Air conditioning and refrigeration are provided through the removal of heat. Heat can be removed through radiation, convection, or conduction. Refrigeration conduction media such as water, air, ice, and chemicals are referred to as refrigerants. A refrigerant is employed either in a heat pump system in which a compressor is used to drive thermodynamic refrigeration cycle, or in a free cooling system which uses pumps to circulate a cool refrigerant (typically water or a glycol mix).
These factors are included in a "Manual J" calculation. Contractors who make these calculations before recommending a size can take a couple of hours collecting the information and making the calculation. If your contractor doesn't do it, there are services that will do it for around $99. If you're feeling particularly on the ball, there are also free online calculators.
An EER certifies the cooling efficiency of HVAC units. It's calculated by the rate of the cooling in British thermal units (Btus) per hour and divided by the rate of energy input in watts at a specific temperature. The calculation goes as BtuH/WATT at dry bulb (db) versus wet bulb (wb) temperatures. The optimal rating for a cooling unit is about 80db/67wb inside and 95db/75wb outside.
The sky is the limit. I am a big fan of adding zoning systems, but realize that this will typically add $2,300 to $3,500 (or more) to the price. “Why a price range, isn’t it just a part?” No, the part then has to be installed, and the customized ductwork required will vary based on the difficulty of the job and layout of your attic. It is very labor intensive, and most people don’t do it right. It should also include a bypass damper and ductwork! Simply put, the more you add, the more it will affect your HVAC installation cost.
Asbestos removal tip. Don’t trust any HVAC installation company that says that they will remove asbestos for you. They will do either one of two things: remove it and do a horrible job because they don’t know how (an illegal act in California, finable by up to $250,000), or they will say they did and never actually do it, which is dangerous to your health. Any HVAC contractor worth their weight will know not to touch it. Call an asbestos abatement company – it should cost around $500-$1,000, and your HVAC installation company will come in right after them and do the installation to decrease cost and inconvenience.
At the state level the rebates are still substantial. For example, switching to a zoned system can get you a $100 rebate from various A/C companies, and state rebates are also included. In Pennsylvania a high-efficiency air conditioner alone can get you up to $300, and a high-efficiency complete HVAC system can see up to $1000. Maryland's incentives get up to $1,250, with a $100 rebate on a tune up of an existing system.
Before opening the electrical cover on the A/C unit, be sure to shut off all power to the compressor unit and the indoor furnace or air handler, and verify that it is off. Note that this may mean shutting off a circuit breaker that serves the furnace and air handler, and then, near the compressor, pulling out the disconnect block (or shutting off the 220-volt power) to the outdoor compressor.