Help me understand which home A/C unit to purchase!
May 14, 2010 7:55 AM   Subscribe

Help me understand which home A/C unit to purchase! Our 27 year-old a/c unit failed in out house, blowing out it's 3rd motor in as many years. We've decided it's time to finally get a new one. We've gotten several bids from local companies are simply quite confused.

Our home is smallish-1700 square foot home built in 1949. Nothing fancy, wooden frame construction and (until we do it this year) little insulation in the attic aside from an inch of the cellulose stuff put in during the 50s.

We currently have a 3.5 ton Janitrol that our a/c tech said was the equivalent of 6/7 Sear.

We know that if we get a 16 Sear unit we qualify for the tax credit, which is nice, but in pricing out units some of the bids specified a 13 or 14 sear unit which doesn't qualify but is cheaper. One even offered a 12 Sear unit. In the end, between the the bids it looks as if we pay about the same in the end if go with the cheaper up front of pay more and get the tax credit.

Our problem is that we're not sure what we really need and each company has a different reasoning. One said that the cheaper (4200$) 12 or 13 Sear jobs would cool out house fine and the extra efficiency from the (6000$) 16 Sear would only save us around 8 dollars a month. 8 dollars a month wouldn't really be a big deal to us as we only plan on being in the house for another 3 years. However, the other man said the more efficient 16 Sear is better overall despite the efficiency because of it's contructions. One is a Rheem and the other is a Carrier, though branded with a different name. Any thoughts, anecdotes or experience you could share to help us decide?
posted by damiano99 to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
We priced heat pumps recently and it looked like the price difference between the 13 SEER and the 16 SEER models were about the same with the tax credit (in your case, 30% of $6000 would be $1800, making the price the same as well). So if you can afford it short term, I'd definitely go with the higher efficiency model.

I've heard that the really high SEER rated models 19+ are sometimes less durable, but the guy I heard it from is kind of a crank, so I'd take it with a grain of salt.

Rheem and Carrier are both reasonably well respected brands. I don't think you'll go wrong with either.
posted by electroboy at 8:10 AM on May 14, 2010

Best answer: My initial reaction is that your bids seem high. I was able to get a 2-ton compressor/condensor that (I think) is 13 SEER for about $3500 two years ago--this is in Atlanta. It was for our upstairs, about 1100 sq. ft. and included some moderate duct work.

Once we had the unit replaced, our electric bills went down by 30% in the summer--remember, that's just by the replacing the unit for the upstairs. Our unit works especially hard in the summer to cool the upstairs since hot air rises and we have vaulted ceilings. But 30% is a nice reduction and I figured that the unit will pay for itself in about 4 years.

You are going to see a reduction in your electric bill just by virtue of replacing the equipment. You would virtually double your SEER unit which will generate savings. So, I too do not think that the 16 SEER unit is worth it right now to you, or as a potential selling point to a buyer--all they will care about is that the A/C is new.

Regarding brands, Rheem, Carrier and Tranes are all fine brands and you will not have any trouble with any of them. I would encourage you to maintain it properly--in my area, I pay about $250/year for a service contract that includes 2 visits/year for maintenance on the A/C and furnace. It's well worth it to me.
posted by FergieBelle at 8:10 AM on May 14, 2010

I assume those bids include installation -- cost to install can vary depending on where you live and the situation in the house. Electricity savings will vary depending on a few factors, for instance San Diego where I'm at uses a tiered model where electricity can be over 30 cents / kilowatt hour for heavy consumers. Less well-insulated homes benefit more from the extra efficiency of a top-quality A/C unit. Do you already have high-quality double pane windows? Are your walls extra thick with good insulation? Stucco'd? Is there insulation below the home as well as in the attic? If yes to most of the above, then your AC unit won't be working hard enough to justify the pricey model. If not, then also consider doing some insulation upgrades if you decide to go with the cheaper model.
posted by TeatimeGrommit at 8:51 AM on May 14, 2010

Response by poster: We don't have good insulation or windows, but we are doing both this year. Our house is pretty simple construction. We have the old asbestos siding and a wood frame. The reason we're going with 3.5 ton is that our house and the majority of the big windows face due west and the sun in the summer is brutal. Electric for us (NE Oklahoma) isn't expensive overall.
posted by damiano99 at 10:05 AM on May 14, 2010

Keep in mind that you can only get $1500 in energy efficiency tax credits each year, so you might consider timing your purchases to take advantage of that.
posted by electroboy at 10:32 AM on May 14, 2010

I'm no help with choosing between your options, but do check with your electric company to see if they offer their own rebate for going with an more efficient unit. We are getting approx. $300 per ton back in a rebate from them for replacing our 33 year old unit. (And they didn't tell us about it - we had to find out by accident on our own that this program was available.)
posted by molasses at 11:06 AM on May 14, 2010

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