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.

Our unit is 16 years old and we've had it checked out recently since it seems to be running excessively. Over all the tech says it is putting out well; it's the correct size, we have no shade and we've been having extreme heat with high humidity. The info you provided is very helpful and will help us make an informed decision when the time comes. Thank you so much.

DIY: Most DIY installations go smoothly. The major brands have compatibility checkers to see which of their models will work with the wiring your old thermostat is using. Potential problems involve the need for a C-wire, or common wire, when the existing bundle doesn’t include one. There are solutions discussed in our Thermostat Buying Guide, linked to below.
HRV/ERV Ventilators: These whole-house ventilators exchange air. They are ideal for homes with what is called a “tight envelope,” homes where house wrap has been applied and airgaps in the attic, around windows, doors and outlets have been sealed. Air in these homes becomes stale and polluted, so exchanging the air is important to IAQ. Heat recovery ventilators (HRV) are designed for cold climates. Energy recovery ventilators (ERV) are best for warm climates.  Your cost for an installed HRV or ERV will range from about $2,000 to more than $5,000 based on its capacity and features.

Prices for central-air HVAC systems will vary. The national average to hire an HVAC specialist is $2,920-$3,670 but can run as high as $5,000 or even $12,000 depending on the capacity you need and other factors. Installing central air conditioning requires an entire system that works together to draw hot air out of your home. The system includes an outdoor unit, which houses the condenser and compressor, and the evaporator coils. If you don’t have an existing duct system, ductwork will need to be installed, which will affect labor and material costs. Leaking or damaged ducts will also need to be replaced.
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.
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.
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