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Central Air Conditioner Reviews

By: Carl Laron on May 01, 2018

Editor's Note:
Brands matter when you are shopping for a central air conditioner system, and our research reveals which ones are most reliable and deliver the best bang for the buck. But at the end of the day, the quality of your installer can matter just as much, if not more. Here's what to look for.

Dave Lennox Signature XC25 Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Efficiency -- Up to 26 SEER Sound level -- 59 to 64 dB Cooling capacity -- 2 to 5 tons

Lennox Central Air Conditioner

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, helping the XC25 to earn Energy Star Most Efficient status once again for 2018. The reliability of this Dave Lennox Signature model is considered to be good, and its noise low. See our full review »

Carrier Infinity 21 24ANB1 Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Efficiency -- Up to 21 SEER Sound level -- 65 dB minimum Cooling capacity -- 2 to 5 tons

Carrier Central Air Conditioner

The Energy Star Qualified Carrier Infinity 21 24ANB1 has a SEER of up to 21 and runs very quietly at as low as 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. See our full review »

Trane XV20i Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Efficiency -- Up to 22 SEER Sound level -- 57 - 75 dB Cooling capacity -- 2 to 5 tons

Trane Central Air Conditioner

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 Lennox Signature XC25, this Trane central air system also has a modulating compressor for rock-steady temperature control. The Trane XV20i has a good 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 »

Amana ASXC18
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Efficiency -- Up to 19 SEER Sound level -- 71 to 74 dB Cooling capacity -- 3 to 5 tons

Amana Central Air Conditioner

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. 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 »

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 and room air conditioners (which are covered in their own reports), as well as central air conditioners (which are covered here) -- 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 room air conditioner or a portable air conditioner, all these parts are contained in one compact unit that sits in a window; can be installed through an exterior 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 relatively 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 the 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 throughout 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 or if your new unit is a replacement for an existing system. In either case, the ductwork needed to distribute cold air from a central air conditioner is almost certainly already in place. However, if ductwork is not present, it will have to be added -- and that, of course, increases the cost and complexity of the project.

Finding The Best Central Air Conditioners

We found no credible professional tests of central air conditioners. Experts generally agree that proper installation and maintenance are 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 and All Systems Mechanical, that recommend specific air conditioning brands based on factors such as features, efficiency and warranty. Consumer Reports doesn't rate central air conditioners, but does rate the reliability of the top brands based on a large survey of its members. Furnace Compare 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.

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