Knowledge Center

Make Air Conditioners More Efficient

Can you stay cool this summer without breaking the bank?

While there’s no one money-saving strategy that will work for everyone all the time, there are a number of simple steps you can take to ensure that your air-conditioner system works at peak efficiency and that it isn’t being asked to handle more cooling than necessary.

This material, reprinted with permission from Consumer Reports magazine, offers, some tips.

In some cases, you may be able to cut back on air-conditioner use considerably without seriously inconveniencing your family.

The pointers below can help you find the right hardware and the right technician to install it, whether you’re replacing an older air conditioner or installing one for the first time.

In a “split system,” the typical design, refrigerant circulates between an indoor coil and a matching outdoor condenser with compressor.

The refrigerant cools the air, dehumidifying it in the process; a blower circulates air through ducts throughout the house. Efficiency describes how much cooling a unit delivers for each watt of electricity. Efficiency is expressed as the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating, or SEER.

At present, a SEER of 10 denotes a low-efficiency unit; medium efficiency is 11 to 14; a high efficiency is above 14. New federal regulations scheduled to take effect in 2006 will set the minimum seer at 13.

Size is a synonym for the air conditioner’s cooling capacity and is measured in British thermal units per hour (Btu/hr) in “tons.” One tone of cooling equals 12,000 Btu/hr.

Provide for maintenance. A service plan that combines regular inspections with discounts on repairs and a labor warranty is worth negotiating in tot he overall price.

Prices for such service vary widely.

At a minimum, regular inspections should include these steps:

  • Check for and repair refrigerant leaks.
  • Inspect and tighten electrical connections, checking for damage.
  • Clean the coils, drain pan, and drainage system.
  • Vacuum the blower compartment.
  • Choose the right unit.

The most essential criterion efficiency, assuming the unit has the proper cooling capacity. According to the contractors we surveyed, units with a SEER of 13 to 14 tend to hold up best.

The contractors believe that high-efficiency systems tend to be more complex with more that can go wrong. Low-efficiency low-cost builder’s models, perhaps due to design shortcuts, also require more repairs, the contractors said.

A reciprocating compressor is more trouble-prone than a scroll-type one, they said. While pricier, scroll-type compressors do tend to be higher in efficiency and quieter than reciprocating compressors.

Most manufacturers offer both types of compressor, Consumer Reports said.