If you’re looking to replace a home air conditioning system, then you are facing a big decision with so many possible answers. It can get confusing and everyone you talk to says a different thing or likes a different brand. Well that’s because everyone has an interest, or maybe has a different goal. What’s the best type or brand of air conditioner? For instance, may have many different answers based on your goals. One air conditioning system may be the most energy efficient while another may be more reliable. To further confuse the issue, where you live may also effect which air conditioner would be best for you. I’ll give you an example, if you lived in Las Vegas where the summers can reach a miserable 118 degrees. You probably have a hot side of the house so a two stage or variable speed air conditioning system would help extend the runtime, evening out the temperatures. But, if say you lived in North Carolina where temperatures reach up to 100 degrees summer you’d still have that problem but less extreme. But, if you choose the wrong contractor and they do a lousy job. It won’t matter what type or brand of equipment you purchased, it will fail prematurely, give you higher energy costs and decreased comfort.
In this Buyers guide we will go over the different type, brand and seer of available air conditioning equipment in 2015 and which may best for you based on your climate and goals. We will also go over, how to choose a reputable contractor who will treat you right and do a good job.
We have looked to our peers and other HVAC professionals to help write this Buyers Guide via YouTube and Google+. We have they’re opinions and compared the results to find the commons based by region or goals. This Guide is unbiased and the collaborated work of some of the best and what I’d call 1%ers of the HVAC professionals around the country.
“1 in 10 air conditioners in the US are installed wrong, according to the department of energy and energy star”.
How to Choose a Good Contractor for Your Air Conditioning Installation or Replacement.
With so many contractors to choose from, there are a few ways you can be sure your contractor is going to do a great job. Here’s what some HVAC pro’s had to say.
“Reputation means everything” Talyn875
“Research and don’t make fast decisions” Stephen Rardon
“Reputation and Good Reviews” Ronnie Ross
1. Choose a Contractor with a good reputation. A contractor who has a good reputation will most likely care about his reputation and therefore, he will do a good job to avoid a complaint. If you choose a HVAC company with mostly positive reviews online they will be likely to ask you for a review afterwards and hopefully they perform to a level becoming of a 5 star review. On the flip side a contractor who has a history of complaints or bad reviews obviously cares more about money than reputation. The Better Business Bureau is also a good place to check a contractor’s reputation.
2. Don’t guess on size. A Good contractor will not size your equipment based solely on square footage or the size of the old equipment as it could have been wrong. There are many variables to sizing an air conditioner like the type of walls, ceiling height, number and size of windows, number of appliances in the room, square footage, zip code and even whether your homes on a concrete slab or was it built in another fashion. Most contractors will use proven methods like the Manual J or the Manual D to properly size HVAC equipment or ducts.
3. A good contractor will sit down with you and ask a lot of questions before replacing your homes air conditioner. It is impossible for a contractor to know about all of your homes issues, if he doesn’t ask. For example ( Are there any rooms in the home that are warm or warmer than the rest of the rooms in the summer? And Are there any areas or rooms that are cold in the winter? Maybe why do you want to replace your air conditioner? ). These are questions we have to ask in order to do a good job. If a contractor doesn’t ask you about the hot bedrooms then he wasn’t planning on fixing that issue during the process and a good contractor will solve all of your homes comfort problems in one move. Also if a contractor doesn’t ask you why you’d like a new unit then how does he know you’re going to be happy afterwards? Basically a good contractor will ask the appropriate questions so he can do a good job.
4. Choose a contractor who offers you options and advises honestly. Don’t buy from a man who is pressuring you, scaring you or telling you that you have to buy a new unit. I’m here to tell you anything can be fixed, replacing your air conditioner is and always will be your choice. If old things couldn’t be fixed, there would be no antique cars on the road. That being said there are a lot of good reasons and benefits to replacing or upgrading your homes hvac system like higher efficiency increased comfort and peace of mind. But it will always be your choice.
