Installing a new, high-efficiency central air conditioning system can mean years of increased comfort for you and your family. And if you are replacing an older system, you can save quite a bit of money on your summer energy bills. According to ENERGY STAR® , if your central air conditioning unit is more than 12 years old, replacing it with an ENERGY STAR-qualified model could cut your cooling costs by 30%.
Central Cooling is an Investment
If you are still reading this article, I’m guessing you’re interested in a new central AC unit and you’re asking yourself the obvious question, how much it will cost? There are a lot of variables so I don’t have a round number. However, a lower-efficiency AC unit could run as little as $2,000 and a top-efficiency model for a large home will likely run more than $7,000. Of course, I don’t recommend a lower-efficiency model because it will cost more money and energy to operate.
The outside unit isn’t the only part of an AC system. Duct work is very important, too. Even the most energy-efficient unit will underperform when coupled with inefficient or bad ducts. If you currently have an AC system, assume you’ll need to upgrade your duct work; at a minimum you may need to reseal or reconnect ducts.
If you don’t currently have a central AC, it comes with ongoing maintenance and associated costs, such as an annual inspection and monthly air filter replacement.
Xcel Energy provides rebates on new, qualifying equipment to help offset the costs. The rebate amount depends on the level of efficiency of the new system and not all systems qualify. You can get more information on our website.
Where to Begin
Get an audit. If you’re ready to make an investment in central AC, the efficiency specialists at Xcel Energy recommend getting a Home Energy Audit before starting any major efficiency upgrades—for that matter, any efficiency upgrades. It’s just a smart way to learn more about your home and energy use.
Find a contractor. Unless you work in the HVAC field, installing a new AC system is not a DIY project. (Xcel Energy provides rebates only on new systems professionally installed by a participating contractor.) You should get a minimum of three bids. Be sure to ask for references and check reputable referral networks.
Listen to your contractor. Once you choose an installer you like, have an open conversation. Be wary of insisting on a specific brand or size of AC unit. The contractor will know which options fit your home, perhaps better than what you had in mind.
A good contractor will perform a thorough inspection so he or she can determine how much air conditioning your home needs and whether or not you need to repair or reroute ducts to improve efficiency.
An experienced contractor knows which manufacturers give the best warranties and can tell you about applicable rebates. Xcel Energy provides rebates up to $450. You can search for additional rebates at the U.S. Dept. of Energy website.
Buy an AC that fits your home. Bigger is not always better. An oversize AC stops and starts more often, costing more money and energy and, eventually, could lead to mechanical breakdowns. Plus, a too big AC unit won’t run long enough to dehumidify the air.
Your contractor should perform a heat-load calculation before deciding the right size of unit for you.
Understand the SEER and EER rating. An ENERGY STAR AC will have a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) ranging from 13 to 21 and Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) above 10. The higher the SEER and EER, the more efficient and less costly your unit will be to operate. Consider purchasing an AC with the highest rating you can afford. Ask your Home Energy Auditor to help you determine the payback period for the unit you want.
Before making the investment, you should have a basic understanding of how home cooling systems work and pick a contractor (from at least three) that you trust. Then listen to your contractor’s advice to help ensure that your system is set up to operate efficiently and effectively.
Check out our website for more information and rebate forms.
By Connector, Mary LaLone.
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