Updated: Aug 17, 2020
The air conditioning unit, normally found on the exterior of the home, is quite often times listed in negotiations. This is an Inspection Pros Big Ticket item as the cost of replacement is well over $1,000 for any decent working unit. So, when your home inspection reports recommends an air conditioner replacement for a home buyer, it's time to start doing research as the cost varies and many model-types exist on the market.
So when it comes to AC's 2020 you want something good and don't want to get ripped off. So the intention of this blog is to keep our California / Minnesota customers / subscribers (future customers / subscribers) informed so they don't get ripped off and / or have issues down the road. We focus on (in our opinion) the top 5 brands for central AC and we discuss (in no order) five major attribute of each brand - efficiency, reliability, quality, value, and warranty.
We start with No. 5 - Rheem
Rheem (also sells under the name Rudd) was a late bloomer in the HVAC world, not coming into play until 1970. Rheem also manufactures a superb water heater, which they were originally known for prior to getting into the HVAC market. In regards to central air conditioners, they make a pretty decent unit in the middle price range. The efficiency rating is up to 23 SEER**. Rheem is known for efficiency and affordability in once package. The warranty is ten years (limited) plus some fine print.
On a negative note - we've heard from our customers that that the Rheem customer service isn't spectacular and the units just end up having problems.
**You want to pick an air conditioner unit with a good SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating), which is a measure of the units efficiency. The higher the SEER number, the more efficient the unit should perform. A good SEER is 20 to 26. A more efficient air conditioning unit with a higher SEER is win-win as it reduces cooling costs and carbon emissions, providing a more green-friendly / cleaner environment. The SEER takes into account variations for seasonal changes. For example, in Minnesota you might use the air conditioning system just about every day in the Summer; only a few times in the spring and fall, and never in the Winter.
SEER 13-15 BASIC PERFORMANCE
SEER 16-19 BETTER PERFORMANCE
SEER 20-26 BEST PERFORMANCE
In dry (even desert-like) climates - say Sacramento area, California - you may see reference to just EER (Energy Efficiency Rating). The efficiency rating is based off the peak efficiency. It's a measure of how efficient an air conditioner remains at high outdoor temperatures and consistent use.
Your home inspection report will normally list the SEER that was observed on the unit during the tiem of the home inspection.
No. 4 - Lennox
The Lennox brand is the old guy on the block - founded way back in Texas 1895. This brand makes several model-types that fit every budget. The have a unit that is listed with a 26 SEER rating! Expect to pay a lot up front, but save on your energy bills with one of energy efficient models! It takes a while to re-cooperate the upfront cost in your energy savings, so a BIG FACTOR is knowing how long you will be staying in the home. Lennox also claims to have a model that only puts out 41 dB for noise. This is the lowest. So, if noise is a thing for you, Lennox may be a good fit.
The negative with Lennox is the warranty - it's only five years on unit and parts; ten years on select models. So the warranty may be considered poor in regards to the purchase price. However when selecting, keep in mind Lennox is very good quality and most don't require service in the first five years.
We find ourselves recommending energy audits a lot during home inspections. This is normally attributed to lack of insulation in connection with Minnesota homes. However, energy audits are also useful as you can most accurately determine a break-even point - when your energy savings meet your capital cost. Check with your local utility company. In Minnesota, they offer free or discounted energy audits from Xcel Energy.
No. 3 - Carrier
The Carrier brand was the ruler of the south, getting started in Florida in 1912. These guys make claim to the first "modern" air conditioner. Carrier central air conditioning units are extremely reliable, and their reputation is fantastic in the air conditioning and HVAC world. These guys have been around forever and we never hear anything negative about this brand on our residential home inspections. You will pay good price, but get rewarded with additional value in quality. The warranty is ten years on parts. Carrier also requires all installs be completed by a certified professional. This is huge. This does make it more expensive upfront. Carrier also is known for the best insulation and chassis on the market, making them more quiet across the board.
The negative is in efficiency, as Carrier only manufacturers models up to 21 SEER. If you are looking to save the enviromental or reduce your carbon footprint, Carrier may not be the best place to start shopping. This could be ideal for a cooler climate (with cool summer) and western coastal cities like San Francisco.
No. 2 - Amana
The Amana brand as been around since 1934 and got their start originally manufacturing commercial walk-in coolers. The company itself is now owned by Whirlpool. Several of the units are manufactured with high SEER, making Amana a top choice for hot climate types. The energy efficiency for the units 14 - 24.5 SEER. Overall, this company makes a decent air conditioning unit at an affordable price, with good efficiency. We are looking at a all-in-one type deal here with Amana, completely USA made. Amana also sports one of the best warranties on the market, which makes it ideal for new homeowners that are purchasing new appliances. The warranty period is ten years; but also, the compressors come with a limited lifetime replacement warranty. However, we have heard the warranties are not always honored in regards to replacing worn out parts. Additional care should be sought to make sure the warranty is transferable between owners.
No. 1 - Trane
This is the bad-boy leader in the central air conditioning world - most would agree with this. Trane builds units that are extremely reliable and affordable, and still are efficient. In our opinion Trane took the #1 spot based on their innovation. They perfected variable speed technology, which lets the machine intuitively adjust to changing heating and cooling needs, working only as hard as it has to and often at lower more efficient a quieter speeds, which equates to maximum comfort with the highest efficiency. So this model is perfect for hot-humid climates like Minnesota, and dry-intense-hot heat like Sacramento, California. If you live in Northern California or near a coastal city like San Francisco, you may not want to consider the capital investment of a Trane because these areas typically don't have much humidity and are not very hot, even in the summer. A lot of Californians don't even run their AC units that often, even in the summer. The same goes for a Midwest climate because the air conditioning system in the home, is only used four to five months out of the year. So it's price-point Vs need. Either way Trane is the best and you shouldn't be left disappointed with your purchase. In regards to warranty, Trane offers a ten year warranty and twelve year compressor warranty, so it's very good. The efficiency is not bad - rated from 14.5 to 22 SEER.
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