A central air conditioner is one of the most popular ways to cool your home. The choice when it comes to prices and models available on the market is huge, so it is important to develop a strong understanding of air conditioners before you make any purchase or changes to your home.
How a Central Air Conditioner Works
Central AC units use electricity to push refrigerant through lines carrying it between an indoor and an outdoor unit. This means that hot air in the home is pulled out via the ductwork (unless you’re using a ductless system). The refrigerant is then pumped from the compressor to a coil inside called an evaporator, which is the part designed to take the heat out of the air inside. Cold air is then forced through ducts to vents which are situated in the home (or other premises) which serve to lower the temperature overall.
Types of Central Air Conditioner
Split System - This is the type explained above. It means there is an indoor and an outdoor unit and refrigerant is pumped between the two. In a split system, the indoor section where the cool air runs through is connected to ducts which disperse the colder air.
Heat Pumps - these can be used to pump heat from the house and take it outside, whereas in the winter it takes heat from outdoors and uses it to heat indoors. This means it can be used in different climates, but generally speaking heat pumps don’t cope well with extreme high and low temperatures.
Ductless - These systems are still technically split systems but they are designed for homes without ductwork and where you don’t wish to have ductwork installed. It still has the indoor and outdoor compressor and condenser, but these connect to units hanging on the wall which will disperse the cooler air.
Packaged Air Conditioners - These systems have the evaporator, condenser, and compressor in the same unit. This is ordinarily put on a roof or slab within the foundation of the home. It is usually only suitable for small buildings such as lock-up stores. The air supply and ducts come from indoors to connect with the unit which is placed outside
Important Factors To Consider When Choosing A Central Air Conditioner
As well as the type of air conditioner you are looking to purchase, there are some other important things you should consider and terminology to learn before making the purchase. This will help to ensure you get the right product for your home specifically.
The SEER rating has become a very simple numerical value that can help to show you how efficient a model of air conditioner is. It is a standardized rating across all brands, so allows you to easily make comparisons.
SEER is an acronym for “Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio,” though some people also call it “Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating.” It is calculated by taking the cooling output of an AC unit and dividing it by the energy used in watts per hour. This gives an average figure showing how efficient the product is.
SEER ratings have gone up hugely in recent years as efficiency continues to improve. Models tend to be between 13 and 25 in SEER. That is a big jump, but if you had your air conditioner installed 10 or 20 years ago it is likely your SEER rating is 8-10. You can see how this improvement is key. Though an ultra high SEER is often desirable, it can make your unit very expensive.
An Energy Star rating is another energy-efficiency related rating which can be given to appliances and other household products. An independent set of tests to prove that the product is better than average for energy efficiency is undertaken and then if it passes then the product description is allowed to carry the Energy Star Rating.
Type of Compressor
This is tied very closely to the SEER rating of a product. The type of compressor can be single-stage, two-stage or variable. This basically means how adjustable the air conditioner is and how adaptable it is to the change in temperature and atmosphere around.
A simple way to think of this is that a single-stage product has two settings, either ‘on’ or ‘off’. It is either working or it is not. Two-stage will have a little bit more control, it sort of has a ‘high’, ‘low’ or ‘off’ setting in terms of how adjustable it is. The most adjustable is a variable compressor which can adapt to the environment. Think of this like the volume control on a television, it can go up and down incrementally based on what is needed.
Air conditioning units are made in multiple sizes. Some of these are 18,000 BTU, others are up to 24,000. This is a tonnage measurement which isn’t anything to do with its weight. This is an important distinction to make early on. The term actually refers to the capacity of the unit to clear heat from your home per hour. It isn’t too vital that you know the science, but the higher the BTU rating, the more heat it is capable of removing.
The size will be related to the cost. We have provided a rough estimate of these below to show how the size you need can impact how much you need to spend:
(measured in square feet)
Cost of Unit Only
These are estimations based on multiple different brands. The price may vary depending on which brand you ultimately choose as some are more expensive than others.
As with any product you buy for your home, it is important to pay some attention to the warranty it comes with. Warranties for AC units can be very variable depending on the brands and the ranges you purchase from. Incredibly, they can vary from as little as 1 year on some cheap units to a 10-year up to a lifetime guarantee.
When you are looking into the warranty of a unit, pay attention to whether it is covering parts, repairs or both parts and repairs. Also, some brands will offer a longer warranty on the compressor. This is the key element and they are keen to show their compressor is built to last. Some brands give lifetime warranties on this part of the unit, meaning if anything goes wrong with it you can get a replacement or repair.
The noise level of an air conditioner must be measured and advertised. This is advertised in dB, the decibel level of an AC unit, and refers to the outdoor unit. A loud unit can be a problem with noise pollution and if the outdoor unit is near a backyard or garden where you like to spend time, noise can be an issue. Quieter AC units are preferable.
WiFi and Smart Controls
Top brands know that they cannot make products like air conditioners in the modern age and not consider things like smart home functionality. Incorporating your air conditioner with your WiFi opens up a world of other possibilities and allows the system to be far more ‘smart’. Not only can it automatically link to your thermostat and also allow you to control the air conditioning via apps on phones or other smart devices, but some manufacturers have also inbuilt smart tech which can make the product more efficient. Features like constant monitoring and reporting which can tell you if your AC unit develops an issue or when it might need maintenance can make it far more efficient in the long run.
Installation and Ducting - Replacing a Central AC vs New Systems
Ductwork is nothing short of vital when it comes to getting the most out of your air conditioning unit. It carries the cool air around the building and is so important when it comes to getting a temperature you’re comfortable with and not wasting the power of the product you’ve purchased to cool your home.
Costing up ductwork is impossible without actually measuring the home. Even some contractors have a difficult time working out exactly what the cost of the ducting is going to be overall. However, there are some rough guides which can help you to work out what you will need to spend.
$6.00-$11.50 is a standard cost per foot. There will then likely be other costs for accessories and fittings such as dampers within. This can overall mean that ducting can cost thousands of dollars on top of the cost of the actual air conditioner and its installation. If you know the square footage of the property in question then it can be possible to come up with a rough estimation.
If you have had an air conditioning unit installed in your home previously then the ductwork may already be in place, and simply need some maintenance or allow the air conditioner to slot in place straight away. This can save a huge amount of expense.
Brands and Prices
The following table is designed to help differentiate the brands and their price ranges. We’ve also given the brands a status of either ‘budget’, ‘mid-range’ or ‘elite’ based on the quality level their products offer, to give a rough idea of the price to get the real top quality on the market. Brands are always likely to change their pricing, so the guide below is just to give a ballpark figure.
Carrier / Bryant
Remember that this is the price of the units only in the ranges. It does not include the cost of the ductwork. Depending on whether you are buying an air conditioner for the first time or whether you are replacing a unit, you may have to get ducting installed. This can be a significant cost as we have already explored, and this should be added to the cost of the unit itself.
Getting the Best Price
Being savvy and learning a little about the ways to get the best price for an air conditioner unit can help you a great deal and avoid expenses that you don’t need. There are a few ways to keep the price to a minimum no matter which brand you eventually end up opting for. These are explained below:
Finding the Right Installation Company
To find the best installation company for your air conditioning unit, you can use our tool to search which installers are qualified and available in your local area.