Central Air Conditioning Buying Guide
A synonym for the air conditioner’s cooling capacity, size is measured in British thermal units per hour (Btu/hr.) or in “tons.” One ton of cooling equals 12,000 Btu/hr.For sizing guidance, check the Energy Star website.
This describes how much cooling the unit delivers for each watt of electricity. Efficiency is expressed as the seasonal energy-efficiency rating, or SEER. The minimum SEER for a split system central air conditioner allowed today is 14, so look for units with SEER ratings of 15 or greater. The higher the SEER, the more you can lower your energy costs.
Central AC systems need regular maintenance for optimal performance. When you negotiate your installation, it's worth negotiating a service plan that combines regular inspections with discounts on repairs and a labor warranty into the overall price. Prices for such a service can vary widely.
Setting your smart or programmable thermostat at the right temperature can reduce your cooling costs by about 10 percent. The right temperature varies on your comfort level, but start by setting it at 78° F and experiment until you find the sweet spot. You’ll save about 3 percent on your utility bill for every degree you raise the set temperature for your central air, according to the Department of Energy. And keep in mind that using a box or ceiling fan, which costs little to run, can make you feel 3° F to 4° F cooler.
Upgrading an existing system
If you’re upgrading your central air, don’t assume you should buy the same-sized system. Any changes you’ve made to improve your home’s energy efficiency, such as upgrading your windows or adding insulation, can reduce your cooling needs. On the other hand, if you’ve added rooms, you might need more cooling.
Have your contractor do a load calculation based on a recognized method, such as one in Manual J from the ACCA. The contractor’s evaluation should include whether your ducts need to be resized, sealed, and insulated, or replaced. Remember that an indoor evaporator coil and outdoor condenser must be a matched set from the same brand, or the performance, efficiency, and capacity might not meet expectations.
New systems are 20 to 40 percent more efficient than minimum-efficiency models made even 10 years ago. Costs will vary and can depend on whether you need ductwork installed, and the particular size and configuration of your home.
What are the best central air conditioner brands to consider when replacing a system?
We should begin answering the question with another question – What makes an AC brand one of the best?
Characteristics of the Best Central Air Conditioner Brands
Here are five traits to look for in central air conditioner brands:
1). Quality Components
As a consumer, you understand that every product you shop for is available in a range of options: Basic, better and best.
This is true with automobiles, appliances and furniture. It is true with central air conditioners.
But this might surprise you – Many major brands use internal components made by the same part suppliers like Emerson, Carlyle and Copeland. The issue of internal components is discussed in the the section of Top AC brands Reviews below.
Well-known independent testing group Consumer Reports found that the average central air conditioner repair was more than $200 per event. Good air conditioners break down less over the 14-20 years most last, so that’s fewer $200+ repair bills.
3). Good Warranties
A warranty lets you know what the manufacturer thinks of its equipment. The best 2019 central AC brands have general parts warranties of at least 10 years. Some offer longer coverage or extra advantages that put them among the best warranties in the industry. These issues are also discussed in the brand reviews below.
Did you know that most Carrier and Heil ACs are nearly identical? But Carrier air conditioners are priced significantly higher. So, which is a better value? Heil, of course. That’s what we mean by value, and it is discussed on a brand-by-brand basis in the top air conditioner brand reviews.
5). A Proven Installer
What does the AC mechanic have to do with the brands? Simply this: The quality of the installation is at least as important as the brand.
One owner of a large heating and air conditioning company said this based on his 20+ years of experience: “Premature failure of components is almost always the result of improper installation. There is a right way, and there is a wrong way.”
We revisit the topic of proper installation at the end with tips for finding a proven installer to ensure you get the best durability and efficiency from your new central air conditioner.
2021 Best Central Air Conditioner Brands
- American Standard/Trane
These 8 brands best combine the traits above. See their scores in each category and total scores in this table.
|Brand||Components||Durability||Warranty||Price/Value||Total Score||Max Efficiency|
|Heil||Excellent||18-22 years||Very Good||Excellent||11||19 SEER|
|Goodman||Very Good||15-20 years||Excellent||Excellent||10||19 SEER|
|Daikin||Excellent||18-22 years||Very Good||Very Good||10||23 SEER|
|Maytag||Excellent||18-22 years||Very Good||Very Good||10||20 SEER|
|Excellent||18-22 years||Good||Very Good||9||21 SEER|
|Excellent||18-22 years||Good||Very Good||9||22 SEER|
|Mitsubishi||Excellent||18-22 years||Good||Very Good||9||21 SEER|
|York||Very Good||15-20 years||Very Good||Very Good||8||20 SEER|
|Excellent & 18-22 years = 3 points|
Very Good & 15-20 years = 2 points
Good = 1 point
Here is a closer look at each of the best AC brands.
Heil central air conditioners do well in all categories, so top our list of best AC brands. They are very similar to Carrier models, as we explain below, but cost less.
They are priced below Carrier and Bryant to attract budget-oriented consumers.
Heil mostly uses universal parts including highly rated Copeland compressors. Components are top of the line, and if there is a need for repair, parts are readily available.
The general parts warranty is 10 years, and that qualifies only as a Good rating.
What boosts the overall score to Very Good is the Heil unit replacement warranty. Called a No Hassle warranty, it provides for the replacement of the entire air conditioner if the compressor or coil fails.
The No Hassle warranty ranges from 1 year to 10 years on top models.
Heil makes a complete line of central air conditioners from 14 to 19 SEER. Single-stage, two-stage and a five-stage model are offered.
Features range from quite basic in less efficient models to advanced options like communicating technology and WiFi connectivity in the top models.
Notes: Heil is a brand owned by International Comfort Products (ICP), which makes identical brands Day & Night, Tempstar, Arcoaire, Keeprite and Comfortmaker. The sister brands have the same score as Heil.
Additionally, ICP is owned by Carrier’s parent company, UTC. The components in ICP and Carrier/Bryant air conditioners are mostly the same. But Heil costs less and has better warranties, so ranks higher.
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Goodman was known for decades as cheap equipment with great warranties. The low cost and excellent warranty made the brand very popular. However, the brand had a reputation for mechanical failure. Those days are over.
In 2012, Daikin bought Goodman to get into the North American residential market. Quality has improved significantly. Warranties aren’t quite as good as they were, but they remain the best in the industry. Goodman is still among the most affordable air conditioner brands.
Goodman also uses many universal parts like Copeland compressors. This includes the Ultratech, perhaps the most popular compressor in heating and air conditioning.
Goodman makes proprietary coils that are good but not great, so the total rating for components is only Very Good and durability might suffer.
The compressors in many models have a lifetime warranty. This includes replacement of the entire AC in the first 10 years if the compressor fails. All other parts are covered for 10 years.
Daikin streamlined Goodman’s lineup to 5 air conditioners from 14 to 19 SEER. Single-stage and two-stage models give you a performance choice.
