November 17, 2009
A new federal regulation will help rein in mounting energy costs.
As of January 2006, manufacturers can no longer produce residential central air conditioners with efficiencies less than 13 SEER. The minimum Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, or SEER, is up from 10, which was in place since 1992. Basically, the higher the SEER rating, the more energy efficient the central air conditioning unit and the less electricity you'll need to cool your home.
Bigger systems, higher up-front cost. Air conditioners usually grow larger as the SEER rating is increased. In order to achieve a higher efficiency, manufacturers need to install more coils to more efficiently transfer heat. More copper, aluminum, and steel mean a higher-priced unit. Higher-efficiency air conditioners often use more advanced technology and have more features, so this makes them somewhat more complicated, and possibly more expensive, to install. But some of these technologies and features enhance comfort, convenience, efficiency, and reliability.
Lower operating costs. A central air conditioning unit rated at a 13 SEER uses up to 30 percent less electricity than a 10 SEER system. With higher energy costs predicted in many parts of the country, consumers will have that payback on the unit much quicker with less electricity being used. The tips below can help you find the right hardware and technician to install your system, whether you're replacing an older air conditioner or installing one for the first time.
If you're replacing an old central-air system, you can expect to pay $3,000 or more for the equipment. If you need ductwork installed because you're starting completely from scratch or are upgrading a forced-air heating system, expect to pay thousands more.
Improving the system's air-filtration capabilities is also easiest to do as part of a general upgrade. Check ratings of air filters and whole-house units for those that combine value and efficiency.
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