How To Choose A Central Air Conditioner | 5 Tips To Narrow AC Choices

This may be the end of a long-term relationship if you are about to replace your old central air conditioning system in your home. Or this may be the great big change you have been waiting for as you install your first ever central air conditioner.

Whichever your case is, like many, you are looking to have a best-performing cooling device that would give you the home comfort, air conditioner efficiency, and substantial savings that you deserve. 

“How to choose a central air conditioner” is an important question in your mind.

DP how to choose a central air conditioner

Essential Factors When Choosing

There are at least five factors to consider when choosing a central air conditioner. Use the points below as your guide in picking the most suited unit for your home and family’s needs. 

Cooling Capacity

When deciding to install a new AC unit or replace an old one, knowing exactly how much cooling you need is probably the most critical factor. The measurement you need to be concerned about is the British Thermal Units (BTUs) and is visibly shown in the description tag when you see a central air conditioner display.

You might think, “Well, that’s easy. The higher the BTU, the better, right?” 

Wrong. When it comes to cooling capacity, bigger does not always mean better. Too big an AC unit will cool the room too quickly that it will stop and start prematurely, without fully dehumidifying the space. 

You need to properly size your space and calculate how many BTUs you need. There are online calculators available that can help you size up your space for the central AC fitting for you. You may also reach out to your trusted contractor for his services for more accurate sizing. 

Energy Efficiency

No one can say no to some savings from utility bills. In fact, energy efficiency could be the first thing you think about when you purchase such an important home appliance as a central AC. "How much will this add to my monthly bills?" is a natural thing to ask.

Before you get blown away by advertisements such as “30% Savings”, “Enjoy energy cost as low as $0.50 per day!”, or “Saves up to 40% of power consumption”, consider how well-founded those claims are.

To save us from being lost on these marketing tricks, the US Department of Energy came up with the ENERGY STAR rating system, signified by a blue star sticker on a product that went through stringent energy efficiency requirements. Combined with accurate sizing, expert installation, and sufficient airflow, this little blue star stamp of approval guarantees 10% to 20% more savings on energy than regular products.

The Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) also established the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio or the SEER rating system. It is the cooling produced by an air conditioner divided by the total energy it requires to process the air in a given time. Consumers can base their purchase of central air conditioners on how high the SEER rating is. The higher the SEER, the more energy efficient, AHRI claims.

Environmental Impact

It is never a bad thing to consider the environment when picking an appliance or air conditioning device for your convenience and home comfort. Modern designs of air conditioners make it so much easier to be a nature-lover.

In observance of the Clean Air Act which fights against ozone-depleting substances, the production of Freon, a well-known brand of air conditioning refrigerant, had stopped since January 2020. 

Invented in 1928, Freon had been used in air conditioners and refrigerators for many years. But when found to be damaging to the ozone layer, the production, and import of Freon have been banned along with other aerosol spray products. 

Because of this phasing out of the popular refrigerant, AC manufacturers had diverted from creating air conditioners that run on harmful substances to more earth-friendly mechanisms.

If you choose to support this green initiative by choosing an AC unit that runs on less toxic refrigerant, you will not just be saving the environment, but you will also be free from the headache of finding a contractor to service, repair, or recharge your AC at an affordable price.

Noise Level

It used to be a common thing for air conditioners to be loud—from low humming to a bit of thumping, some even go banging—that you are already immune to the noise of your old AC. But you will be surprised how quiet modern designs of cooling units have become.

The New York Times has released a list of the quietest brands of AC in 2021. To prove that their list is reliable and unbiased, they had representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Epidemic Task Force observe their testing and research of air conditioners.

Ease of Use

Getting a better substitute for your old AC unit does not necessarily mean it is more costly. You should always go for a central air conditioner that is not too complicated, but easy and convenient to use.

If you decide to switch to a more high-tech central air conditioning, you may be risking having expensive service and repair for your unit in the future. Naturally, a more complex AC means pricier parts which are harder to find than regular ones.

The best way to do effortless cooling is to choose a unit with a thermostat that can be connected through your smartphone. Programmable or smart thermostats can save you a good deal in your energy consumption because you will be able to adjust the temperature of your central air conditioner to high even when you are at work or on vacation.

How Do Central Air Conditioners Differ from Window AC?

If you just bought or rented a place and this is your very first time getting an air conditioning system for your home, it is crucial to get it right the first time.

This is especially true if you go for the installation of central air conditioning systems. Central air conditioners are definitely more complex than room air conditioners, thus more expensive in terms of the upfront price of the unit and installation.

Why is that? 

While both central air conditioning and cooling provided by a room, window, or portable air conditioner are basically the same in purpose, the central air system has broader coverage. It regulates the temperature of your entire home and requires the use of ducts.

The ductwork may run through the walls, ceiling, and floors, much like the plumbing system. But instead of water, it collects warm air from the rooms and leads it to the air conditioner to remove the heat from the air. Once processed, the ductwork also serves as a distribution system for the chilled air in your home.

