Thinking of installing or replacing a central air conditioner in you home? Want to know what to keep in mind when shopping for a system?

Here's some basic advice, along with shopping tips from the U.S. Department of Energy.

We know: All About Central Air Conditioning

What’s a central air conditioner?

There are generally two types of air conditioners. Room air conditioners cool off a single room and are usually located in a window. Central air conditioners cool the air throughout your home through a system of vents.

How do central air conditioners work?

Central air conditioners usually use a forced-air system to cool the air throughout your house. A fan blows air through a filter, then over a coil to condition it by removing heat and humidity. The cooler air is circulated through ducts to various rooms. A thermostat controls the system.

What kinds of systems are there?

There are basically two:

  • The most common system is called a split system in which refrigerant circulates between an indoor coil and an outdoor condenser with a compressor. The refrigerant cools and dehumidifies the air, then the air is blown through ducts into the house.
  • A heat pump system is both a heater and a cooler. When you use it as an air conditioner, it releases heat from the house into the air or into the ground.

Does it matter what size I buy?

Definitely. You want one that is sized for your house. If it's too small, it won't cool the house. If it's too large, it will turn on and off, cycling more frequently and not keeping the rooms at an even temperature.

What should I know when shopping?

The efficiency of the unit is very important. Efficiency is described by the systems SEER rating (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating) and tells you how much cooling the unit gives you for each watt of electricity.

Any unit you buy should have a SEER of at least 10. Systems with SEERs of 12 or more receive an EnergyStar label from the federal government.

When properly sized and installed, an air conditioner with an EnergyStar label will use 20-40% less energy than a standard system.

What are some of the common brands of central air conditioner systems?

Brands include: Whirlpool, Panasonic, Kenmore, Friedrich, Sharp, Carrier, GE, Samsung, Frigidaire and Amana.

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