Air conditioning does more to your home environment than just lower temperatures. Air conditioners and central air conditioning systems can also have a profound impact on the quality of the air you breathe. So it's a good idea to spend some time getting to know the ins and outs of air conditioner shopping!
Factors that might play a role in your choice of an air conditioner or central air system include:
Among the most important considerations are size and energy efficiency. A properly sized, highly energy-efficient air conditioner will provide you with optimal comfort for a reasonable cost to both your household energy budget and the environment.
Size refers to the air conditioner's cooling capacity measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs), which in turn refers to the amount of heat that will be removed per hour. A 5,000 BTU window air conditioner will remove 5,000 BTUs of heat per hour. A 'one-ton' air conditioner will remove 12,000 BTUs per hour. The size you will need is determined by much more than a simple calculation of square footage of the area to be cooled. To learn more, check out our air conditioner sizing page.
Energy efficiency is rated and displayed on the yellow tag affixed to the air conditioner and refers to the BTUs per hour over the wattage required to power the unit. The higher the Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER), the more efficient the unit. The minimum EER for window or room air conditioners is set by federal authorities at 9.7% for units below 8,000 BTUs, and the minimum Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) for central air conditioners is set at 10%.
Higher efficiency models will cost more than less efficient models, but you will likely offset that cost with lower energy bills over time. There are also often rebates available for models that meet the Energy Star criteria, which is 10% higher than the federal standards.
According to Consumer Reports, the leading brands in room air conditioning are Fedders, GE, Kenmore (Sears) and Whirlpool, with top scores going to units with the Energy Star endorsement.
A room or window air conditioner will cost anywhere from $100 to over $600 depending mainly on size or cooling capacity and the energy efficiency rating.