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The Best Central Air Conditioning Units of 2017

We have reviewed this category for 3 years. In the last year, we spent over 240 hours testing and reviewing, and we considered 10 vendors.

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Central Air Conditioning Units Review

Why Buy a Central Air Conditioner?

The top performers in our review are the Dave Lennox Collection, the Gold Award winner; the Frigidaire iQ Drive FS4BG, the Silver Award winner; and the Trane XV20i, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a product to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 products.

If you are in the market for a central air conditioner, you can breathe a sigh of relief. Today's central air conditioning units are more effective, durable and environmentally friendly than ever before. The initial investment is admittedly steep, but if you like a cool and comfortable environment, a central air conditioner can help you enjoy your home even on record-busting hot summer days.

Another benefit of central air is that you don't need to tolerate the extreme differences in temperature between rooms when you have a window air conditioning unit. If you and your family members like varying degrees of coolness in different parts of your house, you might want to check our portable air conditioner site for efficient and affordable alternatives to a central unit.

Many factors affect the efficiency of central air conditioner units – the installation, existing ductwork, the size of your home and many more – but some air conditioner units are designed so smartly that they do well in most settings. The best central air conditioners help control humidity as well as heat, and they are much more environmentally friendly now than in the past. Read our central air conditioner reviews for details about each, and for more information read our articles on central air units.

Alternatives to a Home Air Conditioner

If you live in a dry climate, you might want to consider swamp coolers, which cool air by adding moisture. This is the opposite of air conditioners, which cool air by removing moisture. Swamp coolers are generally less expensive, especially since they do not require installation of extra equipment like ducting.

However, there are a few drawbacks to swamp coolers. First, they are much less effective than central air conditioning when it comes to cooling your house, plus you need to check frequently to ensure the water supply is adequate. In addition, you also might not want a swamp cooler if someone in your family has asthma since these devices blow microbes from the outdoors into your home. Third, the added humidity can sometimes produce mold.

Another alternative to central air conditioner units is heat pumps. While central air conditioners only provide cooling, a heat pump can cool in the summer and then reverse itself to heat during the winter. In the hotter months there is basically no difference between a heat pump and an air conditioner – both cool the air inside your home, though air conditioners are known for being slightly better at cooling in climates with extreme heat. The difference shows in the cold months. Heat pumps are not as able to handle extremely cold temperatures. If you live where it gets very cold you may still have to use your furnace in the winter, even if you have a heat pump, detracting from one of the main advantages of the heat pump – its ability to both heat and cool. Heat pumps are a solid alternative for milder climates, though.

Central Air Conditioners: What We Assessed, What We Found

While researching the best central air conditioners, we looked closely at energy efficiency since it affects your entire house, costs plenty initially and represents a substantial share of your energy bill each summer. Better energy efficiency means lower costs and a smaller carbon footprint.

Central air conditioning systems are rated according to their seasonal energy efficiency ratio, also known as SEER. The SEER number measures how much cooling a system puts out for the energy it consumes. We sought out units with the highest SEER numbers available. Many older models have a SEER rating of 5 or 6, but newer units now get into the 20s. In addition, we looked for Energy Star certification from the Department of Energy, a positive sign that can save you money over the life of your AC unit.

Many central air units now allow you to control your home's temperature remotely, which can also improve your unit's efficiency. Since you have the ability to adjust temperatures remotely, there is no harm done if you forget to turn off the air conditioning when you leave the house or if the weather suddenly turns colder. Most modern air conditioners also integrate easily with associated products from their own manufacturers or with other programmable thermostats.

In addition to efficiency, we looked for HVAC systems that run quietly. Since these units are located outside your home, you want a product that will not bother you or your neighbors. AC units have a drastic range in noise levels, so look for one that makes sense for your surroundings. The quietest units in our lineup have a sound rating of less than 60 decibels, comparable to the sound of conversation in a restaurant. Features that help reduce noise include well-designed fan blades, insulation for the compressor and pan base, and variable speed settings for the fan.

Most air conditioner models come in several sizes. The optimal size for your home will depend on your square footage and the climate where you live. Typically, the larger the unit, the more square footage it can cool. Buying the right size for your circumstances will impact your AC's effectiveness, so be sure to talk with your contractor about what would work best.

What Else Is Important in Choosing a Central Air Conditioner?

Proper installation can dramatically impact how effectively home AC units operate, so it is worth researching who you have doing the work. This is not a good candidate for a do-it-yourself project even though it is possible to buy air conditioners wholesale. There are necessary EPA certifications to consider because of the refrigerant used. Installation also involves some rewiring and anchoring the unit to a concrete pad. Look for someone specifically licensed to do the installation.

Dimensions & Design
The best air conditioning systems are, by necessity, robust devices. Since they sit outside year-round, it is important to get one that can withstand all kinds of weather. The best AC units afford you easy access to the air filters, coils and other areas of the unit. We also looked for central air conditioners that are compact so they do not mar the attractiveness of your yard.

Warranties & Support
The best HVAC systems are made by reputable companies that back their products with good customer service. We prefer manufacturers that provide clear and helpful information online as well as multiple ways to contact the company if problems arise. You also deserve a substantial warranty for the device's compressor and parts since you are paying for a major appliance that is intended to enhance the comfort and value of your home for years to come.

Our Verdict and Recommendations

The research led us to some great products, but we were especially impressed with the Dave Lennox Collection XC25, which is incredibly efficient with its SEER rating of 25. It makes the EPA's Energy Star list and even its Most Efficient list, which means it will save energy and money over time.

American Standard Heating and Air Conditioning offers another great option in the Platinum ZV, which also has a SEER rating over 20. That is bound to be a good investment. It is also very quiet, tying for the quietest in our comparison, since it comes with insulation and noise-reducing fan blades.

The XV20i from Trane is also impressively quiet and efficient. It is designed to make small adjustments in its output rather than cycling on full power or completely off, like older units, so it can maintain a comfortable temperature using less energy.

Shopping for a new air conditioner can be stressful, especially if yours breaks in the heat of summer. The latest models are so much more efficient than their predecessors, though, and we have found the best of the best for energy efficiency, noise control, overall design and warranties so you can have peace of mind with your purchase.