All things come to an end… including your air conditioner’s lifespan. One day you notice it’s not cooling that well anymore, or it starts making some odd noises that should definitely not be coming out of an air conditioner, and suddenly you’re faced with a decision: what to buy?
It’s always good to tuck a little knowledge under your hat so when you do need a new central air conditioner, you’re not scrambling to buy under duress. So whether you’re committed to a purchase now, or you still have some time before you need to decide, these are some things you should know, think about, and even ask before signing on the dotted line.
Buying Online May Not Be Your Best Bet
It seems like everything is available online, and lots of times cheaper than you can buy in person. It may be tempting to grab a deal and then simply pay a contractor to install it, but resist that temptation.
It can be tough to find a qualified, reputable contractor who would be willing to install a unit you bought elsewhere – and it’s not about the money.
There is a lot more that goes into selecting an air conditioner than picking one that has good reviews and a high efficiency rating. For instance, air conditioners must be sized properly for your home, and matched appropriately to any existing components, like your furnace.
Buying online also means your unit could come damaged, and you may not even know it until it’s installed. Instead of saving money, you’re left with a huge hassle and additional labor costs.
And the manufacturer’s warranty likely goes through the HVAC company, too, which means you could have a hard time safeguarding your investment.
A contractor assumes a lot of risk by installing an unknown air conditioning unit – is it the right size? Is it matched to your system? Is it in good condition? What happens if something goes wrong? Whose responsibility is it?
That’s why most contractors won’t do it. Can you find one who will? Probably, but that doesn’t mean it’s in your best interests.
When you purchase through a qualified and licensed contractor, the responsibility lies squarely with them. They will typically guarantee both the unit and their labor for a period of time, and you can rest assured that your manufacturer’s warranty will be intact.
Installing A Central Air Conditioner Is Not A DIY Job
Sure you can bypass a contractor entirely, but that could be a big mistake. Unless you *really* know what you’re doing, you could be setting yourself up for lots of headaches.
Not only must you go through the exercise of figuring out which unit to buy, but installing it requires knowing local and state building codes, obtaining proper permits, and following effective safety measures.
And as we mentioned, the manufacturer’s warranty likely requires that you have a record of professional installation.
Doing it yourself may save some money in the short term, but if you find out you violated a code, failed to obtain the right permits, or can’t take advantage of a warranty if you need a repair or replacement, that will cost you a whole lot more than it’s worth.
Bigger Isn’t Better
Remember that we said a new unit needs to be sized to your home? That doesn’t just mean that it’s big enough to keep your whole house cool. It also means that it isn’t too big.
By “big”, what we really mean is its capacity to cool your home as measured in BTUs. A unit that’s undersized won’t have the cooling capacity to effectively keep you comfortable. A unit that’s oversized comes with a whole host of problems of its own.
An oversized unit will “short cycle”, meaning it will turn on and off again before it has a chance to cool the room or remove humidity effectively. That will put more wear and tear on the system, leading to an earlier demise and possibly more repairs. It will also cost you in increased energy bills.
In short, your unit needs to be sized properly based on a number of factors – square footage, ceiling height, sun exposure, and more.
You May Want To Replace Your Furnace, Too
If your furnace is fairly new then there’s most likely no need to consider replacing it. But if yours is getting on in years, and especially if you’ve already had it repaired, you may save yourself money and aggravation in the long run if you replace it at the same time that you replace your air conditioner.
Your central HVAC system is just that – a system. It functions optimally when you have a “matched set”, which means components that are designed to work efficiently together. This is particularly true if you’re getting an air conditioner with a higher Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (or SEER rating).
And if your furnace is aging, even if gracefully, once it hits the 15 year mark you may want to consider upgrading. Between changing technology, better efficiency, and the increasing probability of needing a repair, it could make more financial sense to go all in.
A New Central Unit May Not Really Serve Your Needs
If your air conditioner is old and kaput, that choice makes itself. You probably don’t want to spend a single 90 degree day with nothing but a ceiling fan!
But if you think you need a new air conditioner because you’ve got an uncomfortably warm room, then ask yourself what kind of air conditioner.
Ruling out a system failure, your air conditioner may be working perfectly fine. It’s the room that’s the problem. Sometimes no matter what you do, one room is always just plain hot. It’s a common problem if you have a room over a garage, or one that gets a significant amount of sun. It could also be a problem in a new addition or a sunroom.
Rather than replacing the entire unit, which may not completely solve the problem anyway, consider an alternative like a ductless mini-split system.
A ductless unit is a good choice for cooling (and heating) trouble spots. It’s a standalone unit that mounts on a wall and has its own set of controls so that you can decide when and how much to use it.
For too-hot (and during winter, too-cold) spaces, this may be a better option than going bigger.
You Don’t Have To Sign On The Spot
If you’re already sweating bullets over a busted air conditioner, the last thing you want is a contractor who adds to the pressure. Someone who makes your decision sound like a high-stakes game is probably not the contractor for you.
Your air conditioner is an investment, one that you should feel completely comfortable with. Shaving off a couple of bucks or throwing in some tempting freebies just to get your commitment *now* is questionable at best. This is the next 15 or 20 years of your life and your family’s comfort, after all.
Be sure your questions are answered, from understanding the bottom line to knowing exactly what kind of guarantees you’re getting. Sleep on it if you want to. A reputable contractor will want to make sure you’re 100% satisfied from the moment you open the conversation.
That begs the question: how do you find a reputable contractor? We’ve discussed this in more depth here, but the short answer is: do your research.
Get a referral from a trusted source if you can, look for qualifiers like a license and insurance, and check any online resources you can find, including the contractor’s website, reviews and social media.
Is your contractor “present”, or nowhere to be found? Are the reviews generally good, and when they’re not does the contractor respond? Reviews can be tricky – too many good reviews can be as much of a red flag as too many bad. Look for plain-English comments that sound like real people wrote them, not just five-star reviews, which are easy to fake. And be wary of a ton of great reviews that all say relatively meaningless things like, “Great job!”
A Good Contractor Will Be Your Best Ally
There’s a lot to know about central air conditioners. We haven’t even touched the topic of SEER ratings, energy efficiency, decibel levels, and bells-and-whistles like filter lights and programmable thermostats.
It pays to have a pro who can answer your questions and guide you toward a unit that fits your needs and budget.
Your contractor will also be able to help you save money by taking advantage of any local, state, or manufacturer rebates. You may also be able to qualify for financing to help offset the cost and make your investment easier.
The key is to choose a contractor who is willing to take the time to educate you and provide you with options so that you can feel confident in your purchasing decision.
If you need a new central air conditioning unit, or you suspect you will in the near future, contact us for a free consultation and estimate. Put us to the test – our pros are here to help.