So, you’re getting ready to replace your old central air conditioner. But you don’t know a thing about shopping for a new one or how much it costs.
Well, bad news: There are several factors that affect the price of a central air conditioner, so it can get confusing.
But, hey, good news: we wrote this article so you’ll have a better idea of what those factors are and how they affect the price of a central air conditioner.
We’ve organized this article’s sections into those important factors/terms you need to know.
Each section will:
- Briefly define the factor/important term
- Explain it
- Give you a bottom line summary of what you need to know
Type of air conditioner= Straight cool or air source heat pump
First, you’ll want to know what type of central air conditioner you want. The two main types are:
- Straight cool (just cools your home)
- Heat pump (an AC that can both cool and heat your home)
For homeowners in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area, an air source heat pump will normally be paired with a furnace in what’s called a “dual fuel system.”
The reason? Well, an air source heat pump can heat your home more efficiently than a furnace... until the weather get below 40 degrees. Then the heat pump’s inside unit switches to inefficient electric resistance coils to heat the home. So using a backup furnace instead of the electric coil is a more cost-efficient option.
Bottom line: Heat pumps paired with a furnace cost more than a straight cool air conditioner paired with a furnace. But the heat pump option can save you more in the long run.
SEER=Energy efficiency rating
Want lower utility bills in the summer? Seriously look at SEER (Seasonal Energy efficiency Ratio). The SEER rating tell you how energy efficient the air conditioner is. It ranges from 13 to 21 and the higher the SEER rating, the more energy efficient the AC. (Think of it like MPG with cars).
But a higher SEER rating also means the AC is more expensive.
Compare the utility savings between different SEER ratings using these SEER savings calculator tools:
Bottom line: Higher SEER rating=Lower utility bills during hotter months. But the upfront cost is greater.
Tons=Size of the air conditioner
Tons (which ranges from 1.5 to 5) refers to the air conditioner’s ability to remove heat from your home. Unlike SEER, bigger isn’t better. The tonnage your air conditioner should be depends on several factors about your home (like the square footage and number of windows).
Lucky for you, you don’t have to figure it out. Have a professional air conditioner installer perform a “Manual J Residential Load Calculation” (it’s complicated) to figure out what size you need.
Bottom line: Bigger isn’t better. Rely on a professional to find out the size of the air conditioner for you.
Two-stage cooling=Has low and high cooling settings
A two-stage air conditioner has a two-stage compressor, allowing the air conditioner to, like a fan, work at different cooling settings depending on the weather:
- High setting during hotter weather
- Low setting during milder weather
And there’s no need to change the settings manually, the AC detects the inside temperature and automatically switches between high and low as needed.
Benefits of two-stage air conditioners include:
- Lowers utility bills
- Pulls out more humidity from your home
- Distributes cooled air more evenly throughout your home
Bottom line: Two-stage air conditioners cost more but keep your family more comfortable.
Matched system= Replacing both the inside and outside AC units
The typical central air conditioner is a split system with two units:
- Inside (evaporator) unit
- Outside (condenser) unit
Some homeowners only replace one of these units for multiple reasons like:
- “Only one unit is broken, so why replace both?”
- “Replacing both units is expensive!”
However, seriously consider replacing both so you’ll have a “matched system,” meaning you’ll have an outside and inside unit that are made for each other.
An unmatched system will cause costly problems for you, including:
- Decreased energy efficiency of the new unit
- Decreased lifespan of the new unit
- Premature breakdowns
- Possibility of no warranty
- Extra installation costs for when you eventually replace the other unit
- Cooling system must use old R-22 refrigerant, which is expensive and will be phased out by 2020)
Bottom line: If you can afford it, replace both the inside and outside unit. You’ll save $100s in the long run.