Features include the new ComfortBridge communicating technology that can be installed in the split system’s furnace. It uses algorithms to optimize efficiency and performance. However, before you purchase a communicating technology option from any brand, see our review of it.
Notes:Daikin and Amana central air conditioners are identical to Goodman ACs, but the cost is slightly higher and the warranties aren’t quite as good.
Goodman remains the low-cost leader of the group, marketed to homeowners that want value and won’t pay higher prices regardless of the brand.
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Daikin is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of heating and cooling equipment. Rather than develop its own products for the North American market, Daikin acquired Goodman.
While keeping the Goodman brand, it also branded the same equipment as Daikin. The lines are identical except for Daikin’s best AC, the DX20VC.
Daikin also makes a complete line of ductless, mini split air conditioners and indoor units.
Like Goodman, Daikin uses quality parts. The DX20VC is the only unique Daikin model. It employs a Daikin inverter-type compressor that modulates are variable speed. This is the technology used in mini split system air conditioners.
The 12-year parts warranty is better than the industry average. But there isn’t any unit replacement warranty. The compressor warranty is just 12 years too.
In standard split systems, 8 models from 14 to 23 SEER and single-stage to inverter-driven are available.
Notes: Daikin does not yet use ComfortBridge communicating technology. The older ComfortNet option is available.
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Maytag and its sister brands are among the most overlooked in the industry. They deliver an appealing blend of benefits.
Maytag uses mostly high-quality universal components. You won’t have to wait on repair parts if needed.
You’ll be covered for 12 years on all parts. If the compressor fails during those 12 years, Maytag will replace the whole AC.
Seven models are enough to cover the ground from single-stage 14 SEER models to 20 SEER air conditioners with variable-capacity inverter cooling.
Notes:Maytag is owned by Nortek Global, a worldwide HVAC manufacturer. Nortek Global makes several other brands that are identical to Maytag: NuTone, Broan and Frigidaire. Nortek has retired Tappan and Westinghouse brands.
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Carrier is the most recognizable name in air conditioning. The brand and Bryant are owned by United Technologies Corporation (UTC). Most Bryant AC models are identical to Carrier.
Cost is about the same too. That is why we list them together rather than separating them like Heil.
The concern about cost is that Carrier and Bryant have some of the highest price tags in the industry. The quality is excellent, so durability is very reliable. Plus, the brands require installers to certified. This means that proper installation is more likely.
Bryant and Carrier air conditioners are built with the best parts available. Copeland compressors are used in most models. You pay a higher price, and you get a superior product.
Carrier and Bryant offer a mediocre 10-year parts warranty. There are no AC replacement warranties. You can buy an extended warranty, but we do not recommend them for these reasons.
Carrier was the first major brand to offer variable-speed air conditioners. That technology has been improved, so Carrier and Bryant variable-capacity models are among the most reliable.
The brands also offer one of the best selections of single-stage and two-stage central air conditioners.
Notes:ICP brands including Heil and Day & Night are very similar to Carrier and Bryant models and cost less. That potentially equals better value. We say “potentially” for this reason: Carrier requires that their products be installed by factory-trained and certified contractors. The ICP brands are less choosy about who installs their products.
The point is that you might get better installation with Carrier than with the other brands. Proper installation and the quality of the components are the two main factors in central air conditioner durability.
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#6 Trane/American Standard
If reliability is your top priority when buying a central air conditioner, then these are your brands. They are built with quality parts and are installed by factory-certified technicians.
The downside is higher cost and so-so warranties.
These brands build their own compressors, called Climatuff, and their own “Spine Fin” coils. The coils are among the most unique in the industry. The pros and cons of Trane coils are discussed in our Trane AC Price and Buying Guide. They should be reviewed before buying a Trane or American Standard central AC.
The brands offer a 12-year compressor warranty and 10-year general parts warranty. It’s slightly better than the industry average.
There are 9 models from 14.5 to 22 SEER, single-stage through variable capacity. The brands make a compact model too, which fits nicely where space is limited.
Notes:Ingersoll-Rand owns the Trane and American Standard brands. The brand models and costs are nearly identical.
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Mitsubishi is a top-rated mini-split/ductless air conditioner manufacturer. The brand produces one of the largest selections of outdoor and indoor mini-split systems.
If your home doesn’t have ductwork or if you’re building a new home or addition, then a ductless system is worth considering.
Because Mitsubishi manufactures its systems overseas, it is more difficult to research the origin of the parts. However, it is clear from reliability data that Mitsubishi uses high-quality, reliable components.
12 years on the compressor and 10 years on other parts is better than average for the mini-split market.
Single zone and multi-zone systems with a wide range of indoor units are available.
Note:Our Mitsubishi Buying Guide has comprehensive details about options and costs. Ductless systems eliminate the need of ductwork, which costs $1,500 to more than $4,000 depending on the size and shape of your home. That’s their advantage.
The disadvantage is that most ductless systems require two to eight indoor units, each with its own installation cost. Total cost for the system can be higher than for a ducted split HVAC system.
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ork and other Johnson Controls brands have had issues with quality and reliability. The problem has been with their micro-channel coil that was prone to leaking.
However, since upgrades were made in recent years, leaks have decreased and durability has improved.
York uses mostly universal parts except for coils. Problem with leaking coils was the major reason to avoid York in the past.
Whether the upgrades have been effective won’t be known for a few years, but indications are that York has fixed leaking issues.
The Affinity line, York’s best, offers a lifetime compressor warranty and 10 years on all other parts.
York makes ACs in 13 SEER to 20 SEER efficiency. Single-stage, two-stage and variable-capacity air conditioners are offered.
Notes:York, Luxaire, Coleman and Champion are brands owned by Johnson Controls. Their models are identical to York’s.
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What About Lennox?
Lennox is the elephant in the room because it’s a name everyone knows. But it doesn’t make the list.
Here is our explanation.
Lennox makes the most efficient central air conditioners available. We review them in our Lennox AC Price and Buying Guide.
The brand uses mostly Lennox proprietary parts. This is a disadvantage that keeps it off our list.
First, the durability of Lennox parts isn’t better than the durability of universal parts. Some HVAC professionals suggest Lennox parts are inferior.
Secondly, the parts can be hard to get. If your AC is down during a sweltering summer heat wave, do you want immediate repair (or a day wait at most), or are you willing to wait up to a week for repairs? Supply chain issues with Lennox have been improved, but there are still problems that might delay your repair.
What About Rheem and Ruud?
Rheem is a name most consumers know. Ruud isn’t as widely known. The Rheem and Ruud central air conditioner models are exactly the same.
It has been publicized that these brands have a 2% to 4% worse durability rating than average, which is small to begin with. The ratings are within the margin of error, so we are not convinced the brands are inferior. Ruud and Rheem air conditioners are built with many of the same components other top brands use including quality Copeland compressors. Coil design, the Achilles heel of many brands, has been improved.
Our recommendation is this: Don’t shy away from Rheem and Ruud without getting estimates from local dealers. If properly installed, Ruud and Rheem air conditioners should prove quite durable.
