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.
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.
Natural ventilation is a key factor in reducing the spread of airborne illnesses such as tuberculosis, the common cold, influenza and meningitis. Opening doors, windows, and using ceiling fans are all ways to maximize natural ventilation and reduce the risk of airborne contagion. Natural ventilation requires little maintenance and is inexpensive.
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.
You can adjust for seasons: During the summer, you can have the air conditioner stay off during the cooler morning hours and start cooling the house as everyone gets up and starts moving around. During the winter, you can have your heater stay off while you are away at work and turn on about a half hour or so before you get home so that you are coming home to a nice, warm house.
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.