Meanwhile, room air conditioning through window-type AC or portable units does not require plumbing or ductwork installation. All the necessary components for cooling the air are compacted in one single unit. Some window or portable air conditioners require minimal to zero installation costs.

Of course, unlike central air units, these room ACs can only cool the site or area immediate to them and cannot go further to the next room.

Why Choose Your Central Air Conditioner Wisely

Before you say that you are overthinking this too much, let us ease your mind. You are doing the sensible thing by pausing first, researching information on what features of a central air conditioner to prioritize, and looking carefully at your options, instead of buying the first central AC you see in the store that looked “cool”. 

But if you have lived in America for years, it is more likely that you are replacing an old cooling system. According to the Department of Energy, three-quarters or 75% of homes in the US have air conditioners. But another government-funded agency, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), says that almost 90% of American households have air conditioning.

Since you already have an experience with your old unit, be it a good or bad experience, you roughly know what you like and do not like about an air conditioner. You may have thoughts like “I would never buy a…” or “Now, I would go for…” or “I prefer my next air conditioner to be…” 

That is an excellent starting point. We want to take a further step back and analyze why this particular purchase for an appliance is a crucial one, so you will never be drawn in when you see “SALE! 30% OFF”.

If you plan to purchase a new appliance, replace or upgrade it, you can relate to what USA Today wisely acknowledges.

“Picking out a new appliance can be intimidating. The big price tags, delivery trucks, and installation are all daunting.” 

Because HVAC systems last significantly longer than your typical coffee maker or toaster, it may have been 10 years since you last have to visit an appliance store to scout for a heating system or residential air conditioner! So your apprehension is understandable.

The publication’s advice? “Smart consumers should be starting product research now, or you may find yourself rushing into bad decisions…”

Here are the three reasons you need to learn why you should take the time to do your research before proceeding to buy a new air conditioning unit.

Price of AC Unit

Either your previous air conditioner has broken down due to old age or some other mechanical mishap, you surely want to nail it this time around. After all, the cost of a brand-new air conditioner would make a significant hole in anyone’s pocket.

According to HomeAdvisor, a complete replacement of a heating or cooling system will cost you a minimum of $5,000 to $10,000. This amount is comprised of the new unit, installation expenses, removal of the old unit, and its disposal.

Take a moment to digest that: $10,000. Kiplinger, a financial magazine, says that in the amount of $10,000, you could buy shares of tech stocks, install solar panels, pay the down payment for your child’s first mortgage, and purchase a classic car like a 1970s Chevrolet.

Length of Use

Another important reason why you should take replacing your old unit seriously is the number of years you are about to be stuck with the new air conditioner. 

You are entering a multi-year commitment since an air conditioner is the type of device that would stay with you for a long, long time. Common sources would tell you that an air conditioner is only supposed to last 10 to 15 years. 

But with proper care and maintenance, your air conditioner has the potential to last 20 to 25 years! This means that you as its owner will either enjoy its benefits for many years or suffer its disappointing setbacks depending on your decision now.

Energy Consumption

You may have an idea that the heating or cooling system uses up a lot of energy. But you might be surprised to know the actual figure. Direct Energy, a consumer resource on energy, data, and technology, reveals that the “HVAC system uses the most energy of any single appliance or system at 46 percent of the average U.S. home's energy consumption.”

To put it in kilowatt perspective, your air conditioner uses about “3,500 watts and runs two to three times an hour for 10-15 minutes. In 24 hours, your HVAC would use around 28-63 kWh, resulting in about 850-1,950 kWh in a month.”

Forty-six percent is nearly half of your electric bill! While your water heating only consumes 14%, an appliance such as the refrigerator uses up 13%, lighting at 9%, and finally, TV and media equipment consumes 4% of energy.

These three points laid out above should get you to think in a bigger sense about what buying a new AC means.

With that in mind—and you are still deciding to push through with the purchase—let us go ahead and go over again the abovementioned factors you should consider in picking your new partner in home comfort.

Your Home Deserves the Best Central AC

The decision of which type of air conditioning system to install in your home is of the essence to your home comfort. 

Due to its expensive unit price, installation, and future repair costs, purchasing an AC system requires careful planning and research. Additionally, your chosen AC unit will last a minimum of 10 to 15 years before it requires a replacement. More importantly, your cooling system will consume nearly half of your monthly electricity.

Installing a new air conditioning system or replacing an old one demands a serious consideration of several factors: 

  • The type of air conditioner to install, a central air conditioner or a room air conditioner;
  • The cooling or air conditioning capacity, based on the number of BTUs versus the size of the home;
  • Its energy efficiency, whether based on the Energy Star or SEER ratings;
  • The impact of your chosen air conditioning system on the environment;
  • Its noise level;
  • How easy and convenient to use your new unit

Your decisions as the homeowner on these aspects of choosing your central air conditioner will determine your satisfaction with your cooling device in the succeeding years of use.

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