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What Difference Does Installation Make?
These best central AC brands are only as good as their installer. Consumers Report says these brands are nearly equal in reliability but the quality of the installation has a major impact on durability, efficiency and performance.
Some HVAC contractors harp on the importance of quality installation and then make a claim like, “And we’re the only company in town that does it right.”
That’s a bit over the top, but you get it. “If you want it done right the first time, call us.” That’s more common.
If you read reviews on Google, Facebook, Yelp, the BBB, Angie’s List or many others, you know that there is a wide range of quality out there. Some companies get close to 5-star ratings while others barely make 3 stars.
HVAC and specifically air conditioner installation is no different.
Not hiring an installer with a track record for excellence can lead to:
- Efficiency levels lower than expected
- Early mechanical failure
An installer you can trust will be:
1). Properly licensed and insured
Factory trained or have a technician training certification
Certified by the National Association of Technician Excellence
2). Trained, Certified and Experienced
Some companies employ well-trained and experienced installers. Others make their living by offering low costs, but to offer those low-ball estimates, they use poorly qualified installers.
Choosing a Qualified Air Conditioner Installer
Here’s a 5-step plan to be sure your central air conditioner is installed by a technician that knows what they are doing.
Step 1 - Check Reviews of Local Contractors
Ask your contacts including friends and family for recommendations about heating and cooling companies.
Read reviews on Google, the BBB and other sites mentioned above.
Step 2 - Get 3-5 Local Estimates
Call 3-5 air conditioning companies. Set up appointments for agents to visit your home and give you estimates.
Step 3 - Check Qualification & Compare Costs
Choose the installer with a good blend of ratings and price. Make sure the crew that will install your central air conditioner has years of experience.
Step 4 - Make Your Choice
Make your choice based on installation experience, a reputation for good work and a fair price. This plan usually takes 2-3 weeks.
A Faster Approach
If your AC isn’t working and you need immediate help, or you want to cut out the hassle, there’s a faster way to find a qualified installer.
Our Free Local Quote Tool is quick and convenient. It is free, and you have NO obligation to accept any estimates offered.
Fill out a short form about what work you want done. It takes a few minutes.
Then your information is sent to pre-screened air conditioner installers in your area. They will respond with estimates for air conditioners and installation costs.
You can discuss air conditioner brands, models and prices. They should help you decide on a model with the right size and efficiency for your needs.
See our Central Air Conditioner Prices Guide for much more information on choosing the right efficiency AC and the right size unit for your home and climate.
Central Air Conditioner Cost
How much does a central air conditioner cost?
Fair prices for installed central air conditioning cost are $2,800 to more than $7,000. Most homeowners pay $2,600 to $4,500 based on these central air conditioning cost factors.
Here are recent examples from homeowners that shared their central AC installation costs with our PickHVAC and our readers:
Cost of an Ameristar AC: A homeowner in Phoenix, AZ paid $4,100 for an Ameristar 3 ton (36,000 BTU) 16 SEER AC with a 10-year warranty. This is a fair price.
Cost of a Rheem AC: A 15 SEER Rheem AC was installed in a Miami home for $4,390. We’re not sure of the size, but for the home’s size (2,000 square feet) and warm Miami climate, it is probably 4 tons. This price seems fair.
But the next homeowner had a different experience.
Cost of a Lennox Elite AC: A homeowner in Chicago paid $6,150 for a Lennox Elite 4 ton (48,000 BTU) central AC. The unit was the right choice for Chicago’s moderate/warm climate, but in our opinion, the price was too high.
This is an example of why we always encourage homeowners to get written estimates from several HVAC/AC installers in their area.
1. AC Size – With units ranging from 1.5 tons, or 18,000 BTUs, up to 5.0 tons, or 60,000 BTUs, there is a wide range of capacity.
2. Brand – Goodman is the low-cost leader. Daikin owns Goodman. Its units are very similar but cost 35% more. It’s similar with Day & Night, a brand almost identical to Carrier but with a price tag much lower. Both brands are owned by United Technologies Corporation. Why are similar ACs priced differently? To give consumers options. It’s a marketing tool – nothing more, nothing less.
3. Efficiency – The least efficient central air conditioners from most brands are now 14 SEER or 15 SEER units, though a few still make 13 SEER air conditioners. The most efficient range from 19 to 25+ SEER depending on brand. Cost rises as efficiency goes up. In a hot climate, the higher cost of an energy efficient air conditioner will be recouped in 5-10 years through lower energy costs.
4. Performance – You have three options, single-stage, two-stage and variable capacity central air conditioners. These represent basic, better and best performance and indoor comfort control of temperature and humidity. Cost goes up significantly as performance increases.
There’s a link between performance and efficiency too.
- Single-stage ACs: 13-18 SEER
- Two-stage ACs: 16-20 SEER
- Variable-capacity ACs: 19-25+ SEER
All these important AC cost factors are discussed in greater detail in our Central AC Reviews and Buying Guide.
The Guide includes central air conditioner prices by brand and unit size plus the cost of AC installation. You might benefit from the section on costs submitted by homeowners. Their projects are explained along with the prices they paid.
Be aware that many extras can be included that aren’t part of the unit and installation. These include UV germicidal lights, air purifiers, ventilators and changes/repairs to ductwork.
Central Air Conditioner FAQs
These units are also called split system air conditioners. Here are frequently asked central air conditioner questions and responses from our professional HVAC consultants.
How long does a central air conditioning unit last?
The average age when an AC is replaced is about 17 years. A central air conditioner lasts 15-20+ years based on these factors.
- How heavily it is used. This is the most significant factor on central AC longevity. If you live in Arizona, plan on replacing your AC in 16-18 years. In Minnesota, a good-quality AC might last more than 20 years with regular maintenance.
- Initial quality. Most AC manufacturers make basic, better and best models. For example, consider Carrier. It makes the Comfort Series (Basic), Performance Series (Better) and Infinity Series (Best).
- How well it is maintained. The cost of maintenance – cleaning the coils and checking/repairing minor repairs – is an investment in the durability of your central air conditioner. But, if repairs start to build up, we recommend putting your money into a new condensing unit/indoor coil.
Top models are worth considering in very warm climates. In moderate and cool climates, it isn’t worth paying more for “best” central air conditioners.
Should I repair or replace my old central air conditioner?
If your AC is under warranty – most are 10 years – then repairing it is usually the best approach. But be aware that while the new part will be provided at no charge, warranties do not cover labor.
Once your air conditioner is out of warranty, then AC replacement becomes a more attractive option. The most common reasons to replace rather than repair are:
- Age & Repair History: The AC is 12+ years and has already needed repair
- Performance & Efficiency: The AC is 10+ years and you want an air conditioner that is more efficient and/or has better performance. For example, in a warm climate, it is common to replace a single-stage, 14 SEER AC that is 12-15 years old even if it is in good condition, with something like a two-stage 16 SEER unit.
