Thinking of switching to central air conditioning? If you’re like most people, you’re wondering about the cost, whether it’s worth it to upgrade from an in-window unit, and whether you’ll really see any difference in cooling power. Here’s what you need to know to make a comfortable decision.

A Question Of Energy Efficiency

Central air conditioning is always more energy efficient than in-window unit cooling. They are also quieter and out of the way. At the same time, an in-window unit uses less electricity during the year, simply because it’s only cooling one room in the home.

If you were to try to cool an entire house with in-window units, however, you would notice a dramatic difference in your energy bill.

Some people use a combination of central air and in-window units to lower their energy bills.

If you have a reputable contractor, like United Air Conditioning, install your new central air, make sure you ask about this option.

The SEER Rating

The SEER rating refers to the energy efficiency of the central air conditioning unit. New units must comply with regulations and standards set for A/C units – anything manufactured after January 26th, 2006 must achieve a SEER rating of at least 13.

Older units sometimes have ratings less than 6.

Optional Fan-Only Operation

Check for “fan only” operation. This option lets you run the fan without pushing coolant through the system, saving you a substantial amount of money at night. You can simply circulate air, which might be all you need if it’s cool outside.

Split Ductless Systems

Split ductless systems are for older homes that don’t have ductwork, or for homes where installing ductwork is impractical. These systems consist of air conditioning units in each room, with vents set up behind the wall, blowing cold air into the room.

They tend to be more expensive to install than a central unit, but it may also be the only practical option available to you.

Hiring The Right Contractor

Hiring the right contractor can make all the difference. A contractor who bids on your work should show you verification of bonding and insurance. Never do business with someone who is not bonded and insured. Check with the local BBB and see if there are any outstanding complaints against the company.

Every company gets complaints. What you’re looking for is unresolved complaints. The more of them there are, the worse the rating will be, and the worse the company will be, overall.

Companies that have unresolved billing issues are especially bad, since this means that they are essentially taking customers’ money and not resolving issues with the work or service.

But, beyond the ratings, you want to work with someone who is certified by a trade organization, like the North American Technician Excellence or HVAC excellence.

You also want the contractor to have experience installing HVAC systems (not all of them do).

The contractor should be able to print out a detailed, room-by-room analysis of your cooling needs, assess the work necessary for ductwork if your home doesn’t already have it, and be able to provide you with calculations and assumptions, designs, and a firm estimate.

Don’t do business with contractors who use “rules of thumb” or other vague measurements you don’t understand.

Amanda S. Evans is an HVAC parts and systems supplier. She likes to write about her industry experiences online. Her posts can be found on many DIY and homeowner blog sites.

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