If you want a cool home year-round, the best central air conditioning units are your ticket to comfort. Built and installed directly into your home, these cooling solutions are far more effective than the best portable air conditioners if you live in a warm region and need a year-round solution to outdoor heat and humidity.
When it comes to energy-efficiency, the best central air conditioning units have a high SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) rating. This number ranks how much energy the unit needs to cool down your space, with SEER ratings of 20+ counting the most towards savings on future energy bills.
Whether you’re replacing your current system or looking to install your first-ever unit, the very best central air conditioning units should also be reliable. Many of these designs from Carrier, Goodman, Trane and other brands come with a warranty of 10+ years. Around 70dB of sound is equivalent to the noise level of an average washing machine cycle, so if you’re particularly sensitive to noise, a unit with 50 dB will keep the background volume down.
The best central air conditioning units in 2023
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We have compiled a list of the top air conditioning units that are available for purchase currently. Although we strive to review every product that we feature, some of the reviews for this guide are still ongoing. Nonetheless, any products that have not been reviewed will provide a summary of their key specifications, features, and user reviews to assist you in making the best choice for your household.
The best central air conditioning unit overall
For one of the big names in central air conditioning, American Standard is highly regarded. That is one of the reasons this company offers impressive warranties of up to 12 years on compressors – showing just how reliable these systems really are. So while you may pay more upfront for the system and installation, you'll likely find you appreciate that down the line.
Also, thanks to a top-end 22 SEER rating, you can rest easy knowing that this will offer high efficiency, so your ongoing costs are kept to a minimum – another factor to take into account when considering that upfront cost.
Customers notice a reduction in energy bills when switching to American Standard. It is a well-loved brand by installers and owners with reviews like: "American Standard is the best in its class, hands down". Complaints about the units mainly focus on failed compressors or coolant leaks.
One of the best features of these units is the Quite II System which, as the name suggests, keeps the noise of these air conditioning systems to an absolute minimum. So most of this setup will be out of sight and close to silent, leaving you to enjoy comfortable temperatures without giving it much thought or - crucially - effort.
Since the warranties are so long, you can be assured that the units are built to high standards and tested to work in harsh conditions. That makes these a good choice for those in very hot summer areas that also swing into very cold winters.
Units are also compact, making them a great choice for mobile homes. Prices for installation range from $1,000 right up to $5,000, and the units themselves start at the $1,345 mark.
American Standard is a top choice if you want a high-standard build and installation that will last and offer some of the quietest and most energy-efficient air cooling.
- Read our full American Standard central air conditioners review
The best central air conditioners for build quality
Heil is one of the best options for a build quality you can rely on. Also, this company offers an impressive 10-year warranty which means if you should run into issues, the company will replace the whole unit for you, giving you peace of mind and a quick turnaround if a fix is needed.
So you're good to go for a quick replacement from compressor failure to coil or heat exchanger issues. Since these issues usually arise in the hottest times when machines are under strain, that quick fix is an appealing offering from Heil.
Heil air conditioning units garner generally positive reviews, with contractors finding everything about them decent, as can be expected from what are basically Carrier air conditioners. Users online were happy with the reliability of going through an authorized contractor.
Efficiency is also a big draw here as the company's range of 12 different models you can pick from goes up to a pretty energy-efficient SEER score of 19, meaning you can save on energy bills over time.
While these units run quietly, one of the best picks is the HVA9, which offers acoustic dampening and has a five-stage variable compressor to give the perfect temperature in your home consistently. The addition of Wi-Fi connectivity and a touchscreen thermostat makes it even more appealing and future-proofed.
It's worth noting that the better system will cost you more money but offers a better warranty period so the upfront cost can be well worth it in the long term.
- Read our full Heil air conditioners review
Best central air conditioning unit for a range of choice
For a huge selection of different models to suit a wide range of needs, Bryant is a manufacturer that offers choice. There are 16 models to pick from, with the top-end ones hitting a very impressive SEER rating of 26. Also, all units come with a 10-year warranty as standard on all parts, with some offering extended warranties even beyond this.
Bryant air conditioning units get good feedback from users, with customer comments like: "I’ve been using Bryant Heating and Cooling for years. They are professional and on time. I won’t use anyone else."
Prices for units start at $3,300, making these some of the more expensive options out there, but with those warranties backed by a good customer care record, that makes sense. The company is a little more affordable than some of the competition, and the installation process is standard.
Expect units to come with the latest touchscreen thermostat controls and Wi-Fi-enabled options, which let you control everything from your smart device. You can also go for multi-zone picks, which allow you to vary the temperature across floors or rooms in your home as needed.
Just ensure you register your warranty within the time frame to get that 10-year cover which makes Bryant a very appealing pick.
