Stick with a maximum of 16 SEER units in most cases. Like I said above, contractors push higher SEER units because they make more money, but these units can be expensive at this stage of development, and can drive up your HVAC installation cost. 21 SEER units run about twice the price of a 14 SEER unit, so unless you live in a desert and plan on being there for 30 more years... Likewise, a 16 SEER unit typically costs only about $600-$1,000 more than a 14 SEER, and will usually pay for itself over the lifetime of the unit.
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’re purchasing from a big-box store, you can expect to pay approximately $120-$1,000 for a window unit. Window units are appealing for their quick setup and relatively low cost, but they can use more energy over time than central air and only cool the room in which they’re installed. The price will vary depending on the type of air conditioner you buy and its cooling capacity. Window units, which require minimal installation, are one of the most affordable options on the market. Portable air conditioners don’t have the cooling power of a window unit, but they do have the perk of being transportable from room to room. Expect to pay between $225 and $800 for a portable air conditioner, on average. The cost of an air conditioning system with coils, condenser and line (not including installation or ductwork) can range from approximately $2,000 to $4,000 or more. If you don’t have (and don’t want to put in) ducts, a ductless mini-split air conditioner is a good option, although pricey up front. Pricing can range from $650 to $4,250 per unit on average; you’ll need one unit for each room in which you want temperature control.
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.
Whether you’re starting your air conditioner for the first time this year, or a unit isn’t running properly and you need to service an air conditioner, following a few simple steps can save you time and money. While some service jobs should be left to a professional, there are several do-it-yourself fixes you can do to keep your air conditioner cooling all summer long.
In addition to the information below, see these two articles for the general care and maintenance of your air conditioner: Preparing Your Air Conditioner for Summer and How to Replace Furnace & AC Filters. Most noteworthy, you should replace the filters at least twice a year, before the heating and cooling seasons. For information on furnace problems, please see Furnace Not Working.