Investing in a New Air Conditioner? Consider the Lifetime CostsPublished on: May 24, 2015
Investing in a new air conditioner or heat pump may be the biggest investment you make in home comfort. The decisions you make will have an impact on your energy budget and comfort for years to come. Before you make a firm decision, consider what the lifetime costs of the system will be.
The price of central cooling systems is almost entirely driven by the quality of the components inside them. Higher quality parts usually translate to a longer lifetime. If you bristle at the thought of system repairs and downtime, opting for a higher quality system will provide system reliability.
Energy efficiency goes hand-in-hand with price, and choosing a new air conditioner with a higher seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) rating will pay for itself in lower energy bills. The minimum energy efficiency rating for a new air conditioner or heat pump stands at 14 SEER for the southeastern U.S.
Each manufacturer’s model undergoes laboratory testing to learn how much electricity it uses to cool a space to 80 degrees when the outdoor temperature is held at 82 degrees over the course of a season. Each single increase in the SEER rating indicates that the system uses 10 percent less energy than the one preceding it. A cooling system with a 16 SEER that’s earned the Energy Star label will use 20 percent less energy than one with a SEER of 14. Over the course of the cooling season, those energy savings help offset the higher cost of the system by trimming monthly energy bills without sacrificing comfort.
Two of the components to look for in a cooling system for this climate include those with a dual-speed compressor and/or a variable-speed air handler. A system with a dual-speed compressor can run the compressor at a low and high speed, depending on how much cooling your home needs. Most cooling systems run on one high speed only and that tends to wear them out faster.
Most of the time, an A/C or heat pump equipped with a dual-speed compressor will run on the low speed, reducing energy costs and system wear. The compressor is the system’s most expensive and energy-consuming part. Opting for this feature when investing in a new air conditioner will give you better performance, energy savings, durability and lower maintenance costs.
A variable-speed air handler is another upgrade that promotes indoor comfort and reduces energy costs. Like a dual-speed compressor, the system knows how to adjust its running speed based on the amount of cooling you need.
Both improve comfort in the following ways:
- They tend to run more quietly and extract more humidity. Since they run longer and more slowly during their cycles, more air passes over the evaporator coil, removing excessive humidity. Drier indoor air always feels cooler and is healthier for you and your home.
- The rooms that are farther from the air handler will have a chance to cool more thoroughly with variable-speed equipment as well.
- Systems that run more slowly improve indoor air quality by trapping more airborne particulates on the system’s air filter.
Maintenance and Repair Considerations
All cooling systems need routine maintenance performed by an HVAC professional at least once a year and regular air filter changes throughout the cooling season. Keeping the outdoor condenser clean also improves energy efficiency and keeps repair costs low. However, when investing in a new air conditioner with better efficiency ratings and higher quality components, repair costs because of component failure tend to be lower.
If you don’t plan to stay in your home for years, investing in a new air conditioner that’s a high quality system may improve your ability to sell your home. The National Association of Homebuilders and the National Association of Realtors have found through repeated consumer studies that the vast majority of home buyers in the market rate high energy efficiency as their most important criterion.