Updated February 16, 2021
Summertime is a time for family, recreation, vacations, and air conditioning. When the heat and humidity start to take their toll, air conditioners are an essential part of an enjoyable summer. To make sure that you are never without air conditioning on a hot and humid summer day, we offer the following information. How does air conditioning work? What are the essential ingredients for cooling? What kind of AC unit is right for your home? And, how can you reduce the cost of cooling your home throughout the summer months?
Top Air Conditioning Brands
If you are shopping for an air conditioner, there are many brands to choose from. Here is a brief snapshot of several that we recommend.
- American Standard
- General Electric
- Day & Night
Cost Calculator for Air Conditioners
When you purchase an air conditioner you will pay for the equipment and the installation. And, you will pay to run your AC to keep your home comfortable. There will be maintenance costs and you will need to pay for repairs when required. Take a look at our cost calculator before considering any quotes from dealers or AC technicians. One of the first things to consider is what kind of system you need and what capacity it has to have. If you only need an air conditioner, that is one thing but if you need to heat your home as well, you need to consider a furnace or perhaps a heat pump that can do both jobs. Energy efficiency is important as are ease of operation and a quiet-running unit.
When Was Air Conditioning Invented?
Although refrigeration was first invented in 1851, it was not until the dawn of the 20th century that Willis Haviland Carrier invented a machine that cooled indoor spaces. The term air conditioner was patented around this time. However, home air conditioning units were not available until 1929 and it took until 1947 for affordable home air conditioners to appear on the market.
How Does Air Conditioning Work?
The majority of air conditioning units use a refrigeration cycle to cool the air in your home. But, some use evaporation to achieve the same goal.
Components of Your Air Conditioner
Air conditioning systems have five major components.
Thermostat: This is the device that monitors temperature and turns the AC unit on and off in order to maintain your home temperature within the desired range.
Evaporator: This is the core or coil full of refrigerant that absorbs heat and creates the cold used to cool your home. It is where liquid refrigerant turns to gas.
Condenser: This is the unit outside of your home where the refrigerant loses the heat it picked up in the evaporator.
Expansion valve: The expansion valve is where warm, liquid refrigerant turns to cool liquid refrigerant on its way to the evaporator.
Compressor: This is the part of the system that increased the pressure and temperature of the refrigerant before it gets back to the evaporator.
A simple way to think of your AC unit is that has a hot coil and a cold coil. The hot side is the compressor and condenser along with a fan. The cold side is the evaporator and a fan that blows air past the cold coils. The cold side cools the air in your home and the hot side blows hot air out of the house.
The expansion value sits between the hot and cold coils. It regulates the rate at which liquid, compressed refrigerant moves into the evaporator.
How the Refrigeration Cycle Works
Your air conditioner works by turning liquid refrigerant to a gas and then back again. In the process, it removes heat from your home and sends it outside. The heat is picked up by the refrigerant as warm air passes over the evaporator coil and heat is released in the condensing unit outside of your home. This is the refrigeration cycle but instead of taking heat out of a refrigerator your AC unit takes it out of your home even with the temperature outside is higher than the temperature indoors.
Air Conditioner Types
There are different kinds of air conditioners and they are useful in different situations.
Split AC Systems
A split AC system has two distinct parts, one inside the house and the other outside of the house. The cold expansion value and evaporator coil part are inside your home. The system is placed in your furnace or other air-handling system. The air-handling system blows air over the coil and through the ducts throughout your home. The hot part is the condenser unit which sits on a cement slab outside of your home where it releases heat.
Ductless AC Units
A ductless AC system is a split system as well. But, the cooling unit that takes heat out of your home is mounted on an inside wall. It contains the evaporator and a small fan that blows cool air directly into the room where the unit is mounted. The outside part is the condenser and, like with the other split system it is placed outside of your home. If you want to cool more than one room with this kind of system you typically need wall-mounted cooling units in more than one room.
Packaged AC Units
These are inside units that contain all of the parts of the system in one box. The heat is generated using natural gas or a heat lamp run by electricity.
A packaged terminal AC system is also known as a wall-split AC system. They are usually installed in the wall of a building with the cooling parts on the inside and the condenser parts of exhausting heat on the outside.
Buying Your New Air Conditioner
New AC units are expensive so give some serious thought to the process before you go shopping. When you know what to consider, you will know why some units are more expensive than others and why. Then you get to make an informed decision about which you need for your home.
Choosing an HVAC Contractor
Your HVAC contractor will be your most important source of information about your air conditioning system and you may, in fact, purchase your unit from them. As such, choosing the right HVAC contractor is important.
Consider their online reputation by doing a simple Google search, checking on Craigslist and Yelp, as well as other sites to check out comments and their ratings (number of stars).
Check out how soon they can install your AC unit and how long it will take. Check out their process for offering quotes. And, always be certain up front how much you can afford to spend. And, if you need help picking a contractor, contact us. We will be pleased to help you find a trusted and competent HVAC contractor.
Check the SEER Rating
SEER stands for seasonal energy efficiency ratio. It is a way to make sure that your new AC system will be energy-efficient and not each a hole in your pocketbook. It specifically has to do with how many BTUs of heat are removed per hour divided by the number of watts of electricity needed to do the job. Pay attention to the SEER rating and you will end up with a more energy-efficient unit which helps pay for itself over the years.
Type of Compressor
Here you have two choices. There are single stage and two-stage compressors. The single stage compressor has one speed only. Compared to the two-stage compressor it turns on and off more frequently and uses more energy.