5. Most importantly is you have to do your due diligence and check facts before buying. Some more quick things to judge your contractor by are. Time in business if they’ve been around awhile they probably figured out that doing a good job is in their best interest. Design of the trucks and the company website – If they have spent money on themselves building their brand, then they obviously plan to be around for more years to come.
6. Make sure your contractor goes in the attic and measures the indoor unit. Also be sure he is quoting new supply and return plenums or at least measures and attempts to use new plenums. What I mean is in a perfect world we’d install new plenums on every system and the supply plenum would be 5 feet long but in the real world attics can be small and we may only have 2 feet to work with or less. So in tight spots we have to fit what fits. So be sure the contractor goes and looks to see what will fit. Also be sure the contractor is not going to hang your furnace or air handler using metal strap, allthread and angle iron or allthread and unistrut is the proper way to hang a system that’s hung from the roof. Also be sure they quote you secondary drain pans, new electrical disconnect, new electrical whip, new pvc drain, condenser pad if needed, sealing of duct connections with duct sealant not tape. and most important, make sure they commission the furnace and startup the condenser adjusting the refrigerant charge by superheat and subcooling.
Once you’ve selected a good contractor to do your install, selecting the type and brand of equipment is next.
So which air conditioning system is the best? Well that’s a big question, what does best mean? The most reliable, easiest to repair, most energy efficient or maybe fastest time till payback. As you can see best for one may not be the best for everyone. So in order to advise what’s best we have to know your goals (see why it’s important that the contractor asks questions, why are you replacing it, what’s your goal?).
What’s the best Air Conditioner?
There are many different manufacturers and types of air conditioners in 2015. But understand one thing, the difference in air conditioners today is not the seer rating. All that means is how much electricity it will use, the higher the seer the less power it will use to cool the home. The real big difference in air conditioning equipment of 2015 is in how they work. Basically you have the following choices.
A. Single Stage equipment – Usually 14 -16 seer in ac mode and 80% AFUE in heating depending on the manufacturer, and can only run at one speed 100% or ON. That means a unit like this will turn on at 100% then back off when the thermostat satisfies or reaches its desired set point. This type of system is proven and very easy to fix with parts off most any hvac man’s truck and if installed right could last 30 years. The downside to single stage is it creates a temperature swing in the home. Every time the ac system is completely off the home is warming in the summer. But if you’re in a high heat area like Las Vegas, Texas or Arizona. You’ll probably experience a ton of heat penetrating into the home and making one part of the house hot while your single stage system is cycled off.
B. Two Stage Equipment – Usually between 14 – 18 Seer in ac mode and 80 -97.5% AFUE in heating. Two stage equipment can slow down and run at a lower speed, allowing the system a longer runtime. A longer runtime will help even out the temperatures from room to room and give you a more stable temperature. Also since 2 stage air conditioners have less starting and stopping, the compressors and motors will take less wear. Another benefit to 2 stage is since the system will run at a slower speed; the unit will be much quieter than a single stage air conditioner. The down side to 2 stage equipment is the increased equipment cost and the increased chance of having to special order a part in the event of a breakdown.
C. Variable Speed Systems – 18 – 21+ Seer in ac mode and 97% AFUE in heating. Variable speed air conditioners utilize a different type of technology, instead of 24 volts ac they communicate with DC and the compressor runs off a variable DC drive. This technology allows the compressor to slow down to 20% or any speed in-between. What that means to you is the air conditioner will try to stay running all the time. Only blowing in the amount of air necessary to maintain a stable temperature to within ½ degree. Technology has proven that DC is more stable and more reliable so 20 seer variable speed air conditioners have an advantage in reliability and provide the most comfort of any type equipment. Also with ratings of 20+ seer variable speed boasts the highest efficiency. But, DC also needs a stronger conductor than 24 volts AC so if you live in a high humidity area then you may see higher failure due to the increased rust and humidity corroding your circuit boards and wire terminals. On the other hand In Las Vegas with hot dry air Dc can thrive and last. The downside to variable speed equipment is if it ever breaks, you’re probably going to have to call the man who put it in because not a lot of technicians are familiar with this type equipment yet. Also if it breaks the odds of having to order the part are high as these machines are too new so nobody carries parts for them as a normal truck stock item.
