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Cooling Systems Simplified.
Because split-system air conditioners will last, on average, 16 years, buying a new one can be an intimidating process. Here's everything you need to know about purchasing a central air conditioning system:
Choose R-410A refrigerant. Older cooling systems use a refrigerant called R-22. In 2010, the new refrigerant standard became R-410A a more environmentally friendly refrigerant because it does not deplete the ozone. If you currently have an R-22 system, choosing a new one with R-410A refrigerant may mean some extra costs to replace the line set and indoor coil, but you will be getting the maximum long-term efficiency out of your new system.
Look for high SEER. Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio - or SEER for short -- is a measurement of the efficiency of your cooling system over the course of a season. The higher the SEER rating, the higher the efficiency. Before 2006, most systems were 8 to 10 SEER. In 2006, the minimum efficiency became 13 SEER. Today, air conditioners such as the Westinghouse iQ Drive® system can be as high as 24.5 SEER. A 16-SEER system is 60% more efficient than a 10-SEER system, and a 24.5 SEER system is 145% more efficient than a 10-SEER system.
Replace the air conditioner and the indoor component. A typical air conditioner has two components -- the outdoor section and the indoor section as described below. Some contractors may try to save you money by only replacing the outdoor section. But in order for your system to achieve the efficiency you're paying for, you need to have a matched system that includes a new indoor coil. Reusing old indoor components can negatively impact the performance of your air conditioner. That's why your product warranty is also contingent on the air conditioner being installed with the proper indoor coil or air handler.
Know your current system. A "split system" is an outdoor section and an indoor section. This is the most common type of system. In the central United States and Canada, the indoor section is the coil box that sits on top of your furnace. (Many homeowners think this is part of the furnace when it is actually the indoor section to the air conditioner.) Cool air is distributed throughout the home by the furnace blower. In very hot southern regions, the indoor section is typically an electric furnace or air handler. This product has the blower and coil inside one cabinet.
If you do not have an indoor section, you may have a "packaged" air conditioner. Packaged units are not common and only found in select regions. The packaged air conditioner contains the blower and coil components all within the outdoor section and may even provide heat from natural gas or an electric strip.
Think about comfort. Many higher-efficiency air conditioners include features that will dramatically improve your home's comfort. Two-stage systems reduce hot and cold spots by running at both a high and low stage, so they are quieter and provide a better mix of air throughout the home. Also look for noise-reduction features such as swept-wing fan blades and compressor sound blankets.
Look at a heat pump. A heat pump works just like an air conditioner, cooling your home in the summer. But in the fall and early spring, it can also provide cost-effective electric heat. Many homeowners choose a split-system heat pump instead of a split-system air conditioner, and then pairing the heat pump with a gas furnace. This dual-fuel system can cut your utility bills because you heat with electricity when the weather is mild and with gas when the temperatures get colder -- so you are always using the most cost-effective fuel source to heat your home. If you have a packaged system, there are also dual-fuel packaged systems that combine heat pump and gas heat technology.
Invest in a good install. The installation is absolutely critical to the performance of your heating and air system. Hire a certified contractor who is going to address your ductwork and other home needs in addition to new equipment. A quality installation will cost more upfront, but it will save you in service and problems in the long run.