Buying a central heating and air system is an investment that will pay for itself for years to come. That’s why it is important to make sure you research and choose the best possible unit for your home and your budget. Shopping for a central heating and air system can be highly overwhelming, so we’ve created this guide to make the research a bit easier for you.
If your home has baseboard heating, there is likely no ductwork in the home. This means installing a conventional central heating and air system will be more expensive as the ductwork would need to be installed prior to installing the system. If this is the case, you can either add the cost of the ductwork to the installation, or you can opt for ductless system to handle your cooling needs alongside the baseboard heat. These systems are comparably priced, and mount on the wall to blow cold air into the room.
Having the right size unit for your home is key. If it is too small, you won’t get the right heating and cooling power to keep your home comfortable. If your system is too large, you’ll be wasting energy, and paying for it on your utility bills.
Central air conditioning units are measured in tons of refrigeration power. In terms of British Thermal Units, or BTU, like you’d find for a window unit, one ton is equal to 12,000 BTU. The basic rule of thumb is a half ton of power for every 500 square feet. For a 1,500 square foot home, you’d need a 2.5 ton unit. If you have a 2,000 square foot home, you’d need a 3 ton unit, and so on. If you plan on adding an addition to your home at any point in the future, purchase a unit that’s slightly larger than what you need, to accommodate for the heating and cooling power you will need in the future.
Unit efficiency is a primary concern for shoppers, because they want to conserve as much energy as possible to keep the monthly utility bills as low as possible. The good news is, today’s central heating and air units are more efficient than ever – and efficiency continues to improve with each model year.
Unit efficiency is measured in Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, known as SEER. The higher the number, the less energy required to produce the heating or cooling needed to keep your home comfortable. A 20 SEER unit will use 50% less energy than a 10 SEER, and 25% less than a 15 SEER model.
In accordance with the law, central air systems are required to be at least 13 SEER. The majority of units range from 14 to 17 SEER, but the most efficient models are rated in the mid-20s. To receive an Energy Star rating, a unit only needs to be 14.5 SEER, so relying on the Energy Star label alone is not enough to make sure you’re reducing your energy consumption as much as you possibly can.
The key to making sure you choose the best unit in terms of efficiency lies in your climate. The warmer your climate, the more efficient you need your A/C to be. If you’re trying to use less energy, regardless of climate, you’ll still need an incredibly efficient unit, but it is not necessarily a cost efficient choice to purchase a highly efficient model when you live in a colder climate. Depending on your use, it could take 7 to 10 years of reduced energy bills to cover the difference in what you spent on the unit. On the other hand, living in a warmer climate could save you hundreds, possibly thousands, on energy bills over the life of the unit.
Heating and Cooling Performance
Single stage models are the least expensive, and range between 13 and 16 SEER. Because the compressors are only one speed, they run at full capacity all the time. You will pay less for the unit itself, but you may notice a temperature fluctuation during and between cycles because they are not precise.
Two stage models are a little more expensive because they have compressors that run at 65% capacity and full capacity. When maintaining temperature, they run on low. There is a much less noticeable temperature fluctuation. Longer cycles will remove more humidity from the home, as well. These units range from 16 to 20 SEER.
A modulating air condition is also known as variable-capacity. Compressors change output during the cycle, which means it will only work as hard as it needs to – to eliminate temperature fluctuation, and better control humidity. These produce the best climate control, and have a SEER rating of 20 or higher. As such, these are the most expensive units.
Tips for Choosing Your Next Unit
It is better to get a more efficient than you need, than to risk getting one that is not efficient enough for the climate you live in. If you are making the choice based on trying to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle, choose the most efficient model you can afford. If you are wavering on your decision, go with the more efficient model, even if it means you have to save a bit longer before you can make the final purchase.
Even if you do not need the high energy efficiency of a two-stage unit, you may want to consider it for your home simply to provide additional comfort. Because they are more efficient at removing humidity and have much less noticeable temperature fluctuations, they are a good choice regardless of the energy efficiency you’re looking for.
When you’ve finally selected the unit you want to install in your home, get multiple quotes for the installation. Choose the one that best aligns with your budget, but make sure you are getting quality work in the process. Research companies in your area before making the final choice.