06-28-2013 03:35 PM
By Gina Perry
Consider this: the average American buys a new car every six to eight years, but most residential air conditioners are replaced only every 10 to 15 years. Think of all the research that people do when they’re buying a new car. They comb the Internet for things like safety ratings, fuel efficiency, consumer and third-party reviews, and more.
Your home’s air conditioner will likely last almost twice as long as your car. And while most people only drive an hour or two each day, your air conditioner runs 24/7 during the summer months to keep your entire family comfortable.
To ensure that you choose the best cooling system for your needs, there are several important things to consider:
- Energy Efficiency: The efficiency of an air conditioner is defined as Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER). The higher the SEER, the more energy efficient it is and the more money you can save on your electric bills. The minimum efficiency required by code is 13 SEER and the highest efficiency units available are 21 SEER. Where you live as well as how much you use your air conditioner will determine the amount of money you can save when choosing high efficiency air conditioners. Many utilities offer rebates for SEER ratings of 14.5 or higher and federal tax credits are available for systems with SEER ratings of 16 or higher.
- Consider the Entire System: Today’s advanced systems are designed to work together so even if it’s just your AC that you need to replace, you may want to also consider replacing your furnace or indoor air handler. By opting for a new, higher efficiency indoor unit, you can further reduce your energy costs, improve your comfort year ‘round and get a quieter system. In fact, if you choose a Variable Speed furnace or air handler, it will also increase your cooling efficiency by half (0.5) SEER, in addition to helping to keep the temperature in your home more consistent.
- Ductwork Matters: If you upgrade to a more efficient system, you should also make sure that your ductwork is properly sealed and insulated. Leaky or poorly insulated ductwork can lead to hot and cold spots in your home, insufficient airflow and a significant loss in efficiency (in other words, a lot of wasted money on utility costs). Have a professional check and repair any leaky spots in your ductwork. According to ENERGY STAR®, sealing and insulating ducts can improve the efficiency of your HVAC system by as much as 20 percent.
- Size Matters: With air conditioning, some think bigger is better however, the right size air conditioner will ensure that it will run efficiently, consistently and have as long a life as possible. An oversized AC will continually cycle on and off leading to temperature fluctuations, humidity issues, higher energy bills and a shorter life. An undersized unit will have issues maintaining the right temperature and can also lead to humidity issues. In order to determine the right size air conditioner for your home, your contractor will need to do a “load calculation”, also known as a “heat loss, heat gain”. Most do this using a simple computer program that takes into account things like insulation, windows, square footage, how much sun/shade your home gets, etc. You should never determine the size of a new air conditioner based on the size of your current one or solely on your home’s square footage.
- Check for Special Offers:. Rebates, financing and other incentives can help offset the initial cost of a new air conditioner, so it pays to know about these. Today, there is a federal tax credit of up to $300 available through the end of 2013 when you purchase a high-efficiency air conditioner or electric heat pump (and up to $500 if you replace your furnace as well). Many electric utilities also offer local rebates for high efficiency systems. Check with your utility company or reference a list of rebates available in your area. Here at Home Depot, we also offer 12 months no-interest special financing, plus check other special financing offers throughout the year.
- Hire a Quality, Reputable Company: Who installs your system is just as important as the system you choose so make sure you do your research and hire a contractor with all the appropriate licenses, certifications, experience and most importantly who stands behind their work. Here at the Home Depot, our contractors are handpicked and undergo a thorough background-screening process. We also ensure that they are properly licensed, insured and trained to install your new system. Most importantly, all our work is 100% backed by the Home Depot. Schedule your in-home HVAC consultation with Home Depot.
- What’s the Word on the Street?: A quick Internet search can yield all kinds of feedback about various HVAC system, brands and contractors. With so much information out there, it can be overwhelming to sift through what’s valuable and what’s not. Our Home Depot website offers reviews from other HVAC customers in an easily digestible format. Consumers rate their experience on Product Quality, Product Installation and Customer Service, and we show the feedback in an easy-to-read graph, as well as some quotes.
While researching an A/C system may not be as exciting as, say, test-driving a new sports car, it is one of the most significant investments you’ll make as a homeowner. Be sure you take the time to carefully plan for your next system purchase. It will impact your family’s comfort, health and energy costs for the next 10-15 years. Good luck and stay cool!