Every year, spring ushers in the warm season with budding trees, blooming flowers and, for some of our customers, an air conditioner that just flat-out calls it quits.
Shopping for air conditioners has not yet made anyone’s top 10 list of most favourite things to do – at least, not that we know of!
But while you may not be chomping at the bit to delve into the mysterious world of sizing, square footage, SEER ratings and installation issues, taking the time to do your research will pay off both in dollars saved and energy conserved.
In this post, learn our best tried-and true-buying tips to pick a great new air conditioner the first time!
1. Know Your A/C Model Types
While most of us are quite familiar with the central (ducted) air conditioner and the window unit air conditioner, fewer people realize you have many more choices for home cooling than just these two.
For example, have you heard of the ductless A/C? Or the ductless mini-split? How about the heat pump? And did you know you have three heat pump choices – air source, water source or geothermal?
Some of these newer entrants into the mainstream residential and commercial A/C marketplace have some truly great features to offer and are definitely worth considering.
So here’s a brief overview of your main options for cooling.
The traditional window unit can be an economical choice for small spaces without ductwork or home additions that do not share the central duct system. As a perk, some window units can also heat your space.
Installation is typically fast and easy. However, window units can be noisier than other A/C options and may also pose security risks when installed in a first-floor window.
Central (ducted) unit
The central or ducted air conditioner is still considered a gold standard choice today. This type of system can connect with a variety of indoor air quality appliances, including a central dehumidifier or central humidifier, a central ultraviolet air purifier, a central heat recovery ventilator and a central HEPA filtration system.
Installation is generally complex where ductwork does not already exist. It can also be invasive to cut into the walls or ceilings to install air registers and exhaust vents.
The ductless air conditioner is not a new invention but it is still a relative newcomer to North America, where central systems have long dominated the cooling landscape.
Ductless air conditioners are optimal for small spaces and new additions that do not connect to a main duct network. A ductless A/C or ductless mini-split can also easily coordinate between up to four different zones, each with its own independent thermostat, to control energy costs.
Ductless mini-split A/C units can also deliver heating in winter. Installation is only mildly invasive – typically, all that is required is a single hole drilled through the wall where each interior unit will be installed.
Heat pump unit
There are three different types of heat pump systems: air source, water source and geothermal (ground source). All three offer superior energy efficiency – a geothermal system can deliver up to 400 percent energy efficiency by recycling heat energy from the surrounding soil and groundwater that would otherwise go wasted.
The air source heat pump is by far the most economical as well as the easiest to install and can be used for both cooling and heating in small spaces or home additions.
Water and ground source heat pumps come with a higher price tag and more complex installation but can generally deliver a higher level of energy efficiency and performance.
Some heat pump systems can even provide hot water as well.
2. Energy Efficiency Upgrade Credits or Rebates May Be Available
Every year, Ontario makes a number of upgrade credits or rebates available for homeowners who choose to install new energy-efficient appliances or fixtures.
But what most homeowners don’t realize is that the key to qualifying is to work with a province-approved HVAC contractor who can submit for these rebates or credits on your behalf.
If you are undecided about which A/C model to choose, sometimes the best way to shop is to find out what upgrade credits and rebates you qualify for and use that to narrow down your options.
3. Match Your A/C Size to Your Square Footage
Other than heating, cooling your home represents perhaps the single biggest energy cost you bear as a homeowner. So getting the size of your new air conditioner just right really matters.
When shopping for an air conditioner, the term “size” doesn’t refer to the dimensions of the unit but to its cooling capacity, which is expressed in BTUs, or British thermal units.
Your HVAC contractor can help you determine the correct BTU size for your space.
4. Remember to Budget for Installation Costs
There are two major costs associated with replacing or upgrading an air conditioner: the price of the unit itself and the cost for installation.
Some A/C systems are more complex (central A/C systems, heat pumps) to install than others (window units, ductless systems).
Ensuring your unit is installed properly can also be key to qualifying for any tax incentives, rebates or credits you want to apply for.
5. Look for Extra Features
Today’s energy-efficient air conditioners often come with a plentiful assortment of special features that make trimming power costs even easier.
Popular features include a programmable thermostat, variable-speed blower, fan setting, fan delay switch, larger coils and a filter change reminder light on the central console.
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