Moving soon? Then repairing the unit might be a more cost-effective option. If you think prospective buyers will be concerned about the age of the AC, here are a two options that might alleviate concerns:
- Give them money back at closing to put toward a new unit.
- Buy the new homeowner a 1-year to 3-year home warranty like this one (not affiliated with PickHVAC) that would cover replacement of the AC.
Should I replace the central ac and heater together?
If they are both 12+ years old, then we recommend replacing them together.
Many air conditioners and heaters/furnaces are designed to work together. For example, a two-stage AC is best served by a heater/air handler/furnace with a variable speed blower. The combination will allow you to maximize the dehumidification and precision temperature balance they offer.
If one of the units is significantly younger and in good condition and/or offers the performance you want, then replacing both isn’t essential.
There are a lot of factors in this decision, so it is a question best answered by an HVAC pro that can inspect the current system and make a recommendation. Use our free service partner to get estimates and advice from three licensed, experienced pros in your area.
There is no cost or obligation, and you’ll get answers to consider that are customized to your HVAC system and home’s needs.
Want to replace your furnace together? You can also read our Best Furnace Brands.
What is the best time to buy central ac units?
Let’s approach this from two angles.
Time of Year: Central air conditioners go on sale at the end of the cooling season and before harsh winter weather hits (if applicable to your area).
In the North, this period is mid-September through October. In the South, it’s during the winter months.
Pre-emptively: This is the second option and also takes the time of year into account. We recommend replacing your central air conditioning system before it has the chance to break down on you during a really hot summer.
If the air conditioner is 15 years old or more and has already needed repairs, then consider buying a new unit. The replacement AC will be more reliable and come with a warranty. You’ll also have options on models that are much more efficient, so summer cooling bills will be lower.
What is a best seer rating for central ac units?
It depends on two factors.
The first is where you live. The hotter the climate, the more efficient the air conditioner should be. Here are our suggestions based on this climate map.
Image Source: basc.pnnl.gov
- Zones 1-3: 18 SEER or higher
- Zones 4 & 5: 16-18 SEER
- Zones 6 & 7: Up to 17 SEER
In the second scenario, SEER rating is secondary to performance. If, for example, you want the indoor comfort control and better dehumidification offered by a two-stage or variable capacity AC, then it will be a higher-SEER model.
2-stage ACs start at 16 SEER and range to 21 SEER
Variable capacity or modulating ACs range from 19-25+ SEER
See our Central Air Conditioner Reviews and Prices Buying Guide for complete information on AC performance and how it impacts indoor comfort.
When should I install a ductless air conditioner?
Mini split, ductless air conditioning systems are ideal for a couple settings:
1. Home additions – Your current central AC likely won’t have enough cooling capacity to also serve the addition. Rather than install ductwork and a separate split system, a ductless AC will cost less to install.
2. Garage conversions /Attic conversions – Ductless systems are the #1 choice when turning a garage or attic into living space. Installation is simpler and less expensive than a ducted AC system.
3. Existing rooms that aren’t well served – Are some rooms in your home warm all the time? These rooms are usually on the second floor and/or far from the home’s air handler.
4. New home construction – Ductless systems are commonly used in new homes. Just keep in mind that any air conditioning system is most cost-effective when a single outdoor unit is used. If you need two outdoor units to serve the home when a single standard split system AC would be enough, then a traditional split system will cost less.
Still, it makes sense to get estimates for both types when building a home.
Is an air conditioner service agreement worth the money?
We recommend them for a few reasons.
First, your AC warranty might state that it is necessary to have your AC serviced in order to keep the warranty in effect. That’s a surprise for most homeowners.
The Carrier (Bryant, Heil, Day & Night and many others) AC warranty reads, “Installation, use, care, and maintenance must be normal and in accordance with instructions contained in the Installation Instructions, Owner’s Manual and Company’s service information.” We added the emphasis.
Maintenance requirements range from yearly to every 3 years. Know your warranty!
Secondly, having the AC serviced and cleaned will keep it running as efficiently as possible and might prevent significant mechanical failure. For example, if the unit is low on refrigerant, it will run inefficiently, be prone to freeze-ups and could lead to the death of the compressor.
What to look for in an AC service agreement: We like agreements that promise a discount on repairs (usually 10-15%) and priority status on repairs. That status means that if your AC breaks down in 90-degree weather, homeowners with a service agreement will be served ahead of those who don’t.
Expect service agreements to cost $79 to $150 per year. Those with a higher cost usually have better perks. But it’s worth shopping around.
My AC is making noise. What’s wrong?
There are several potential issues. We’ve covered them in a post called Central AC/Heat Pump Repair Common Problems and Troubleshooting Guide 2021
The 7 Best Air Conditioners of 2021
Our top pick for a great air conditioning unit is the LG Energy Star Rated 6,000 BTU Window Air Conditioner (available at Walmart). This unit cools efficiently, has an included remote control and adjustable louvers that make operation a breeze. If you’re willing to spend more on a high-end air conditioning unit, the Windmill 8,300 BTU 115-Volt Quiet/ECO/Smart Window Air Conditioner (available at P.C. Richard & Son) has a modern design and smart home compatibility that will make it a seamless part of your home’s decor and setup.
One of the first things you’ll want to consider is the style of air conditioner that works best for you. There are several options available, and they vary widely in terms of cost, capability, and installation requirements.
Two of the most common options for occasional users are portable and window air conditioners. Both of these options are fairly inexpensive and can be easily installed without professional help. However, the downside of these options is that they’re typically only powerful enough to cool one room at a time, which means you’ll need multiple units if you want air conditioning throughout your home.
Another option is a through-the-wall or built-in air conditioner, which is a permanent style. These styles are installed into a “sleeve” in an exterior wall of your home—ideal if your room doesn’t have an acceptable window. However, as you may have guessed, this style of air conditioner requires a more complex initial installation, as you’ll need professional help to cut an appropriate-sized hole in the wall.
For more comprehensive air conditioning, you may want to consider a ductless mini-split system. This style of air conditioner has gained popularity lately, as it’s a good permanent alternative for homes without central HVAC. As its name implies, there are no ducts required, and these units are typically more powerful than window units. However, mini-split systems are also fairly expensive and complex to install.
Finally, there are central air systems, which require ductwork throughout your home. These are the most expensive and complicated to install and, as such, are typically most common on new construction.
If you’re going with a window or wall unit, measure the height and width of the opening to ensure you pick a compatible unit. It’s also beneficial to consider the weight of the unit, as this will determine whether you’ll need help moving and installing it.
Room size and location
Next, you’ll want to consider where you plan to put the air conditioner and how much square footage it needs to cool. The amount of heat an air conditioner can remove from a room is measured in BTUs, or British Thermal Units—larger rooms require a unit with a higher BTU.
