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Keeping Cool: What Type of Central Air Conditioner Should I Buy?

Cheryl Meyers at Amerispec answered this homeowner's question about installing a new central air conditioner:

I'm considering installing a new central air conditioner. What type should I buy?

Look for the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating (SEER) for the unit. In general, a higher SEER indicates a more energy-efficient air conditioner. The U.S. Department of Energy recommends looking for the ENERGY STARS label when purchasing a new central air conditioner, as this indicates a minimum SEER of 13. Generally, the higher the SEER rating, the more energy efficiently the system operates.

The types of refrigerant used in the unit should also be a consideration. The two types of refrigerant available are Freon and Puron. Until recently, Freon was the only type of refrigerant available in air conditioners.

However, Freon contains chlorine compounds, which if released into the atmosphere due to normal wear and tear or equipment failure, helps to destroy the ozone layer and contributes to global warming.

Recent international agreements have created a plan to cease production of Freon in the next few years. This has already effectively reduced the world's supply of Freon, driving up its cost to the consumer. Puron does not contain the same ozone-depleting properties as Freon. Both Freon and Puron air conditioning systems are available. However, the benefits of installing a Puron system should be evaluated when considering repairing an older system or installing a newer system.

Then, what can I do to keep my central air conditioner in good working condition?

  • Inspect and clean/replace the blower fan filter every two months or as recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Vacuum or brush clean the outdoor coil to keep it clear of dirt, leaves, and grass clippings. The coil can be carefully cleaned with a garden hose after debris is vacuumed off.
  • Both the blower fan and the outdoor fan should be leaned and lubricated where applicable, when following the manufacturer's instructions.
  • If there a humidifier damper, make sure it is closed for the summer to reduce the unnecessary addition of moisture-laden air to the home.

If after completing these suggestions, your air conditioner is still performing poorly, we recommend you hire a qualified contractor to undertake a more thorough servicing. This includes checking the refrigerant level, or making electrical or mechanical checks with adjustments. As with all mechanical equipment, regular servicing by a qualified contractor in accordance with the manufacturer's specifications is recommended.

And how long can I expect my central air conditioner to last?

There are many components in an air conditioner. However, most of these components can often be repaired or replaced. Failure of the compressor or an older air conditioner often results in complete replacement. Given that the compressor is considered to be the "heart" of the air conditioner, the life expectancy for an air conditioner is often linked to the life expectancy of the compressor. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the lifespan of a central air conditioner is about 15 to 20 years.

For more information on air conditioning standards and energy saving tips, visit:

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