- Read our full Bryant air conditioners review
The best value central air conditioner brand
If you want central air conditioning without that high upfront cost, then a great budget pick is Goodman. This company has five different units, with a top SEER rating of 19. You even get a stand-out lifetime compressor warranty on some units and ten years or more on others.
While Goodman appears to get generally negative installer opinions, these are down to poor installations, as many point out that Goodman sells its equipment to anyone, which tends to result in more poor installations. Generally, users are pleased with the experience and price. One customer mentioned they saved $2,000 and were happy with the quality and output of the unit, while another said their electric bill had been reduced by over 50%. The GSXC18 and 16 models are rated highly.
So despite saving money up front with units from $985, you still get very reassuring build quality backed by impressive warranties. Units also feature useful additions like onboard diagnostics to help with maintenance and upkeep. You can store six fault codes so you know of any problems as they develop.
The units are known for running quietly with a helpful decibel rating for each, ranging from as low as 40dB topping out at just 70 dB. These aren't the most energy-efficient, but top-end models help keep energy bills down.
If you want one of the longest warranties out there while saving upfront, and getting some of the quietest units, then the Goodman range offers you plenty of good options.
- Read our full Goodman central air conditioners review
The best central air conditioner brand for warranties
Another great company is Amana, which offers 10-year warranties backed by lifetime compressor warranties. The brand also has a choice of eight units, the top-end, which tops out at 24.5 SEER, making it very energy efficient for running costs.
Installers like Amana units as they're designed to be more easily maintained. Users certainly seem happy, with one raving about the Amana AXSC18: “It offers decent cooling, and that’s what I wanted from an AC at this price range.” The registered Amana Heating and A/C business on the Better Business Bureau (BBB) redirects to Goodman Manufacturing, its parent. It has an A+ accreditation, yet it also has several complaints. However, these are for Goodman units, so we can’t derive the reliability of Amana from these.
Amana has its own ComfortNet technology system, which allows you to pair a selection of wireless gadgets with the units for wider-ranging controls. Depending on your spending, you may want to add these extras, which can vary from the top-end models at $2,950 alone or $5,200 with installation included.
Thanks to the Copeland High-Efficiency Scroll Compressor, these conditioners can achieve great efficiency while running for long periods. However, the compressor's lack of insulation and protective grills is a red flag. That said, if you've got a lifetime warranty, it won't matter to you anyway, as should anything go wrong, you'll be eligible for a replacement.
If you want a long warranty from a company that offers a wide range of prices and decent SEER ratings, then Amana is a great pick.
- Read our full Amana central air conditioners review
A superb range of central air conditioning units for all homes
Carrier is a great central air conditioning unit provider for range as it offers 16 models. This is widely varied, meaning an ideal unit should suit your home's exact needs based on its size and layout. All that can mean you get maximum efficiency in terms of energy consumption to cool the area. The company's top-end SEER rating of 21 reflects this.
With a Better Business Bureau rating of A+ and most negative comments about labor costs, customer comments about Carrier are largely positive. One user said: "It's efficient and cheaper to operate than the new Ruud gas system in my old condo."
You can also rest easy with Carrier knowing that there is a 10-year parts limited warranty and a five-year parts and compressor warranty. It's not the best out there, but this is a compelling option, with prices for units starting as low as $1,525.
Units are built to run quietly, with the lower end at 65 decibels. While that's not as low as some models, it means you can rely on this not distracting when cooling your home.
The high-efficiency models come with built-in dehumidifiers, meaning your home's air is kept fresh while allowing them to work in hot and humid climates. It can also mean a drop in your energy bills over time.
- Read our full Carrier central air conditioners review
The quietest central air conditioning units
York is one of the biggest heating and cooling suppliers in the world. As such, it can offer units with 10-year parts and a lifetime compressor warranty. This is a very compelling and peace of mind-inducing feature. And with units starting at $1,565, this is one of the more accessible air conditioning systems.
General impressions of York AC units from installers are that the equipment is mid-tier. York and other Jonson Controls brands have previously suffered issues with quality and reliability with the generic micro-coils they used, though this appears to be resolved now. One customer said they did not need to leave their unit on long to cool their house, so their utility bill remained low. Many praised how quiet their York central air conditioning unit was during use.
The company says it offers quiet units with its QuietDrive technology onboard to offer audio comfort. The sound-dampening features keep audio down to 72 decibels. This is one of the quieter offerings out there but not the quietest. That level is louder than a conversation, closer to a shower or dishwasher noise, but quieter than a blender, for example.
The company's SEER rating tops out at 21, meaning these units can help you keep electricity bills to a minimum. A decent unit, offering SEER 20, will cost you $2,770 - with an installation, that's $4,300. Getting it installed by York helps with the warranty and ensures you'll get the longest life out of your unit.
