What to Know Before You Buy a New Air Conditioner

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What to Know Before You Buy a New Air Conditioner

Pricing is lower when there’s less demand, so do your shopping in the winter months

No, you are not the last person in the country to get around to installing air conditioning. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), it was as recently as 1993 that only 68% of households had air conditioning.

The organization’s latest survey shows this statistic has crept up to 87%. Air conditioning usage varies by region, as you might expect. EIA said that 94% of households in the hot and humid southeastern area of the country have air conditioning, while only half of the homes in the Pacific Northwest coastal area had it. Here’s what you need to know if it’s finally time to cool things down with air conditioning – or if it’s time to replace the system you have.

What’s the best type of air conditioning system?

EIA’s data shows that central air conditioning systems are used by about 60% of homes in the United States, while another 23% use individual window-mounted air conditioning units. Because of the ducting necessary for central air conditioning, it’s often installed when houses are first constructed. The latest EIA information shows that to be the case for about 67% of homes.

The energy costs involved with air conditioning can contribute to its use for controlling indoor environments. The EIA notes that homes supplement summertime usage of air conditioning with ceiling fans, dehumidifiers, and even evaporative coolers. This isn’t surprising. Household energy expenditures in hotter climates in the United States can eat up as much as 27 percent.

If you’re going to invest in air conditioning – especially in areas where it’ll be necessary to use more of it – you’ll want to make the right choice.

Not too big, not too small

Money Magazine tells readers to expect to spend between $6,000 and $15,000 to install a central air conditioning system in your home. What surprises some people looking at installing or replacing air conditioning, is that bigger isn’t always better.

Installing an oversized air conditioning system in your house will reduce the temperature of the interior air faster than it will be able to remove sufficient humidity. A cool but overly humid house is uncomfortable. On the flip side, an air conditioning system that’s too small will labor to maintain the cool temperature and may run almost constantly. This will ramp up your energy bill and drastically decrease the lifespan of the air conditioning equipment.

It’s crucial to accurately determine the size of the air conditioning system you need, which factors things like square footage, geographical location, windows, and even the orientation of your house in relation to the sun. It’s known as an HVAC load calculation. This first step sets the stage for your decision on the type of system you’ll buy.

Efficient cooling

Air conditioning systems are rated for efficiency using a SEER value. It stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. The rating number stands for how much cooling you receive per watt of power used. Keep in mind that it’s a ratio, which is why a 14 SEER air conditioning unit can be up to 40% more efficient than the 10 SEER units that might have been installed in homes a few decades ago.

You have the option to go with super-efficient systems that have SEER ratings of 16 and even up to 24. Remember that the rating is determined by a ratio, so don’t expect to see your operating costs drop another 40% or more. But, it’s still worth the investment if you can afford the additional costs.

What about the ducts?

Central air conditioning delivers that comforting cool air throughout your home by using ducts. If you already have a forced air heating system, you may be able to use this existing circulating system for your air conditioning.

If this ducting system isn’t in place, you’ll likely be looking at another $4,000 to $5,000 to have it installed. If you do already have a ducting system in place, it’s wise to have it inspected for efficiency. The U.S. Department of Energy calculates that poorly sealed or insulated air ducts can cost you hundreds of dollars a year. That could add an upfront cost of 1,000 to $3,000.

Or, skip the ducts

Central air conditioning systems using ducts is the most widely used cooling systems in American homes, but it’s not the only solution. Elsewhere in the world, most homes have environmental control using ductless systems.

This alternative to central air systems – projected to reach over $78 billion in sales by 2021 – is gaining acceptance in the United States. So, it’s not so new that you’ve never heard of it. These systems go most commonly by the name of ductless mini splits.

True to their name, they require no ducting throughout your home, and they also require no central handling unit to move the air through ducts. People appreciate being able to move away from the “cool every nook and cranny” approach of central air systems. Ductless mini split systems allow you to put precise environmental control only where you want it by placing individual air handler units where they’re needed.

Ductless mini split systems sometimes can be more expensive than central air conditioning systems. It’s because they’re dramatically more energy efficient. They’ll pay for themselves faster and keep you more comfortable. Learn more about these systems.