Home & Garden

How to choose a new air conditioner

Q: I should replace my noisy, old central air conditioner with a more efficient one. I want steadier room temperatures and humidity, along with cleaner indoor air. What type of system do you recommend?

Cyndee O.

A: Your old central air conditioner probably has a SEER (seasonal energy efficiency ratio) of 10 at best. By replacing it with the most efficient new model, with a SEER of 26, your electric bills savings can be about $2,500 over five years.

These new systems also provide the steadiest room temperatures and excellent humidity control. Controlling indoor humidity is as important for comfort as keeping the house cool. This also affects indoor air quality, particularly for people with allergies.

Consider replacing your old central air conditioner with a heat pump model. It is essentially the same as a central air conditioner except that it has a reversing valve to also produce heat. During mild weather, it heats at a lower cost than running a furnace. During colder weather, the furnace takes over.

Your three basic options are fully variable, two-level and single-level cooling output models. Because you are seeking high efficiency, steady room temperatures, humidity control, less noise and cleaner indoor air, a variable-output model is your best choice. It’s also the most expensive, so conduct a payback analysis first.

Variable cooling models use variable-speed rotary compressors, which are often called inverter technology. They continually vary the cooling output to the instantaneous cooling needs of your house. The cooling varies in 1 percent increments, from about 35 percent to maximum output.

In early morning, when cooling needs are low, the compressor slows down to about one-third of its maximum output. It runs longer and more efficiently at this lower speed. These long efficient run cycles maintain room temperatures within just half a degree of the thermostat setting.

These systems use a matching variable-speed blower. At the lower compressor speed, the indoor blower and outdoor condenser fans also run slower, making the entire system, indoors and outdoors, much quieter than single-level models.

When you set the desired humidity level on the thermostat, the blower speed automatically varies to control humidity. It can continue to dehumidify even when the room air is already cool enough. This eliminates that cool but muggy feeling that can occur with a single-level system.

The next step down in comfort, efficiency (SEER in the 20 range) and initial cost is a two-level cooling system. This type of system runs at the more efficient low-output level the majority of the time. On hot afternoons or when you want quick cooling, it switches to the high-output level.

Single-level output models with a single-speed blower speed are the least expensive to install. They have only one cooling output level, so you can expect a room temperature swing of about 3 degrees between run cycles.

Q: I have bought two brands of low-flow showerheads with a lathering shut-off to save water. Both of them continue to leak water when I close the small lathering lever. Am I installing them wrong?

Tom G.

A: You probably installed them properly. The lathering shut-off valve stops the water flow while you lather without having to readjust the water temperature again when you are ready to rinse.

A lathering valve is designed to leak a little water to keep the hot and cold water pressure balanced. Without it, if someone flushed a toilet, you could get a shot of straight hot water when you start to rinse.

Send inquiries to James Dulley, Lexington Herald-Leader, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, Ohio 45244, or go to Dulley.com.

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