Whether you’re building your dream home or replacing an air conditioner that’s ready to retire, selecting the right system for your home can be a tricky endeavor. Professionals sometimes rattle off statistics and features that make little sense to the average homeowner. Before long, you may start to feel bogged down in the details of choosing the right system for your home without even knowing the best place to begin.
It’s essential to understand all of the features and factors that should be considered before making such a large investment. The average HVAC system tends to last between ten and twenty years, which means that you could be stuck with your decision for decades to come. During that time, you want your home to be cool and comfortable throughout the summertime. A lot of factors have to be considered in order to make that a reality for your family.
Researching the various manufacturers and models available on today’s market is an important aspect of being an informed consumer. However, you should never underestimate the value of a professional opinion on what may be right for your home.
Homeowners should do everything possible to familiarize themselves with the content of this guide for selecting the right air conditioner system for their home. In addition, they should also find and hire a qualified professional in their area to give an expert opinion on what may be necessary. Experience gives professionals a better handle on the practical ways that all of these features may benefit you as a homeowner.
If you’re ready to start making a wise investment on your next air conditioning system, be sure to read through this guide in order to get a basic foundation for your decision making.
Does Size Really Matter?
Most homeowners have been indoctrinated to believe that bigger is always better, but does that philosophy really apply to the size of your air conditioner? We’re tempted to believe that our home will get cool and stay cool only if we purchase the largest and most powerful air conditioning unit that money can buy. Unfortunately, this tactic may not necessarily have the best outcome for your wallet or for your home.
There’s a reason why manufacturers of HVAC systems created different sizes for their units. Homeowners would do well to pay more attention to the dangers of purchasing a unit that isn’t the proper size for their home.
Understanding why a too-small air conditioner isn’t good for the home is usually the easiest place to start when explaining why size matters. A smaller unit typically comes with a smaller price tag, which can be great for those who are on a tight budget. Unfortunately, the cost savings may be eaten up in the extra electricity that running a small air conditioner may require for your home.
The implication of purchasing a unit that’s too small is probably obvious to most homeowners. If there isn’t enough power available from the machine, your home isn’t going to cool down properly. As a result, the unit is going to run overtime attempting to make your interior temperature match the number set on your thermostat. The extra electricity will cost you on a monthly basis, no matter how much you may have saved on the unit itself.
Running a unit that hard for an extended period of time is likely to cause breakdown much faster as well. The air conditioner will hardly ever receive a reprieve from its constant workload, burning out the necessary parts within the air conditioner much faster than an appropriately-sized unit.
An air conditioner that is far too big for your home can also cost you in the long run.
You have the immediate expense of purchasing a larger and more powerful unit, which is bound to have a higher price tag than smaller versions. Even the installation required for a bigger air conditioner is likely to cost more than a smaller one. However, it’s also going to cost you on a monthly basis when your electric bill comes in the mail.
Ordinarily, your air conditioner is designed to run through a specific cycle that cools down your walls, the belongings in your home, and the air within the room. While it does this, it consistently sucks the humidity out of the air so that your home feels light and cool no matter how high the temperature may be inside or outside.
A system that has more power than necessary for your home will begin to run a cycle and then shut off again quickly. It pushes too much airflow into your home and instantly chills the air inside of each room to reach your optimal temperature. It may sound like a good thing at first, but it’s anything but beneficial for your home and your electric bill.
Because the unit turns on and off rapidly, it never really takes the time to thoroughly cool every part of your home from the walls to the furniture. Heat can seep in from these pathways quickly and warm up the cold air that was just pumped into the home. Suddenly, the air temperature begins to rise above the number set on the thermostat and the air conditioner kicks on once more.
This cycle is repeated over and over again throughout the day, but the air conditioner never truly cools down the home in a way that would make the temperature sustainable. You may not hear the same consistent hum that you would associate with an air conditioner that’s too small. Unfortunately, you will hear the unit kick on multiple times each day. This on-again-off-again pattern uses up vast amounts of electricity that can cost you even more in the long run.
In short, the size of your air conditioner makes a huge difference in what your electric bill could be for the foreseeable future. Units that are both too small and too big will lead to huge jumps in your electric bill without even making your home feel as comfortable as you desire.
How are Air Conditioners Measured?
First, it may be important to cover why the details of your home are really necessary to determine the proper unit. Contrary to what many believe, not all HVAC systems are designed equally. They have different energy requirements and sizes that are specifically engineered to suit a wide variety of home types. Manufacturers are aware that not all home are created equal so their HVAC systems should reflect those differences.