Here’s a general breakdown of the recommended room size and BTU:
- 100-300 square feet: 5,000-7,000 BTU per hour
- 300-450 square feet: 8,000-10,000 BTU
- 450-550 square feet: 10,000-12,000 BTU
- 550-700 square feet: 13,000-14,000 BTU
- 700-1,000 square feet: 18,000 BTU
- 1,000+ square feet: 20,000 BTU and up
You’ll also want to consider the location of the room as you decide what BTU is best. For instance, a room that has several large windows and gets direct sunlight for several hours a day will likely be hotter and therefore need a more powerful air conditioner. In this situation, experts recommend increasing the BTU by at least 10 percent. Similarly, if your air conditioner will be in the kitchen—and, as a result, will have to combat the heat from the stove—you’ll want to bump up the capacity by about 4,000 BTU.
If you plan to use your air conditioner in your bedroom or living room, you may be concerned with how much noise it produces. The noise level of appliances is typically measured in decibels, but since we don’t use this measurement in our daily lives, most people don’t know what “40 decibels” sound like. This can make it tricky to pick the best option for your needs.
In general, a standard air conditioner operates between 40 and 60 decibels. For reference, TVs usually operate at around 70 decibels, and normal talking falls between 40 and 60 decibels. So if you buy an air conditioner that operates at 60 decibels, it may interfere with your conversations or TV show. The quietest air conditioners out there operate at around 35 to 40 decibels, and their noise level is compared to that of a desk fan.
All types of air conditioners work in pretty much the same way. First, they extract air and filter out any dust or impurities. That air is then passed over the cooling or evaporating coil, and the coil absorbs the heat. At the same time, during this step, moisture from the air is reduced to dew on the surface of the coil, effectively decreasing the humidity level in the room. Finally, the air is pushed back out of the device, lowering the room's overall temperature.
There are several different types of air conditioners. Window units tend to be the most popular because they're affordable and easy to install, though some homes and apartments with unusually shaped windows may not accommodate them. Portable units are a great pick because they can be moved from room to room, but they also require more maintenance and aren't as efficient. Built-in or split systems offer a more permanent solution but require professional installation and can be costly.
Check the filter of your window air conditioner each month, and clean it as needed. Also, take a look at the water pan inside the unit, and wipe it with a rag or sponge—this will help ensure proper drainage of the condensate created by the unit. It also helps prevent mold growth.
If you have basic DIY skills and some tools you most likely can install a window air conditioner yourself—although, because some units are very heavy and cumbersome, you might want to enlist a friend to help you. For those who aren't confident about installing an air conditioner themselves, you can ask the retailer when you're purchasing a new one, or try a service like HomeAdvisor.
The cost of an air conditioner varies by type and functionality—you can spend anywhere from $100 to several thousand dollars. Window models start at around $100 but can cost upward of $1,000 if you need one with advanced features and a high BTU capacity. Portable air conditioners tend to be slightly more expensive, typically costing between $200 and $500. Wall air conditioners generally cost $400 or more, and mini-split options start at around $800—plus the cost of installation. Central air systems are often desirable because they can be used for heating, as well, but you’ll likely pay several thousand dollars for the system and installation.
The amount of heat an air conditioner can remove from a room is measured in BTUs, or British Thermal Units—larger rooms require a unit with a higher BTU. Energy Star recommends units around 6,000 BTU for rooms up to 250 square feet; 8,000 BTU units up to 350 square feet; 10,000 BTU units up to 450 square feet; and 12,000 BTU units up to 550 square feet.
This article was researched and written by Katie Begley, a writer specializing in home and garden products. While living in Hawaii, Katie came to know and love her home’s air conditioner window unit.
Best Air Conditioner Brands
Frequently Asked Questions
Do air conditioner brands really matter?
When installing a new central AC unit, top air conditioner brands and associated costs can be an important decision factor. Brands usually can offer a price point to fit any budget from low cost AC units to top performing units. Some brands offer extensive warranties, boast incredible customer support teams, and offer smart home technology for your new air conditioner.
It really depends on your budget and what you value the most in a new AC unit and the brand of it. Like most things, you get what you pay for and should plan your budget accordingly.
What is a good SEER rating for an AC unit?
A SEER rating indicates how energy efficient your new central AC unit will be. Higher SEER ratings can mean a higher initial price for the air conditioner itself and total installation, but you will save in the long run on energy bills.
The minimum SEER rating you can get is a 13 SEER AC unit. Most of the best air conditioner brands will have a SEER rating from 14 to 21. The highest energy efficient air conditioner can go up to a 26 SEER rating offered by high tier brands like Lennox and other best AC brands discussed on this page. Understanding the basics of SEER ratings will help you choose the right AC unit for your home and budget.
How do you find a reliable local AC contractor fast?
When you need to install a new central AC system, it can become an urgent situation if your home’s temperature starts to become extremely cold or unpleasantly warm. Finding a reliable local AC contractor fast is possible.
The best strategy is to ask friends and family for recommendations. It is then smart to vet those contractors by using a service like Modernize to instantly compare multiple quotes from the top contractors.
We provide information on local service professionals along with their current Google business ratings, Better Business Bureau ratings, and even recent reviews from homeowners in your neighborhood who also completed HVAC projects with those same AC contractors that install the top AC brands. You can also use our HVAC contractor checklist to make sure you hire the right person for efficient and smooth run for your home project.
Can you negotiate AC installation costs?
Negotiating the costs of your air conditioner installation with your contractor is definitely possible. You should always have backup resources to justify the local costs in your area for a new AC unit. HVAC installation costs typically range from $3,500 to $7,525.
Homeowners can often reduce costs of the contract estimate and terms by getting multiple installation price quotes in their area. Homeowners can also leverage our HVAC cost calculator to get average local prices to use as a strategic negotiation tactic.
What is the average lifespan of a new AC unit?
A new air conditioner can last anywhere from 12 to 15 years. As your AC unit gets older it is smart to have annual HVAC checkups on your system by a service professional to make sure you get the most out of your new air conditioner. The best HVAC brands will last at least 15 years or longer if maintained properly throughout their lifespan.
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Conditioner 2019 air reviews
Best central air conditioning units 2021
Having one of the best central air conditioning units is essential in your home if you want to stay cool this summer. Though they can often be an investment, it’s guaranteed that you’ll be glad of your new purchase if temperatures tend to hot up in your state. There’s no denying that a reliable HVAC system can provide you respite from the heat when you need it most. Within this guide, you’ll find the best specification AC for your home, with top picks from brands such as Carrier, Goodman, Trane, and more all included.
The biggest benefit of installing one of the best central air conditioning units in your home is their efficiency at cooling the whole of your home, rather than just certain areas, or one room, which is what you can find with the best window air conditioners, for example. And if you’re looking for an easy guide to the many varying brands out there, then look no further, as we’ve broken down everything you should look out for on your journey to cooling down your home.
Networx helps you find the perfect company or contractor for your central air conditioning needs. Use them to get the best quotes from companies that serve your area.View Deal
Throughout this guide to the best central air conditioning units, we’ll be highlighting the reputation of each brand within the AC industry, so you know you’re in safe hands, and not about to waste money on an unreliable appliance. We’ve highlighted the importance of installation processes too, as well as the length of each warranty and user feedback. For more ways to cool down your home to an optimal temperature, check out our guides to the best ductless air conditioners and the best portable air conditioners.
