A central air conditioner or heat pump will keep you cool, on average, for about 16 years. Here are some tips to consider before purchasing a new one:
Installation is critical. No matter how well your new heating and air system is made, it won’t perform well without a quality installation. Hire a certified contractor who is going to address your ductwork and other home needs in addition to new cooling equipment. A high-quality installation will cost more upfront, but it will save you in service costs and headaches down the road.
Choose R-410A. Older air conditioners and heat pumps use a refrigerant called R-22. In 2010, the new standard refrigerant became R-410A - a non-ozone-depleting, more environmentally friendly refrigerant. If you currently have an R-22 system, choosing a new one with R-410A may mean some extra parts and labor to replace the line set and indoor coil. But with R-410A, you won’t have to worry about a dwindling supply of R-22, and you will be getting the maximum long-term efficiency out of your new system.
The higher the SEER, the better. Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) is a measurement of the efficiency of your cooling system over an entire season. The higher the SEER, the higher the efficiency. Before 2006, most cooling systems were rated 8 - 10 SEER. In 2006, the minimum efficiency became 13 SEER. Today, top-end air conditioners such as the Maytag® iQ Drive® can be as high as 25.5 SEER. A system up to 25.5-SEER is 155% more efficient than a 10-SEER system; a 16-SEER system is 60% more efficient than a 10-SEER system.
Heat pumps are hot. Just like an air conditioner, a heat pump cools your home in the summer. But in the early spring and fall, it can also provide low-cost electric heat. Many homeowners choose a central heat pump instead of an air conditioner, and then pair that heat pump with a gas furnace inside. This is called a dual-fuel system, and it can significantly reduce your utility bills.
With dual fuel, you heat with electricity when the weather is mild and with gas when the temperatures get colder - so you are always using the most cost-effective fuel source to heat your home. If you have a package system (the entire system sits outside the home), there are also dual-fuel options that combine electric heat pump and gas heat technology.
Replace both components of your air conditioning system. A split-system air conditioner has two components - the outdoor unit and the indoor section (a coil and either a furnace or air handler). Some contractors may try to cut costs by replacing only the outdoor section. But in order for your system to achieve the efficiency you’re paying for, it needs to be matched with the correct indoor coil. Reusing previous indoor components can reduce the performance of your air conditioner (for instance, you’ll only get 10 SEER when you’re paying for a 13-SEER system) and can void the manufacturer’s warranty.
Know what you’ve got. There are two types of heating and air systems: A "split system" and a "package" system.
A split system includes an outdoor section and an indoor section, and is the most common type of heating and air system. In the central United States and Canada, the indoor section is the coil that sits on top of your furnace. Cool air is distributed throughout the home by the furnace blower. In very hot southern regions, the indoor section is typically an electric furnace or an air handler. This product has the blower and coil inside one cabinet.
If you do not have an indoor section, you most likely have a "package" air conditioner, heat pump or gas/electric system. A package unit contains the blower and coil components all within the outdoor section and may even provide heat from natural gas or an electric strip. Package systems are not common and only found in select regions.
Invest in comfort. Many higher-efficiency air conditioning and heat pump systems include features that will improve your home’s comfort. Two-stage systems reduce hot and cold spots by running at both a high and low stage, so they are quieter and provide a better mix of air throughout the home. Noise can be softened by swept-wing fan blades and compressor sound blankets. Variable-speed or modulating air conditioners will ramp up to full speed through several levels, providing the quietest performance and best mix of air.