Central Air Conditioner Reviews

Editor's Note:
If you are looking for a new central air conditioner brands matter, and we highlight the ones that our research shows deliver the best features and bang for the buck. But when it comes to performance, the installer you choose will likely spell the difference between a central AC that pleases, and one that does not.
 
Dave Lennox Signature XC25 Review
Specs that Matter
Efficiency -- Up to 26 SEERSound level -- 59 to 64 dBCooling capacity -- 2 to 5 tons
Best Reviewed

Lennox Central Air Conditioner

Dave Lennox Signature XC25

The Dave Lennox Signature XC25 offers impressive performance and impressive efficiency, reviews say. Highlights including a modulating compressor that raises and lowers cooling by as little as 1 percent, letting it hold temperatures to within a half degree of the thermostat setting. That capability lowers energy costs by as much as 60 percent, helping the XC25 to earn Energy Star Most Efficient status once again for 2017. Energy costs can be lowered even more by powering the XC25 using an optional solar-energy module. The reliability of this Dave Lenox Signature model is considered to be high, and its noise low. See our full review »

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Carrier Infinity 21 24ANB1 Review
Specs that Matter
Efficiency -- Up to 21 SEERSound level -- 65 dB minimumCooling capacity -- 2 to 5 tons
Best Reviewed

Carrier Central Air Conditioner

Carrier Infinity 21 24ANB1

The Energy Star Qualified Carrier Infinity 21 24ANB1 has a SEER of up to 21 and runs very quietly at 65 decibels. It lacks a modulating compressor, but earns kudos nonetheless for its ability to maintain thermostat temperatures while keeping humidity in check. Experts also praise its build quality, including construction features that help it better withstand harsh weather conditions. Carrier's reliability record is strong, but the warranty is merely average, covering all parts for 10 years, and requires registration. An optional thermostat that can be controlled from an Apple or Android smartphone or tablet is also available. See our full review »

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Trane XV20i Review
Specs that Matter
Efficiency -- Up to 22 SEERSound level -- 57 - 75 dBCooling capacity -- 2 to 5 tons
Best Reviewed

Trane Central Air Conditioner

Trane XV20i

The Trane XV20i has a SEER as high as 22 and is Energy Star qualified in all sizes. Though not quite as efficient as the Dave Lenox Signature XC25, this Trane central air system also has a modulating compressor for rock-steady temperature control. Allergy sufferers can add an air-cleaner module that removes 99.8 percent of particles, exceeding HEPA standards. Other options include an Internet-capable smart thermostat. The Trane XV20i also boasts a strong compressor warranty, 12 years, though other parts are only covered for the more-standard 10 years. Trane air conditioners have a reputation for reliability and fare well in consumer-satisfaction surveys. See our full review »

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Amana ASXC18
Specs that Matter
Efficiency -- Up to 19 SEERSound level -- 71 to 74 dBCooling capacity -- 3 to 5 tons
Best Reviewed

Amana Central Air Conditioner

Amana ASXC18

The Amana ASXC18 is less efficient than other top models, but it also costs less. Its maximum SEER rating is 19, and it runs at a fairly quiet 71 decibels, though some pricier models are quieter still. The two-stage compressor allows for good humidity control, especially when matched with a variable-speed blower. It can use standard or smart thermostats, though the latter don't connect to the Internet. The warranty is a highlight: Along with the standard 10-year coverage on parts, Amana offers a limited lifetime warranty on the compressor and will replace the whole condensing unit if the compressor ever fails. See our full review »

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The basics of air conditioning

With the start of summer and the onset of warmer weather, a central air conditioner could start to look like more of a necessity than a luxury. All air conditioners -- including portable air conditioners, room air conditioners and central air conditioners -- work basically the same way as your refrigerator: They pump heat from one area (in this case, your home's interior) and transfer it to another (the outdoors). An air conditioning system contains several parts:

  • The evaporator is a winding coil, usually made of copper, which draws out warm air from indoors.
  • The condenser is a separate coil that releases the collected heat outside. This coil is surrounded by aluminum fins to disperse the heat.
  • The refrigerant is a liquid that transfers heat from the evaporator to the condenser. It evaporates in the indoor coil, pulling heat out of the air, and turns back to a liquid in the condenser, releasing its heat outdoors.
  • The compressor is a pump that forces the refrigerant through this network of tubing and fins. This is the part of the system that uses electricity.

In a window air conditioner or a portable air conditioner (which we cover in separate reports), all these parts are contained in one compact unit that sits in a window; can be installed permanently in a wall; or, in the case of portable air conditioners, sits on the floor and is vented to the outside via flexible connecting hoses. Individually, these units are much cheaper than a central air conditioning system and are easy to install. However, they only have enough power to cool a single room and if you want to cool multiple areas, costs can mount up.

If you need to cool an entire home, a central air conditioner is much more efficient than having a window or portable air conditioner in each room. And even though room-sized air conditioners are quieter than ever, a central air unit is quieter still (at least as far as occupants inside your house are concerned). Central air conditioners are also easy to use, but they are much larger and more complicated to install.

Unlike a room air conditioner, which can generally be installed by homeowners themselves, or relatively inexpensively (and sometimes free) by a retailer, a central air conditioner must be installed professionally. That's critical because, as we'll discuss in the Buying Guide section of this report, the quality of that installation can go a long way toward determining how satisfied you are with your choice of central air systems. A quality installation can add thousands of dollars to the sticker price of the system itself, though how much can vary greatly. Among the factors to consider is whether or not your home already has forced-air heat. If it does, the ductwork needed to distribute cold air from a central air conditioner is almost certainly already in place; if not, it will have to be added -- and that, of course, increases the cost and complexity of the project. If you're also thinking of replacing your furnace, we cover those in a separate report, recommending the top choices in that category as well.

Finding The Best Central Air Conditioners

There are no professional tests of central air conditioners. Experts generally agree that proper installation and maintenance are at least as important to the performance of an air conditioning system as the unit itself, if not more so. Testing in a lab would provide little useful information about real-world performance because there is too much variability in these factors.

However, we did find a few sites run by HVAC professionals, such as WebHVAC.com and All Systems Mechanical that recommend specific air conditioning brands based on factors such as features, efficiency and warranty. ConsumerReports.org doesn't rate central air conditioners, but does rate the reliability of the top brands based on a large survey of its members. FurnaceCompare.com has the largest selection of user reviews that we spotted, and further input can be gleaned from some manufacturers' sites. Together, these and other sources enabled us to choose the top central air conditioners that combine efficiency, durability, strong warranties and quiet operation.