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3 Things To Know When Shopping For A New Air Conditioner


Air conditioning season is coming. This is an unavoidable fact, and the mere mention of it made my wife roll her eyes. She remembered how our air conditioning unit squeals each time it starts up. It’s been doing it for years, but the volume of the squealing reached new heights last summer. It became so loud that we called our appliance protection service to take a look.

Our unit needed a new compressor, which unfortunately was a costly repair and not covered by our protection plan. We limped through the rest of the season with our loud, obnoxious air conditioner.

But now it’s a brand new season, and we’re getting estimates on how much it would cost to replace our air conditioning unit and bring peace back to the neighborhood. When getting information on replacing an air conditioning unit, there are several things that one should be aware of:

Repair or Replace

Whenever a major appliance breaks down the first question asked is, should it be repaired or replaced? The average air conditioning unit life expectancy is 15-20 years. Experts generally suggest that if your unit is less than 10 years old, it is cost effective to repair the air conditioner. However, if it’s over 10 years old it may be in your best interest to replace it.

SEER Rating

The Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) rating measures the cooling efficiency of an air conditioning unit. It is calculated by taking the cooling output for a typical cooling season divided by the total electric energy input during the same time frame. A higher SEER rating means greater energy efficiency.

Today’s air conditioning units have SEER ratings between 13-21. For each SEER rating increase, a homeowner generally saves 5% to operate the unit. In many instances, electric companies will offer rebates for purchasing a high efficiency unit. Consumers must find a balance between the cost of a unit with the savings of a higher efficiency over the lifetime of ownership.


The capacity of an air conditioner measures the cooling ability of the unit. The larger the capacity, the bigger space it can cool. Capacity is generally measured in tons, which oddly enough is based on how much energy it takes to melt a ton of ice. The recommended capacity for a given size home varies depending upon climate, floor plan type, as well as the amount of sun facing windows are in the home. As the capacity increases, so does the cost.

It is possible, especially in humid climates, to oversize your air conditioner. If the unit is too large, it will cool a home too fast such that it does not remove the humidity from the home. Usually this requires homeowners to set their thermostat to a lower temperature to force the unit to run longer in order to remove the humidity.

When getting an estimate, ask what the recommended capacity is for your home. The estimator should come to your home and examine the size and design of your home to accurately calculate the needed capacity.

It’s still early Spring, so there aren’t likely to be many really hot days for awhile yet. We’re taking our time, getting several estimates and weighing our options. We need to balance capacity, efficiency and price to make the best decision for effectively cooling our home without putting our budget in the deep freeze.

How about you, Clever Friends, have you replaced your air conditioning unit recently? How did you determine the best unit for your home and budget?

You may also want to check these out:

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Saving on water utilities for pool owners
Which is Cheaper: Keg or Canned Beer?

Brought to you courtesy of Brock

Disease Called Debt

About the author

Brock Kernin


  • We added AC two and a half years ago to the existing forced air heating system. With 2 children and 2 brutal summers since, it’s been a fantastic addition. The guy that did it for us told me that since the existing blower on the heater was only a single stage, we wouldn’t see any benefit to getting a super high SEER AC unit. As much as a high efficiency AC unit would have been nice, I wasn’t about to replace a perfectly functional heater just to get a dual-stage blower.

    Maybe next time :p

    • We were told the same thing…..I wasn’t disappointed though. The cost difference with the high end SEER rating (plus the cost of the matching furnace) would have taken decades to recoup.

  • I’ve lived without AC a few times in a few apartments and nowadays I can’t ever imagine going back to that lifestyle. It gets way too hot in NJ in the summer. I am happy that as a perpetual renter, I don’t have to deal with this question.

  • When we moved into our home 9 years ago, all the existing systems were 20 years old and needed to be replaced. We budgeted for that and replaced the existing AC unit with one of similar capacity but slightly better rating. It’s done well over the years, but we had to get some maintenance done on it last summer. Hopefully it will keep us cool for many years to come.

  • Just recently had to replace the unit at my home, but I agree with you, it can be an extremely costly repair. Looking back, im glad that we did it because where we live, it’s basically summer all year long. This unit seems to work alot better and is alot quieter than the previous one we had. Never regret making the investment and not have to worry anymore about it giving out so often.

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