Buying a Central Air Conditioner

Many homeowners approach the purchase of a central air conditioner with more than a little trepidation. Not only are there the up-front costs of the equipment and installation to consider, but there are also operating and maintenance costs as well. You can simplify the process by keeping three important categories in mind when comparing different models.


Ductless vs Conventional Central Air Systems

The first factor to consider in selecting the right central air conditioner is to determine which equipment is right for your home. If you’re installing a central air system in your home for the first time, the installation costs for the equipment and ductwork can be quite costly. In this instance, a ductless system might be the best choice.  These systems consist of an exterior condensing unit feeding individual indoor evaporator coils. These coils are smaller and are housed in wall units that have their own blowers. There are limitations though in the square footage that these systems can efficiently cool.


Traditional systems that consist of an exterior condensing unit feeding one large individual air handler work better for larger spaces. These air conditioners distribute cool air through a series of ducts and registers. The number of condensing units and air handlers depends on the size of the area your are cooling. Systems that are sized too small will be overworked and can freeze over, even on hot summer days. Units that are too large for the space will cycle on and off repeatedly, making the humidity levels difficult to control. In addition, a majority of the electrical power is consumed during the unit's star-up. Having the unit constantly cycle on and off will cause the system to operate inefficiently.

Efficiency Ratings

The efficiency of the unit is also an important factor to consider since central air conditioning systems have a tendency to draw a lot of electrical power. Condensing units are measured in a unit called SEER, which stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating, and is calculated by dividing the cooling capacity of a continually operating unit by the electrical power required to run it. A higher SEER means the condensing unit will operate more efficiently. Most manufacturers offer models with 10, 12 or 14 SEER for consumers to choose from.


However, high efficiency comes at a price since these models generally cost more than their standard counterparts.  Determining which SEER system is best for you can depend on several factors, including your geographic location.  For example, a homeowner in Arizona may want to pay more for the high efficient system as opposed to a homeowner located in the Northeast. Hotter climates require more frequent use of the central air system which can offset the additional costs of the high efficiency unit.


Maintenance and Warranty Factors

In addition to operating efficiency one must also consider the costs associated with maintaining your central air conditioning system. Every unit will require some sort of regular maintenance whether it's changing the filters or replinishing Freon levels. A company that offers a good maintenance plan coupled with a strong warranty will bring some peace of mind when making a major purchase such as this.