Consider it in a more realistic manner. It’s unlikely that a stick-built home with six bedrooms and 4,000 square feet is likely to need the same amount of energy to maintain a consistent temperature as a two-bedroom ranch style condo. The size of your air conditioner is directly related to how well the unit can cool down your particular home.
The power of a unit makes all the difference between a house that feels humid and warm compared to one that feels chilled and refreshing.
The units used to measure air conditioners and furnaces are known as either tons or BTUs. These two numbers correspond to one another, so professionals can quickly tell the difference between sizes of a particular model or unit.
A BTU is also referred to as a British Thermal Unit and it demonstrates the amount of energy that would be required to change one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit, either by making it warmer or making it colder. The measurement is the same regardless of which direction the temperature change needs to indicate.
A ton doesn’t actually refer to the weight of the unit, though they certainly are heavy. This measurement is used to notate that the unit is capable of cooling 12,000 BTUs in just one hour.
These two numbers are the primary factors that professionals will consider when measuring the size of your home for a new unit or system. Residential homes typically have units that measure anywhere from one to five tons, available in half-ton increments in between. Higher tonnage is available for commercial units that may be necessary to cool larger office spaces or retail locations.
Deciding What Size is Right for Your Home
Now that you have a basic understanding of how the units will be measured, it’s time to take a much closer look at how HVAC professionals determine the appropriate size for your home. You won’t want to accept the opinion of a professional that claims there is a one-size-fits-all approach for an air conditioning system. Rather, you want someone who can thoughtfully consider and measure the various aspects of your home.
You will first need to consider some of the basic factors that went into or will go into the construction of your home. A new construction home makes this process a little easier than it will be with an older home. Specifications for the home standards should all be current and easily accessible on a home that is still in the building stages.
An older home may require more detective work in order to find out some of the finer details. This is where professional assistance can definitely be a huge asset to homeowners who are struggling to make sense of the size of their unit.
For most measurements, you will need to have the square footage of your home at the bare minimum. Measure each room individually and add the square footage up in order to determine the overall size of your home. Many homeowners may be able to find this information quickly from a snapshot of your floor plan or on popular real estate websites such as Zillow or Trulia.
The size of your home is perhaps the largest factor in determining the size of the unit necessary for your home. The square footage should be multiplied by five in order to get a baseline for the number of BTUs necessary to cool your home appropriately.
Of course, this simple calculation doesn’t give you the most accurate solution on what the appropriate size unit will be for your home.
You also have to consider the number of people who live inside the home. Each person accounts for an additional 400 to 600 BTUs in order to keep your living spaces comfortable. A large family in a single-story home with 1,800 square feet will require more power to keep their rooms cool than a single individual in the same amount of space.
This formula doesn’t even begin to touch on the real calculation that most HVAC professionals will use to calculate the size of a new air conditioner. Most will use a far more detailed measurement known as the Manual J calculation (though some may use a Manual S, T, or D calculation instead).
This formula was originally designed by the Air Conditioning Contractors or America (ACCA) to help contractors place units that were the appropriate size. They wanted to save homeowners on the expense of purchasing bulky units that were oversized for their homes, as well as help them to maintain more comfortable living quarters.
The Manual J HVAC load calculation takes a wide variety of factors into account:
- Square footage of the home
- Ceiling height
- Number of occupants
- Insulation type
- Window types
- Length of the air ducts in the home
- Location of the home and average temperatures for the area
- Orientation of the home toward the sun
- Lights and appliances in the home
- Surfaces that gain and lose heat such as exterior walls
Adding up all of these pieces to determine the overall BTUs or tons required for your air conditioning unit requires a trained professional. To get a better understanding of just how the formula works and the work that goes into the calculation, you can watch the instructional video available from the ACCA. The spreadsheet that accompanies the calculation is also available for download on their website.
Finding an Energy Efficient Air Conditioner
Are you interested in saving money on your cooling bill every month? It isn’t hard to figure out that the amount of electricity used by your air conditioner is a major determining factor for how high your cost to maintain the unit will be. Many homeowners mistakenly believe that purchasing the appropriate size for their air conditioner automatically means that it must be energy efficient.
There is more to selecting the right air conditioner than simply looking at its overall size. The tons or BTUs that a potential air conditioner can handle is a separate figure from its overall energy efficiency. In order to calculate how efficient an air conditioner is, you will want to look for the seasonal energy efficiency ratio, most often noted as SEER.
SEER is the measurement of a unit’s power to cool down the home compared to the amount of energy provided to it. In essence, it measures just how proficient your air conditioner is at cooling down your home whenever it kicks on.
