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Choosing the Right System for Your Home

Looking at new heating and cooling equipment can be very confusing. There are so many options to choose from and so many variables to consider. Beware of contractors that may try to sell you more capacity than you need. Even though more capacity may sound like a good thing, a system that's too big for your home will heat or cool too quickly. This short cycling can lead to wear and tear, inadequate dehumidification and a reduced product life.

Choosing the right equipment depends on several key variables: First of all, the number of heating and cooling hours required. This will vary according to the area of the country where you live. The size and thermal efficiency of your home will also need to be taken into consideration. Your dealer will take into account the age of your house, how it faces the sun, your floor plan, the insulation of your home and other variables before making a recommendation. The cost of fuel in your area will also factor into your dealer's recommendation.

Repair or Replace

When an older unit breaks down, the decision to replace or repair the unit can be difficult. There are many factors to consider. Your technician should present you with options and explain the advantages and disadvantages of each. Here are some of the things to consider before you make a decision.

First of all, what is the cost of repair vs. replacement? In addition, what is the age and efficiency of the old unit vs. the efficiency of a new unit? Your dealer can help you calculate your approximate energy savings based on your current energy costs.

Warranty coverage should be a factor in your decision. You'll also want to consider how long you plan to stay in your present home. Careful consideration of all these factors can help you come to the best decision.

What consumers should know before they install a central cooling system.

One of the most expensive appliances you’ll purchase for a home is a central cooling system (only to be rivaled by the heating system). Finding the right central cooling system for your home is largely dependent on the contractor you choose.

The beauty of a central air conditioning system is that it can distribute cool air through the whole house as opposed to window units which are generally designed to cool a single room. Despite the larger initial cost, a central cooling system can still save you money by reducing your monthly utility bill. If new or modified ductwork is required, then your initial investment will rise. Central air conditioning units also vary in size and efficiency. A common, costly error is to install an oversized unit in your home.

Choosing the right unit for your home will largely depend on the contractor you choose because he will determine the capacity required. A good contractor will estimate the cooling loads and duct requirements by collecting detailed information in your home and using industry calculations to determine the correct size. (For more information on how to select a contractor, including what questions to ask him, see the article on choosing the right contractor.)

There are different models, sizes and efficiencies available on the market. The type of unit, for example, a split system versus a single-packaged unit, may depend on the region of the country you live in and the type of home you live in (e.g., basement house, slab foundation, crawl space, etc). Regardless of the type of central air conditioner you install, the size and efficiency can have the most impact on your costs.

Air conditioner sizes, also referred to as cooling capacities, are measured in British thermal units per hour (Btuh). One ton is equal to 12,000 btuhs. A unit that has too little capacity may not keep the whole house cold, while an oversized unit will cost more and be more expensive to run.

A unit’s energy consumption is rated in SEER (seasonal energy-efficiency rating). The higher the SEER rating the less energy required to run the unit. The Department of Energy standards are currently a minimum of 13 SEER for central air conditioning units. The ratings can range from 13 to 18 SEER. Units with a 13 SEER rating are typically installed in new homes and as replacement models. According to a survey of over 500 contractors, a rating from 14 to 16 are mostly recommended because they are the least expensive to own overall and require the least repairs. While a 13 SEER unit initially costs less (maybe by a few hundred dollars) your monthly electric bill will be on the average $5 more compared to that of a 14 SEER unit. (Higher savings occur in the south, while northern regions may have little savings.) Additionally, some utility companies offer rebate programs to those with higher efficiency units installed.

The most expensive part of an air conditioner to replace is the compressor. Air conditioners typically feature a scroll or reciprocating compressor, depending on the unit size and efficiency. Check to see if the compressor has an additional warranty (e.g. 10 year compressor warranty), separate from the standard cooling system warranty.

Finally, if you are gone during long periods of the day (or night) invest in a programmable thermostat. With a programmable thermostat, your cooling system can use less energy while you're gone and then adjust itself so the house temperature is comfortable when you arrive.

And if you are wondering whether you should turn off the air conditioner so you can open a window to enjoy a break in the warm weather, here is some advice: do not continually turn on and off your air conditioner to adjust to the changing warm weather patterns outside. If you want to open a window to get some fresh air, it is better to leave your air conditioner on rather than turning it off. If the inside of the house gets hot and you have to turn the air conditioner back on then your air conditioner has to work harder to cool down your house and everything in it.

What over 500 surveyed contractors say...

A top leading consumer magazine recently surveyed over 500 contractors and reported the following tips on purchasing a central air-cooling system.


Choose the right-sized air conditioning system. If it is too small, then it won't cool properly; if it is too large, then it won't dehumidify properly.


Invest in a 13 - 14 SEER model. 13 -14 SEER are recommended for their combined performance in increased energy efficiency and product reliability.


Beware of replacing only one of the two main components if shopping for a replacement system. Replacing only the indoor or the outdoor unit of a system may result in a mismatch that compromises efficiency. Contractors also said these systems are more repair-prone than systems where the two units have been bought and installed together.


Look for an experienced contractor. One-fifth of the contractors surveyed said the primary reason for their service calls was improper application or incorrect installation.


Maintain your system properly. At least 40 percent of surveyed contractors said that service calls were primarily the result of improper maintenance.


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Advanced Heating & Cooling Buying Tips

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