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For this 1,000-word blog, I developed dozens of links to be of service to readers and help present the heating/air conditioning client as an expert.

32 Bookmarks every central A/C owner needs

Your home is cool all summer thanks to your central air conditioning.  Knowing some basics about your a/c will help you get the long-term value you expect.

Split system vs Mini splits

Split (or ductless) systems are an alternative to central air and have two components, an outdoor compressor/condenser housing, and an interior, wall-mounted unit you control with a remote.

Mini splits are a handy alternative to upsizing your central a/c or adding ductwork to cool an addition.

How Air Conditioners Work

Air conditioners cool indoor air by passing it over refrigerant coils and cycling it back into the house. The liquid refrigerant absorbs heat and triggers a process that involves gas-to-liquid conversion, compression, and condensation which results in the hot air expulsion and water drainage you associate with a/c units.

HOW TO GET THE MOST FROM YOUR AIR CONDITIONER

You need an annual service check, but your DIYs should include things such as changing the filter and cleaning the coils.

On boiling hot days, you can help your a/c unit by placing a pan of ice water near the intake vents.

SAVE ON YOUR COOLING BILL

Today’s air conditioning units are very efficient, but you can still take action to keep your bills down.  For example, most people overlook smart strips as a way to reduce heat from home electronics.

FUN FACTS ABOUT AIR CONDITIONING

  • Without air conditioning, cities such as Phoenix would still be small towns.
  • Some medicines can only be developed and stored in cool environments, and would not have come to be without a/c.
  • Willis Carrier (yes, that Carrier) invented modern air conditioning 1902. He was in the newspaper business keep ink from running on hot days.
  • Before air conditioning, home interiors had high ceilings and breezeways to keep people cool in summer.
  • The “icicle signs” popular in the early days of a/c were used by theaters to attract patrons who did not have home a/c.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A HEATING CONTRACTOR

It’s tough to have so many choices in such a dizzyingly technical field.  Here are a few tips:

  • Ask for referrals and call them
  • Don’t automatically go with the lowest bidder
  • Expect an in-home evaluation
  • Get it in writing
  • Look for Energy Star products, which meet strict efficiency standards
  • Check with the state website to verify your contractor is licensed

HOW LARGE SHOULD MY AIR CONDITIONER BE?

A common problem is getting a unit that is too large, which can cause significant problems.

You will need to know the BTU demand in your home so your unit meets the requirement.  Some online calculators will help you get a rough estimate, but only a professional can evaluate important factors such as window age, sun-heated walls, and the condition of your ductwork.

DO I NEED A PERMIT FROM MY LOCAL GOVERNMENT?

Short answer:  Probably.  Among other purposes, permitting offers protection against poor installation and keeps away unlicensed contractors.  Denver’s  home project electrical permitting is typical. Check your local municipality’s website.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR IN THE CONTRACT

A contract establishes your agreement with the contractor.  The contractor is used to them and you are not.  Advantage, contractor!  Free templated contracts give you excellent ideas of what to look for and a point of comparison.   Check the manufacturer warranty  and the contractor’s maintenance and service proposal, too.

WHAT IS THE BEST BRAND OR SERIES?

The dozens of brands you know are produced by just six or so HVAC manufacturers. They use excellent processes, build quality products and maintain their reputation by certifying local installers.  Take your time and look at price, options and warranties. Some online services offer free evaluations of current models.

COMMON MISTAKES HVAC CONTRACTORS MAKE

Contractors will occasionally be all-too-human.  Some common errors:

  • Incorrect math leading to the wrong unit being installed, causing dehumidification and other problems.
  • Failing to see the “house as a system” and providing a holistic solution.
  • Trying to be the low bidder.

HOW MUCH DOES A CENTRAL AIR CONDITIONER COST?

Unit price varies by SEER rating and other factors.  Contractor price depends on variables like whether you need ductwork.

If you go with a preferred brand, check the contractor’s installation and service agreement closely.  If you go with a contractor, check the price of the brand they suggest installing.

Currently reported installation costs range from $2,700 to $7,100 and average $5,250.

Adding a unit to an already-ducted 2,000 s.f. home is roughly $3,500 to $4,000.

HOW TO NEGOTIATE WITH CONTRACTORS

Don’t ask them to match the lowest bid.  They hear it all the time, and it’s hard to make apples to apples comparisons. Instead, ask them why their bid might be higher than others.

Negotiate installation. Contractors can be flexible with labor costs.

Ask if you can contribute sweat equity. Maybe you can do some of the prep work yourself.

 WHAT TAX OR OTHER INCENTIVES ARE AVAILABLE?

All EnergyStar tax credits (except for solar) expired at the end 2016.

The Department of Energy has an excellent resource for helping find which tax breaks or incentives you might have in your state.

TROUBLESHOOTING YOUR A/C

Many problems, such as a/c won’t turn on or poor air flow, could have simple solutions you can handle yourself.  Before you call the pros about inadequate cooling or condenser malfunction,  give yourself a chance to find out what’s wrong.

AVERAGE LIFESPAN OF AN AIR CONDITIONER

Average life varies on how frequently you use the unit and how you maintain it, but 10-15 years is typical.

Don’t forget about periodically replacing critical parts as part of your maintenance schedule.

WHEN IS IT TIME FOR REPLACEMENT?

If your unit is more than ten years old, watch for signs of deterioration such as strange noises, spiking electric bills or odd smells.   Another hint is higher or more frequent repair bills.

Although it is a substantial investment, a new unit means major energy cost savings, the possibility of rebates/credits and enhanced peace of mind!