How to Find the Best Air Conditioning System for Your Home
It’s that time of year again…the sun is shining longer each day, the weather’s warming up, and air conditioning will soon be on the minds of many homeowners. As summer approaches, is your home starting to get uncomfortably hot? If you’re like many people in Ressler & Mateer’s Southcentral PA service area, you live in an older home that was constructed before central air conditioning systems became widely available in the 1970s and you may rely on inadequate solutions like fans and open windows to cool your home. Even if you live in a newly constructed home, it’s possible your system doesn’t provide the same level of comfort for every room. Or perhaps your system is older now and you’re considering replacement; 15 years is the typical lifespan of a cooling system, so if your home’s air conditioning equipment was installed in the early 2000s, the hard truth is that it is likely getting ready to fail.
It’s important to remember that no two homes are exactly alike, although our local climate is similar throughout the region with hot and humid summers, your home has unique site-based challenges related to things like whether you live in the city in close proximity to other homes and buildings, or whether you have a lot of mature shade trees surrounding your home. Even the direction that your home faces can affect how your cooling system works! Contacting us for a customized quote is always the easiest way to find the perfect system and options for your particular needs. Whether you’re shopping for your home’s very first central air conditioning system, or you’re making upgrades, we’re here to help you find the best option.
Though there are many different options as far as equipment and mechanical components are concerned, there are really only three types of cooling systems that are appropriate in our local climate, which features that infamous sweltering, “sticky” weather in the summer months. You are likely using one, or possibly combining two (or all!) of these systems to cool your home today. (And if you are combining multiple systems, we would definitely like to help you assess your needs and determine if a better, ultimately money-saving, solution exists for your home!)
As the name suggests, room air conditioners are typically meant to cool just one room. And while a room air conditioner doesn’t really constitute a “system” in the strictest sense of the word, you’re likely using more than one individual unit at a time if you rely on this technology. For example, you may cool several bedrooms plus different common areas of your home with multiple units running simultaneously, or if your house is small enough, you may be getting away with one large unit per level of your home. As previously mentioned, you may also be using these units to supplement a central air conditioning system that’s under-performing for some reason or simply not installed in every living space in your home.
Room air conditioners come in a few different formats, but the most popular are window units, as they can be purchased for very low cost at big box home improvement retailers and even online. They’re also easy to install in just about any window and can begin cooling down a hot room in minutes; the convenience factor is the main benefit of window units. Portable, standalone room air conditioners that don’t have to be installed in a window (though still need to be vented out a window while in operation) are gaining in popularity, but they are generally not as low-priced as entry-level window units.
In any case, room air conditioners do have many drawbacks, especially in terms of energy efficiency and general aesthetics. Even the newest, most efficient room air conditioners cannot match the energy efficiency of modern central air conditioning systems. And window units especially are not winning any beauty contests as they block the view from your windows and are notoriously difficult to seal in place. Unfortunately, with window units, and even with vented portable units, air leakage between interior and exterior is going to happen, as an open window is required to operate these air conditioners.
If your home was built in the latter part of the 20th century or since, and you have a central air conditioning system, you almost certainly have a traditional ducted system, which is designed to cool your entire house by distributing cooled air through metal ducting. Your ducted system will include, in addition to the ductwork itself, a large compressor unit somewhere outside along the perimeter of your home and a coil filled with the refrigerant that actually cools the air located somewhere inside your home. Your system may involve an electric heat pump that you can use to heat your home in the winter, or your system may simply be a dedicated central air conditioner with no heating capabilities.
Duct-reliant cooling systems have many advantages, as they are often quiet and the definition of “out of sight, out of mind.” If your home was built with a system already integrated, you typically only have to worry about regular preventative maintenance until the mechanical system reaches the end of its life, and then it’s not complicated to replace. A new central air conditioner will utilize the same ducts your home has always had, and unless you make physical additions to your home, changes to your ductwork usually aren’t necessary to allow new mechanicals to be installed.
Note that if you do want to retrofit your home with a ducted system, installation may be a major construction project, especially if you don’t have a lot of “void” space (closets, attics, space between floors, etc.) in your home to run ductwork between levels and individual rooms. It is not impossible, but, the next system option may be a better fit.
Mini-split systems are newer to the American market, as they were first popularized in other countries where smaller scale and urban living is more common. These systems do not rely on ductwork inside your home to distribute cooled air, but instead feature a compressor/condenser unit located outside that’s connected via conduit containing power and refrigerant lines to an indoor air handler unit mounted on the wall or ceiling. Each room to be cooled typically does require its own air handler unit, but mini-splits are often a great choice for retrofits in old homes that don’t have space for ducts. Additionally, mini-splits are extremely flexible in terms of operations, since each air handler is controlled separately; if some areas of your home need to be kept cooler than others, this is no problem.
The tradeoff with ductless systems mainly has to do with the cost required to initially install the system. The equipment, while state of the art and very energy efficient in most cases, is quite expensive compared to similar ducted central air conditioning systems.
As we’ve already somewhat discussed, your older ducted central air conditioning system is likely very energy inefficient (and less than friendly to your household budget in terms of operating expense) compared to new systems produced recently, and room air conditioners are worse. As a rule of thumb, you should look for the ENERGY STAR logo on new air conditioning equipment you’re considering for purchase. The US Environmental Protection Agency maintains strict guidelines for central air conditioning products to allow them to advertise themselves as truly energy efficient, and a little bit of research into products you’re considering goes a long way.
At the most general level, you will see the abbreviations SEER (seasonal energy efficiency ratio) and EER (energy efficiency ratio) used with ratings for air conditioning equipment; just remember that the higher the number for each on a given product, the better. Ductless mini-split systems will typically have the best numbers in terms of SEER and EER since they don’t suffer the same energy losses as systems reliant on ductwork tend to.
The size of your home is also very important to your choice in air conditioning systems. As previously mentioned, void space is necessary to install ductwork if your home does not already have it, but the number of rooms you plan to cool and the overall square footage of your home also matter. Determining your system requirements based on sizing can be complicated, and this is why we recommend that you get in touch with us here at Ressler & Mateer.
As you can see, finding the best air conditioning system for your home involves a lot of considerations. If your head is swimming (and you’re still not any cooler) simply call us at 717-322-5367 or fill out our contact form now! Our friendly and knowledgeable professionals are ready to help you discover the best cooling options for your home.
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