1. American Standard: Best central air conditioner brand overall
Best central air conditioning units overall
Models in range: 7
Top SEER rating: 22
Warranty: 12 years on compressors for some models and 10 year warranties
Prices (unit only) starting from: $1345
Reasons to buy
+Reliable units+High energy efficiency+Quiet compared to others
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive installation costs
American Standard is one of the leading brands in the HVAC industry, known for its variety of high performance, central air conditioners. They offer a range of reliable units with three series available – Platinum, Gold and Silver. Energy-efficient units start from the standard 14 SEER rating and can reach up to 22 SEER, which is the best for high efficiency and handy for saving on those electricity bills. The units are equipped with advanced features such as the Aero Quiet II System, and sound levels are super quiet.
What the users say
American Standard is well-regarded by installers and home owners alike. Customers praise how quiet the units are, while others have noticed a reduction in their utility bills thanks to the energy efficiency of these AC units. Review comments include: “American Standard is the best in its class hands down.” Any of the few complaints appeared to be a number of years into use and centered around failed compressors or coolant leaks.
The units are well engineered and built to perform under harsh conditions. American Standard are also known for their versatility and compact unit sizes, making their systems ideal for mobile homes.
Although unit prices are reasonable, installation can be costly, with fees ranging anywhere between $1000 and $5,000. However, American Standard’s exceptional 12-year compressor and 10-year parts warranties can save you money and time in the long-run.
We chose this as the best overall unit for its affordability, impressive features, and for the fact that it’s one of the quieter brands on the market.
2. Heil: Best central air conditioners for build quality
Heil Air Conditioners
A superb central air conditioner if you can't stretch to a Carrier
Models in range: 12
Top SEER rating: 19
Warranty: 10 years
Reasons to buy
+Great SEER rating+Excellent warranty cover
Reasons to avoid
-High installation costs-Not the best-known brand (yet)
If you want peace of mind when buying a central air conditioning unit, we’d recommended Heil. That’s because the company offers up to a 10-year parts warranty, with some AC units also coming with an extended 10-year no-hassle full-unit replacement. That covers failure of the compressor, coil or heat exchanger. If either of those should fail, Heil will replace the entire unit, terms permitting.
Depending on the central air conditioner you opt for, you also get to enjoy a highly accomplished AC unit that delivers high SEER efficiency (up to 19) while running at super-quiet levels.
What the users say
We found it hard to get much use feedback on Heil products as it’s wrapped up as part of Carrier so tightly. The feedback we did come across was largely positive. Contractors are generally happy with Heil as these are basically Carrier air conditioners at a more affordable price. Users are happy with the reliability as you have to go through an authorized contractor and will generally end up with a more reliably installed system.
Our top pick for Heil’s best central air conditioning unit is the HVA9, which has a 5-stage variable compressor system and integrated acoustic dampening blanket. This particular air conditioner also supports the brand’s smart Wi-Fi Ion System Control touchscreen thermostat for added convenience.
The Heil HVA9 central air conditioning unit is top of the Ion range, but if you’re looking for something more affordable while retaining the warranty, consider the Heil HVA7. This cheaper HVAC system has the same 10-year no-hassle cover, while the HSA6 offers a five-year no-hassle warranty.
3. Trane: Best central air conditioning unit for features
Trane Air Conditioners
Best for industry-leading features
Top SEER rating: 24.6
Warranty: All models have a minimum ten-year warranty on all parts (after registration)
Prices (unit only) starting from: $3,380
Reasons to buy
+Super-efficient Spine Fin Coil +Rigorous testing procedures +Smart home options
Reasons to avoid
-Warranty could be improved upon
Since 2015 Trane has succeeded in being named ‘America’s Most Trusted HVAC System’ every year by Lifestory research, thanks to its dedication to delivering quality products. This commitment to excellence is obvious with its testing regime and an insistence on trained engineers installing and servicing its products for warranties to be valid.
What the users say
“Never any problem or issues since 2014. Quiet, works well, great contractor.” Another impressed customer added, “I have had my current systems for three years, I am very happy with Trane. The two units I own have been operating flawlessly for the entire time.”
Aside from its accolades, another major factor that might sway you to pick Trane for your central air conditioning unit is the standout features on offer. Within certain models, the Spine Fin Coil goes a long way to aid with efficiency, as it allows for faster cooling. It’s also made with all aluminum which makes it more resistant to corrosion than copper alternatives.
There’s also the chance to optimize your central air conditioning unit with certain Trane models, as some have thermostats that can be linked to smartphones thanks to Wi-Fi connection. That allows for ultimate control over your home’s temperature, as well as the chance to pair it with other smart devices, such as your smart speaker.
Trane is certainly a reliable brand, and its range of prices is another good reason to take a look at what they have to offer. The warranties are all at least ten years from the date of purchase, though that does depend on registering your unit and keeping it serviced with Trane-certified dealers.
4. Bryant: Best central air conditioning unit for a range
Bryant Air Conditioners
The best manufacturer if you want a lot of choices.
Top SEER rating: up to 26
Warranty: All models have a minimum ten-year warranty on all parts (after registration), others have extended warranties beyond this.
Prices (unit only) starting from: $3,300
Reasons to buy
+Lots of models +Very quiet units
Reasons to avoid
-Standard warranty offering
You’ll have plenty of choice if you decide that Bryant is the one for you, with 16 models to choose from, with a variation of SEER ratings and prices attached to them. No matter which one you opt for, Bryant air conditioners should deliver a coolness to your home to help you survive the summer.
What the users say
“I’ve been using Bryant Heating and Cooling for years. They are professional and on time. I won’t use anyone else.”
It’s important to note that Bryant comes under the ownership of United Technologies, meaning it won’t be surprising to find very similar products from competitors such as Carrier in their range. However, Bryant does tend to be a little more affordable than their counterparts and you’ll benefit from the fact that the installation process is standard across brands.
There are affordable choices when it comes to Bryant’s thermostats too, with the option of a full-color touch screen display to accompany your unit for not too hefty a price. Or, if you want something a step above, then there are also Wi-Fi-enabled alternatives offering multi-zone control.
Bryant is an all-around good choice if you want to shop around before you make your final decision, and don’t fall down when it comes to warranty either, with a standard ten-year guarantee (given that you register within the specified time period).
5. Goodman: Best value central air conditioner brand
Goodman Air Conditioners
Best central air conditioning units if you have a smaller budget
Models in range: 5
Top SEER rating: 19
Warranty: Lifetime compressor warranty on some units and 10 years +
Prices (unit only) starting from: $985
Reasons to buy
+Low cost+On-board diagnostics+Excellent warranties
Reasons to avoid
-No high-end models
For a budget-friendly yet efficient central air conditioner, Goodman is the best brand. Offering five central air conditioning models, prices for a unit alone can start from as little as $985, although installation costs are not significantly cheaper than elsewhere.
