Air conditioning is becoming less of a luxury and more of a necessity for people living in America. Central air is the most popular way to cool your home, using a condensing unit, an evaporator, and an air handler to produce cool air. A system of ductwork and registers is used to circulate the air around the home, and temperature is easily regulated using a thermostat. Central air is the most popular because one unit can cool an entire house to temperature with ease, where most other methods need several units or only condition the air in one part of the house.
This post will discuss:
Cost & Efficiency
Pros, Cons & Alternatives
Cost And Efficiency
Central air systems are one of the more expensive options for residential air conditioning. There a few things to consider when designing a budget for this kind of project:
Is ductwork already present in your home and will it work for central air conditioning?
Ductwork is expensive, and depending on the layout of your home, it may add a slight or significant amount to your cost. There's no good way to give an accurate range for the cost to install ductwork because every situation is different. The amount and kinds of duct you need, amount of registers, and ease of access can all impact the anticipated cost of installing it. If you're looking for an accurate estimate, it would be best to schedule a consultation with a local company and have them walk you through it.
If you already have ductwork in your home, whether it be from a past system or for your current heat source, it will make the installation of central air more affordable. The ductwork can be updated in places where it's necessary, reducing the cost of materials and labor.
Are you looking for high or average energy efficiency?
High efficiency systems are designed to use energy more efficiently. They will result in lower utility bills without compromising the comfort of your home. These units tend to be more expensive up front, but because of the amount saved on electricity and gas bills, they're an investment worth considering. As the efficiency rating decreases, the upfront cost will decrease too, but utility bills are not expected to drop as much as they would for high efficiency.
One of the best units for high efficiency is a heat pump, which you can read more about here.
This article from MIT Tech Review is also helpful: Everything You Need To Know About Heat Pumps
We have found that people save around $50 each month on their electric bills when they switch to a heat pump (from a standard air conditioner, geothermal unit, or window air conditioners). That may not sound like much, but after 12 months, you'll have saved about $600.
After 3 years, you're expected to save around $1,800 total.
And after 5 years, the total savings are around $3,000.
The average life span for a heat pump is about 15 years. You spend around $2,300 more up front than you would for a standard air conditioner, but a heat pump will pay for itself pretty quickly and save you thousands of dollars in the long run.
Heat Pumps may not be the best financial option for you right now, and that's okay. You may get 2 or 3 more years out of an air conditioner, and the unit will cost $2000 to $3000 less than a heat pump depending on its size and efficiency rating. If you do not have room in the budget for a heat pump right away, there are standard units that work perfectly fine and will keep you just as cool without the higher energy efficiency.
What kind of insulation do you have in your home?
Insulation is a detail that often gets overlooked when trying to figure out the cost of installing central air conditioning. Even so, it is one of the most important. When determining the size of unit needed for your home, insulation plays a significant role.
Insulation is intended to keep the outside environment from having too much of an impact on the temperature and humidity inside your home. The better the insulation, the better your house holds temperature. Air conditioners must work harder to keep up if the insulation is not effectively keeping cold air in your home. Cellulose or Fiberglass insulation are not going to be as efficient as a high quality insulation, like spray foam. Your HVAC system will have to work much harder in a home with less efficient insulation, using more energy and needing a larger unit to keep up.
In other words, excellent insulation could save you A LOT of money on the unit itself and your HVAC energy bills! (Saving about $2000 by getting the smaller unit and THOUSANDS on energy bills once it's installed!)
Finally, here's an article with some general information on spray foam insulation: Why Spray Foam.
Central Air Conditioning Placement
The inside unit for an air conditioner is called an evaporator coil. It is typically placed inside or next to the heating equipment. To learn more about the evaporator coil, click here. Typically, these units are near an outside wall because a condensing unit will be placed on the outside of the house. Scheduling a consultation with a local HVAC contractor is ideal when trying to decide where the unit can go. They will be able to walk you through the best and worst placements for your system.
Be sure that you have space somewhere around the outside of your home for the condenser. Consider your heat source and whether or not a coil can be added to or placed around your current set up. If not, can the current units be moved or replaced to make coil placement possible? These are great questions to look into before a consultation, and excellent questions to ask your contractor.
Pros, Cons & Alternatives
When considering pros and cons, there are some pretty obvious ones, like the value of your home increasing or your pockets feeling a little empty afterward. But what are all those less obvious benefits that come with central air?
Central air is the best way to control the temperature of your entire house. The equipment is durable and lasts a long time, making the investment well worth it. You'll have a wider rang of efficiencies to choose from, giving you plenty of options when deciding what's best for you. Should it ever need work done, the systems are extremely easy to trouble shoot and parts are easy to replace. Warranties are usually pretty good for these units, too, depending on the brand.
Cost is definitely the greatest downfall, but customers have raised concerns about zoning features, as well. If you are looking for something to customize the temperature in different rooms, this isn't a great option. These units are controlled by 1 thermostat and will cool the entire house to that one temperature. If you would like something with zoning capabilities, you can look into mini-split systems. Click here to learn more about mini-splits.
We understand that sometimes central air just isn't in the budget for some people, especially if ductwork needs installed. We do our best to provide some alternatives for people who would like to be comfortable in the heat of summer but just can't afford the ducted systems.
Mini splits are an excellent ductless system that can provide heat and air conditioning. In addition to zoning, they are energy efficient and take up much less space. They are also known as the "ductless" unit, because they do not have ductwork. If you would like to learn more about these units, click here to be taken to our mini-split heat pump post.
Window units are great alternatives, too. They are the least expensive unit to purchase, but they aren't as easy to repair and do not typically come with very good warranties. These units also need taken out of the window during cold seasons, and re-installed during the warmer parts of the year. This can cause damage to windows and surrounding areas, making it a less desirable alternative.
As with anything you buy, manufacturers matter. Different companies have different goals, some trying to offer the cheapest option, resulting in poor quality. Some companies try to maximize their profits, charging higher prices for a less-than-desirable unit. Look for brands that offer decent quality first. Prices can lie, but reviews and ratings rarely do. Research the brands and see what people have to say about them. Our team has done extensive research behind each HVAC brand we deal in. If we aren't happy with the quality, or the prices seem a little high for what it is, we start looking for something better.
We promote Trane because we believe in the quality of their products and believe the pricing is a fair amount for what customers are getting. Trane focuses on efficiency, durability, and customer service. Their testing is extensive, and the benefits are evident. Call backs are rare, and customers are thrilled!
We promote Concord and Ducane because the price point is excellent for the quality of equipment. They are similar in quality and price, providing our customers with more options. While you may miss out on some of the efficiency and warranty benefits that Trane offers, we trust the quality of these units and consider them to be an excellent deal.
In your search for good brands, we encourage you to look into more than just the price. Look beyond the quality, too. Do they honor their warranties, and if a part needs replaced, is their customer service easy to reach and helpful? Look for the company that is out to care for you and make sure you have a good experience with their product. If their customer service is not up to par, they're not in it for you.
Here is a very thorough review we found that includes parent companies/manufacturers associated with each brand. It does a great job of reviewing each company and explaining the reviews. While we don't believe it is completely unbiased as claimed, it does appear to give decently transparent conclusions based on customer and contractor reviews.
Central air is an excellent option if it's in your budget. Make sure you have space for this kind of unit, and do your research on the different brands available. Ask about warranties, customer service, and durability. Lastly, good luck on your journey to those cooler summers!