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What to look for when purchasing an air conditioner.

When looking for a new air conditioner, there are a few things you should do before making the purchase. According to Consumer Reports, the first and most important thing is to find a trustworthy contractor. This is important for a few reasons.

1) The way an air conditioner is installed is going to be the biggest factor in how efficient and how long it will work. There are several brands but most of their components are made by the same manufacturers.

2) You want to make sure that this person is licensed and the warranties will all still be intact.

3) You want to make sure that they will be around to service your system after the sale.

4) Check to make sure that the contractor has both workman’s compensation and liability insurance. No insurance can cause problems if someone gets hurt or if there is damage to personal property. Remember, the unit is only as good as the contractor that installs it.

When talking to Heating and Air conditioning contractors, you will hear the terms Ton, BTU, & SEER.  First off, Tons are a way of telling the size of the air conditioner. A ton is approximately 1200 BTU’s. BTU stands for British Thermal Unit. It is the amount of energy it takes to raise the temperature of 1 pound of water, 1 degree. So when you hear about a “2 Ton” unit, it is about 24,000 BTU’s. SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. This is used to determine the efficiency of the air conditioner during a typical cooling season. The higher the SEER number, the more energy efficient the unit.

The contractor should first talk with you and find out if there are any problem areas of your home. They need to know if you have any hot or cold spots in the home. They also need to know if you have any issues with the humidity. This information will help them to properly design the right system for you.

Sizing the air conditioner for your home is a very important part of the process. The way most contractors size systems are going off of the square footage of the home. Consumer Reports and The US Department of Energy both talk extensively about sizing the unit properly. Consumer Reports actually says to “be leery of contractors who base size on square footage.” The US Department of Energy says that over half of the contractors still don’t size systems properly. The contractor should use a heat gain/ heat loss calculation. This is commonly called a “load calculation.” The load calculation will determine the number of BTU’s needed to properly cool your home. This is done by taking measurements of rooms, doors, & windows. It also takes into account, the height of the ceiling, the amount of insulation, and whether you have a basement, crawl space, or slab floor.

Getting the correct size is very important to get the most out of your air conditioner. A unit that is too small will struggle to get the home to the desired temperature. It will run almost all of the time. The common misconception is that bigger is better. This is also wrong. A unit that is too big will not run very long. This is called “short cycling.”  This results in the home having a lot of stratification or different areas of temperature. The longer a unit runs, the longer the air is moving in the home and also the more humidity is being absorbed out of the home. Studies have shown that an air conditioner is most inefficient when it first comes on. It takes a few minutes of running before it actually hits its most efficient point. When a unit “short cycles,” it shuts off right about the time that it is getting into its efficient range. Longer cooling cycles are the best for both efficiency and comfort.

There are also a few options to look at on the air conditioners. Technology has helped to make air conditioners perform better both in the cooling ability and the energy consumption. Air conditioners come with one of the following compressors; standard, high efficiency, or 2 speeds. The standard compressor is the one that has been around for a long time. It has one speed so it is either off or on. The next one is the high efficiency unit. It still has one speed like the standard, but it converts the incoming power from alternating current to direct current. Direct current operates at about 1/10th the power of alternating current. Therefore, the standard and high efficiency units operate about the same. The high efficiency unit just uses less electricity. Next we have the 2 speed unit. It also converts the power to direct current. It also has a low and high speed. The unit first comes on in low speed which is about 60% of the unit’s capacity. This is great for days when it is not extremely hot, but you still need the air on. In this case, the full capacity of the unit is not needed to properly cool the home. This also gives us a longer cooling cycle as we discussed above. When the outside temperature gets to the point where the unit cannot effectively cool on speed 1, it goes to speed 2. Speed 2 is operating at 100% of the unit’s capacity.

Finally, you need to also be aware of the warranties for the systems. Make sure that you know what the warranties are for both parts and labor. A lot of times, people are told that they have a 10 year warranty only to find out that the warranty was 10 years for parts and 1 or 2 years for labor. This is usually discovered when there is a warranty situation. Make sure to discuss with the contractor before hiring them.

These are all things to look for when purchasing an air conditioner for your home.

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