning and purchasing stages as it is during the installation stage. That's because a good contractor will accurately calculate the size of the unit that you need, and they will carefully check the status of your ductwork to make sure that there are no leaks and that it is properly insulated.

A cooling system that is too large will turn on and off too often. This makes the system less efficient, costing you extra money through your electric bill. On the other hand, if you install a system that is too small, it may not be capable of keeping your house cool enough, or adequately dehumidifying it. To make sure that your system is properly sized, you want to ask your contractor to do a load calculation [https://www.furnacecompare.com/hvac-sizing-calculation.html].

If your ductwork is not sealed properly, you can easily pump cooled air into your basement or attic, which means that you're spending money without making your home more comfortable. If your ductwork has a lot of conditioned air losses, and you don't discover them, you may end up buying a larger unit than you actually need, costing you more up-front and on your electrical bill.

Salt Air Exposure and Coastal Rated Units

If you live near the ocean you may be concerned about the corrosive effects of salt spray or salt mist. These can indeed corrode the mechanical and electronic components of your air conditioner. Almost all compressors are hermetically sealed, so you should not need to worry about salt entering the compressor itself. However, it can be very corrosive to the (typically aluminum) fins of the condenser coils. You can replace the aluminum fins with copper fins (at about twice the cost), but reports from the field indicate that salt can corrode the copper as well (albeit more slowly). Once those fins begin to corrode, your unit's efficiency will begin to decline, until they literally disintegrate.

If you live near the ocean, you may want the cabinet of your condenser (the outdoor unit) to be finished with a coating that protects against salt spray. You will see many units that are rated with "500 hours of salt spray approval". However, even if you have a salt spray resistant coating, you will need to rinse the coils regularly to remove the salt. Many of the reviews that we have read from contractors suggest that homeowners should plan to replace their condensing units every 5-7 years, and those contractors often recommend installing less expensive units for that reason.

Why Should You Trust Us?

Since 2002 our business model has been simple: to provide unbiased data on heating and cooling equipment to help homeowners and HVAC professionals make purchasing decisions. Our air conditioner ratings are based on data that no one else has: thousands of reviews by consumers and HVAC professionals that actually own and operate their central air conditioners. There are more than 65 brands and more than 600 different series of air conditioners. Accurately choosing the best from that crop requires information on all of them, something most other companies can't offer.

We spend hundreds of hours every year examining reviews to eliminate spam and errors. This gives us a unique dataset from which to identify the units with the highest satisfaction.

We don't sell equipment, so we have no bias towards a particular brand or series. Manufacturers cannot pay to influence our ratings.

How our ratings work

Satisfaction Ratings

Consumers and homeowners have submitted thousands of reviews to this site. Each reviewer rates their unit from 1 ("Very Unsatisfied") to 5 ("Very Satisfied"). After eliminating spam and duplicates we aggregate those ratings, then filter the top results for units that are still being sold in 2018.

FurnaceCompare.com has collected reviews on more than 65 different brands and nearly 600 different series of central air conditioners. However, we have only included a series on this list if it has at least 7 reviews. If we only have a few reviews, there is a risk that a single homeowner will skew the average rating too far in one direction or another.

Pricing

There are two different types of prices shown in the "Pricing" column.

  • If you see a price followed by the note (equipment only), that is the average price found on the websites of internet retailers that sell that particular series of air conditioner.
  • If you see a price followed by the note (installed), this means that retailers are under agreement with the manufacturer not to publicly display the price of the units. In these cases, the price is an average of quotes given to different homeowners for fully installing the unit in question.

Note that prices -- even when they are published online -- can vary substantially based on the capacity of the unit in question: 24,000 BTU units are typically cheaper than 60,000 BTU units of the same brand and series.

The "installed" prices can vary even more dramatically. Not only do they cover a range of capacities, but prices also vary geographically and from installer to installer.

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