An air conditioner's compressor contains a refrigerant. As it works, it sends this refrigerant through the system. As warm air blows across the coil that carries this refrigerant, the heat transfers to the refrigerant (cool always absorbs warm). A fan moves the cooled air through the ducting and out of vents that lead into the rooms of your house. The refrigerant returns to the compressor where the absorbed heat is moved outside. The refrigerant is then sent through the coil once again to continue the cycle.
Roof-mounted systems have the heating and cooling systems in one cabinet. Sometimes called "gas packs" (if the heater uses natural gas), they typically cost less than a comparable split system. In dry regions, most homes originally had "swamp-coolers" installed. When replacing them with HVAC systems, it's often cheaper to use existing mounts and ducting.
If you are using existing ducting, it will have to be inspected. Proper ducting loses around 2% to 5% of your energy. Old, leaking ducts can lose 50% or more. A contractor will need to have the ducts inspected and replace any parts ahead of time. If you are changing the size of your HVAC system because of significant changes to your home, you might need to replace the ductwork regardless.
After one company just took a cursory glance at our A/C and found nothing wrong, I called HVAC. I called them mostly based on Michael W's post on 8/10/14 where he told us the owner, Alberto, took his feedback and took it SERIOUSLY. That speaks VOLUMES to anyone who has been around long enough to know the characteristics of the serious players are and those who are the wannabes.
SEER is useful for comparing one model to another much in the same way that a car's calculate MPG is useful. It's not an accurate prediction of exactly how efficient the system is, but it can tell you which one is more efficient. Also, since SEER is based on a "cooling season", what region you live in will determine how long or short your cooling season is.
If your central air conditioner will not cool but you can hear it running, it may just need to be cleaned. Whether or not this is the cause of the problem, it’s a good early remedy to try. Plan to do this on a relatively warm day. Never use a power washer for this—it can damage the fins. The following are guidelines; always refer to your owner’s manual. Note: Always turn off the power before cleaning the unit.