Things to Consider When Buying a New System
Let's begin by discussing the age of your system. There has been vast improvement over the last 5 years in efficiency and reliability by all manufacturers. If your system was installed as part of your new home prior to 1992 the SEER of your unit when it was new was likely around an 8 SEER. What is SEER, that stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio and it is similar a comparison of miles per gallon on a car. The higher the SEER the lower your utility bill will be. Currently there are units that have SEER's as high as 20 SEER.
If your home or system is older than a 1992 vintage than it is likely an 8 SEER or lower. If your system is older than 15 years of age it is likely operating at a 6 SEER or lower. According to the Department of Energy for each increase of 1 point on the SEER rating you will receive an approximate 10% increase in efficiency. Therefore a 9 SEER unit is 10% more efficient than an 8 SEER unit, and an 18 SEER unit is 60% more efficient than a 12 SEER unit. This also applies in reverse. A 6 SEER unit is 50% less efficient than a 12 SEER unit. In 1992 the Department of Energy mandated the lowest SEER that could be manufactured was a 10 SEER unit. Most manufacturers and contractors had significant inventory of equipment when this law went into effect and it was 1993 before most inventory was depleted. The current mandate is a minimum of 13 SEER and possibly 14 SEER be manufactured starting in 2015. The DOE has not finalized the rules, but it is very likely that 14SEER will be the minimum SEER available.
We have discussed SEER and what they mean to you from an efficiency/utility bill standpoint. It should also be mentioned that most higher SEER units are quieter and do a better job of controlling the temperature/humidity in your home. Your body notices both temperature and humidity. Most people have a comfort zone that prefers relative humidity of around 45%-55%. Many of the newer systems have multi compressors, 2 speed compressors, or compressors than can change capacity by reversing direction. All of these type units allow the system to run a longer cycle and removing more humidity from the home.
What about the phase out of refrigerants? The refrigerant your system likely uses is R-22, which is a HCFC or Hydrochlorofluorocarbon. In 1987 the Montreal Protocol mandated that HCFC's begin a phase out. All air conditioning manufacturers have stopped making units using R-22 as of 2010. As the phase out continues the production of R-22 is decreasing. The use of R-22 is currently at or above the maximum allowed to be produced. Projections indicate we will continue to be above the maximum production allowed. The maximum production allowed significantly decreased in 2012, by about 35%. As this phase out continues the cost of R-22 will increase.
What are my choices? All manufacturers are designing their new equipment to use refrigerant R-410A. Manufactures have found a way around the fine print in the regulation to sell outdoor units that run on R-22 but are not shipped with R-22 inside them. They cost just as much but have short warranties and need to have their R-22 installed in the field.
What system should I buy? Goverment regulations mandate that all systems sold today meet a 13 seer minimun efficiency, and by 2015 14 seer. 10 years ago that was cutting edge technology. The best system to purchase is one that meets your comfort needs, as well as your budget. We find that for most home owners, 16 seer two-stage systems offer the best comfort without breaking the bank. There are higher seer models that save more energy, but comfort level is about the same.
Who am I buying from? Sometimes the who is even more important than the what. Make sure that your system will be installed by a state licensed company that uses trained and qualified installers. Make sure the company is a member of the BBB, and obtain a copy of their reliability report at www.bbbhou.org. Another great source of info is Angie's List. No contractor can purchase their listing, only satisfied Angie's list members can get a contractor listed. Once in, angie's list memebrs determin your rating.You should also make sure that the company can provide a list of recently satisfied customers. It is better to pay a little more for equipment from a company that guarantees your satisfaction, and will be available if and when a breakdown occurs.