What You Need to Know Before You Install Central Air Conditioning
Time for a new central air conditioning system? The average air conditioner lasts about 15 years, so if you live in your home for more than 10 years or so, there’s a good chance you’ll eventually have to replace your system. If you have central air conditioning that was installed back in the 1990s (or earlier), keep in mind that today’s air conditioning systems provide significantly greater cooling power and energy efficiency.
Installing a central air conditioning system is one of the most significant steps you can take in improving the overall comfort of your home. Central air conditioning will also add value to your home, as it’s a very attractive selling point for potential buyers.
That being said, a new central air conditioning system is a major household investment and not a purchase one should make without doing some serious homework. If you’re due for an air conditioning system upgrade, there are several important considerations that can help ensure you get the best possible performance, energy efficiency and value.
Before you commit to a new central air conditioning installation, think about the following:.
- Try Maintenance First. Have you been replacing the air conditioner filters according to schedule? Have you been scheduling a regular air conditioning tune-ups and cleanings? The problem may not be your air conditioner, but you! If your current air conditioning system seems to be operating at less than full capacity, have a professional air conditioning service technician come to your home to inspect it before you blow your savings on a brand new air conditioning system. Sudden changes in the function of an air conditioner that’s been performing just fine up to a point could mean that simple maintenance is in order, rather than a complete system overhaul. A certified professional can clean your system, run diagnostic testing, and make repairs or adjustments as needed. An experienced pro will also be able to tell you if it’s time to replace your central air conditioning system.
- Totally New vs. Upgrading Your Existing Air Conditioning. You may not need an entirely new central air conditioning system at all…just some modifications to your existing system to enhance its performance. Upgrading an aging central air conditioning system requires a much different set of considerations than installing a new one. You’ll want to make sure you match brands and models, and choose new components that are compatible with older ones. If you’ll be replacing an old air conditoning system completely, you may incur extra costs for removal and disposal of outdated parts.
- Air Conditioning Installation Circumstances. Be sure to communicate with your installation professional so he or she knows how best to approach your job. If your new air conditioning installation is part of a larger home renovation project, you may be able to save significantly by arranging for installation at a specific point in the job. Also, when your air conditioning professional is in the loop, he or she will be much better equipped to determine the best kind of system for your home and a much more accurate estimate.
- Air Conditioning Power Requirements. Central air conditioners measure cooling capacity in British thermal units (Btu) per hour. Generally, you need about 12,000 Btu per 1000 square feet of well insulated space or 400 square feet of inadequately insulated space. Your home’s structure, windows, sun exposure, and climate will all impact your cooling needs. The best way to get an idea of what you need for your home is to talk to an HVAC professional. While an air conditioning technician may suggest products or installation features that might cost you more up front, they will likely save you much more in the long run.
- Replacing an Aging Air Conditioning System. Like many other household appliances, central air conditioners have become significantly more energy efficient in the last ten years or so. If you’ve noticed a dramatic decrease in your system’s ability to cool your home—temperatures are inconsistent, the system seems to be coming on more frequently or running longer, or your monthly utility bills are steadily increasing—it may be time to replace your air conditioner. If your new air conditioner will be tied into an existing system in your home, talk to an air conditioning contractor about compatibility and installation options.
- Air Conditioning System Accessibility. Installing a central air conditioning system means your installation technician will need access to your home’s air ducts. The easier the access, the less you’ll be charged in hourly labor costs. If your home is older or has limited duct space, you might want to think about purchasing a mini-duct or ductless air conditioner. These alternative systems are a much better and more cost effective choice for homes where installing traditional ductwork would be prohibitive.
- Look for Energy Star Appliances. Choosing environmentally responsible products can be a challenge; for appliances and home electronics, the Energy Star program makes it easy. Simply look for the blue Energy Star label and know that you are getting the most eco-friendly, energy efficient air conditioner for your money. Air conditioning systems can have a huge impact on your summer utility bills, so it makes sense to look for an appliance that’s going to reduce your home’s overall energy consumption and save you money. Shop for air conditioners with a high SEER rating (most units range from 10 to 17). If you’re installing a central air conditioner, make sure your contractor knows your preferences and ask for a unit with the highest SEER rating possible.
- The Noise Factor. This is your chance to get rid of that noisy old air conditioning unit that rattles and hums every time it powers on. Inexpensive air conditioners—either window-mounted or central—can cause a lot of noise pollution, especially if you have to install them in a bedroom, living room, or near a deck or patio. Consider placement carefully, and avoid areas close to living areas, bedrooms, and close to the neighbors. To guarantee quiet operation, go with a higher-end, more expensive model.
- Sun Exposure. No matter how energy efficient your air conditioner, it will struggle to perform properly if it’s placed in direct sunlight. Try to install a new unit in an area of your home with plenty of shade, or plant shrubs or small shade trees close by.
- Consult an Air Conditioning Pro. A professional HVAC technician will be able to answer any questions you have about installing a new central air conditioning system in your home…from proper placement to energy efficiency ratings to correct sizing for your square footage. If you are unsure about any aspect of air conditioning system purchasing or installation, call your local air conditioning contractor for advice.