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Best central air conditioning units 2021

Best central air conditioning units 2021

Choosing the best central air conditioning units for your home is one of the more costly buying decisions you’ll make, so you’ll want to do your research into HVAC systems to ensure your home gets the cooling it deserves. You’ll also want to ensure you get good value for money and the best specification AC possible, and we’re here to help you do just that with our guide to the top-rated central air conditioners from Carrier, Goodman, Trane, Bryant, Heil and others.

Central air conditioners cool down your entire home, whereas smaller units like the best window air conditioners cool just a specific space only. Finding the best central air conditioning units for your home can seem overwhelming thanks to the large number of manufacturers, the wide range of models each brand offers, and the torrent of figures and features thrown at you. 

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We’re here to cut through all that confusion and present only the best AC units on the market so you can get on with the more important job of enjoying all that sweet cool air.

In our guide, we have selected the best central air conditioner brands and explain why each is well regarded, and what their background in the industry is, so you can be reassured of their experience and reputation. We’ll also give you an easy to understand overview of each AC unit model range, so you can narrow down the right air conditioner for you.

For each HVAC brand, we’ve selected what we think are the best central air conditioning units in the categories offered, based on the overall installation price, key spec (SEER, decibels, features), warranty offered and user feedback. For other ways to cool your home, read our guides to the best ductless air conditioners and the best portable air conditioners. But for now, let's look at the top-rated central air conditioners available to buy.


1. American Standard: Best central air conditioner brand overall

Best central air conditioning units: American Standard central air conditioners review

(Image credit: American Standard)

American Standard

Best central air conditioning units overall

SPECIFICATIONS

Models in range: 7 | Top SEER rating: 22 | Warranty: 12 years on compressors for some models and 10 year warranties | Prices (unit only) starting from: $1345

Reasons to Buy

Reliable units
High energy efficiency
Quiet compared to others

Reasons to Avoid

Expensive installation costs

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. 

What the users say

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.


2. Heil: Best central air conditioners for build quality

Best central air conditioning units: Heil Heating & Cooling

(Image credit: Heil Heating & Cooling)

Heil Air Conditioners

A superb central air conditioner if you can't stretch to a Carrier

SPECIFICATIONS

Models in range: 12 | Top SEER rating: 19 | Warranty: 10 years

Reasons to Buy

Great SEER rating
Excellent warranty cover

Reasons to Avoid

High installation costs
Not the best-known brand (yet)

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. 

What the users say

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.


3. Goodman: Best value central air conditioner brand

Best central air conditioning units: Goodman Central Air Conditioners Review

(Image credit: Goodman)

Goodman Air Conditioners

Best central air conditioning units if you have a smaller budget

SPECIFICATIONS

Models in range: 5 | Top SEER rating: 19 | Warranty: Lifetime compressor warranty on some units and 10 years + | Prices (unit only) starting from: $985

Reasons to Buy

Low cost
On-board diagnostics
Excellent warranties

Reasons to Avoid

No high-end models

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.

What the users say

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.


4. Amana: Best central air conditioner brand for warranties

Best central air conditioning units: Amana Central Air Conditioners Review

(Image credit: Amana)

Amana central air conditioners

Top-rated air conditioning units with generous warranties

SPECIFICATIONS

Models in range: 8 | Top SEER rating: 24.5 | Warranty: 10 years, plus compressors come with a Limited Lifetime Replacement warranty | Prices (unit only) starting from: $1,310

Reasons to Buy

High SEER ratings
Good customer care

Reasons to Avoid

Noisy
Compressor lacks protective grill

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. 

What the users say

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. 


5. Carrier: Best central air conditioners for sheer range

Best central air conditioning units: Carrier Central Air Conditioners

(Image credit: Carrier)

Carrier AC

A superb range of central air conditioning units for all homes

SPECIFICATIONS

Models in range: 16 | Top SEER rating: 21 | Warranty: 10-year parts limited warranty and five-year parts and compressor | Prices (unit only) starting from: $1,525

Reasons to Buy

Range suits all needs 
Quiet operation

Reasons to Avoid

Expensive 
Lower SEER ratings

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. 

What the users say

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. 


6. York: Quietest central air conditioners

Best central air conditioning units: York Central Air Conditioners Review

(Image credit: York)

York Air Conditioners

A great choice if you want a quiet central air conditioning unit

SPECIFICATIONS

Models in range: 11 | Top SEER rating: 21 | Warranty: 10 years parts and lifetime compressor warranty | Prices (unit only) starting from: $1,565

Reasons to Buy

Inexpensive units
Highly efficient 

Reasons to Avoid

Warranties cover parts, not labor
High installation costs

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. 

What the users say

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.


7. Lennox: Best central air conditioning units with a high SEER rating

Best central air conditioning units: Lennox Central Air Conditioners

(Image credit: Lennox)

Lennox

This central air conditioning brand has the highest SEER rating

SPECIFICATIONS

Models in range: 11 | Top SEER rating: 26 | Warranty: 10-year compressor and five-year covered component warranties | Prices (unit only) starting from: $1,475

Reasons to Buy

Energy efficient
Easier on utility bills

Reasons to Avoid

More expensive units
High repair costs

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.

