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.
Unfortunately, manufacturers and contractors don’t publish this information…it’s a secret. Why? Who knows…but we have access to a full contractor pricing database of 1,000’s of different units in our online HVAC installation cost calculator, so let’s choose one for our example calculation. We’ll go with Carrier equipment, since our readers always bother us about them (despite us telling them that they are overpriced):
Some systems include an "economizer mode", which is sometimes called a "free-cooling mode". When economizing, the control system will open (fully or partially) the outside air damper and close (fully or partially) the return air damper. This will cause fresh, outside air to be supplied to the system. When the outside air is cooler than the demanded cool air, this will allow the demand to be met without using the mechanical supply of cooling (typically chilled water or a direct expansion "DX" unit), thus saving energy. The control system can compare the temperature of the outside air vs. return air, or it can compare the enthalpy of the air, as is frequently done in climates where humidity is more of an issue. In both cases, the outside air must be less energetic than the return air for the system to enter the economizer mode.
An air conditioning system's SEER is especially important if you live in a climate that changes temperature dramatically. The SEER is determined by the cooling output during the winter divided by its electric input during the winter. The higher the rating, the more efficient it will be. In January of 2006, the U.S. put standards in place for cooling units which are still in effect today. They must have a minimum SEER of 13. So, if you live in a home with a system installed before the new standards went into effect, consider having it replaced. SEER 13 units increase home efficiency by 30 percent.
Important Tip: Don’t just pay attention to the high-end of the price range! – which is what I know you are all looking at, but also look at the low range. If a contractor is cheaper than this, ask “why?” Usually it is because they don’t have liability insurance, workman’s compensation insurance, are unlicensed, all of the above, or worst yet, they don’t use HVAC technicians. You are spending a lot of money.  Make sure that they are licensed (In California, check here at CSLB License Checker) and insured.
Because an air conditioner moves heat between the indoor coil and the outdoor coil, both must be kept clean. This means that, in addition to replacing the air filter at the evaporator coil, it is also necessary to regularly clean the condenser coil. Failure to keep the condenser clean will eventually result in harm to the compressor, because the condenser coil is responsible for discharging both the indoor heat (as picked up by the evaporator) and the heat generated by the electric motor driving the compressor.
Asking how much an HVAC installation costs is kind of like asking, “how much does a new car cost?”  Well, are you buying a Porsche or a Honda? Is it a 911 or just a Boxster, and are you going to get the leather seats? Likewise, are you going to get a Carrier or a Goodman air conditioner? Does the ductwork need to be replaced? These are all questions that will affect your HVAC installation cost, so let’s take a closer look.
The HVAC installation costs below are based on residential installations only, and are priced for a single unit. Two units should be about twice the price. “Tim, shouldn’t there be a discount?” If people start giving you discounts, they are probably charging you too much to begin with.  That’s our philosophy anyway. Twice the parts and time should be twice the price from a fair contractor. The prices listed include component parts (with warranty), labor, and all materials for a complete HVAC installation.
All modern air conditioning systems, even small window package units, are equipped with internal air filters. These are generally of a lightweight gauze-like material, and must be replaced or washed as conditions warrant. For example, a building in a high dust environment, or a home with furry pets, will need to have the filters changed more often than buildings without these dirt loads. Failure to replace these filters as needed will contribute to a lower heat exchange rate, resulting in wasted energy, shortened equipment life, and higher energy bills; low air flow can result in iced-over evaporator coils, which can completely stop air flow. Additionally, very dirty or plugged filters can cause overheating during a heating cycle, and can result in damage to the system or even fire.
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Consequently, this water must exit the air handler—typically through plastic pipe or a drain tube. That drain tube goes directly outside, often terminating near the compressor, or to a floor drain or to a small electric “condensate pump” located by the air handler. Where a condensate pump is used, it connects to a 1/2-inch vinyl or rubber tube that exits outdoors or to a drain.
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