- Read our full York central air conditioners review
The central air conditioning brand with the highest SEER rating
For the highest SEER rating, which means you're going to save money over time on energy bills, Lennox is the top choice. This company offers a top-end SEER score of 26, which means you can cool faster and more powerfully without draining your energy.
The most unhappy comments about Lennox on the BBB were about the parts-only warranty cover, but it still has an A+ rating. Over on Consumer Affairs, the brand has a 4-star rating. There are negative reviews about failed compressors, coolant leaks, and fan motor issues, but most customers were happy with the running and cost.
The units are well made with a 10-year compressor and five-year component warranty. Not the best by any means, but still reassuringly long enough to suggest these are built to go the distance. There are 11 models to pick from, with prices starting at $1,475. But go for a SEER 26-rated model, and you'll pay $3,775 for the unit or $7,190 with installation. Factor in longer-term energy savings here to work out if spending more on higher SEER works for you.
Since these units are all about running efficiency, if you live in a hotter area and plan to use your system a lot, this brand could save you money in the long run over the competition.
- Read our full Lennox central air conditioners review
The best central air conditioning unit for features
Trane is a stand-out pick for an air conditioning system with many features and an impressive track record. The company prides itself on carrying out strict testing and using its own trained engineers to install and service units for warranties to be valid.
Customers are generally impressed with Trane Air Conditioners, leaving comments like: "Never any problem or issues since 2014. Quiet, works well, great contractor", or "I have had my current systems for three years, I am very happy with Trane. The two units I own have been operating flawlessly for the entire time."
Some models feature the company's Spine Fin Coil, built to offer maximum efficiency while offering the fastest cooling. The fact it's made from aluminum rather than the usual copper - to make it more corrosion-resistant - is just a bonus.
Many models are built with the future in mind, offering Wi-Fi connectivity which allows you to control the system from your smartphone. A really helpful feature if you want to save money by turning off or down the system when out, but having the option to get cooling as you return so it's ready - at temperature - for when you arrive home. You can even control this with your voice via a smart speaker, should you want to cool down without getting up from the couch.
The Trane 10-year warranty is a big appeal here, and some savings can be made on units up front, but what you spend will be worth it for the following quality.
- Read our full Trane central air conditioners review
The best central air conditioners for colder climates
Rheem is the ideal brand for those who require high efficiency with low running costs. Rheem is a reputable industry leader who offer three series and seven types of air conditioners. Units are equipped with advanced features, such as modulating burners to control temperature, enhancing overall performance accurately. And the Prestige Series has a Comfort Control system that offers on-board diagnostics and EcoNet-enabled systems.
With an A+ rating from BBB, this company has a good standing following lots of investments in R&D over the years. One contractor said: "Rheem all day and on Sunday. Any Goodman I find is installed poorly because any contractor can get their hands on it. Rheems are nice and are great to work on." Users were happy with running costs and general efficiency.
Seven units from the company are available, featuring useful tech like onboard diagnostics and Eco-Net-enabled systems. Plus, you get a 10-year parts and labor warranty, which can save you money over time. Couple that with energy-saving costs on the SEER rating, and you could find yourself getting a very good deal here.
Go for a SEER 20-rated system, and you'll be paying about $1,850 or, with installation, $3,000 – seriously undercutting much of the competition.
- Read our full Rheem central air conditioners review
How to choose the best central air conditioning unit
Some crucial features make a central air conditioning unit go from a nice-to-have to an essential element of your household. Below are some things to look out for as you purchase to make your space feel as comfortable as possible.
SEER - In short, any given unit's SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) indicates just how powerful and efficient a unit is. A higher rating means more power, so the unit can effectively cool your home. To work out the SEER of a product, its output is divided by the running cost for one year, meaning that you want to aim high for this particular reading.
Decibels (dB) - An overly noisy AC unit is not on the wishlist for anyone’s home, so it’s good to know the general bounds. Usually, a central air conditioning unit will create about 70dB of sound, similar to that of a washing machine mid-cycle and louder than the average person talking. If you’re sound-sensitive and would rather pay more to forgo excess noise, look for units with decibel readings of around 50 dB.
Features - Extra features are often worth paying for if they can make your unit more enjoyable to live with, from two-stage variable compressors to variable fan speeds. The latter will make the cooling process more effective and might be worth the investment for those in varying climates.
Warranty - Ensure peace of mind by factoring a great warranty into purchasing your HVAC. Ten years will likely be the best cover you can get, but it’s always worth reading up on what is included in the service and whether it stretches to an enhanced replacement cover for the whole unit.
Central air conditioning units FAQ
How much do the best central air conditioners cost?
