Most people are normal. They give no mind to their Central Air Conditioner, expecting day after day that it will run without issue, keeping them as comfortable as they want. Most people don’t relate the size of the electric bill to the air conditioner. Most people don’t wake up thinking their air conditioner will break down today and they will be required to begin the process of obtaining a new unit. Most people simply don’t think much about their air conditioner. They are normal.

I must confess I’m not that person. I’m actually interested in air conditioners. It’s how I make my living. I install air conditioners. You could say I’m an air conditioner geek. Perhaps it’s because I’m a Mechanical Engineer and that’s rare among those choosing to make their living installing air conditioners. Perhaps it’s because I like to study heat transfer, thermodynamics, and enjoy a good calculus problem every once in a while. At any rate, it’s true, I enjoy understanding air conditioners, and I know quite a lot about them. I’d like to pass some of that knowledge along to you before you buy your next one.

Most Americans will only buy one air conditioner in their lifetime. I’m assuming if you’re reading this article, you are in the market. Maybe because you just want to be proactive and be ready for when you actually need one. But it’s far more likely that you are now in full search mode because yours has failed. You’ve been told its time. You need a new air conditioner. If you are like the typical homeowner, you have never been in this position until now. That’s okay. Statistically, it was going to happen once. Statistically, it won’t happen again.

Purchasing a new Home Comfort System is said to be one of the largest investments you will ever make in your home. That’s the bad news. Take heart, though, for there is this good news:

Your Comfort System will add no less than 80% of its investment cost back to the value of your home AND you will immediately begin to gain a return on your investment due to the utility savings that will result from operating a new, more efficient system!

If you’re going to have to invest in a new system and you believe the premise that it can be a very wise investment, how do you go about making a decision that you will not regret later?

Here are 9 things you should know before you buy:

  1. Resist the temptation to surf the web. You can find an online source that will sell you the equipment and ship it to your home. Again, resist this temptation!! How do you know you’re getting the right sized equipment? How do you know you’re getting the features and benefits that meet your current needs and desires? Are you willing to look high and low for a qualified installation company and likely only find non-licensed, poorly qualified installers? Do you really want to give up your manufacturer’s warranties? Do you want a system that doesn’t keep you comfortable, doesn’t clean your air of impurities, and begins to break down early in its life cycle and fail prematurely? Enough said.
  2. Look for a company that offers the best warranties and guarantees in the industry, stands behind its work, and resolves problems when they come up. Your home comfort system is more complicated than ever. It has to be to achieve the latest safety and efficiency levels. Manufacturer’s are constantly trying to improve quality in their factories through robotics and automation, but humans are still involved in the assembly process, and humans make mistakes. EVERY brand has its cycles of problems. The key is to find an installation company that knows this, offers the best warranties, stands behind its work, and wrestles problems to the ground no matter what it takes.
  3. Never choose a company that doesn’t offer at least 2 years of free maintenance on your system. We offer 5 years! Your system will run better and longer if it’s maintained. You don’t want a system with numerous problems a couple of years down the line. The best way to eliminate these problems is to perform scheduled services twice a year for several years after installation.
  4. Insist that your installer pull required permits. Why would you spend thousands of dollars on your new system – the system that will keep your family comfortable and healthy, and reduce your utility bills dramatically – and leave the quality of the installation to chance, hoping that all best practices and codes have been adhered to? Pulling a permit ensures a third party city inspector will inspect the installation and ensure it meets all local codes. The catch is this: not everybody can pull a permit. That is why cities require installing companies to be properly licensed and insured and to have their contractor’s license. Someone in the company has had to obtain their Master Mechanic’s license to accomplish this, and it’s not easy. Most companies simply don’t bother, and nobody ever finds out because permits do not get pulled routinely. Don’t let that happen to you.
  5. Unless you simply cannot afford otherwise, always install a complete comfort system including the air circulator, evaporator coil, outdoor condenser (air conditioner or heat pump), and thermostat. Systems run better when they are properly matched. That’s why AHRI, the certifying board for all air conditioning systems, tests them as “systems” and not individual pieces. Plus, you’ll spend less over time by installing the system all at one time rather than in pieces over time.
  6. Include a low pressure drop electronic air cleaner with enlarged return air ducting. Have you ever been drinking an icy drink with a straw and a piece of ice becomes lodged in your straw, blocking the flow of your delicious beverage? It’s pretty frustrating! It’s also a great analogy to how a dirty filter or undersized duct can cause your home comfort system to work extra hard. It is dramatically affected if it must work against a lot of static pressure. The result is less efficiency and less comfort. Furthermore, an electronic air cleaner will remove 20 to 50 times more micron level particles than a standard furnace filter. If your filter doesn’t remove these particles, your lungs will. And you don’t need that. In fact, this is a great way to separate the average companies from the great companies if you are gathering multiple quotes on your new home comfort system. Average companies change out equipment, but do not consider enhancements that will help efficiency, comfort, and indoor air quality.
  7. Treat your comfort system like the lights in your home. You don’t expect to walk into your home and turn on one light switch and have the entire house light up, do you? No. Each room has its own light switch and fixture. Why then must our comfort systems go on everywhere in the house, causing hot and cold rooms and running the system in every room of the house even though the people in the house are concentrated in only a few of the rooms? Consider the options of zoning and adding ductless mini-splits.
  8. If you want to splurge on just one option, let it be variable speed air circulation. You could buy 2 stage heating, 2 stage cooling, modulating heating or numerous other options, but the top comfort feature made today is variable speed blower operation in your furnace or air handler. The added benefit is that this wonderful motor uses 1/5 the electricity of the typical blower motor and actually increases the SEER rating (efficiency) of your air conditioner.
  9. The most important day in the life of your comfort system is the day it was installed! I like to tell my customers that if you peel off the sheet metal casing of an air conditioner or furnace, you will find in every quality piece of equipment the same major components: a Copeland Scroll compressor, GE or Emerson motors, and Honeywell or White Rodgers controls. All reliable sources, including Consumer Reports, now say emphatically that the importance of brand pales in comparison to the importance of the quality of the installation. Our position on this is the same today as it was decades ago, do your research, but just know that equipment brand preference is more a function of the advertising budget of the manufacturer than it is an indication of the quality of the system.

No large purchase ever comes without some amount of trepidation and frustration. But, rest assured, if you heed these 9 points, your purchase decision will be more educated and most likely will yield far better results and fewer problems for as long as you own your new system!