Best Central Heat Air Conditioning Units

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Tired of your window air conditioner? Here’s what you need to know about how central air conditioning systems work before you invest in whole-home cooling.

Best Central Heat Air Conditioning Units

Best Central Heat Air Conditioning Units

More than any other technology, air conditioning has changed the way we live and where we live. But in 1993, only 68 percent of U.S. homes had cooling devices such as window air conditioners or central air conditioning systems.

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At present, more than 87 percent of the houses are equipped in this way. Although the number of window air conditioners has generally decreased, these units still cool many homes, especially in the Northeast, and although they are noisy and intrusive, they have limited efficiency and cooling capacity. Not to mention fighting twice a year.

Best Central Heat Air Conditioning Units

In comparison, central air conditioning is a leap forward in comfort, peace of mind and most importantly, convenience. Properly sized and installed, a split system—with indoor and outdoor equipment—can cool the entire house well on the hottest days, and is much more efficient than a battalion of windows.

Read this guide to learn the factors that affect the performance of these systems. So, whether you’re considering installing six window air conditioners and installing central air conditioning from scratch, or investing in an HVAC upgrade, you’ll find plenty of useful information to help you make smart decisions.

Best Central Heat Air Conditioning Units

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You need a professional familiar with these complex systems. Get quotes from at least three local HVAC contractors with good reputations and stellar online reviews. The company you choose can keep your system well-maintained for years to come.

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Partnership with American air conditioning suppliers is a plus; ACCA certification for residential HVAC design is even better. Make sure you are satisfied with the equipment sold by the contractor; most are associated with certain manufacturers.

Best Central Heat Air Conditioning Units

Many variables affect system cost, including local climate, available insulation, labor costs, equipment size, and efficiency. Here’s the cost to upgrade a 3-ton residential system in Des Moines, Iowa, with Energy Star certification and a SEER 16 efficiency rating: $5,000, including installation.

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A typical hardware warranty lasts 10 years. If properly maintained, these systems should last approximately 15 years before needing replacement.

Best Central Heat Air Conditioning Units

If the system is close to 15 years old and an expensive component like the evaporator coil or compressor is failing, it may be time for new indoor and outdoor equipment. Changing one and not the other is likely to disrupt system performance.

Simply put, split cooling systems remove heat from the home by circulating refrigerant between a condenser and a heater

Best Central Heat Air Conditioning Units

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Supply ducts distribute the cold room from the heater to the rooms in the house. Return ducts return warm air to the return duct for filtering and cooling. When properly sized, ducts deliver conditioned air evenly and quietly.

Every room needs at least two of these networks: one connected to the supply network and one to the return. Ideally, the transmission registers should be at or near the ceiling, and the return registers should be at or near the floor.

Best Central Heat Air Conditioning Units

This closed unit has an expansion valve that converts the refrigerant into a vaporized cooling liquid. The fan pushes air over the heating coils to the refrigerant gas that returns to the condenser.

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This outdoor equipment takes warm gas refrigerant from the house, pressurizes it with a compressor and returns it to liquid as it cools the heating coils.

Best Central Heat Air Conditioning Units

An electronic commutator motor (ECM) heater increases speed gradually, reducing stress on the motor and using less power. In zoned systems, it reverses airflow to eliminate concerns about frozen coils or static pressure in ducts. When paired with an inverter-driven compressor (below), it helps balance temperature fluctuations and reduce humidity.

Until recently, all AC compressors ran at one speed, no matter how much speed was needed. The result: high operating costs, large temperature fluctuations, and stuffy air due to poor humidity.

Best Central Heat Air Conditioning Units

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Two-speed compressors did a better job, but the real breakthrough came with the advent of the inverter-driven compressor, which changes speed to meet variable cooling demand. The temperature is closer to thermostatic conditions and the system compresses more moisture from the air.