What the users say
While Goodman appears to get generally negative installer opinions, these are down to poor installations, as many point out that Goodman sells its equipment to anyone and this tends to result in more poor installations. Generally, users are pleased with the experience and price. One customer mentioned they saved $2,000 and were happy with the quality and output of the unit, while another said their electric bill had been reduced by over 50%. The GSXC18 and 16 models are rated highly.
Despite its low costs, the company does not compromise on quality, and units are equipped with several handy features. An example would be the convenient onboard diagnostics that help with the maintenance and upkeep of the units.
Users can store up to six fault codes which will notify them in the event of a developing problem. Goodman air conditioners are also quiet, ranging from 40 decibels normally, up to 70 decibels at the most.
While you could find more energy-efficient brands on the market, you are still likely to make an overall saving. A real saving grace is Goodman’s excellent warranty coverage. They offer a 12-year compressor warranty on most models and 10-year warranty on others, which is better than many competitors. Reliable and efficient, Goodman air conditioners are ideal for those living in hotter environments who require comfort and value for money.
6. Amana: Best central air conditioner brand for warranties
Amana central air conditioners
Top-rated air conditioning units with generous warranties
Models in range: 8
Top SEER rating: 24.5
Warranty: 10 years, plus compressors come with a Limited Lifetime Replacement warranty
Prices (unit only) starting from: $1,310
Reasons to buy
+High SEER ratings+Good customer care
Reasons to avoid
-Noisy-Compressor lacks protective grill
Amana is another reputable name in the HVAC industry, owned by Goodman Brand. It offers reliable units that start at 13 SEER and go all the way up to the high-efficiency 24.5 SEER. Amana air conditioners are reliable, with impressive features to boost performance.
The top-tier products are equipped with a ComfortNet technology system that offers an extensive degree of user control by also functioning with Wireless accessories.
What the users say
Installers like Amana units as they're designed to be more easily maintained. Users certainly seem happy, with one raving about the Amana AXSC18: “It offers decent cooling and that’s what I wanted from an AC at this price range.” The registered Amana Heating and A/C business on the Better Business Bureau (BBB) redirects to Goodman Manufacturing, its parent. It has an A+ accreditation, yet it also has a number of complaints. However, these are about Goodman units, so we can’t derive reliability of Amana from these.
Other advanced features include a Copeland High-Efficiency Scroll Compressor to enhance energy efficiency, and a CoreSense Diagnostics system that provides accurate troubleshooting and fast repair diagnosis.
Although unit prices are reasonable, they can have high installation costs. The top tier model with the highest 24.5 SEER rating can cost around $2,950 for the unit alone, and can be around $5,200 with installation. While units are robust, a downside is the lack of insulation and protective grills around the compressor, which may be prone to damage.
However, Amana air conditioning systems offer some of the best warranty coverage on the market. They offer a limited lifetime replacement warranty for models with ratings of 16 SEER and higher. And all other units come with a 10-year compressor and all parts warranty.
7. Carrier: Best central air conditioners for sheer range
A superb range of central air conditioning units for all homes
Models in range: 16
Top SEER rating: 21
Warranty: 10-year parts limited warranty and five-year parts and compressor
Prices (unit only) starting from: $1,525
Reasons to buy
+Range suits all needs +Quiet operation
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive -Lower SEER ratings
When it comes to choice, Carrier is one of the top brands on the market. With three series and 16 models, customers can find an air conditioning system to suit their needs and budget. Reliable and durable, units start from a SEER efficiency rating of 14 right up to the highest SEER rating of 21.
What the users say
On the BBB, Carrier has an A+ rating, with 27 complaints in the past 12 months and 72 in the last three years. Most focus on labour costs on warranty repairs, which gain responses from Carrier, many with compensation. User reviews are mostly positive, such as: “It's efficient and cheaper to operate than the new Ruud gas system in my old condo.” The only downside seems to be the high purchase costs of Carrier units and the cost of replacement parts.
Its models also run extremely quietly, with sound output as low as 65 decibels, so noise shouldn’t be a nuisance.
As you would expect with such high quality, prices are more expensive. Its starting 13 SEER unit can cost around $3,100 with installation, while the premium, 21 SEER unit can reach up to $5,300. Although you can find cheaper units elsewhere, Carrier air conditioners are well built and known to last for years.
Furthermore, its high efficiency and in-built dehumidifier makes Carrier suitable for more hot and humid climates, and will likely contribute to a huge reduction to electric bills.
8. York: Quietest central air conditioners
York Air Conditioners
A great choice if you want a quiet central air conditioning unit
Models in range: 11
Top SEER rating: 21
Warranty: 10 years parts and lifetime compressor warranty
Prices (unit only) starting from: $1,565
Reasons to buy
+Inexpensive units+Highly efficient
Reasons to avoid
-Warranties cover parts, not labor-High installation costs
York is one of the largest heating and cooling suppliers in the world. With 11 models available, York offers two types of air conditioning system, delivering high-efficiency and comfort. All units are equipped with useful features and start from a SEER rating of 13, reaching up to a maximum of 21 SEER.
One stand-out feature of York air conditioners is the QuietDrive comfort system. An advanced sound dampening feature that keeps noise levels down as low as 72 decibels. This makes it one of the quieter brands on the market, and ideal for those living in suburban neighborhoods.
What the users say
General impressions of York AC units from installers is that the equipment is mid-tier. Both York and other Jonson Controls brands have suffered issues with quality and reliability in the past with the generic micro-coils it used, though this appears to be resolved now. One customer said they did not need to leave their unit on long to cool their house, so their utility bill remained low. Many praised how quiet their York central air conditioning unit was during use.
Prices are reasonable, with the average 20 SEER unit costing around $2,770, and around $4,300 with installation. It’s always recommended to have your unit correctly installed by a York Certified Comfort Expert (CCE) Contractor.
Many of the technical issues that have occurred with York air conditioning units have been a result of poor installation. However, with York’s lifetime compressor and 10-year parts warranties, there should be no concerns with the longevity of the unit.
Overall, if you’re after an efficient and super-quiet air conditioning unit that won’t break the bank, York is the ideal brand.
9. Lennox: Best central air conditioning units with a high SEER rating
This central air conditioning brand has the highest SEER rating
Models in range: 11
Top SEER rating: 26
Warranty: 10-year compressor and five-year covered component warranties
Prices (unit only) starting from: $1,475
Reasons to buy
+Energy efficient+Easier on utility bills
Reasons to avoid
-More expensive units-High repair costs
Lennox air conditioners are ideal for those who require a high-efficiency and cost-effective solution for their homes. Offering three types of air conditioning system, the range starts from a 14 SEER rating (Merit), right up to a remarkably high 26 SEER (Signature). Since nine out of out of 11 models are certified Energy Star, this makes Lennox air conditioners one of the most energy-efficient brands on the market, meaning customers could make a significant saving on their energy bills.
