Buying an Air Conditioner

Buying a new air conditioner for your home isn’t something most homeowners put much thought into. A typical air conditioner will last approximately 12-15 years with proper maintenance and care, so purchasing a new air conditioner is a big investment. Not only in the operation of the unit, and the efficiency of the unit, but in your comfort for the next 12-15 years!

Many people purchase an air conditioner the same way they would get their carpets cleaned or a clogged drain cleared, they open the phone book and call the first HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) contractor on the list. While doing this may get you an air conditioner that will keep your home cool, it may also have you spending hundreds or even thousands more over the life of your unit!

Here are some tips to help you make an informed decision about what is best for your home and your family’s comfort.

#1) Do it right the first time

When choosing the an air conditioner for your home, you want to make sure it is correctly sized and installed properly. You are making an investment when buying a new air conditioner and the initial investment cost may not be the only cost.

Is the air conditioner the right size for my home? An air conditioner that is either too large or too small can actually cost you up to twice the cost of your initial investment and 15%-45% more utility bills over the course of its life. An air conditioner that is not sized correctly will have a shorter life span due to constant cycling (turning on and off) of the compressor. It can also cost you more in utility bills if it is too small and running constantly to keep up with the hot weather or too big and running every few minutes due to the unit cooling the home too fast and creating a cool, damp atmosphere. Remember, bigger is not always better!

#2) Choose the best contractor for the job

The second most important thing to remember when buying a new air conditioner is to use a good HVAC contractor. Ask your friends and family for referrals and check their status on sites like Angie's List, Kudzu, and the Better Business Bureau for customer ratings and comments.

A good contractor…

  • …should not only give you a good price, but should also have a full office staff to provide you with scheduling and customer service. You may save some money by using a small shop, but when the weather takes a turn for the worse, tracking that person down and getting immediate service will be difficult, if not impossible!
  • …must be fully licensed, insured, and bonded to work in your town and in your home. Deal with a contractor that is not is a risk to your system and your family’s health and safety!
  • …should act like a guest in your home. This includes using drop cloths and shoe covers to protect your floors, taking extra precautions when working in delicate areas (ex: gardens) and always treating you with the highest level of respect.

#3) Pick the best unit for your home

There are many different types of air conditioners that can be installed in almost any home. The differences can make a world of difference in not only the initial investment, but also in the savings of utility costs over the life of the air conditioner. Some of these items are:

  • The efficiency of the unit (SEER - Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating)
    Today’s air conditioners range anywhere from 13 to 21 SEER, or Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating, which is similar to Miles Per Gallon (MPG) on your car. A higher SEER means you pay less to cool your home. Higher SEER air conditioners will cost more initially, but over the life of the air conditioner may actually cost you less! The efficiency of your existing unit may be anywhere from 6 SEER to 10 SEER depending on its age. 6 SEER air conditioners are very common in air conditioners that are over 20 years old. More efficient air conditioners (13 SEER and above) use less electricity, saving you money. Replacing an 8 SEER air conditioner with a new 13 SEER unit can reduce your utility costs as much as 38% annually. By replacing the same unit with a 15 SEER unit or a 20 SEER unit you could save between 47% and 60% per year!
    • Single Stage, Two Stage?
    Newer air conditioners also have the latest money saving technologies. Your existing air conditioner is most likely a "Single Stage" unit, meaning it is either on full blast or it is turned off. This is fine on the few, hot and humid 95° days of Chicago summers. However, most of the summer, this will cause your home to cool off too quickly, causing uneven cooling between rooms and floors and even creating a cool, damp feeling in your home. A solution to this problem is a higher efficiency "Two-Stage" air conditioner that uses a unique compressor, or two separate compressors, that will start off in a "low" setting (saving you money) and will automatically kick up to the "high" setting or additional compressor when needed. This allows the air conditioner to run longer, allowing for better humidity removal, more even cooling, and better air cleaning. An air conditioner that runs longer may actually be more efficient than one that turns on and off all the time! The top of the line air conditioners are called "Staged or Communicating" units that may require a more advanced furnace, as well.
  • Sound levels and size
    Many manufacturers use several different factors to make today’s air conditioners as quiet as possible, including sound absorbing covers over the compressors and scientifically designed cabinets and grills to minimize air flow noise. Most manufacturers will use ball bearing motors and engineered fan blades to cut through the air with the greatest efficiency and least amount of noise. To increase the efficiency, today's air conditioners need to have larger coil surface spaces. This means that a new and more efficient unit might actually be larger in physical size than your current unit. Many companies will use rows of coils to achieve this surface size without allowing the unit to get too large!

#4) The brand of the unit

You will notice that the brand of the unit is the last item to be considered. Any air conditioner can and will work relatively well to cool your home. Better name brands will most likely give you more reliability over the years and will most likely result in fewer breakdowns during the life of the air conditioner. However, as stated before, "The most important day of the air conditioner's life is the day of installation." Even the best and most efficient air conditioners can cost you more money if it is not installed or not maintained properly over the course of its life. Maintaining your air conditioner is absolutely crucial to achieve the greatest savings from your unit, and in maintaining the manufacturers warranty so that the unit may be serviced by a trained professional every year!

Unique Indoor Comfort of Chicago Better Business Bureau Angie's List