Tips for Choosing Your New Air Conditioner


We don’t have to tell you it is hot here on the High Desert! Record breaking heat this early into summer means you are probably wishing you had bought an air conditioner in April or May! If you are visiting a big box store you might have noticed that the minute the AC units are unloaded off the truck they are SOLD OUT! So make sure to check out some tips on staying cool until you get that new unit up and running.

The Bend Energy Challenge is hoping to take the guess work out of purchasing an air conditioner this summer. Here are some tips on what to look for and how to get the most efficient unit that fits your budget and home’s ideal scenario. Before you start shopping it is best to decide if you want to upgrade to a central AC system, ductless AC/Heating system or a new heat pump. Maybe your budget is currently only for a stand-alone window type unit, either way here is cheat sheet you can use to help guide to you in making the best purchase.

Central AC Systems

For homeowners who plan to live in the house for several years, central air conditioning is a more popular option, particularly for a home that is equipped with a forced-air heating system. Central air conditioning costs a lot more to install than a couple of room units—figure $3500 or more for central AC—but central AC cools the entire house, is more energy-efficient than running several portable units, is quieter than room air conditioners, is hidden from view, and is an investment that ads to the home’s value. And most importantly you aren’t losing a window all summer to a clunky single room window unit.

When buying an air conditioner, look for a model with a high efficiency. Central air conditioners are rated according to their seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER). SEER indicates the relative amount of energy needed to provide a specific cooling output. Many older systems have SEER ratings of 6 or less. The minimum SEER allowed today is 13. Look for the ENERGY STAR® label for central air conditioners with SEER ratings of 16 or greater, especially if you plan to run your AC most of the summer.

When considering a central unit, keep the following in mind:

  • Your home must be fitted with ductwork.
  • These units may be connected to zoned or non-zoned systems.
  • While units with good efficiency ratings are available, central air is not your most efficient choice.
  • There are no utility rebates or tax credits available for central AC units.


Ductless Mini-Split Systems

From one room to several, ductless split systems deliver affordable cooling and heating with some of the most efficient SEER ratings available. True to their name, ductless mini-split systems rely on air handling units instead of interior ductwork to distribute cooled air throughout a home. Because they do not rely upon long stretches of ductwork (which can often be leaky) to deliver heated or cooled air, ductless systems are generally more efficient overall. In fact, distribution energy loss in typical forced air systems has been estimated to be as high as 40%. Typical systems generally cap out at 18 SEER, ductless systems, most of which are ENERGY STAR® qualified, can achieve up to 26 SEER, greatly reducing utility bills. Additionally, because indoor environments can be managed by individual zone, less energy is wasted heating or cooling unoccupied areas. Mini Split systems do come just as air conditioners, but the most cost effective solution is often to purchase the mini-split ductless system that is both a heating system and air conditioner.

When considering this type of unit, keep the following in mind:

  • No ductwork is needed.
  • These units tend to minimize the loss of cool air experienced by duct-based systems.
  • Indoor air handlers must be individually controlled via remote.
  • These units offer very good efficiency ratings.
  • Utility rebates and Oregon State Tax Credits are available for upgrading to a mini-split ductless system.

Heat Pumps

During the hot season, these special pumps work by drawing warm air from inside your home and expelling it outdoors. Cooled air generated by a system of refrigerant-filled coils can then be pumped into your home.

Outdoor pump units are widely used around the world to allow for efficient heating and cooling of both residential and commercial spaces. When considering this type of unit, keep the following in mind:

  • Pumps can be used either with existing ductwork or with air handling units.
  • Pumps promote efficiency by removing warm air from a home before pumping in cooled air.
  • These systems tend to be more expensive than central cooling systems but offer significant cost savings over time.
  • Utility rebates are available for upgrading to an efficient heat pump.

Single Room Air Conditioners

There are three different types of single room air conditioners you could consider; window AC units, portable AC units and wall AC units. First, and probably the most common is the window air conditioner. Do you own your house? If not, your best option would likely be portable or window AC units, unless you can talk your landlord into installing central AC. Single room air conditioners are sometimes the best solution for renters or people on a tight budget.

The first and most important consideration when looking for a window air conditioner is the size of the room you want to cool. It’s important to note that a big, powerful unit may not be the right one for you. Each air conditioning unit is rated in British thermal units (BTU), which indicates the size of the room it can cool. Essentially, you want to find a window AC unit that is just as powerful as it needs to be, not too powerful and not underpowered. Typically, an air conditioner that produces 5,000 BTU can cool a room up 150 square feet, whereas a unit that produces 7,000 BTU can cool a room up to 300 square feet. If it will take more than two window AC units to cool your home and meet your comfort needs than you are nearing the tipping point. The cost of three or more AC units could very well equal a sizeable down-payment on central air condition. Additionally, operating three of more window AC units can really increase your summer electric bills, again making it not the best energy saving and money saving option.

A wall AC unit could be longer term solution to cool your home. These air conditioning units differ from window units because they are designed to be permanent fixture in your home. To install a wall air conditioner you must actually create a hole in an external wall and install the air conditioner in that hole. These units are then sealed in place and pull the outside air into the unit, cool it and blow cold air into your house.