The best central air conditioning units really are a home essential to tick off your list, especially if you live in a warm place. Crucial for keeping your home cool and liveable, these air conditioners go a long way in the smooth running of a space, which is why it’s so important to secure yourself a reliable, well-functioning unit. Thanks to this guide, that task is made easy, with all the information you need in order to fit out your home with a top-rated product.
Thanks to the all-encompassing power of central air conditioning units, your whole home will become a haven of cool, and you’ll be able to sleep, eat, and relax without the sweltering summer heat bothering you. To get the most from your chosen unit, look for a good SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) rating, as this will help keep your running costs down, and help with the initial cost of your new central air conditioning unit.
While the initial price might be daunting, it’s worth keeping in mind that central air conditioning units will pay off in the overbearing heat, and go further than the best portable air conditioners (opens in new tab) in their ability to cool your entire home. Plus, unlike the best window air conditioners (opens in new tab), HVACs come with unbeatable cooling power, and often have excellent warranties too, so you can have peace of mind when it comes to an AC emergency.
Pick from reputable retailers such as Carrier, Goodman and Trane and find your home expertly cooled at all times of the day. You can also find essential information on what current customers think of each provider’s service and the pricing of each unit type.
The best central air conditioning units
1. American Standard: Best central air conditioner brand overall
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American Standard is one of the leading brands in the HVAC industry, known for its variety of high performance, central air conditioners. They offer a range of reliable units with three series available – Platinum, Gold and Silver. Energy-efficient units start from the standard 14 SEER rating and can reach up to 22 SEER, which is the best for high efficiency and handy for saving on those electricity bills. The units are equipped with advanced features such as the Aero Quiet II System, and sound levels are super quiet.
American Standard is well-regarded by installers and home owners alike. Customers praise how quiet the units are, while others have noticed a reduction in their utility bills thanks to the energy efficiency of these AC units. Review comments include: “American Standard is the best in its class hands down.” Any of the few complaints appeared to be a number of years into use and centered around failed compressors or coolant leaks.
The units are well engineered and built to perform under harsh conditions. American Standard are also known for their versatility and compact unit sizes, making their systems ideal for mobile homes.
Although unit prices are reasonable, installation can be costly, with fees ranging anywhere between $1000 and $5,000. However, American Standard’s exceptional 12-year compressor and 10-year parts warranties can save you money and time in the long-run.
We chose this as the best overall unit for its affordability, impressive features, and for the fact that it’s one of the quieter brands on the market.
- Read our American Standard central air conditioners review (opens in new tab)
2. Heil: Best central air conditioners for build quality
If you want peace of mind when buying a central air conditioning unit, we’d recommended Heil. That’s because the company offers up to a 10-year parts warranty, with some AC units also coming with an extended 10-year no-hassle full-unit replacement. That covers failure of the compressor, coil or heat exchanger. If either of those should fail, Heil will replace the entire unit, terms permitting.
Depending on the central air conditioner you opt for, you also get to enjoy a highly accomplished AC unit that delivers high SEER efficiency (up to 19) while running at super-quiet levels.
We found it hard to get much use feedback on Heil products as it’s wrapped up as part of Carrier so tightly. The feedback we did come across was largely positive. Contractors are generally happy with Heil as these are basically Carrier air conditioners at a more affordable price. Users are happy with the reliability as you have to go through an authorized contractor and will generally end up with a more reliably installed system.
Our top pick for Heil’s best central air conditioning unit is the HVA9, which has a 5-stage variable compressor system and integrated acoustic dampening blanket. This particular air conditioner also supports the brand’s smart Wi-Fi Ion System Control touchscreen thermostat for added convenience.
The Heil HVA9 central air conditioning unit is top of the Ion range, but if you’re looking for something more affordable while retaining the warranty, consider the Heil HVA7. This cheaper HVAC system has the same 10-year no-hassle cover, while the HSA6 offers a five-year no-hassle warranty.
- Read our Heil air conditioners review (opens in new tab)
3. Trane: Best central air conditioning unit for features
Since 2015 Trane has succeeded in being named ‘America’s Most Trusted HVAC System’ every year by Lifestory research, thanks to its dedication to delivering quality products. This commitment to excellence is obvious with its testing regime and an insistence on trained engineers installing and servicing its products for warranties to be valid.