The two-stage compressor has a high setting for extremely hot and muggy days plus a medium setting for days when the AC unit does not need to work as hard. The lower setting uses less energy and is less expensive to operate. Because you will use the medium setting the majority of the time, this is an important choice. And, because the unit can run longer while using less energy it is more efficient at removing humidity from the air. Two stage compressors cost more than single stage ones but you will realize savings over the years that will eventually make up the difference and more.
And, check out the compressor warranty. These are typically for five or ten years. The same argument applies in that what you spend up front will help save you money down the line.
Condenser Fan Motor
This motor is responsible for keeping the compressor from overheating and for cooling the super-hot refrigerant coming out of the condensing coils on the outside part of the unit. Through routine maintenance, this fan motor will last longer. Nevertheless, they can breakdown. Replacing the fan motor will cost a few hundred dollars but replacing the entire condenser will cost thousands. Make sure you purchase an AC unit in which the fan motor can be replaced without having to replace everything else!
Types of condense fan motors
Like with the compressor, you can get a single-stage fan motor that only has one speed or a variable speed motor that helps you save energy. A variable speed motor saves you money, is not constantly turning on and off, and can take forty percent off of the energy usage you are paying for.
How Loud Is Your AC Unit?
The noise level of your AC system is typically an afterthought. Unfortunately, a noisy AC unit is a real pain. AC noise levels are measured in decibels. We can listen to sounds in the 110 dB range but when they are constant and interfere with normal conversations that is a problem. Check out the noise rating of your AC unit and consider things like if you will be entertaining in the back yard next to a noisy AC unit or not.
The noise from your air conditioner is more important the closer the unit is to you. Consider where you are going to put the outside unit, where you may be spending time out of doors, and where you will be spending your time inside of your home.
Then consider fan speed. A variable speed fan motor running a low speed is significantly less noisy than a one-speed fan running full tilt.
And, some AC units are simply less noisy than others. The quietest units available are the American Standard Platinum ZV at 55 dB, the Dave Lennox Signature Collection XC5 at 59 dB, and the Carrier Infinity 19VS at 56dB.
For the quietest AC system, go with a variable speed fan, add compressor insulation, use noise-reducing fan blades, and insulate the base pan. And, if you can put the outside unit away from where you spend time in your yard and where you spend the most time in your house, it will make a huge difference as every time you double your distance from your AC unit, your experienced dB level will go down by 6.
Type of Refrigerant
Refrigerants are what make air conditioners work. For years, units used R-22 also known as Freon. This is being phased out as it breaks down ozone. A new unit will use R-410A which does not break down ozone. It works at a higher pressure than Freon so new AC units need thicker metal walls to compensate.
Air Conditioner Brands
We do not favor any specific AC brand. Rather we will recommend the brand and model with the characteristics best suited for your home. We do believe that who you use to install our system and help maintain it over the years is really important. While you want a top brand for your air conditioner, focus first on choosing a top HVAC contractor for installation and service.
Maintaining Your Air Conditioner
Maintain your AC system and it will serve you well for years and years and help you avoid expensive repairs. Here are the things that you can and should do and the things that you need an HVAC pro to handle.
Filter Maintenance and Replacement
Cleaning and replacing AC filters is perhaps the most important maintenance job and it is yours! By routinely cleaning and replacing filters you keep airflow from being blocked, cutting down on operating efficiency, and causing the system to freeze up and stop. The worst-case scenario you need to avoid is having accumulated dirt getting into the evaporator coil where it reduces its capacity to absorb heat.
There are different types of filters with different efficiency ratings. It is important to always replace with filters with the correct rating and to clean and replace according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. You may need to attend to this task more often if adjacent dirt roads, lots of pet fur, or other sources cause your filters to get dirty more rapidly than normal.
Both AC coils get dirty all of the time. Dirt cuts down on airflow and reduces heat absorption and radiation. You need to clean both coils at least once a year and more often if needed. You will have less work to do if your make sure to clean your filters regularly. When cleaning be sure to clean where foliage and debris block airflow.
Coil Fin Maintenance
These thin aluminum pieces on the condenser and evaporator coils bend easily and then blow airflow. With a “fin comb” you can easily turn them to their proper position.
Condensate Drain Maintenance
The condensate drain is connected to the indoor evaporator coil and can be blocked. Run a stiff wire through it or simply blow through it to make certain that it is not obstructed.
Professional Air Conditioner Maintenance
You should have your AC check by a competent HVAC professional before each summer begins. It is their job to make sure you have enough coolant, check for leaks, check belts, oil motors, make certain that your thermostat is accurate, and check airflow through the evaporator coil.
Air conditioners are amazing machines that provide comfort on hot and humid days. Knowing a bit about AC units will help you purchase the right one for your home and maintain it so that it serves you well for years and years. Choosing the right AC brand and model is important but choosing the right HVAC contractor can make the difference between lots of problems and years of trouble free service. Contact us for help finding the right HVAC contractor for your air conditioning system.
Adam StaveAug 19, 2019
It’s coming. You can feel the heat, the humidity, the sweat from the heat and humidity. Depending on your location, you feel like you’re inside an oven or an uncomfortable sauna. Here it comes…..it’s summer. The joys of summer can quickly turn to exhaustion once you’re standing outside in the heat of the day. You can stay outside and fry like an egg or stay inside with the air conditioning running at full blast.
What would we do without air conditioning? Most of us would struggle without it during the hot months. Even though we value the benefits of a good A/C unit, how does it work? Which parts are essential to cool us down? Which kind is right for my situation? How do I reduce my energy bills?