Chances are you have a central air conditioner in your Chicagoland area home, and it does an adequate job of keeping you cool. But, knowing the ins and outs of a central air conditioning system is helpful when it comes to maintenance, repairs and replacement.
What Is Central Air Conditioning?
A central air conditioner cools your whole house by utilizing supply and return ductwork that leads from the air conditioner to your rooms. Warm air from your home travels through the cold air return registers to your system, which cools the air and sends it back to your rooms through the supply registers.
Two Types of Central Air Conditioners
Central air conditioning is available in split systems and packaged units.
- Split systems have an indoor unit and an outdoor unit. The indoor unit houses the evaporator coil, and the outdoor unit houses the compressor and the condenser coil. In most cases, the indoor unit also houses the home’s furnace or the indoor part of a heat pump.
- Packaged units contain the entirety of the air conditioning system. These units are housed outdoors, either on the roof or on a concrete slab outside the home. Packaged units also house electric heating coils or a gas furnace, precluding the need for an indoor heating system.
The Operating Life of a Central Air Conditioner
Air conditioners typically last between 15 and 20 years. Poorly maintained systems may fail earlier, while properly maintained units can last longer. However, if your air conditioner is older than 10 years, you may be paying too much for cooling. Newer central systems are much more efficient than older models and can save you a lot of money–especially if you choose a high-efficiency model.
Central Air Conditioner Efficiency
The efficiency of an air conditioner is measured by the seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER). The minimum SEER allowed by law today is 13, which is 30 percent more efficient than air conditioners manufactured before 2006, when the minimum SEER was 10. Older systems may have a SEER of only 6. High efficiency air conditioners can have a SEER of up to 25.
Installation Factors for Best Performance
A new air conditioner that’s improperly installed may operate less efficiently than a much older model. Proper installation is critical for optimal performance. It’s imperative to hire a reputable contractor with skilled technicians when installing a new system. Installation factors that can affect your system’s efficiency include:
- The indoor unit must be installed in a location that provides space and easy access for maintenance and repairs.
- Your ductwork should be sized for your system, and the number and placement of your registers should be carefully planned.
- The outdoor unit in a split system should be placed in a location with adequate airflow.
- The refrigerant charge and airflow must exactly match the system’s specifications.
- The thermostat must be placed away from heat sources, including doors and windows.
DIY Factors for Best Performance
You can get the most out of your central air conditioning system by performing these tasks:
- Seal air leaks around windows, doors and service entrances.
- Check your air filter monthly and replace it when you can’t see the filter material through the dust.
- Seal air leaks your ductwork.
- Hose down your outdoor unit regularly during the summer to remove debris from the fins that can restrict airflow and heat exchange.
- Insulate any ductwork that moves through unconditioned areas, like crawl spaces and attics.
- Keep your registers free of obstructions to ensure optimum airflow and distribution.
- Perhaps most importantly, schedule your professional air conditioner tune-up every year before the cooling season starts.
Additional Features of Central Air Conditioning Systems
There are several features you can add on to a new air conditioner, and in some cases, retrofit to an older model.
- A thermal expansion valve controls the flow of refrigerant, which helps the air conditioner cool more efficiently during particularly hot periods.
- A variable speed air handler adjusts the speed of the airflow to match the cooling needs in your home at any given time, increasing efficiency.
- A fan-only switch allows you to operate the fan for ventilation during cooler periods when air conditioning isn’t needed.
- An automatic delay switch lets the fan run a little longer once the compressor shuts off, ensuring that all of the cold air produced is sent into your home.
For more expert information about central air conditioning in the Chicagoland area, please feel free to contact us at Climate Master Mechanical Contractors, Inc.
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