How to Choose a Central Air Conditioner in 4 Steps

SEPTEMBER 3, 2020

Buying a new air conditioner is a complicated decision for homeowners, especially if you’ve never shopped for HVAC equipment before.

If you make the right choice, you’re rewarded with a comfortable home, potentially lower energy bills and a cooling system that won’t break down prematurely. If you make the wrong choice, you may face higher installation costs, untimely repairs, expensive energy bills, and a cooling system that may not cool your home efficiently or effectively.

Curious about how to find the perfect option? Here are four steps to simplify your central AC buying experience and help you make a great choice.

Central Air Conditioner Purchase & Installation Tips to Know

First, let’s cover the basics of AC installation to make sure a central air conditioner is a good fit for your home.

To support a central cooling system, your home must have a furnace or air handler with ductwork. Installing a new air conditioner in a home with existing properly sized ductwork will cost approximately $3,500-$6,000 depending on size, efficiency, AC unit type and personal preferences.

If you don’t have the infrastructure to support a central unit, call a professional to install ductwork for you or learn more about ductless systems in our AC Buyer’s Guide.

With the basics covered, let’s dive into the steps you should take to choose a central air conditioner.

Step 1: Determine What Size Air Conditioner You Require

To find the perfect AC unit for your home, there are nearly a dozen factors to consider that can make a significant impact on your comfort and energy bills. The biggest factor for determining your ideal unit size is how large your home is, but you also must consider:

  • The age of your home
  • Construction materials
  • Airflow and duct size tolerances
  • The number and size of windows
  • Insulation amount, type and age
  • How much sun your house gets and where the sun strikes

Even two homes with identical floor plans and building materials can have different cooling needs. For example, nearby trees could add additional shade to one house and not the other, which means one house is naturally cooler than its neighbour.

These factors can make-or-break how effective your air conditioner is and what unit size you choose.

Air conditioners are measured in tons which describes the cooling capacity. To get a rough estimate on the size of unit you need, you can compare your home’s square footage with AC unit cooling capacity.

A one-ton AC unit provides adequate cooling for roughly 600-800 square feet. Most central air conditioners start at 1.5 tons and increase in half-ton increments. In Ontario, the average single-family home is 1,520 square feet, so you’re likely looking to buy a 2.0-ton unit.

If you want to discover the best cooling solutions for your home—with every factor accounted for—we suggest you schedule a free consultation with Enercare’s HVAC experts.

What Happens if I Buy and Install the Wrong AC Unit Size?

Choosing the correct size air conditioning unit can impact your equipment's lifespan, energy expenses, and comfort.

An undersized unit can’t keep up with heat and humidity removal, while an oversized unit won’t allow the cooling system to run long enough to dehumidify the whole home. Both undersized and oversized units cause uneven air distribution, and higher energy and repair costs.

Undersized Unit Oversized Unit
  • Constantly running leading to greater wear and tear
  • Higher energy costs
  • Shorter equipment lifespan
  • Inability to provide enough cooling
  • Higher installation costs
  • AC is not running long enough, causing more breakdowns
  • Not enough dehumidification - the house will feel cold but clammy
  • Large temperature swings

Step 2: Choose the Type of Central Air Conditioner You Want

The next step is to choose among the three common types of central AC units in Canada. The most notable differences between each type are price points and energy efficiency.

Types of Central Air Conditioners

Single-Stage Condensers

Single-stage condensers are either off or operating at full capacity. Single-stage air conditioners can be a great entry-level choice, but if you want a high-efficiency option, this may not be the right fit for your home.

Dual-Stage Condensers

If you need an air conditioner that operates in two modes, consider a dual-stage unit. Dual-stage air conditioners run at a lower or higher rate depending on the weather. These settings help your air conditioner run more efficiently than a single-stage unit and cost less than a variable speed unit. If you’re looking to make an upgrade to a dual-stage condenser, your HVAC expert should be checking that the indoor furnace or air handler, evaporator coil and thermostat are compatible.

Variable Speed Condensers

Variable speed air conditioners run throughout the day in longer cycles instead of shutting on and off to match your desired temperature. Variable speed units offer you better energy efficiency than the other two types but are the priciest of the three choices. To install this type of condenser, you need to have a matched system. A matched system is one where the condenser, furnace/air handler, evaporator coil and thermostat have been made by the same manufacturer and are designed to work together.

Step 3: Choose an Energy Efficiency Rating

Energy-efficient equipment tends to cost more money upfront, but down the line, an efficient cooling system can reduce your monthly energy bills and your carbon footprint. When it comes to budget, it is important to understand how energy efficiency is measured in order to find the right balance for your needs.

How Is Energy Efficiency Measured?

Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) uses various seasonal temperatures to measure how efficient your air conditioning equipment or system is, similar to the kilometers-per-liter rating for a car. Some air conditioners come with an EER (Energy Efficiency Ratio). An EER is comparable to SEER but uses a steady outdoor temperature to calculate your air conditioner's efficiency.

The higher the equipment's SEER and EER rating, the more energy-efficient the AC unit is, and the more comfortable your home will be.

The most commonly installed units in Ontario range from 13-16 SEER, but ultimately, your unit's energy rating comes down to personal preference.

Step 4: Choose a Provider

Now that you understand the various central air conditioner sizes, types, and energy ratings, it is time to choose a provider.

Your AC installer must have product knowledge and experience with HVAC systems and be able to walk you through the steps outlined in this article. Before you sign an installation contract, we recommend learning about the company’s installation services, costs of service, payment options, and warranties.

Here is a list of licenses your installer must have:

  • Gas license
  • 313a refrigeration or 313d residential air conditioning license
  • Ozone Depletion Prevention (ODP) license
  • ESA permits

Next Steps

If you’re ready to purchase or rent an air conditioner for your home, our licensed HVAC experts can help find the right cooling system for your needs without breaking the bank. Get in touch with us for a free in-home consultation and estimate.

If you want to learn more about buying an air conditioner, including in-depth information about costs, maintenance, and repairs, read our Air Conditioner Buyer’s Guide.