You’ve likely noticed these signs around many home improvement stores and appliance shops if you’ve done any shopping lately. The bright yellow signs attached that advertise themselves as Energy Guides typically have a SEER rating prominently displayed. Finding out what your air conditioner rates according to SEER isn’t difficult, but you have to understand what it ultimately means.
New units will have mandatory minimums imposed by federal regulations, though the specific number may vary based on your state. The minimum SEER for an air conditioning unit is typically either thirteen or fourteen. This may seem like a low number but bear in mind that the scale only reaches to about 25 for average air conditioners at this time.
The higher the SEER rating, the more energy efficient the unit is considered to be.
Don’t be fooled by a high number. The SEER score advertised is the number that the manufacturer considers to be the best possible representation of the unit. An air conditioner that has the capability of running with a SEER rating in the low twenties may not be quite so energy efficient if it isn’t the correct size for your home.
Everything plays together to make the most energy efficient air conditioner for your specific home, which is why it’s so important to enlist the help of a professional.
Imagine your SEER score in a slightly different way. Consider how your grocery bill can vary depending on the content of your cart. Purchasing ordinary produce from a chain grocery store likely has a significant cost saving compared to purchasing the organic counterparts from a health food store. At the end of the day, you have the same items in your kitchen but you paid drastically different prices.
Similarly, your air conditioner is still providing cold air to your home during the warm days of spring and summer. You’re seeing the same end result. The SEER rating is designed to help you estimate whether you are paying a fair price for the electricity used to do so or paying an exorbitant rate for that same result.
You’ll see the maximum amount that you can save via the SEER rating, but you may not experience those same savings every month if the unit is running more than it should.
In order to get a better idea of what kind of cost savings an energy efficient appliance can offer you, the United States Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy assembled a list of calculators. You can view the full list of interactive calculators available from ENERGY STAR on their website.
Keep in mind that an air conditioner that boasts better energy efficiency and a higher SEER rating is likely to be more expensive. You’ll have to consider whether or not you will really use the unit often enough to justify the price difference.
Homeowners frequently weigh their usage of the air conditioning unit throughout the year to determine if the monthly savings will validate their initial investment in the unit. The location of the home is usually the biggest factor in this mental equation.
Do you live somewhere where the air conditioner will be running every day of the year at maximum capacity, such as Texas or Arizona? If so, then a more energy efficient unit may produce more savings for you over the lifespan of your HVAC system. On the other hand, homeowners located in colder regions who only use it a few weeks out of the year may not see enough savings to balance out the bigger price tag.
This will be a highly personal decision based on how frequently you run your system and the temperature you prefer to set your home to via the thermostat. A qualified HVAC professional should be able to help you consider where you can look for potential savings on an energy efficient unit without spending unnecessarily.
How Can a Modulated System Help Save Money?
Buzzwords abound in most industries and the HVAC industry is really no different. When your technician is giving you advice about what type of system suits your needs the best, you may hear them refer to a modulated air conditioner. Sometimes also referred to as variable speed models, this simple option can save you money on a monthly basis and make your home more comfortable.
Single speed air conditioners only have one setting for their blowers. Cold air is forced into the home when the temperature dips too low, but it can only account for one particular speed. Regardless of how much the house needs to be cooled down, the air conditioner continues to function at the same level. When it needs only a small amount of attention to drop the temperature back where it needs to be, the unit may start and stop rapidly in an attempt to make your home cooler.
A variable speed or modulated air conditioner works to make your home more comfortable for longer periods of time.
The compressors in the air conditioner have multiple settings to accommodate the specific load that your home requires at that moment. It makes the tonnage of your unit scalable so you’re not using more power than is necessary at any given time.
Homeowners may hear the gentle hum of their air conditioners more frequently with a variable speed unit, but their electric bill will be lower overall. The unit is functioning at a lower capacity which takes up less electricity at a time.
Your home really does benefit from having the air conditioner run at a lower capacity for longer periods of time. As the unit runs, it is thoroughly cooling down the entire building structure for a cool interior that lasts longer throughout the day. More than that, it is constantly able to pull humidity from the air.
The humidity, or moisture in the air, is a large factor in the amount of heat that you actually feel. When humidity is high, you’re likely to feel hotter due to the excess moisture in the air. An air conditioner that constantly pulls the humidity out of your home is likely to make you feel cooler, even if the temperature hasn’t really changed.
A variation on a modulated air conditioner is known as the two-speed compressor. Compared to the variable speed models that have several different settings available, a two-speed air conditioner has just those two settings. If there isn’t much variation in the temperatures in your area, you may be able to use just a two-speed model to help create savings on your electric bill.
