Tips for Buying a Central Air Conditioner

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When that hot summer heat starts to settle inside your home, you might find yourself scrambling to find a central air conditioner unit. But slow down! Don't rush through the purchasing process without doing your due diligence.

A central air conditioning unit is an expensive investment for your home. On top of that, a lot of people have no idea what to look for in a new unit or what to ask their contractor about installation. This can make it a very stressful experience. Since most A/C units can last anywhere from 10 to 20 years, it's a good idea to do your research before purchasing one.

This is the time to research all of the different air conditioners available and find the perfect one for your home. If your current one is already broken or you don't have one, and your home is too hot to handle, do your best to keep it cool while you look into the different air conditioning systems. Buy a couple fans, keep your blinds closed, swap out your sheets—whatever it takes to give yourself the time you need. Below are some topics to consider before your central air conditioner unit purchase.

Consider Where You Live

A handyman installing an evaporator cooler.

Believe it or not, where you live plays a huge role in the type of air conditioner you should buy. The type and size of it will greatly depend on your climate and cooling loads. For example, if you live in a hot, arid region like the southwest, you should get an evaporator cooler. If you live in a different region, a compressor-driven air conditioning system is the best choice.

Choose the Right Size

A construction worker in an orange suit working with air conditioning ducts in an attic.

Choosing the best size for your home is a bit tricky. As mentioned above, a unit that's too big not only costs more, but will also leave your home feeling damp and clammy. A unit that's too small is also a bad idea because it won't be able to keep an even temperature on the really hot days. In most cases, you should get a contractor to go through your home and collect the data needed to properly size your air conditioner. That means they might have to access to all parts of your house including the basement, crawl spaces, attic, and every other room.

Make sure you do your research when selecting a contractor, too. A lot of companies might choose to send a salesman instead of a HVAC technician for the consultation, so have some questions ready to go and remember these tips when asking about an air conditioner.

If you already have an air conditioner system installed, there's a chance you might be able to attach the new unit into existing ducts. This, of course, will depend on the unit's size and if it's compatible. If you're setting it up for the first time, make sure it's installed in the best location, with good duct insulation and sealing.

Picking SEER Values

SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, and when it comes to choosing an air conditioner, it's an important factor to consider. Most people recommend purchasing a central air conditioner with a SEER rating higher than 12.0. In most cases, you don't need to buy an air conditioner with more than a 14 SEER rating, and almost never higher than 16 SEER.

The way SEER works is the higher the SEER value, the more efficient the unit is. The problem, though, is that these are calculated in a lab setting and not the real world. So even though you might think this means you should purchase the highest SEER rating you can afford, remember that a 14 or 16 SEER rating is fine.

Check the Energy Efficiency

Although the most energy efficient way to stay cool is to not use an air conditioner at all, not everyone is up for that. Fortunately, there are energy efficient air conditioners out there that might be the next best option.

A SEER rating more than 10.0 is a good place to start. You should also make sure that the air conditioner you buy is the proper size. An oversized unit will use more energy than necessary and if it isn't the right size it will also leave your room feeling damp since it won't be able to remove the humidity.

Finally, if you choose to replace your air conditioner's compressor on the outside of your home, you need to make sure the blower coil that's inside is compatible. Otherwise, the new unit outside won't be as highly efficient as it could be.

Maintenance Features

Someone removing an air conditioner filter.

There are a couple different things maintenance-wise you should check for in a central air conditioner. First, you should buy a system with a fan-only switch. That way, you can use the unit for nighttime ventilation, which reduces your costs.

Some also let you know when to check the filter with a filter check light. It comes on after a predetermined amount of time. Remembering to change the filter is important because a clean filter makes the unit run better and more efficiently. And then there's some that have an automatic-delay fan switch. This switch will turn off the fan in the unit a few minutes before the compressor turns off.


Finally, one more thing you should consider is the amount of noise the air conditioner unit makes. Even though the unit is outside, you don't want the noise to disrupt your time outdoors or disturb your neighbours.