A/C Buying Guide

On those stifling summer days, it may seem like there isn’t a decision on earth more important than what kind of air conditioner to purchase for your home. And on those stifling summer days, we agree. With a few important steps you can be on your way to relaxing in a cool, comfortable home without dreading future energy bills.

Determine the proper size unit for your home

You may be thinking the bigger, the better when it comes to your home’s air conditioner. However, that’s not how it works. An air conditioner that’s too big will turn on and off too often, wasting energy, while an air conditioner that’s undersized will run too continuously to try to keep up with the cooling your home requires, and still may not get your home cool enough to be comfortable.

Air conditioner size is based on its cooling capacity, which is measured in tons. In terms of air conditioning, one ton is equal to the ability to remove 12 000 BTUs (British Thermal Units) of heat per hour. An HVAC professional can perform what’s called a load calculation in order to determine what cooling capacity (how many tons) your home requires. Standard air conditioners range in size from 1.5 tons to 5.0 tons.

Select the level of efficiency that is best for your needs and budget

How much energy a unit requires to perform this cooling is called its season energy efficiency ratio, or SEER rating. In order to determine this ratio, a unit’s cooling output over an entire cooling season is divided by its power input in that same cooling season. The rule of thumb to remember when it comes to these ratings is the higher a unit’s SEER rating, the lower the amount of electricity it requires to produce its cooling. The current minimum SEER rating in the United States is 13. That minimum is set to increase to 14 in January of 2015.

Balancing your cooling needs with your budget will require you to compare different costs associated with having air conditioning installed. A high-efficiency, high SEER unit may cost more upfront, but will provide significant savings on your energy bills.

Decide which options or features you would like

As you might expect, modern, high-efficiency air conditioning units can come equipped with some pretty nice features. Many of them offer two-stage operation, which allows the unit to run at a low speed the majority of the time to save on energy use and money. When more cooling is required, the higher speed kicks in.

High-efficiency units also tend to have a condenser fan motor that can operate at both low and high speeds as well. Even more advanced units feature a variable speed fan motor that allows you to control the airflow in different areas of your home for precise cooling and comfort. Not only does this ensure effective use of your energy, but it also allows the unit to run quietly.

The highest of high-efficiency air conditioners use an advanced compressor known as an inverter drive. This inverter drive compressor features a motor that runs on direct current, or DC, instead of the standard alternating current, or AC. While this unit is supplied with the standard AC power, it contains a device (called the inverter) that transforms it to DC. The benefit of DC power is that it can easily be varied to provide a near infinite number of speeds, allowing the unit to precisely meet the cooling requirements of the home. This typically means big savings for users.

Assess the installation

Once you and the HVAC professionals you’re working with have decided on the right unit for your home, it’s almost time for you to luxuriate in a wonderfully cooled environment. All that’s left is to walk through the installation job with your installers to ensure that their work meets your high standards.

  1. Make sure you are provided with the warranty papers and owner’s manual. You’ll want to make sure you know what, if any, action is required by you to register your equipment with the manufacturer.
  2. Check that the outdoor air conditioning unit is level.
  3. It should be sitting on either a concrete pad, or a base of hardened plastic.
  4. In order to allow proper air flow, there should be a one-foot space between the unit and the home.
  5. Is there a refrigerant filter/drier in the system?
  6. Can you easily locate an electrical disconnect within three feet of the outdoor unit?
  7. There should not be any debris or trash left in the installation areas. A proper installation job extends to every single aspect of it.
  8. The copper lines between the indoor unit and the outdoor unit have to be insulated.
  9. The copper lines should be as short as possible, and need to be supported every four feet.
  10. Generally, the copper lines are the same size as the connections on the unit. If they are not, ask the installer about this. How did they determine the size of lines to use? Can they show you corresponding information in the manufacturer’s installation instructions?
  11. The main and emergency drain connections on the evaporator have to run to a suitable drain.
  12. Was a digital thermostat installed? Are you clear on how to work it?
  13. In order to verify proper installation and operation, run the system through a complete cooling cycle.

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