Central Air Conditioners: Ratings of Sources
ConsumerReports.org does not test central air conditioners, but it does evaluate the reliability of different brands, including American Standard, Bryant, Trane Lennox, Carrier and others. In the most recent survey, more than 16,000 readers who bought central air conditioning units -- including conventional systems and heat pumps -- between 2008 and 2015 reported on whether the units needed repairs. Of the nine brands of conventional central air systems listed, five have repair frequencies between 20 and 24 percent; three brands have repair frequencies of 27 percent or higher. This is an update from a previous survey that was published in 2014. This survey had about half as many respondents, and overall reliability has dropped noticeably since the last survey was published.
This report names the most efficient central air conditioners and air source heat pumps for 2016. The list includes conventional central air systems, heat pumps, and ductless mini-split system. This is a terrific resource if the lowest ongoing energy costs are your primary concern, but other aspects, such as reliability, maintenance and initial cost, are not considered.
WebHVAC.com is a site run by a group of former HVAC contractors that "covers just about everything to do with HVAC equipment in your home, business, or environment." Here, the editors name the 10 best central air conditioners overall, which includes models from Lennox, Maytag, American Standard, Trane and more. Each short write up includes some brief information on the brand and model, including energy efficiency and warranty, but performance and reliability are not evaluated, and there's no mention of hands-on testing or user surveys. Links lead to other lists, including top low-cost central air conditioner systems and most energy efficient air conditioners.
While these reviews at TopTenReviews.com do not appear to be testing or survey based, they nonetheless provide useful insight into the pros and cons of the central air systems that reviewer Grant Morgan deems to be best. While the individual write ups do vary in depth, all systems receive ratings for things such as comfort, design and customer support. Central air conditioners from the Dave Lennox collection are the only models to win a Gold Award.
FurnaceCompare.com has the largest collection of owner reviews of central air conditioners that we spotted on the web. Though there isn't feedback on every brand, most of the top makers are profiled and receive at least some reviews -- and the most popular brands get 100 or more. A list of best-rated central air conditioners for 2016 is also included. Other information, such as how to properly size your central air conditioner for your home, can be helpful, too.
This buying guide provides some general background information on the process of shopping for a central air conditioner. It covers such topics as types of central air conditioners, size, efficiency, choosing a contractor and maintaining the system you have.
Bill Brown, an Ohio-based HVAC contractor, explains that despite the number of brands of central air conditioners available, most are made by "about six" equipment manufacturers. He adds that at the top end, differences can be small and that the biggest factor in getting the best central air conditioner is choosing the best installer. He says that one reason that certain brands such as Lennox, Trane and Carrier rise to the top in perceived quality.
Smarter House is run by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing energy efficiency. Its website has a wealth of information relating to energy-efficient appliances and government tax incentive programs. This page provides advice on how to reduce your need for air conditioning, while page links lead to information on how to find a good contractor, choose a new air conditioning system and keep your air conditioner running efficiently. However, specific brands or models of central air conditioner are not evaluated or compared.
This government guide explains how central air conditioning works, how to select a new air conditioning system for your home and how to ensure proper installation. Links at the bottom lead to separate articles about maintaining your air conditioner and troubleshooting common problems. It's a very reasonable starting point for learning about technology and buying considerations, but it has no information about brands and no comparative guidance.
This article, by builder and self-described "energy nerd" Martin Holladay, is basically a FAQ about air conditioners. It answers such basic questions as "What's a SEER rating?" and "What's the difference between the condenser and the compressor?" Although it does not evaluate specific air conditioner models or brands, it's a great starting point for a beginner to learn more about how air conditioners work.
This guide from a California utility company advises consumers on how to choose the right central air conditioner and make sure it is properly installed. Topics include selecting a contractor, sizing your AC system to fit your home, energy efficiency ratings for air conditioners, and complying with state and local building codes. The guide does not discuss air conditioner brands or models.