Variable Speed Blower Motors – Can be equipped with any system and probably comes automatic on 2 stage or 16 seer+ equipment. Variable speed blower motors are simply motors that can speed up or down. Having a variable speed motor will make your system quieter, more energy efficient and if done right, more reliable. The downside is the increased replacement cost if ever your blower motor fails out of warranty.
Now that you understand the different types of air conditioners available today it’s up to you to decide which one is best for you. We will not talk about the cost because Costs vary greatly from state to state, but just know a contractor cannot be the best and the cheapest. I would say a good honest contractor usually falls somewhere in the middle. You don’t want a low baller who will cut corners and you don’t want some slick tongued white shirt wearing comfort consultant either. And if you’re looking to simply get a new one because your current system is broken and you want the quickest time till payback then single stage is probably your quickest easiest and cheapest decision. Don’t buy high seer equipment just to save more because they cost more and that’s a mathematical equation I find people are not very happy with afterwards.
Still Looking for the best? Here’s a list of the winners when we polled other HVAC pros around the country.
- Reliability – In reliability 38% feel single stage is the most reliable including Powlas HVAC, Ronnie Ross, harry Dickenson, Tazzman and Kathy D via Google+ On the exact opposite 31% of users feel that the variable speed DC system was the most reliable including Stephen Rardon of Holly Springs NC. Felipi Balli, Las Vegas Air Conditioning and Nate Brown
- Ease Of Repair – Well that was a land slide Best in Class for ease of repair goes to single stage.
- Comfort – Best in Class goes to the Variable Speed System. In what was basically a landslide 67% of people polled said they would put a variable speed system in their home if comfort was their goal. Including Harry Dickenson, Billy Knoth, KatFan, Laurie Hoyer Schuman and Mr. I manifold Stephen Rardon. 22% chose 2 stage for comfort including Talyn875, Rob HVAC and Frank Mashione. So for comfort 89% of users polled chose 2 stage or variable.
- Efficiency – Well that’s easy the higher the seer the higher the efficiency. Variable speed wins there.
- Time Till Payback – This is a tricky subject because it all depends on what you pay. If you pay $5000 for a 14 seer system and your neighbor pays 6 years for the exact same system time till payback is different, so choose a reputable contractor who cares for his reputation and your time till payback will be the shortest due to your system working properly and at maximum efficiency assuming it was installed correctly.
As you can see the decision to replace your homes air conditioner is big and could go great or horribly wrong. Bottom line is do your homework and choose a reputable contractor and a system that best suits your personal needs and you’re more likely to be happy with your purchase afterwards as that’s what it’s about.
About the Author
Stephen Gamst is the current President at Las Vegas Air Conditioning Inc.
Since almost birth Stephen was trained by his father SGT John Gamst USMC and a great HVAC Tech. After 10 years of field training Stephen went and graduated hvac and commercial refrigeration. Now with 25 years field and school training Stephen runs successful H.V.A.C. operation in Las Vegas Nevada. Stephen is also the Author of the “AC Repair Matrix” a step by step how to repair an air conditioner tutorial that’s currently available on the I-phone app store. Stephen Gamst is also Editor at DMOZ and the inventor of the world’s first live video broadcaster capable of broadcasting a Google plus hangout on air live from the field and with 0 delays. Stephen has been featured on News 3, News 8, Wake Up With The Wagner’s and Good Morning America. Stephen is also the special lead speaker at the national wearable technology summit coming October 15, 2015. For more Articles by Stephen you can contact him here.