Choosing the right home air conditioner saves money and makes sense

Nearly all cooperatives have energy auditors on staff who can advise consumer-members about the right AC units for their homes.

If you have an aging central air conditioner — even if it’s still working — it might pay off to look into replacing it sooner rather than waiting until it fails.

Replacing an inefficient AC unit with a more efficient model could significantly reduce your electric bill; new units are likely to be 20 to 40 percent more efficient than one from the 1990s. ENERGY STAR-certified systems are even more efficient. Replacing an aging system now, before summer starts, could help you avoid delays or price premiums.

How much money you save by replacing your current AC unit depends both on how often your AC runs and on your electric rate. If you’re in a hot climate and keep your home’s temperature in the low 70s, your cost of cooling will be substantial, and so will the potential savings from replacing your old unit with an efficient new one.

The best way to determine possible savings is to have an in-home assessment conducted by a qualified heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) professional or a certified energy auditor.

Electric co-ops are interested in reducing peak summer loads and offer information, rebates, or a list of qualified professionals. It’s a plus if the contractor has North American Technician Excellence (NATE) certification. Contractors should be knowledgeable about energy-efficient systems and have references.

Your contractor needs to size the system to your home. Ken Maleski, the residential advisor at Central Electric Cooperative in Pennsylvania, says a unit that is too small will not cool your home to the levels you want. If it’s too large, it may not dehumidify your home sufficiently, and it will cycle on and off more frequently, which can increase wear and tear on the system and shorten its life significantly.

In order to size the system, the contractor will need to look at the efficiency of the home by checking insulation levels. If you add insulation where it’s most needed, you may be able to install a smaller AC unit, and you should enjoy greater comfort and lower cooling costs. The HVAC contractor you hire should also assess your ductwork, which is often poorly designed, leaky, or inadequately insulated.

Replacing an aging air conditioner is a great way to improve comfort, cut energy costs, and reduce peak energy demand. Your co-op may be able to help, and you can learn a lot from the information resources available on our website and on the ENERGY STAR and energy.gov websites.

Pat Keegan and Amy Wheeless write for Collaborative Efficiency. For more information visit their website.