Trane XL20i
Trane XL20i

Trane Central Air Conditioner

The Trane XL20i has a SEER as high as 20. It also boasts an impressive warranty, with the compressor covered for 12 years and other parts for 10. Trane air conditioners in general have a reputation for reliability and fare well in consumer-satisfaction surveys.
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Amana ASXC18
Amana ASXC18

Amana Central Air Conditioner

The Amana ASXC18 is both less efficient and less expensive than our other top models. Its seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) can reach 18, and it runs at a fairly quiet 71 decibels. Along with the standard 10-year warranty on parts, Amana guarantees to replace the whole condensing unit if the compressor ever fails.
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Dave Lennox Signature Collection
Dave Lennox Signature Collection

Lennox Central Air Conditioner

The Dave Lennox Signature Collection includes two models: the XC17, with a seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) of up to 18; and the XC21, with a SEER as high as 21.2. Both models run at 69 decibels, significantly quieter than many standard air conditioners. Both units are backed by a 10-year warranty.
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Carrier Infinity Series
Carrier Infinity Series

Carrier Central Air Conditioner

The Carrier Infinity Series includes four models. Two of these, the 24ANA1 and 24ANB1, have a seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) of up to 21 and run very quietly at 65 decibels. They also earn praise for their dehumidifying power and strong reliability record. The warranty covers all parts for 10 years, but requires registration.
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Maytag M1200 PSA4BI iQ Drive
Maytag M1200 PSA4BI iQ Drive

Maytag Central Air Conditioner

The Maytag M1200 PSA4BI iQ Drive stands out in terms of efficiency and quietness. Its SEER rating can reach 24.5, and its noise level is similar to conversation level at 59 decibels. Although this air conditioner is pricey, its 12-year warranty is also longer than most others.
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Rheem Prestige RASL-JEC (also known as Ruud Ultra UASL-JEC)
Rheem Prestige RASL-JEC (also known as Ruud Ultra UASL-JEC)

Rheem Central Air Conditioner

With two stages of cooling, the Rheem Prestige RASL-JEC can reach a SEER of up to 19.5. Professionals say it's very reliable, and its warranty includes the standard 10-year parts coverage and also includes a 10-year conditional replacement warranty (with registration).
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The basics of air conditioning

As summer draws near and temperatures creep upward, a home air conditioner may start to look like more of a necessity than a luxury. All 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 in a winding coil, usually made of copper, that draws out warm air from indoors.
  • The condenser ia s 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 room-sized air conditioner, all these parts are contained in one compact unit that sits in a window (or can be installed permanently in a wall). 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. We cover these AC units in a separate report.

If you need to cool an entire home, a central air conditioner is much more efficient than a window unit in each room. Central air conditioners also make less noise and are easy to use. However, they are much larger and more complicated to install. Unlike a room air conditioner, which is an easy do-it-yourself task, a central air conditioner must be installed professionally.

This can add thousands of dollars to the sticker price. In addition, a central air conditioner requires a system of ductwork to send cold air throughout the house. If your home has forced-air heat, then the ductwork is already in place; if not, adding it will increase the cost of central air conditioning.

In general, consumer publications do not test central air conditioners. HVAC professionals generally agree that proper installation and maintenance are at least as important to the performance of an air conditioning system as the unit itself, so testing in a lab would provide little useful information about real-world performance. However, we did find a few sites run by HVAC professionals, such as Home-Tech.com and WebHVAC.com, that recommend specific air conditioning units based on factors such as features, efficiency and warranty.

We also found the results of a ConsumerReports.org reader survey that evaluates the reliability of specific air conditioner brands. FurnaceCompare.com also rates and ranks air conditioner brands based on individual user reviews. Finally, we turned to the Energy Star website, run by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, for information on the energy efficiency of specific air conditioners. Together, these sources enabled us to choose six top air conditioners that combine efficiency, durability, strong warranties and quiet operation.

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