What to Look For
When looking for a reliable and efficient central air conditioner, you should consider what options will best suit your specific needs. The most important factor to consider is the number of British Thermal units, or BTUs, as you must find a unit that measures correctly for your home's square footage. It's essential that the air conditioner not be undersized or oversized, as it won't cool the home correctly. Keep in mind that the compressor is the most expensive part to replace in a central air conditioner, so you should check its warranty; the standard is usually 10 years. It's also smart to look for a unit that offers sound insulation, as compressors can be quite loud. Finally, make sure you find an installation contractor who meets all local licensing requirements and has liability insurance.
Buying a cheaper air conditioning unit that isn't highly efficient can cost you more in the long run. High SEER (seasonal energy efficiency ratio) models are the most expensive. But SEER models cost much less to operate, as they use the least amount of energy. Compressors are the most important part of an air conditioning unit. You can choose between scroll and reciprocating compressors. Scroll compressors are the most quiet and efficient, but reciprocating compressors are more durable.
Where to Buy
According to the ConsumerSearch website, QualitySmith and Sears generally have the best prices on air conditioning units. Both companies offer free heating and cooling estimates, as well as same-day service.
The cost of a central air conditioner ranges quite a bit, depending on the level of efficiency, the number of BTUs and the ease of installation. The units typically cost between $1,500 and $6,000, including installation. But if ductwork is needed, you can plan on paying a couple thousand extra for installation.
ConsumerSearch lists the best-rated central air conditioning units as the high-efficiency 16 to 23 SEER, the mid-range efficiency 14.5 to 17 SEER, the minimum-efficiency central unit and the mini-split ductless unit. The high-efficiency 16 to 23 SEER will cost the most initially but will cut energy costs in the future. The mid-range efficiency 14.5 to 17 SEER and minimum-efficiency central unit will cost the least initially but won't save you as much in energy costs. The mini-split ductless air conditioning system is rated best for those with existing ductwork, because it's easiest to install and you can adjust the temperature in each room.
Before making a purchase, check for local utility and government rebate offers. Visit the Energy Star website, check off the type of appliance you're interested in, and enter your ZIP code to see whether there are any special rebate offers available. To encourage consumers to purchase energy-efficient products, Energy Star sometimes "sponsors" certain products. If you can get a rebate, this money may end up paying the difference between a SEER model and a lower-efficiency model.
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