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Air Conditioner Buying, A Homeowner's Guide

With our air conditioner buying guide, you get the inside story on purchasing a new system for your home. There are so many different brands, efficiencies, and features that it can be confusing and hard to decide what you actually need. Now, you have a friend in the business and we will use our hvac service experience to help you.

The process begins with finding the proper size unit for your home. This is accomplished through a procedure that is known as a load calculation. In simple terms, this is a computerized process of finding out how much heat must be removed from the home.

**HOT TIP** Avoid a contractor that uses a rule of thumb or bases the size of the required unit on the existing unit.

If you do not need a new unit immediately, you might want to consider some basic home upgrades that will reduce the size of unit that you will need to purchase. With our do it yourself energy conservation analysis, we take you by the hand and walk through your home to show you how to do this.

Next, you should decide how much you can afford to spend. This will be a factor in determining the efficiency and special features you get. As a general rule, get the highest efficiency (seer) unit you can afford because that will save you money in operating costs.

The next step in air conditioner buying is to decide what special features, if any, you would like to have. Things such as seer (efficiency) and two speed units can be considered. You should watch for the common practice of "upselling". This is a process where a contractor will give you a bargain price for the basic model and then add on extras to make the real profits. Normally, the quote will have three categories (options) which are sometimes referred to as good, better, and best. It is easy to be pressured into wasting some serious money.

After you have decided what features you would like, continue your air conditioner buying process by choosing a brand. You can consult our brand rankings page to compare the quality of the units.

Air Conditioner Buying, Getting Quotes

You should get at least three quotes from local contractors (you can use the form below to get four free local quotes). The quotes should include all parts, materials, taxes, labor, etc. to install and be in writing. Make sure that all the quotes are for the same type (seer, refrigerant type, etc.) and size of equipment. Do not allow the dealers to add anything extra to the quote such as indoor air quality products etc. If you desire extras such as improved filtration or other air quality products, specify that they be listed separately on the quotes so that you can compare the cost of them as well. The quote should include the standard manufacturer's warranty.

**HOT TIP** Any extended warranty offered should be listed separately on the quote with it's cost and the name of the company administering the warranty. (This is required by law in many states) Also, before purchasing the extended warranty, make sure you understand what maintenance is required to be performed by a dealer. The dealer should give a one year basic labor warranty unless the manufacturer's is longer.

Do not pay for the job before completion. You should not have to pay more than half of the total job cost up front.

AC Quality Installation Checklist

The final step in air conditioner buying is to have the dealer/installer walk around the job with you. Check the things on the list below and ask the installer for the warranty papers and the owners manual. Make sure you know whether any action is required by you to register the equipment with the manufacturer. When satisfied, you can write the final check.

  • The outdoor unit should be level.
  • The outdoor unit should be sitting on a pad made of concrete or hardened plastic.
  • There should be a 12 inch space between the outdoor unit and the home to allow proper air flow.
  • There should be a refrigerant filter/drier in the system.
  • There should be an electrical disconnect within three feet of the outdoor unit.
  • There should not be any scraps or trash left around the installation areas. (You want someone who pays attention to the little details)
  • copper lines running from the indoor unit to the outdoor unit should be insulated.
  • The copper lines should be supported every four feet and be as short as possible.
  • Normally, the copper lines should be the same size as the connections on the unit. If they are not, ask the installer how they determined the size of lines to use. Have them to show you in the manufacturers installation instructions.
  • Both the main and emergency drain connections on the evaporator should run to a suitable drain.
  • A programmable digital thermostat should have been installed.
  • Run the system through a complete cooling cycle to verify proper operation.

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