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Split Systems:

 

Split systems are the most common type of central air conditioner found in the U.S. Inside the house, tucked in a cabinet, is the evaporator coil, which removes heat and moisture from the air. Outside the house, a metal case contains the condenser coil, which releases the heat, and the compressor, which pumps refrigerant between the two coils.

 

The indoor component of the air conditioner is connected to a network of ducts, and a blower circulates the cold air through them to reach all parts of the house. This type of system is the most economical to install in a house with a central furnace, because it can share the ductwork used by the heating system.

 

   
   

Heat Pumps

 

Heat pumps are a variant on the traditional split system. This is essentially an air conditioner that can work in both directions. During hot summer months, it pumps heat out of the house and releases it outside. In the wintertime, it extracts heat from the outdoor air and uses it to warm the house. Heat pumps can be used effectively for both heating and cooling in mild climates. However, heat pumps do not generally work well when temperatures stay below freezing for a long time, so they are not the best choice for cold climates.

A specialized type of heat pump, called a ground-source or geothermal heat pump, may be more suitable for colder environments. It works by drawing heat out of the ground rather than the air. However, you must first locate a contractor who specializes in this type of equipment.

   
   

Package Central Air Conditioners

 

Packaged central air conditioners combine the evaporator, condenser and compressor in a single unit. The air conditioner is usually placed on a roof or a concrete slab near the foundation. Ducts running through the exterior wall or roof draw air from inside the house and return cooled air indoors.

 

This type of air conditioner can also be used in small commercial buildings. When combined with a set of heating coils or a natural gas furnace, it eliminates the need for a separate furnace inside the building.

   
   

Mini Splits

 

For houses that do not have ductwork, a ductless mini-split system can be a good choice. Like a basic split system, the ductless mini-split combines an outdoor compressor and condenser with one or more indoor air-handling units. These units are mounted high on the wall and have blowers attached. Tubing connects the indoor and outdoor units and circulates refrigerant between them. Each indoor unit is installed in a separate room and cools that room only, much like a window air conditioner.

The main advantage of these systems is that they can be installed without tearing up walls to install ductwork. They also allow the flow of cold air to be controlled independently in each room (or shut off altogether in empty rooms). Mini-split systems are more expensive than ducted central air conditioning systems, costing roughly 30 percent more for the same amount of cooling power. However, they are also more efficient, since they avoid the energy loss associated with ductwork.

 

   
   

Seer Ratings:

 

When comparing central air conditioners, one term you'll see repeatedly is the seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER), a measure of how much energy the air conditioner uses to cool a home. Central air conditioners range from 13 to 28 SEER. The SEER is calculated by taking the total cooling output over the course of a summer, measured in British thermal units (Btu), and dividing it by the total amount of energy the air conditioner uses over that same period. These figures are based on a theoretical average climate for the United States.In reality, of course, the same air conditioner's performance may vary considerably based on how hot and humid it is outdoors.


The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) recommends that people who live in hot and humid climates choose an air conditioner with a SEER of at least 15. Another measure of air conditioner efficiency is the energy efficiency ratio (EER). This measures the air conditioner's efficiency at any given moment. It's simply the cooling capacity of the air conditioner, as measured in Btu per hour, divided by its energy consumption in watts. The ACEEE says EER is more important than SEER for those living in hot and dry climates, since it measures how well the unit will perform on the hottest days.

 

Energy Star ratings for central air conditioners are based on both SEER and EER. To qualify for the label, a typical split-system air conditioner must have a SEER of at least 14.5 and an EER of at least 12. For single-package units, the requirements are lower: 14 SEER and 11 EER. If you buy any central air conditioner that meets these guidelines before the end of 2013, you are eligible for a $300 federal income tax credit. The Energy Star label is only one award a central air conditioner can earn for efficiency. The Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE) has defined two additional tiers of energy efficiency beyond Energy Star. CEE Tier-2 air conditioners have a minimum of 15 SEER and 12.5 EER; Tier 3 starts at 16 SEER and 13 EER. State and local governments, as well as utility companies, may offer rebates for choosing a central air conditioner that meets one of these higher standards.