“Never any problem or issues since 2014. Quiet, works well, great contractor.” Another impressed customer added, “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.”
Aside from its accolades, another major factor that might sway you to pick Trane for your central air conditioning unit is the standout features on offer. Within certain models, the Spine Fin Coil goes a long way to aid with efficiency, as it allows for faster cooling. It’s also made with all aluminum which makes it more resistant to corrosion than copper alternatives.
There’s also the chance to optimize your central air conditioning unit with certain Trane models, as some have thermostats that can be linked to smartphones thanks to Wi-Fi connection. That allows for ultimate control over your home’s temperature, as well as the chance to pair it with other smart devices, such as your smart speaker.
Trane is certainly a reliable brand, and its range of prices is another good reason to take a look at what they have to offer. The warranties are all at least ten years from the date of purchase, though that does depend on registering your unit and keeping it serviced with Trane-certified dealers.
- Read our Trane central air conditioners review (opens in new tab).
4. Bryant: Best central air conditioning unit for a range
You’ll have plenty of choice if you decide that Bryant is the one for you, with 16 models to choose from, with a variation of SEER ratings and prices attached to them. No matter which one you opt for, Bryant air conditioners should deliver a coolness to your home to help you survive the summer.
“I’ve been using Bryant Heating and Cooling for years. They are professional and on time. I won’t use anyone else.”
It’s important to note that Bryant comes under the ownership of United Technologies, meaning it won’t be surprising to find very similar products from competitors such as Carrier in their range. However, Bryant does tend to be a little more affordable than their counterparts and you’ll benefit from the fact that the installation process is standard across brands.
There are affordable choices when it comes to Bryant’s thermostats too, with the option of a full-color touch screen display to accompany your unit for not too hefty a price. Or, if you want something a step above, then there are also Wi-Fi-enabled alternatives offering multi-zone control.
Bryant is an all-around good choice if you want to shop around before you make your final decision, and don’t fall down when it comes to warranty either, with a standard ten-year guarantee (given that you register within the specified time period).
- Read our Bryant air conditioners review. (opens in new tab)
5. Goodman: Best value central air conditioner brand
For a budget-friendly yet efficient central air conditioner, Goodman is the best brand. Offering five central air conditioning models, prices for a unit alone can start from as little as $985, although installation costs are not significantly cheaper than elsewhere.
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 and this 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.
Despite its low costs, the company does not compromise on quality, and units are equipped with several handy features. An example would be the convenient onboard diagnostics that help with the maintenance and upkeep of the units.
Users can store up to six fault codes which will notify them in the event of a developing problem. Goodman air conditioners are also quiet, ranging from 40 decibels normally, up to 70 decibels at the most.
While you could find more energy-efficient brands on the market, you are still likely to make an overall saving. A real saving grace is Goodman’s excellent warranty coverage. They offer a 12-year compressor warranty on most models and 10-year warranty on others, which is better than many competitors. Reliable and efficient, Goodman air conditioners are ideal for those living in hotter environments who require comfort and value for money.
- Read our Goodman central air conditioners review (opens in new tab)
6. Amana: Best central air conditioner brand for warranties
Amana is another reputable name in the HVAC industry, owned by Goodman Brand. It offers reliable units that start at 13 SEER and go all the way up to the high-efficiency 24.5 SEER. Amana air conditioners are reliable, with impressive features to boost performance.
The top-tier products are equipped with a ComfortNet technology system that offers an extensive degree of user control by also functioning with Wireless accessories.
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 a number of complaints. However, these are about Goodman units, so we can’t derive reliability of Amana from these.
Other advanced features include a Copeland High-Efficiency Scroll Compressor to enhance energy efficiency, and a CoreSense Diagnostics system that provides accurate troubleshooting and fast repair diagnosis.
Although unit prices are reasonable, they can have high installation costs. The top tier model with the highest 24.5 SEER rating can cost around $2,950 for the unit alone, and can be around $5,200 with installation. While units are robust, a downside is the lack of insulation and protective grills around the compressor, which may be prone to damage.