The price of the best central air conditioner comes down to two main factors: the cost of the base unit, listed above, and the cost of installation. In our lineup, we have only covered the cost of the base unit and an estimate of the price range required for a basic installation.
You won’t know the exact cost of the entire HVAC installation until you seek quotes from authorized contractors who can install your selected AC unit. Getting quotes from a handful of local contractors will give you a better idea of the exact installation cost because many variables come into play, such as the size of your home, the location of your home, and its current infrastructure. On top of that, there will be a figure for the servicing contract afterward.
The price of the base unit might be bumped up by features such as a high SEER rating, brand reputation, size, and smart features. You should expect higher-end air conditioning brands to cost more to install due to all of the premium parts required. If you consider that the installation will cost somewhere between $2,000 and $6,000 and add on the base unit, you’ll soon have a better idea of the overall cost of your central air conditioning unit.
Remember that any ductwork or a gas furnace replacement will bump up the costs further, as will a multi-zone system.
Are new central air conditioners more energy efficient?
Central AC units with excellent energy efficiency ratings can save you more electricity bills than standard models. However, you can expect the highest efficiency models to be the most expensive upfront.
Air conditioners with exceptional cooling capabilities that consume little electricity earn high SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) ratings. Compare the unit’s upfront cost with potential energy savings over time to see if it's worth the investment.
New air conditioners are much more energy efficient than older units, though. While older AC units were typically rated around 8 to 9 SEER, the U.S. Department of Energy now requires a minimum of 13 SEER or 14 SEER for central air conditioners, depending on where you live.
Of the 98 models we looked at, only 39 rated below 16 SEER, the average of all the models we evaluated. Although the highest SEER rating we came across was a 26 on the Lennox XC25, Amana, Trane, and American Standard all offer models with 22 SEER or higher. The representatives at Energy Star also recommend regular maintenance, such as replacing filters at least every three months and having your unit tuned up at least once a year to ensure it's running efficiently.
Regardless, if you’re replacing an older unit with a new one, you can expect to get a much more energy-efficient one.
Should a professional install your central air conditioning unit?
Unless you have experience with brazing, electrical work, plumbing, and framing – and can handle refrigerant according to EPA regulations – installing a central air conditioner yourself is ill-advised. Professionals have the education, skill, and experience to install your central air conditioner safely and properly.
Not all contractors have the appropriate certifications and experience to work on your HVAC system. It's smart to seek out reputable, qualified contractors in your area. You can start by looking at online customer reviews on Google, Yelp, Citysearch, and more, which often reflect the quality of an HVAC installer. Don’t choose the cheapest bid or closest contractor without vetting their qualifications first. AHRI recommends finding a NATE-certified technician, as they have passed a nationally recognized test showing they know how to size, repair and install the proper system for your home.
Although professional HVAC installers often give specific recommendations on central air conditioners, take some time to do your research before you call so you can explain your needs.
Choosing a thermostat for your central air conditioning unit
Central air conditioners are often only as good as the thermostats to which they are connected. Consider replacing your thermostat when installing a new system or replacing old HVAC equipment. We suggest a programmable thermostat that allows you to schedule when your HVAC system runs. If you want more advanced features like smartphone control, automatic schedules, and smart home integration, consider getting a smart thermostat made by Nest or ecobee. You can also check with your contractor for recommendations.
Central air conditioner vs window air conditioner: which is better?
It can be difficult to know what to pay for these two types of units, especially when the gulf between central air conditioners and the best window air conditioners can be up to $300. Focus on the costs below to determine which choice is right for you.
If you need to minimize the strain on your finances, then a window air conditioner can be an appealing choice, as the initial cost you’ll pay can often be significantly less than a central unit, even if they only cool down one zone in your space. If you want to invest in a unit to cool your entire home, then look for ways to save on the initial cost of a central air conditioning unit, as in the long run, these are likely to be more cost-effective.
It comes back to size again when factoring in comfort to your buying decision, as in a larger home, a window air conditioner likely won’t go far enough to keep the heat at bay. For smaller spaces, like an apartment or a studio, it’s worth sizing up how much of the place you need to cool.
Where you live will impact how much money you’re ready to invest in a central air conditioning unit, as the summer months can quickly become unbearable without cool air circulating. If you live in a state with more manageable heat, a window unit can save you money, as you won’t need to run it full-time.
What are some other options?
Central and window air conditioners may be popular, but they're not your only option. The best ductless air conditioners are simple to install and will be mounted on an indoor wall for easy access and doubling up as a heater.
Then there are the best thru-wall air conditioners, which are affordable and can be installed in any available sleeve of your wall. Both are good options, and you can follow the links to our guides for more information.