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“Beware of installers who judge the cooling capacity of your new system by a rule of thumb or ‘what you’ve done before.’ All they have to do is manually calculate the J-load, which determines the size of the system based on local climate, window orientation and insulation levels, among other factors. Without a J manual, you “You can end up with a larger, more expensive system that’s expensive to run, and often turns on and off, that doesn’t get the humidity down to a comfortable level.”

Best Central Heat Air Conditioning Units

Despite its name, a heat pump can cool and heat homes. The appliances are similar to a clean air conditioning system and work well even in summer. In winter, the refrigerant flow reverses and transfers the heat indoors. Heat pumps are best suited for hot summer and cool (not cold) climates. Highly efficient, they can dramatically reduce annual heating and cooling costs.

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The seasonal energy efficiency rating indicates how well the system converts electricity (Watts) into cooling (Btus) during a typical cooling season. The higher the number, the better the performance. Blocks sold in northern states have a minimum of 13 SEER; in the southern states, 14. The current best SEER for the split system is 26.

Best Central Heat Air Conditioning Units

The energy efficiency ratio is the amount of cooling the system delivers per watt, minus the seasonal average. Minimum EER for units 12.2 to 3.5 tons or smaller in hot, dry climates.

Detects equipment with a SEER rating of 15 or higher. This designation is often required to qualify for tax and utility deductions.

Best Central Heat Air Conditioning Units

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Measures the cooling capacity of a system: the number of Btus (12,000) emitted per hour to melt one ton of ice in one day. Most residential units are valued at 3 tons.

The minimum efficiency reading evaluates how effectively the filter traps dust, germs, and odors. The higher the number, the more airborne particles the filter can remove.

Best Central Heat Air Conditioning Units

Zoned systems direct cool air to individual rooms and floors, offering greater comfort and efficiency than a single zone system can provide.

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In most homes, a single thermostat controls the temperature in the home. But such single-zone systems, as they are called, cannot respond if remote rooms are hot, cold, or idle. These problems can be corrected by creating separate zones, where additional thermostats work with mechanical dampers to direct the air to where it is most needed.

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Best Central Heat Air Conditioning Units

Done right, zoning can provide unparalleled comfort in any room and can reduce energy bills by up to 30 percent. Done wrong, it can lead to whistle registers, frozen evaporator coils, reduced equipment life, and power failure. Using special equipment like the one below can help avoid these problems.

At the thermostat’s command, the engine opens and closes a metal flap to control how much air enters the zone. A central hub monitors airflow throughout the system to prevent static pressure.

Best Central Heat Air Conditioning Units

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This battery-powered register opens and closes in response to smartphone-enabled sensors that set the temperature in each room. Sensors and registers work together to maintain optimal airflow in the system.

Programmable thermostats automatically raise or lower the temperature at set times. A drop of 10 degrees in 8 hours can achieve savings of up to 10 percent. Good for households with predictable schedules, but many don’t bother with programming them.

Best Central Heat Air Conditioning Units

Thanks to workplace sensors and geofencing features that detect our presence, these units automatically adjust the temperature, saving up to 15 percent in cooling. They are smartphone-enabled so you can monitor them remotely.

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They have many of the features of a smart thermostat, but these household devices also communicate with company equipment for tasks like dehumidification, air quality and system efficiency, which simple smart statistics cannot do.

Best Central Heat Air Conditioning Units

Adding an air conditioner to a home that already has ductwork is relatively easy. But when you need new air ducts, you have three types to choose from.

Disadvantages: Requires internal coating to prevent fiberglass parts from loosening during cleaning or when fasteners break. However, liners trap dust, allowing germs and moisture to penetrate the fiberglass. Lower metal costs than seamless ductwork.

Best Central Heat Air Conditioning Units

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This larger version of the dryer duct has a vinyl skin supported by a spiral wire. Available in 25 foot lengths.

History: Bends easily. Available with insulation up to P-8. Single Generations

Best Central Heat Air Conditioning Units

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