As you start your search for a new cooling system, the most important consideration you’ll make is evaluating the lifetime costs of an air conditioner replacement. While the U.S. Department of Energy sets minimum energy efficiency standards for cooling equipment, there’s more behind the efficiency rating that will affect how much it costs you on an ongoing basis.
Attributes of Pricing
With few exceptions, the price of HVAC equipment is closely related to the quality of the components used inside them. Higher quality equipment does usually have a higher first cost, or the price you pay initially for the system, but that cost is offset by lower energy consumption and fewer repairs over time. The engineering and technology of more efficient air conditioners and heat pumps does cost more, but the moment they start cooling your home, they start paying for themselves in lower energy usage.
What Plays Into Efficiency
The minimum energy efficiency rating for air conditioners in this region is a seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) of 13 and 14 SEER for heat pumps. The SEER is tested under laboratory conditions. Technicians measure the amount of electricity the A/C uses to cool a structure to 80 degrees when outdoor temperatures are 82 degrees over a period of time. Each increase in the SEER indicates the unit uses 10 percent less energy to achieve the same amount of cooling, under controlled conditions.
Upgraded cooling systems use components that help them cool more efficiently, and the upgraded parts most suited to this climate include dual-speed compressors and variable-speed blowers. In basic cooling systems, both the compressor and air handler run only on high. A dual-speed compressor, on the other hand, adjusts its running speed to the amount of cooling your home needs and typically runs at a lower speed most of the time. A variable-speed air handler also adjusts its running speed to match your cooling needs. These systems earn higher SEER ratings because they accomplish more cooling with less energy.
The amount of electricity the system uses affects your cooling bills, but maintenance and repair costs also play a part in the lifetime costs of an air conditioner replacement. Systems that run at high speed only tend to require more repairs because running at top speed stresses their parts, especially if the unit is too large for your home and runs in short cycles.
It’s better for mechanical equipment to run longer and slower than to experience frequent starts and stops. The electrical load that cooling systems experience when they first start is highest, and over time, the parts wear faster than in a system that experiences fewer starts and stops. A single-speed system has a life expectancy of 10 to 15 years, while one that uses variable speed components can reach 15 to 20 years. A more durable system delays replacement costs down the road.
Regardless of the type and quality of cooling system you select, it will need annual maintenance from an HVAC professional, routine air filter changes and periodic outdoor condenser cleaning. Skipping any of these increases the lifetime costs of an air conditioner replacement because a system that isn’t tended to will break down faster.
When you’re choosing the cooling system for your home, your comfort may come into play. It’s hard to assign a monetary value to comfort, but if budget isn’t an overwhelming issue, paying more makes sense. Those that run at variable speeds offer more comfort because they run longer, circulating the conditioned air more thoroughly and removing more humidity. Humidity control is a by-product of cooling systems, and drier air feels cooler. Less humidity also prevents mold growth that can affect your health and that of your home.
Anyone who suffers from allergies or asthma may experience some relief, as well, since the longer running time pulls more air through the system’s filter, improving indoor air quality by removing more airborne particulates.
For more information about the lifetime costs of an air conditioner replacement, check out Griffith Energy Services or call us at 888-474-3391.
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