Cool Aid: High-Efficiency Air Conditioners

Central • Room • Ductless Split Systems • Portable

Depending on where you live, you soon might find higher efficiency central air conditioners at both ends of the price scale. Meanwhile, ductless split-system air conditioners, which bring flexibility and convenience to cooling air efficiently, are more mainstream.

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These days, it seems that saving energy is at least as important to makers of air conditioners as is keeping your home cool during the summer. Of course, equipment that saves energy means that you save a few bucks on your electricity bill, which is cool, too. The good news is that if you’re in the market for an air conditioner in 2013, you have more ways than ever before to stay cool and save money.

Manufacturers of central air conditioners finally are beginning to show a little movement at the top of the efficiency charts, while coming federal standards will address the bottom and boost the efficiency of entry-level air conditioners in the next year. Meanwhile, although they’ve been around for years, ductless split-system air conditioners are expected to become an increasingly common solution when it comes to options for cooling your home.

Plus, no matter what type of air conditioner that you use these days, chances are that you can stay more connected with it than ever before, even when you’re away from home.

CENTRALLY DIRECTED. The big news among air conditioners is that at press time, a new efficiency leader is expected on the market in summer 2013. For the past 6 years, Nordyne, which makes air conditioners under several brand names, stood alone among manufacturers that made a central air conditioner that achieved more than a 21 seasonal energy-efficiency ratio, or SEER. No longer. Lennox tells us that it will launch the XC25 as part of its Dave Lennox Signature Series line, and it’s expected to have a 25 SEER. The previous industry high, by Nordyne models, was 24.5 SEER.

According to David Nark of Lennox, the XC25 achieves its high rating partly because of its use of inverter technology. Inverter technology uses a variable-speed compressor and automatic adjustment of the fan speed to raise or lower the cooling in a home based on how hot or cold a room is. Consequently, the air conditioner uses only the electricity that it needs to accomplish its task. Previously, Nordyne was the only central-air-conditioner manufacturer to use inverter technology.

Lennox wouldn’t disclose the price of the XC25, but Mike Mastin of contractor Detmer & Sons says inverter central air conditioners are premium models that cost at least $4,000, and we expect that Lennox’s new model at least will reach that price threshold.

Depending on where you live, an improvement in the efficiency of a central air conditioner also will happen at the low end of the price scale. Department of Energy is changing its minimum-efficiency standard for central air conditioners, to take effect January 2015.

Like it did regarding furnaces, Department of Energy is dividing the country. For those who live in southern states, the minimum efficiency of a new central air conditioner will be 14 SEER, compared with the current federal minimum of 13 SEER. (This requirement pertains to models of more than 30,000 Btu, which is enough to cool a three-bedroom home.) The minimum will remain 13 SEER in other states.

If they don’t already make a 14-SEER model—and several don’t—manufacturers are starting to tweak their model lines in anticipation of the new standard. However, new 14-SEER models aren’t expected to reach consumers until 2014, according to manufacturers. The question if you live in the south (and you don’t have to buy immediately because of a system failure, of course) is should you buy a 13-SEER model now or should you nurse one more summer out of your old central air conditioner to get a more efficient—and more expensive—model next year? The answer depends firmly on where you live and how frequently that you use your air conditioner.

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