In the mid-Atlantic where summers are long, hot, and humid, having the right air conditioner in your home is essential. If your air conditioner has been slowing down in recent years, consider getting an upgrade before the next sweltering summer hits.
If your AC unit is an older model, you’ll likely want an efficient upgrade. Air conditioners use 6% of all the electricity produced in the United States and cost homeowners about $29 billion a year. A newer model can help you cut costs while benefiting the environment.
With so many air conditioners on the market, it helps to be informed so you can choose the right one. In the guide below, we’ll offer some helpful tips to spot signs your air conditioner needs an upgrade, what to consider when buying a new air conditioner, and what to look for when shopping for an AC unit.
Here are a few questions to ask to help figure out when to replace your air conditioner:
You may have noticed the cool air your AC unit produces isn’t as cold as it used to be. If your home has central air conditioning, a few areas of your house might become cool, but some may remain warm and muggy. If you’ve observed a drop-off in performance or that it costs you more to produce the same level of cooling, that’s a clear sign it’s time to invest in a new air conditioner.
If an air conditioner has been in use for more than a decade, even the most reliable model is likely to start showing its age. If your AC unit is showing signs of wear and is more than 10 years old, you may need to get a new unit installed. Even if you’ve had your unit for over 10 years and it’s still going strong, upgrading to a new one may be worth it. Newer models tend to be much more energy-efficient and cost-effective.
It’s normal for a part to wear out occasionally and require replacement. But if you’ve noticed your air conditioner needs more frequent maintenance than it once did — or the required maintenance is significantly more expensive than it used to be — the pattern may indicate general wear over the entire system. In that case, the unit is becoming less efficient and effective, and it will probably require replacement.
Has your air conditioning system been breaking down completely, leaving you sweaty and uncomfortable on hot summer days? If system breakdowns have become common, your air conditioning unit may not be reliable, and fixing one problem may only buy you time before another one crops up. In this case, it’s likely time to invest in a new air conditioner.
If your air conditioning unit is giving off unpalatable smells, it’s probably wearing out. A film of mold or bacteria may have built up on your evaporator coil, the drain lines may be compromised, or the drain pans may be dirty or corroded. The same goes for loud noises — a quality air conditioner should run quietly. A noisy unit may have a worn-out belt or bearings and could be reaching the end of its lifespan.
Some older air conditioning models use Freon as a coolant. Freon is a trade name that includes chemical compounds like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HCFCs). These compounds have negative effects on the ozone layer and lead to environmental damage and human health risks like skin cancer. The United States phased out CFCs in the 1990s and is currently phasing out HCFCs, particularly the common refrigerant known as HCFC-22 or R-22.
If you own an air conditioner that uses HCFC-22, you are not required to replace it, but its coolant will become much more difficult and expensive to buy. If your AC unit is an older model, replacing it with a more eco-friendly one can simultaneously benefit your budget and the environment.
Air conditioners come in a few different types:
A central air conditioner has a single, permanently installed unit that houses the evaporator, condenser, and compressor. This unit may be installed on the roof or on a concrete slab outside the home. It sends cold air through the ductwork to all parts of the home.
Like central air conditioners, ductless units have outdoor compressors and condensers. They also have tubes that connect them to indoor wall-mounted units with blowers attached. The tubes circulate refrigerant, and the blowers help circulate the air throughout the home.
A window unit goes into a window and plugs into a wall. The components of the air conditioner fit into a small metal box that extends outside the window. These smaller units typically cool a single room, and users often install them for the summer and remove them for the winter.
Portable units are similar in size to window units, but they sit on the floor instead of in the window. They are easier to move from room to room as needed. Many portable units vent out the window, but some vent into tanks or trays that require periodic emptying.
Hybrid units provide cooling in the summer, but they also provide heat in the winter. To cool your home, a hybrid unit uses a heat pump to send heat from your home into the outdoors. In the winter, it reverses that mechanism, either through the use of a furnace or by collecting heat energy from the environment and using it to send warm air into your home.
Geothermal units use new technology for both heating and cooling. They contain a metal coil that extends from your house deep into the ground. In the winter, they extract heat from below Earth’s surface and send it into your home. In the summer, they collect heat from your home and send it back into the Earth.
The right AC unit for your home depends on your household’s needs, layout, and priorities:
The right-sized air conditioner makes a tremendous impact on the comfort level of your home. If your air conditioner is too small, it won’t be able to cool your home effectively. Instead, it will run continuously, wasting energy until its motor potentially burns out.
If your AC unit is too large, it will likely overcool the air in your home and abruptly shut off. That short amount of operation won’t cool the structure of your home — the walls, floors, and furnishings will retain the heat and humidity of our Pennsylvania summers. As soon as the air conditioner shuts off, your home will start to feel warm and muggy again. The air conditioner will turn on again, cool the air briefly, and shut off in a repeating cycle. Over time, the constant starting and stopping can damage your AC unit, and your home will never feel as comfortable as it should.
The cooling capacity of an air conditioner receives a rating in tons. One ton of cooling capacity is equal to 12,000 British thermal units (BTU) of cooling per hour. A large, 3-ton residential air conditioner cools 36,000 BTU per hour.
What size air conditioner you buy depends on many factors. An old rule held that one ton of cooling was necessary for every 400 to 500 feet of space. But climate, home construction, sun exposure, shade areas, and insulation levels can all affect an air conditioner’s performance. For the best results, talk to heating and cooling professionals and see what air conditioner size they recommend for your home.
Here are seven factors to keep in mind when you’re buying a new air conditioner:
Some basic models are very affordable, whereas others require a more significant investment. When you’re considering prices, try to strike a balance between key features and a price your budget can accommodate. Keep in mind that some energy-saving features can help offset initial costs by lowering your bills.
You may see a couple of different efficiency measurements on the air conditioners you’re looking at:
Keep EER and SEER in mind when you’re comparing different models so you can determine which one is right for you. Models with higher EER and SEER are often more expensive, but they’re better for the environment, and they are likely to save you money over the long term.
Determine what extra features you’d like to have in your new AC unit:
The size of your space will help determine your optimal air conditioning unit. Because window units take up exterior space, they’re ideal for small rooms where space is at a premium. If you have a larger area to work with, you can invest in a bulkier portable unit. And if you’re trying to cool multiple rooms, a ductless system or central air conditioning might become necessary. The size of the unit may depend on the square footage and construction of your home.
Many conditioning units hum as they operate, but window units may make some extra noise as they vibrate against the window sill. Keeping the noise factor in mind can help you make an informed choice that works with your lifestyle. If you need to concentrate on work in your room, a portable or wall-mounted unit might make the most sense.
When you’re choosing a new air conditioning unit, consider the extra labor that comes with certain models. Portable units may vent water into trays or tanks that you have to empty periodically. Window units vent outdoors, but you’ll likely need to install and uninstall your window unit every year. Figuring out what type of work you’re willing to do for your air conditioner can help you narrow down options.
As you make your decision, safety considerations are paramount. Consider the risks that come with the DIY installation that many window units require. If you install your window air conditioner improperly, it could become dangerous for those walking beneath it. With some window air conditioners, you can pay extra for professional installation, but with others, you’ll be on your own. If a window unit seems like the best fit, be sure you understand how to install it securely or can get help from someone who does.
To see the benefits of a new air conditioning unit in your home, contact Shipley Energy Home Services. Our air conditioning installation services can provide central air conditioning for your home and give you confidence that your home cooling system is efficient, economical, and dependable. We have a large selection of models to choose from, and our friendly, expert technicians get the job done quickly and with minimal disruption to your home.