The best time to shop for an air conditioner is not when it stops working and cannot be repaired, although that seems to be when most people do it.
While it may seem odd to shop for a new air conditioner while your old one is still working, that’s exactly what you should do. If you’re getting regular checks and maintenance, there will be signs that give you a ‘heads up’ when the end is near.
When to shop for an air conditioner
There are good reasons to shop around before you have to replace your AC. For one, you won’t feel rushed into a decision. Two, you can shop on the off season, which in the HVAC industry, is the time between winter and summer.
During the spring months (March, April, May) it’s cool enough that people aren’t thinking about turning on their air conditioning, and they’re not running their heat as much either. HVAC companies aren’t as busy, and often manufacturers run specials on equipment.
Another reason to shop ahead of need is it gives you time to research exactly what you need and want. You have time to get multiple evaluations and estimates from different companies.
What to ask
When you purchase a new air conditioning system, that’s just the beginning. It’s always great if you can get a good price or take advantage of an off-season special, however, that’s just a small portion of your costs over the long haul.
The least expensive deal may not be the best deal, especially if you’re not getting the best energy use possible. A new unit can be expected to last up to 20 years, and if you save 10% per month in energy costs, that adds up to a lot of money.
Before you buy, you need to consider several important factors:
The size, layout, and age of your home – If you get a system that’s too large for your home, it will use too much energy to do the job – kind of like filling a water glass with a fire hose. If your system is too small, it won’t be able to keep up, especially during extreme temperatures. Determining the right system requires a professional analysis of your home by certified HVAC professionals.
Your current air conditioning system – Do you have duct work already in place? Do you need a mulit-zone or ductless system? Again, an HVAC professional can evaluate your home and make recommendations.
What features you want – Is energy efficiency important? Do you want the convenience of different controls for different zones? Would you like to control the temperature remotely? New technologies offer a wide variety of features, which add to the up-front cost, but may save you money over time.
Who to buy from
A good system can end up being a bad purchase if it’s not installed properly. A bad installation can cost you for years to come in extra repair bills and excessive energy use. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) improper installation could increase household energy use for space heating and cooling by as much as 30 percent!
That’s why a large part of your research should be on the contractors themselves –
- Who do your friends recommend?
- Who has good reviews?
- Who answers your questions satisfactorily?
The cheapest contractor may be cheaper for a reason. As the saying goes, “You get what you pay for” – and that’s especially true when it comes to the installation of a complex HVAC system. You want someone with a good reputation who will guarantee their installations.
However – if you’re in a pinch…
Sometimes it’s just not avoidable – either your AC sputters out unexpectedly, or you simply cannot address the situation until it has stopped working. Whatever the reason, if you need air conditioning right away – just remember to keep three things in mind: