How does an air conditioner work?
An Air conditioners primary job is to cool the air in your home. Removing humidity from the air is a secondary outcome that happens passively in the process.
All types of air conditioner work by pulling air out of your home, cooling the air by running it over the refrigerant filled coils, and then circulating it back into to the rooms. This cycle continues through the air return ducts (bringing the hot air to the air conditioning unit) and back through the heat vents.
What SEER rating do I need?
Wondering what SEER rating you should aim for when buying a new central A/C?
Due to our rather short air conditioning season, the financial investment of a central air conditioner beyond 18 – 20 SEER usually doesn’t make sense for our Canadian climate.
Air conditioners above 20 SEER are relatively much more expensive and are often not even stocked in Canada. This means that they typically would need to be special ordered from the United States, further adding to the expense of buying one in Canada.
Given that air conditioners are only operated a few months out of the year, Canadians are unlikely to see a good return on such a high initial investment.
For that reason, it’s best for the average Canadian homeowner to opt for a moderately efficient model in the 14 – 18 SEER range in most cases.
What determines the effectiveness of an A/C?
If the air conditioning system is working efficiently heat and moisture will be removed from the air in the home and recirculated making it feel much cooler. As the recirculated air continues through this process more and more moisture will be removed and the temperature will be able to match the temperature you have set your air conditioner system at.
Some factors that may determine if your home will be able to reach the desired temperature:
- How hot is your home when you turn on the A/C?
- How big is your house?
- Is your attic insulated?
- Is it hotter than 32 degrees Celsius ?
When mother nature gives us those blistering days that are much warmer than normal in our climate your A/C will struggle to reach the desired temperature as it was not designed to remove that much heat. However if it is working efficiently it shouldn’t be much higher than 2 degrees above desired temperature while working at full capacity.
Some methods to help your A/C do the best it can under these circumstances are:
- Close all drapes / blinds
- Close all windows
- Close all doors
- Turn on ceiling fans (this may not assist the A/C but may make the cooler air feel nice with a breeze affect)
What types of air conditioners are available?
See here for a full comparison of the different types of A/C you can buy.
Window Air Conditioner:
This is a small unit that contains all of the main components that fit into a little box that is put into your window. Generally used to cool small spaces or individual rooms in the home .
Split air conditioner or mini-split:
Comprises of two parts; an indoor and outdoor component. A split air conditioner is slightly smaller and more aesthetically pleasing than a window air conditioner and can cool one or two rooms in the house
Packaged Air Conditioner:
This is the large HVAC unit that is outside of the home. It hooks up to your homes furnace and circulates the cool air through all of the duct work. It is the most expensive of the three options however it also cools the entire house instead of one or two rooms.
Can I buy a used air conditioner?
It is difficult to find used units as most contractors will not install them. Used units do not come with warranties and they come with high risk for issues. A used A/C can add complications, have unknown problems, may have been damaged when being removed from the original home and the contractors do not want to be responsible for any issues that may arise.
Will replacing an air conditioner or installing an air conditioner improve the value of my home?
Having an Air Conditioner System will definitely increase the chances of selling a home quicker. Especially when home buyers are comparing with other homes that do not have a cooling unit.
If your home has ductwork, efficient windows and insulation already, the cost of putting in an Air Conditioner may increase the value of the home to make it worth the investment. Typically according to “The Nest” homes increase in value on average of 12% when the home is in a climate where it will be appreciated.
However even if you do not recoup the entire value of the air conditioner when you sell, the amount of personal use you get out of the unit to live in comfort in your home should be a factor when deciding to upgrade your unit.
Why is it important to choose a reliable and trained technician to install my air conditioner?
A big issue in the heating and cooling industry is the lack of trained professional technicians. Many companies are not available to speak with customers and explain or educate them when they have questions, their only concern is to install and do service calls. Although that is what their job is, it is not very comforting as a customer to not have all the information or know what to expect or understand why something is happening.
Installing an A/C involves extensive knowledge on a variety of advanced components and the understanding of heat transfer and the refrigeration cycle. Make sure you find a technician who is certified and stands behind their work.
Choosing a technician that is not certified can cause problems with your current electrical panel as well as your current heating system in your home. Generally speaking it is not worth the risk to save some money to have potentially more expensive problems in the future. You want to make sure the company you choose is going to be able to service your units in the future as well.