However, Amana air conditioning systems offer some of the best warranty coverage on the market. They offer a limited lifetime replacement warranty for models with ratings of 16 SEER and higher. And all other units come with a 10-year compressor and all parts warranty.
- Read our Amana central air coniditioners review (opens in new tab)
7. Carrier: Best central air conditioners for sheer range
When it comes to choice, Carrier is one of the top brands on the market. With three series and 16 models, customers can find an air conditioning system to suit their needs and budget. Reliable and durable, units start from a SEER efficiency rating of 14 right up to the highest SEER rating of 21.
On the BBB, Carrier has an A+ rating, with 27 complaints in the past 12 months and 72 in the last three years. Most focus on labour costs on warranty repairs, which gain responses from Carrier, many with compensation. User reviews are mostly positive, such as: “It's efficient and cheaper to operate than the new Ruud gas system in my old condo.” The only downside seems to be the high purchase costs of Carrier units and the cost of replacement parts.
Its models also run extremely quietly, with sound output as low as 65 decibels, so noise shouldn’t be a nuisance.
As you would expect with such high quality, prices are more expensive. Its starting 13 SEER unit can cost around $3,100 with installation, while the premium, 21 SEER unit can reach up to $5,300. Although you can find cheaper units elsewhere, Carrier air conditioners are well built and known to last for years.
Furthermore, its high efficiency and in-built dehumidifier makes Carrier suitable for more hot and humid climates, and will likely contribute to a huge reduction to electric bills.
- Read our Carrier central air conditioners review (opens in new tab)
8. York: Quietest central air conditioners
York is one of the largest heating and cooling suppliers in the world. With 11 models available, York offers two types of air conditioning system, delivering high-efficiency and comfort. All units are equipped with useful features and start from a SEER rating of 13, reaching up to a maximum of 21 SEER.
One stand-out feature of York air conditioners is the QuietDrive comfort system. An advanced sound dampening feature that keeps noise levels down as low as 72 decibels. This makes it one of the quieter brands on the market, and ideal for those living in suburban neighborhoods.
General impressions of York AC units from installers is that the equipment is mid-tier. Both York and other Jonson Controls brands have suffered issues with quality and reliability in the past with the generic micro-coils it 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.
Prices are reasonable, with the average 20 SEER unit costing around $2,770, and around $4,300 with installation. It’s always recommended to have your unit correctly installed by a York Certified Comfort Expert (CCE) Contractor.
Many of the technical issues that have occurred with York air conditioning units have been a result of poor installation. However, with York’s lifetime compressor and 10-year parts warranties, there should be no concerns with the longevity of the unit.
Overall, if you’re after an efficient and super-quiet air conditioning unit that won’t break the bank, York is the ideal brand.
- Read our York central air conditioners review (opens in new tab)
9. Lennox: Best central air conditioning units with a high SEER rating
Lennox air conditioners are ideal for those who require a high-efficiency and cost-effective solution for their homes. Offering three types of air conditioning system, the range starts from a 14 SEER rating (Merit), right up to a remarkably high 26 SEER (Signature). Since nine out of out of 11 models are certified Energy Star, this makes Lennox air conditioners one of the most energy-efficient brands on the market, meaning customers could make a significant saving on their energy bills.
Lennox receives an A+ rating by the BBB, but it also 263 complaints there in the last three years, with 106 in the past 12 months. Many were submitted by people unhappy with the parts-only warranty cover. Consumer Affairs provide Lennox with a 4-star rating, with reviews reflecting satisfied customers. Most of the negative reviews are a mix of failed compressors, coolant leaks or fan motors. The majority of customers were happy with the overall running and price.
However, expect to spend a little more on premium units, as a 26 SEER unit costs around $3,775 alone, and $7,190 with installation. Even the low SEER rated models will cost you a lot more than similar products available on the market. Even considering Lennox systems are more costly, they are still a worthwhile investment based on performance and high efficiency.
For these reasons alone, Lennox air conditioners are suited to those living in hotter climates who expect to get more usage. In addition, this is a much more economical choice of central air conditioner in the long term.
