Are lingering last-year memories of air conditioner breakdowns or indoor discomfort making you wonder if you should consider buying a central air conditioning system? Before you decide, there’s quite a bit to consider. Breeze through the following elements before you shop.
Go with a pro: Though a seasoned do-it-yourselfer with a seemingly simple home layout may be tempted to take on a central air conditioning installation, it’s definitely best left in the hands of a pro. A qualified HVAC technician has the experience and resources to properly evaluate a home’s air conditioning needs and structural challenges, recommend right-sized equipment, and handle the accompanying installations and adjustments. They’re also bound by environmental and professional codes and concerns. The Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), a nonprofit association with the goal of bringing quality HVAC pros and homeowners together, offers helpful advice and an online contractor locator for your planning convenience.
Get a system that’s a perfect fit for your home: When buying a central air conditioning system, proper sizing is critical. If it’s too small, it won’t sufficiently cool your home, and if it’s too large, you’ll wind up with a constant racket and too-frequent cycling (turning on and off) that wastes energy and wears out the equipment. To get to this point, an experienced contractor will go beyond knowledge of the basic square footage of your home to a load calculation that accounts for the heat gain to which it’s subject. This number takes into account such items as the amount, type and placement of windows, location and extent of insulation, and even the orientation of your home in relation to the sun; it can also assist in recommendations for efficiency improvements that’ll help you get the most out of your new system.
Choose efficient equipment: According to the EPA and U.S. Department of Energy, about one-seventh of all the electricity generated in this country is used to air condition buildings, and by the time you scale that percentage to home usage, any means of energy savings is a major plus. Your air contractor knows this, too, and when you’re buying a central air conditioning system, can help choose equipment that will provide dependable indoor comfort and money-saving efficiency. It all comes down to the system’s seasonal energy efficiency rating (SEER), which tells how many BTUs an air conditioner removes for every watt of electricity it uses. A higher SEER means lower cost to operate, and you’ll find that Energy Star qualified air conditioners fit that description and are typically 14 percent more efficient than standard models. From there, a zoned control system can provide further savings by moving the cool only into areas of the home where it’s needed. Visit the Energy Star site for more details on selecting qualified indoor cooling equipment.
Ensure proper installation of equipment: Quality installation of your system is what literally seals the deal for cool, comfortable results. The manufacturer’s instructions should be followed to the letter, with indoor equipment installed in a conditioned or well-insulated space and the outdoor compressor kept clear of debris and positioned so that it’s protected from the sun.
Prevent ductwork drains on efficiency: When buying a central air conditioning system, part of your investment should be the ductwork. It should be properly sealed with metal-backed tape or mastic followed by an insulation wrap. Your contractor may also need to extend your duct system to reach new registers and grilles placed in rooms that do not currently have them.
Know when to replace existing equipment (hint: before it gives out): If your existing air conditioner is more than 10 years old, it’s time to start thinking about buying a central air conditioning system. Usage patterns and equipment condition will affect the exact timing of a breakdown, but you definitely don’t want to wait until that moment comes. Also remember that it’s no big savings to replace only part of the machinery: all components in central air conditioning systems are designed, manufactured and calibrated to work together for optimum performance and efficiency, and piecing together existing and new equipment will usually give you the opposite result.
If you keep all of these tips in mind, buying a central air conditioning system will go much smoother.