Need a quote from a reliable company? We can help!
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What if I don’t have ducts but I need an air conditioner?
If you’re considering adding an air conditioner to your home, a ductless mini-split system is a good option since it doesn’t need ducts to cool down your home. A mini-split or ductless air conditioner has one part of the unit on the inside wall and one on the outside wall. This is really good for older homes and additions that are not connected to the main ductwork.
While ductless units are more expensive than a window unit the energy savings can increase as there is less loss than a regular air conditioner and less air leakage than a window air conditioner.
Portable air conditioners are another option where everything is in a single unit and much less expensive. However these units can be quite loud and very heavy making it more difficult to install and remove the unit at the beginning and end of the season. It will also require space for storage when it is not needed.
A third option if you live in a climate that only a few weeks of hot days you may want to consider the use of fans to keep you cool.
What is considered a high-efficiency central air conditioner?
Typically, 13 SEER is the minimum level of central air conditioner efficiency sold in Canada but the government may soon raise this limit to force the sale of even more efficient A/C systems. In order to qualify for ENERGY STAR certification the central air conditioner must usually be at least 14 SEER or greater, though not ALL 14 SEER A/Cs are automatically rated.
When you purchase an ENERGY STAR-certified high-efficiency central air conditioner you can rest assured that you are purchasing a model that has met certain energy use specifications, and should expect to see a greater percentage of energy savings each month.
For most Canadians, 14 SEER is a good place to start, or if you can afford slightly more, we recommend investing in at least a 16 SEER air conditioner. Beyond 18 SEER probably isn’t necessary for most ordinary home owners and consumers in Canada.
The manufacturer brands of central air conditioners available in Canada offer a wide range of models from 13 SEER all the way up to 26 SEER. That being said, models with SEER ratings above 18 are rarely sold in Canada to ordinary consumers and are usually meant more for warmer climates like the southern United States.
How much does a new, high-efficiency central air conditioner cost?
When you are researching which central air conditioner is best for your home, it’s important to establish a budget that you’re comfortable with. Part of creating your budget is educating yourself about the costs that are associated with purchasing a high-efficiency central air conditioner.
Please see our central air conditioner pricing article for a detailed breakdown of price ranges by brand, region, and A/C size, among other factors.
To summarize, prices in most of the country including installation are usually in the following ranges:
- Value Brands: $2500 – $3600*
- Mid-Range Brands: $2800 – $4500*
- Premium Brands: $3200 – $6000+*
*these are just estimates and can vary based on a variety of factors
When can I expect to see my return on investment?
Energy Savings and Return on Investment
Enjoy up to 30% annual energy savings when you purchase a high-efficiency central air conditioner. This obviously depends on how old your current A/C is and what its efficiency rating is. The older it is and the less efficient it is, compared to how to how efficient your new model is, will dictate the kind of savings you’ll see on your electricity bill.
Another important factor is how much you typically use your A/C and how big your home is. The more you normally spend on electricity to cool your home, the more you obviously stand to save.
In some cases, a new more energy-efficient central cooling system could save you up to several hundred dollars per year in electricity costs, meaning over time the new unit could at least partially pay for itself.
Another return on investment that’s important to consider is the added resale home value that your central air conditioner brings. Many Canadians look for homes when they are outfitted with a central air conditioning system. A high-efficiency model is an attractive incentive for many home buyers.
Central air conditioner brands: Which brand is BEST?
When it comes to central air conditioners there are many brands to choose from. Each brand offers consumers a variety of models that include brand specific features and innovative technologies, along with SEER and Single or Two-Stage cooling.
The Furnace Prices team has examined and compared some of the most popular air conditioner brands in Canada, which include:
NOTE: Although we’ve organized these brands into three tiers, each manufacturer offers a range of models from the low end to the high end that suit a variety of budgets. These tiers are simply meant to represent average pricing levels compared to each other, with brands like Lennox and Carrier typically being sold at a premium price due to the brand name, for example. This does not necessarily mean that overall quality is better or worse in one tier compared to another.
See the Best Central Air Conditioners compared, here.
Is anything missing from this article? Do you have a question you’d like us to answer? Let us know in the comments!