- Read our Lennox central air conditioners review (opens in new tab)
10. Rheem: Best central air conditioners for colder climates
For those who require high efficiency with low running costs, Rheem is the ideal brand. A reputable industry leader, Rheem offers three series and seven types of air conditioner. Units are equipped with advanced features, such as modulating burners to accurately control temperature, enhancing overall performance. And the Prestige Series comes with a Comfort Control system that offers on-board diagnostics, and EcoNet-enabled systems.
Rheem is registered with the BBB with Ruud as a trade name and is rated A+. It received 286 complaints there over in last three years. That said, Rheem and its sister brand Ruud have gained a good reputation amongst installers over recent years due to investment in R&D improving reliability. One contractor said on Reddit: “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.” From the user side, common pluses are the efficiency and cheap running costs of the units.
Although Rheem air conditioning systems have low initial costs, their prices increase with higher SEER ratings. An average 13 SEER unit costs around $990 for the system alone, and around $2,100 with installation. Meanwhile, the premium 20 SEER unit costs around $1,850 for system alone, and around $3,000 to be installed. Bear in mind there are no lifetime warranties available, and labor costs to replace parts are also expensive. However, all units come with 10-year parts and labor warranties.
There are more high-efficiency brands on the market but Rheem excels in its low running costs. It is for this reason that Rheem systems are better suited for colder conditions or environments that don’t require extensive use.
- Read our Rheem central air conditioners review (opens in new tab)
What to look for in a central air conditioning unit
There are crucial features that 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 make your purchase, in order to make your space feel as comfortable as possible.
SEER - In short, the SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) of any given unit is the indication of just how powerful and efficient a unit is. A higher rating means more power, so the unit can cool your home more effectively. In order 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, which is why it’s good to know the general bounds. Usually, a central air conditioning unit will create about 70dB of sound, which is similar to that of a washing machine mid-cycle, and will be 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 50dB.
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 more varying climates.
Warranty - Ensure peace of mind by factoring in a great warranty into the purchase of your HVAC. Ten years will likely be the best cover you can get, but it’s always worth reading up on exactly 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 reach out for 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 cost of installation, because there are a lot of variables that 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 take into account 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 (opens in new tab) 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 on your 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 also consume very 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 make sure it's running efficiently.
Regardless, if you’re replacing an older unit with a new one, you can already expect to get a much more energy efficient unit.
Are new central air conditioners noisy?
The newest generation of central air conditioners tend to have noise-reducing features so that they blend in better within your home. These features include specially designed fan blades, compressor and pan base insulation and variable-speed fans. On average, the best AC units are capable of producing sound levels of under 71.25 decibels, which is about as loud as a conversation in a restaurant. This is still louder than ultra-quiet refrigerators or dishwashers, but it’s a good degree of sound for an appliance that lies on the outside of your home.
Central air conditioner warranties
The best central air conditioning units can be a costly element to integrate into your home, though they prove their worth in their ability to cool your home. Each AC brand has a conditional warranty, which requires you to register your appliance within a certain number of days in order to receive the cover. There is an exception to this however, as conditional warranties are not allowed in California or Quebec, and so will not apply.
If you can register your AC unit (state dependent), you can expect a warranty that lasts at least 10 years. Some brands such as Amana, Trane, Coleman, and Goodman have guarantees that stretch over 12-years or to a lifetime on their high-end products. Without registering, you can expect your AC warranty to last for a lesser time period of around 5 years.
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 – it is ill-advised to install a central air conditioner yourself. 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 specifically recommends finding a NATE-certified technician (opens in new tab), as they have passed a nationally recognized test showing they have the knowledge 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 own 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. When installing a new system or replacing old HVAC equipment, consider replacing your thermostat as well. We suggest a programmable thermostat that allows you to schedule when your HVAC system runs. If you want more advanced features, such as smartphone control, automatic schedules and smart home integration, consider getting a smart thermostat made by Nest (opens in new tab) or ecobee (opens in new tab). You can also check with your contractor for recommendations.
Central air conditioner vs window air conditioner: which is better?
When it comes to these two types of unit, it can be difficult to know which to pay out for, especially when the gulf between central air conditioners and window air conditioners can be up to $300. Focus on the costs below to find out 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, then it’s worth sizing up how much of the place you actually need to cool.
Where you live will have a real impact on 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 where the heat is more manageable, then a window unit can save you some money, as you won’t need to run it full time.