When you’re thinking of replacing an air conditioner, the first thing that comes to mind is how much it will cost to buy a new unit. You probably do a quick search online or make a few calls to get an idea of what comparable cooling systems will cost. The information you’re seeking is known as “first cost,” and it essentially means the price tag.
The real cost of an air conditioner is much more complicated than just the sticker price. You may have already noted that the higher the efficiency of a system, the more it costs. That’s where it all gets tricky. You may not think you can afford to buy a super-efficient system, so you’re tend toward a lower-priced unit. But think carefully. That higher-priced system is probably going to consume less energy than your old air conditioner, and it could allow you to recover some of your investment through greater efficiency during the years you use it.
Air conditioners are rated with a seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER). That’s the system’s cooling output over a typical cooling season, divided by the electricity used over the same period. The higher the SEER, the more efficient the system is, and likely the higher the initial price. However, the higher the SEER, the lower your expenses for utilities over the long term, generally speaking.
As of January 2006, all new residential air conditioners sold in the U.S. had to have a SEER of at least 13. Most units sold prior to this date had SEERs of about 9 to 12. The government has since mandated that split system air conditioners sold in the South must have a SEER of 14 as of January 1.
Lifetime costs also have to be figured in with the price tag. Is your system good quality? If not, you may experience the need for costly repairs and frequent replacement of parts over the equipment’s lifetime.
As you work with your HVAC contractor on determining the best air conditioner for your home, you should be doing some calculations to determine lifetime costs. Consider these factors:
- How durable is the air conditioner?A system with a higher price tag generally contains higher-quality components that will require fewer repairs than low-end equipment. Durability can’t be strictly predicted by price tag, but you can do some comparison shopping, using consumer reviews and consumer reporting agencies to track other buyers’ experience with similar models.Keep in mind that durability may also be determined by how the system is operated. Will it receive regular maintenance? Will the air filter be changed consistently when it’s dirty? Is the air conditioner the right size for the home, so it won’t short cycle or run continuously?
- Does a higher price tag guarantee quality? Generally, price does reflect a higher quality, but that’s not guaranteed. Higher-cost A/Cs are usually manufactured to meet higher standards. Higher-priced efficiency features such as a two-stage compressor help keep cycling to a minimum, contributing to the system’s longevity and to lower energy costs.
- How do improved efficiency features figure into costs? The two-stage compressor is just one of the advanced energy-saving features the newer, more efficient air conditioners may feature. There’s also an improved coil design to make better use of refrigerant, as well as variable-speed air handlers running at lower speeds and diminishing energy use. These features contribute to a higher sticker cost, but also help the homeowner recover first cost.
- What about maintenance? You probably already know from buying a car or other appliances that you usually “get what you pay for.” Generally speaking, the higher the price of the equipment, the better the components used, and the better the manufacturing standards that went into producing the equipment. The same holds true for air conditioners. An A/C that uses mediocre or poor quality parts will probably require more maintenance.By replacing an air conditioner with a model that has efficient parts running at lower speeds, you will diminish the need for maintenance and likely will only need an annual service call during most of the lifetime of the air conditioner.
Note: If you’re thinking of replacing an air conditioner with an efficient, higher-cost model, you also want to plan for getting the most out of it. That means sealing air leaks and making sure existing ductwork is adequate for the A/C’s output.
Learn more about replacing an air conditioner from the pros at Gentry Heating Inc., or contact us today at 828-581-4045.