What to Look for in an Air Conditioner

Are you in the market for a new air conditioner? Cooling costs account for 13 percent of a typical household’s annual utility budget, so choosing the right system can save a lot of money. Here’s what to consider before you buy.

Load Calculation

The first step is calculating your home’s cooling load. According to study results, at least one-third of all home AC units are oversized. A unit that’s too large for your home will cost more to purchase and will turn on and off too frequently, wasting energy and raising your bills. 

Find a professional HVAC service that can send a technician out to assess your home’s size and layout and the amount of sunlight and shade you have. This information will determine your cooling load so your HVAC tech can advise you on the right size unit for your home.

Traditional vs. Ductless Air Conditioner Systems

One way to reduce your energy bills is to focus on cooling the rooms in which you spend the most time. If you’re cooling a small space, a window unit might be sufficient.

For larger homes, a ductless AC system might be an alternative to central AC. 

A ductless AC system works like a traditional air conditioner — by pulling heat out of your home and transferring it outside — but allows you more climate control in individual rooms. Also known as a mini-split system, it consists of two parts: an outdoor unit and an indoor air handler that gets installed on an interior wall. 

Ductless systems are known for their energy efficiency. According to Energy.gov, “duct losses can account for more than 30 percent of energy consumption for space conditioning, especially if the ducts are in an unconditioned space such as an attic.”

Because they don’t require ductwork to move air through your home, they’re ideal for home additions, and they can be installed quickly. And with the addition of a heat pump, a ductless AC system can double as a heater in the winter.

A ductless system typically costs more than a central AC unit, so you’ll need to calculate whether the energy savings and climate control are worth the extra upfront expense.

Efficiency Ratings

An AC unit’s seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) is an important factor to consider, but a higher SEER isn’t always better. The units with the highest SEERs cost more up front (sometimes twice as much), plus the parts cost more to service or replace. And because the highest-SEER systems have newer technology, they can necessitate more repair calls than a tried-and-true (but slightly lower-SEER) system. 

Many HVAC professionals recommend a SEER of around 14 as the “sweet spot” — a new AC unit with a SEER of 14 would be far more energy-efficient than your old unit but less costly than the highest-SEER systems.

An AC unit has a lifespan of 10 to 15 years, so doing your homework now will help you make a decision that’s good for both your home and your bank account for years to come.


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