What the users say

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.


8. Rheem: Best central air conditioners for colder climates

Best central air conditioning units: Rheem Central Air Conditioners Review

(Image credit: Rheem)

Rheem

The best central air conditioning units for colder climates

SPECIFICATIONS

Models in range: 7 | Top SEER rating: 20 | Warranty: 10-year parts and labor warranty | Prices (unit only) starting from: $990

Reasons to Buy

Low purchase and running costs
Excellent efficiency 

Reasons to Avoid

Noisy
No lifetime warrant

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. 

What the users say

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. 


What to look for in a good central air conditioner

When picking a good central air conditioner for your home, these are a few key factors to keep in mind. These include the following:

SEER - This stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. In a nutshell, this is the cooling output divided by the cost of running the unit over a year. The higher the SEER the better. Modern AC units start at 13 and can go as high as 26.

Decibels (dB) - How noisy a unit is. Mid-70dB is pretty average and is around the level of a vacuum cleaner or washing machine. The best central air conditioning units come with a mid-50dB output, similar to a dishwasher. 

Features - Keep an eye out for two-stage variable compressors and variable fan speed for more nuanced home cooling. Wireless thermostat features can be costly but convenient. Enhanced weather protection and specific costal models are on offer for challenging locations.

Warranty - Many central air conditioning unit manufacturers offer ten-year parts cover, but it’s important to read the small print and protect your investment with regular services. Look out for longer coverage on high-end units and enhanced replacement cover on whole units.

How much do the best central air conditioners cost?

Everyone has a budget, and while the actual central air conditioner unit is a good part of a HVAC install, it’s only part of the total installation cost. While we can offer a base-unit cost and a potential basic installation price range, to get a final cost of installation for your home you will need to get quotes from a number of authorized contractors for your chosen AC unit. 

These contractors will be best placed to assess your home’s air conditioning needs, based on size, location and existing infrastructure, and offer you a full final costing plus servicing contracts. As a general rule, premium brands demand higher final installation costs due to higher component prices and higher contractor expenses.

On average, you can expect to pay between $2,000 and $6,000 to have a central air conditioner installed in your home. Your actual costs may vary depending on the size of your home, the air conditioner brand, the unit’s SEER rating, the installer you choose and a number of other factors. It’s a good idea to get multiple quotes from multiple installers to ensure you get the best service for the best price.

Beyond a basic install, there may be other costs. For example, if your home lacks the required ductwork, you can expect to add a couple thousand dollars to your installation budget. Lastly, you can expect an increase in costs if you get a multi-zone system or replace your gas furnace as part of the install.

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 latest central air conditioners often have noise-reducing features, such as specially designed fan blades, compressor and pan base insulation, and variable-speed fans. However, since the unit sits outside your home, it's important to choose one that won't bother you or your neighbors. The best AC units produce sound levels under 71.25 decibels – as loud as a conversation in a restaurant. 

Central air conditioning unit size

Many central air conditioner models come in multiple sizes, so you can choose the most appropriate one for your home’s square footage. If a central AC unit is too small, it wastes energy and struggles to produce consistent cooling on the hottest days. If it's too big, you paid extra when a smaller model would be more energy efficient – and it won't dehumidify your home as effectively. A trained technician can help you choose the ideal unit for your home, local climate conditions and budget.

Central air conditioner warranties

Each brand has a conditional warranty, which means you must register your AC within so many days of the purchase date to be covered for the full term. However, this doesn't apply in California or Quebec, where conditional warranties are not allowed. When you register your central AC unit, you can expect a warranty that lasts at least 10 years, though some brands, such as Amana, Trane, Coleman and Goodman, offer 12-year or lifetime warranties on their premium products; without registration, warranties average about five years.

A professional should install your central air conditioner

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, 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 or ecobee. You can also check with your contractor for recommendations.

Central air conditioner vs window air conditioner: which is better?

Ultimately, whether you get a window air conditioner or a central air conditioning unit will depend on your budget and your home’s layout. Based on how expensive a central air conditioner is, it’s understandable that you might want something more affordable. In our comparison of window air conditioners, we found that the average unit costs between $100 and $300, which is definitely cheaper than a central air conditioner by a wide margin.

Cost

Window air conditioners are more affordable to purchase and to run than central air conditioners. That said, if you need to cool your whole home, a central air conditioner is usually more cost effective and efficient, because you don’t have to run individual units. 

Comfort 

The size of the space you’re cooling plays a big role in how comfortable you can make your home. In a large home, a central air conditioner will provide even cooling to all the rooms in your home. However, a window air conditioner is good for smaller spaces, such as studio apartments or single rooms. 

Climate

If you live in a place with long, hot summers, a central air conditioner is a better option to keep you comfortable. However, if you live in a place with relatively cool summers where you don’t turn on your air conditioner very often, a window unit is a great choice to provide temporary relief from the heat.