When the mercury rises up, the thoughts of getting inside a cool, comfortable place is the prime thing that crosses your mind. Almost one-quarter of US households have central air conditioning or window AC units, with the numbers steadily increasing. Every year, over 6.5 million window AC units are sold. According to data disclosed by Energy Star, the cooling bills of an average household stand at 13% of its yearly utility bill. If you too are planning to buy an AC for beating the extreme humidity and heat of summer, make sure you know how to buy the ideal one.
While buying too small an AC would make it work harder to cool the room and thus drive your energy bills up, too large an AC would cool the space quite quickly without getting enough time to remove moisture, thus making you stay inside a humid and cold place. This is in addition to escalating power bills. So, the key is in choosing the ideal unit that would cool your place efficiently without putting a huge burden on your budget by way of rising power bills. Here’s how you can do it.
1. Choose the AC tonnage based on your room size
The tonnage of an AC stands for the speed at which it can cool a room. When you talk about 1 ton (TR) of refrigeration – which is an American unit, you are referring to the AC’s heat extraction capacity. In other words, it’s the amount of energy you need to melt 1 ton of ice (which is almost 907 kgs). 1 refrigeration ton is almost equal to 3.5kW or 12000 BTU/h (BTU stands for British thermal unit).
The tonnage of an ideal AC would depend on the dimensions of your room as well as the location of your home (homes in extreme hot, dry weather may need an AC with more tonnage than their counterparts in rainy regions or heavily shaded and cooler climates). Usually, buying 1 ton AC would be adequate to cool 120 to 140 square feet of area.
However, when the area to cool is 150 to 180 square feet, or 180 to 240 square feet, you would need ACs with 1.5 ton and 2 ton respectively. You may also use online calculators where you have to input your room dimensions and location before the tool automatically calculates the AC tonnage you would need. Just make sure to check the tonnage and BTU because at times, products claiming to be a 1 ton unit may have a cooling capacity lower than the standard 12000 BTU.
2. Look for energy ratings
Window and split ACs come with EER (Energy Efficiency Ratio) ratings while central air conditioning units have SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) ratings. These ratings show how efficiently a cooling system would operate when the outdoor temperature is at a specific level. Thus, the higher your AC’s EER or SEER rating, the more energy-efficient it will be.
Apart from the EER and SEER ratings, you should also consider Energy Star Ratings as they indicate lower electric consumption and thus, lower power bills. So, you can save more on your electric bills with an AC having a 5-Star Rating than with one that has 2 or 3 Star Rating. Sometimes, people mistakenly think that ACs with the same tonnage will have identical EER ratings as well, which isn’t true. So, even when you have units with the same tonnage, one may have a better EER rating than its counterpart. Remember this when you compare prices and models before buying an AC.
3. Selecting a Ductless AC
Ductless ACs (often called multi-split, mini-split, or split-ductless systems) are used to cool one or more rooms. Similar to central ACs, they have an indoor unit for handling air and an outdoor condenser. Instead of ductwork, a conduit links the two units apart from housing the refrigerant tubing, power cable, condensate drain and suction tubing.
Thus, with these ACs, you won’t need to tear down your ceilings and walls for running air ducts, which could be a huge advantage if you live in an older home or your abode is architecturally sensitive to such tampering. Yet, the steep upfront cost is a factor that you need to consider.
While you can get the most affordable models at almost $700-$1,000, you will need to shell out around $5,000 for the higher-end ones. In case you want a multi-zone cooling unit or one that would efficiently cool a large room, your cost would be closer to the higher end of the range.
Since many ductless ACs have Energy Star Ratings, it pays to buy one since that would guarantee its energy-efficiency, which in turn would mean lower power bills for you. Due to the significant investment involved, you should check the durability of your ductless AC (together with warranties, cost of repairs etc) and opt for additional features (like dehumidifier function, programmable timer, remote control, reusable filters etc) if they are on offer.
4. Buying a window air conditioner
You may be tempted to consider the features and price before buying a window AC but the most important thing is to find a unit with the right size. You will find window ACs with varying cooling capacities in the range of 5,000 to 12,500 BTU. Usually, for cooling 1 square foot of living space, an AC requires 20 BTU.
You can get your room dimensions by multiplying the length and breadth. However, don’t make a purchase decision on BTU alone. Instead, take note of other factors too like your ceiling’s height, size of your doors and windows, probable location of installation of the AC, number of people in the room, whether the room is shaded or sunny etc. You can make the following allowances for considerations such as these:
- A 10% capacity reduction if it’s a heavily shaded room
- A 10% capacity increase if it’s an extra sunny room
- A capacity increase of 600 BTU for every additional individual (when 2+ people occupy the room on a regular basis)
- A capacity increase of 4000 BTU if the unit’s location of installation is the kitchen
5. Product pricing
Window ACs can cool roughly 100 to 300 square feet of area and cost about $100 to $200. Prices would rise if the area that needs to be cooled increase. Thus, ACs for a medium sized room (250 to 400 square feet) would cost $200-$300, while the large capacity ACs that can cool anywhere between 350 and 650 square feet would cost almost $300-$400.
If you need to cool two or multiple rooms, you can invest in split ductless ACs, though they would cost more ($700 upwards) than window units. In case you are planning to cool most of your house, a central AC unit would be the most cost-effective option though the initial costs could be $1000+.
Your AC unit’s price would also go up if you look for Energy Star rated units or those with additional features like adjustable thermostat, remote control, programmable timers etc. Yet, it pays to opt for Energy Star rated units as they would help lower your power bills by cooling your space efficiently.
6. Easy installation
Since how efficiently your AC works depends a lot on how good or bad its installation is, it always pays to hire a professional for the job irrespective of whether you have bought a window, ductless or central AC unit.
Your chosen unit should ideally have an easy installation procedure that a certified and authorized professional should be able to handle without a lot of additional tools, effort and time. At the same time, the installation cost shouldn’t be too steep or else, you will have to factor that too in your budget before you take that final call to buy.
Some window AC units come with user-friendly installation kits that you can use to set them up on your own. Though you may be tempted to go the DIY route to show your expertise, take it up only if you are sure of the job. Else, let a professional handle it instead because any mistake in installation will interfere with proper air flow and the optimal working of your unit.
7. Check for manufacturer after sales service record
Keeping your unit in optimal working condition demands its proper maintenance and repairs, as and when necessary. Though you may not feel the pinch during the warranty period, you will struggle once this golden period is over and you can’t find the right professional for the upkeep of your AC.
So, it always pays to check the after sales service your manufacturer offers by going through reviews of past customers or asking the manufacturer what’s on offer. Also, make sure to ask for extended warranty (if it’s on offer) and replacement policy of damaged or worn out parts because these too can be big issues when it comes to cooling your space efficiently without costing a bomb.
Now that you know the key steps for buying the ideal AC for your room or the entire house, use them judiciously to make an informed buying decision.
Taufiq Raihan is your commercial and residential HVAC contractors in Highlands Ranch CO serving Parker, Aurora and Littleton as well as South Metro Denver and is owner and service manager who established RBM back in 1994.