The lowest setting works in much the same way as the variable speed setting. It runs for longer periods of time to more effectively cool the home and pull humidity from the air. When the lower speed is no longer effective at maintaining the optimal temperature within the home, it kicks into the higher speed to help catch up.
Whether you select a two-speed system or a variable speed system, you’re more likely to see a reduction of your electric bill compared to a single speed system. Most homeowners and professional HVAC technicians would agree that it’s worth the investment in one of these types of units that can make your home feel more comfortable at a lower price per month.
Consider the Warranty
Warranty is one of the other big issues that should concern homeowners who are shopping for the best potential air conditioner. While not a deciding factor in and of itself, a longer warranty certainly offers some protection to you and to your home in the event that your unit malfunctions.
A manufacturer’s warranty is only available to cover the parts that actually comprise the air conditioner itself. A limited warranty likely applies to the smaller moving parts while an extended warranty may apply to the major (and more expensive) parts like the compressor. The longer the warranty extends for, the more protection that you will have as a homeowner.
Keep in mind that the longest warranties are typically available on the most expensive models. This is a way for the company to protect their interests and their profits in the manufacturing of these machines. They are willing to put more money into guaranteeing a more expensive model that generated more profit for them.
A less expensive unit likely doesn’t create the same profit for the manufacturer, which means it isn’t a worthwhile investment for them to extend the warranty. A shorter warranty does not necessarily indicate that the air conditioner is of a lower quality than a model with a longer warranty, particularly if they are only different by a few years.
Some manufacturers may require you to keep detailed records that you properly maintained the unit in order to utilize the warranty. This ensures that the unit was given every opportunity to perform to the highest standard. Otherwise, it could have broken as a result of excessive wear and tear or due to a minor repair that should have been made months ago.
Review this portion of the warranty carefully to make the most of your purchase. If you’re required to maintain detailed records related to the care of your air conditioner, enlist a local HVAC company to perform annual services on the unit.
Services like those provided by Classic Air Conditioning and Heating should include a full tune-up for your air conditioner each year. During this time, a technician will first inspect the system for any damage that needs repair or parts that need special attention. They will then clean out the dirt and debris that naturally accumulate over the course of the year. Air filters will be changed along with other parts that need replacing according to the manufacturer’s guidelines.
This not only helps to maintain your manufacturer’s warranty, but it also improves the overall efficiency of your HVAC system. It’s a worthwhile investment each year because it helps to prevent major problems from cropping up unexpectedly with your unit in the years to come and can also help save you money on a monthly basis.
If a technician notes that a problem is likely to arise due to a specific issue in the near future, this will also be listed on a report at the time of the inspection.
You’ll also want to consider the warranty that comes with the installation of the unit, something that you won’t have without the assistance of a professional HVAC technician. Each company is unique when it comes to the warranty or guarantee that they give relating to their handiwork. Be sure to discuss the finer points of an installation warranty with your technician during the quoting process.
This gives you some additional protection if a piece needs tightening or adjusted in the days following installation. It’s always wise to inquire about an installation warranty before signing on the dotted line.
Weigh All of the Options
Investing in a brand-new air conditioning system is something that you will only do every decade or so. The decision you make in the present moment will affect your family’s comfort physically and financially in the years to come. You will be forced to consider how each particular model can make you more comfortable on a daily basis.
Be sure to take your time researching and weighing each of the options presented to you. Qualified HVAC technicians should be able to explain the advantages of each manufacturer and model in a way that is easy for you to understand. However, that doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility of doing your own investigating.
Once you’ve narrowed down the specifics regarding the right size unit, a SEER rating range that could benefit your home, and the type of air conditioner you need, it’s time to start looking at the specific units. Compare their energy guides, prices, and warranties to assemble a list of all potential options.
Look for reviews of each manufacturer and model that are written by qualified experts and homeowners who have them installed in their homes. Knowing that others have been satisfied with their purchase can give you peace of mind that you are making the right decision.
Similarly, you need to select a qualified professional to help you with the installation of the unit. There’s no harm in researching a company or asking for references to ensure that they do a quality job. This is another wise way to protect the investment that you’re making when purchasing a new air conditioner.
Search for a well-established company, such as Classic Air Conditioning and Heating, with a good reputation for air conditioning repair. It’s often worth paying a little more to have a job well done than simply looking for the cheapest contractor available.
Once you weigh all of the options and consider the cost, you’ll have a much better idea of which unit is right for you. Don’t allow yourself to become overwhelmed by the minor details and prevent you from making a decision. Let your home experience the total comfort that comes with a new air conditioner that is perfect for the size and type of home you own.