What the users say
Lennox receives an A+ rating by the BBB, but it also 263 complaints there in the last three years, with 106 in the past 12 months. Many were submitted by people unhappy with the parts-only warranty cover. Consumer Affairs provide Lennox with a 4-star rating, with reviews reflecting satisfied customers. Most of the negative reviews are a mix of failed compressors, coolant leaks or fan motors. The majority of customers were happy with the overall running and price.
However, expect to spend a little more on premium units, as a 26 SEER unit costs around $3,775 alone, and $7,190 with installation. Even the low SEER rated models will cost you a lot more than similar products available on the market. Even considering Lennox systems are more costly, they are still a worthwhile investment based on performance and high efficiency.
For these reasons alone, Lennox air conditioners are suited to those living in hotter climates who expect to get more usage. In addition, this is a much more economical choice of central air conditioner in the long term.
10. Rheem: Best central air conditioners for colder climates
The best central air conditioning units for colder climates
Models in range: 7
Top SEER rating: 20
Warranty: 10-year parts and labor warranty
Prices (unit only) starting from: $990
Reasons to buy
+Low purchase and running costs+Excellent efficiency
Reasons to avoid
-Noisy-No lifetime warrant
For those who require high efficiency with low running costs, Rheem is the ideal brand. A reputable industry leader, Rheem offers three series and seven types of air conditioner. Units are equipped with advanced features, such as modulating burners to accurately control temperature, enhancing overall performance. And the Prestige Series comes with a Comfort Control system that offers on-board diagnostics, and EcoNet-enabled systems.
What the users say
Rheem is registered with the BBB with Ruud as a trade name and is rated A+. It received 286 complaints there over in last three years. That said, Rheem and its sister brand Ruud have gained a good reputation amongst installers over recent years due to investment in R&D improving reliability. One contractor said on Reddit: “Rheem all day and on Sunday. Any Goodman I find is installed poorly because any contractor can get their hands on it. Rheems are nice, and are great to work on.” From the user side, common pluses are the efficiency and cheap running costs of the units.
Although Rheem air conditioning systems have low initial costs, their prices increase with higher SEER ratings. An average 13 SEER unit costs around $990 for the system alone, and around $2,100 with installation. Meanwhile, the premium 20 SEER unit costs around $1,850 for system alone, and around $3,000 to be installed. Bear in mind there are no lifetime warranties available, and labor costs to replace parts are also expensive. However, all units come with 10-year parts and labor warranties.
There are more high-efficiency brands on the market but Rheem excels in its low running costs. It is for this reason that Rheem systems are better suited for colder conditions or environments that don’t require extensive use.
What to look for in a good central air conditioner
When picking a good central air conditioner for your home, these are a few key factors to keep in mind. These include the following:
SEER - This stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. In a nutshell, this is the cooling output divided by the cost of running the unit over a year. The higher the SEER the better. Modern AC units start at 13 and can go as high as 26.
Decibels (dB) - How noisy a unit is. Mid-70dB is pretty average and is around the level of a vacuum cleaner or washing machine. The best central air conditioning units come with a mid-50dB output, similar to a dishwasher.
Features - Keep an eye out for two-stage variable compressors and variable fan speed for more nuanced home cooling. Wireless thermostat features can be costly but convenient. Enhanced weather protection and specific costal models are on offer for challenging locations.
Warranty - Many central air conditioning unit manufacturers offer ten-year parts cover, but it’s important to read the small print and protect your investment with regular services. Look out for longer coverage on high-end units and enhanced replacement cover on whole units.
How much do the best central air conditioners cost?
Everyone has a budget, and while the actual central air conditioner unit is a good part of a HVAC install, it’s only part of the total installation cost. While we can offer a base-unit cost and a potential basic installation price range, to get a final cost of installation for your home you will need to get quotes from a number of authorized contractors for your chosen AC unit.
These contractors will be best placed to assess your home’s air conditioning needs, based on size, location and existing infrastructure, and offer you a full final costing plus servicing contracts. As a general rule, premium brands demand higher final installation costs due to higher component prices and higher contractor expenses.
On average, you can expect to pay between $2,000 and $6,000 to have a central air conditioner installed in your home. Your actual costs may vary depending on the size of your home, the air conditioner brand, the unit’s SEER rating, the installer you choose and a number of other factors. It’s a good idea to get multiple quotes from multiple installers to ensure you get the best service for the best price.
Beyond a basic install, there may be other costs. For example, if your home lacks the required ductwork, you can expect to add a couple thousand dollars to your installation budget. Lastly, you can expect an increase in costs if you get a multi-zone system or replace your gas furnace as part of the install.
Are new central air conditioners more energy efficient?
Central AC units with excellent energy efficiency ratings can save you more on your electricity bills than standard models. However, you can expect the highest efficiency models to be the most expensive upfront.
Air conditioners with exceptional cooling capabilities that also consume very little electricity earn high SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) ratings. Compare the unit’s upfront cost with potential energy savings over time to see if it's worth the investment.
New air conditioners are much more energy efficient than older units though. While older AC units were typically rated around 8 to 9 SEER, the U.S. Department of Energy now requires a minimum of 13 SEER or 14 SEER for central air conditioners, depending on where you live.
Of the 98 models we looked at, only 39 rated below 16 SEER, the average of all the models we evaluated. Although the highest SEER rating we came across was a 26 on the Lennox XC25, Amana, Trane and American Standard all offer models with 22 SEER or higher. The representatives at Energy Star also recommend regular maintenance, such as replacing filters at least every three months and having your unit tuned up at least once a year to make sure it's running efficiently.
Regardless, if you’re replacing an older unit with a new one, you can already expect to get a much more energy efficient unit.
Are new central air conditioners noisy?
The newest generation of central air conditioners tend to have noise-reducing features so that they blend in better within your home. These features include specially designed fan blades, compressor and pan base insulation and variable-speed fans. On average, the best AC units are capable of producing sound levels of under 71.25 decibels, which is about as loud as a conversation in a restaurant. This is still louder than ultra-quiet refrigerators or dishwashers, but it’s a good degree of sound for an appliance that lies on the outside of your home.
Central air conditioning unit size
Many central air conditioner models come in multiple sizes, so you can choose the most appropriate one for your home’s square footage. If a central AC unit is too small, it wastes energy and struggles to produce consistent cooling on the hottest days. If it's too big, you paid extra when a smaller model would be more energy efficient – and it won't dehumidify your home as effectively. A trained technician can help you choose the ideal unit for your home, local climate conditions and budget.
Central air conditioner warranties
The best central air conditioning units can be a costly element to integrate into your home, though they prove their worth in their ability to cool your home. Each AC brand has a conditional warranty, which requires you to register your appliance within a certain number of days in order to receive the cover. There is an exception to this however, as conditional warranties are not allowed in California or Quebec, and so will not apply.
If you can register your AC unit (state dependent), you can expect a warranty that lasts at least 10 years. Some brands such as Amana, Trane, Coleman, and Goodman have guarantees that stretch over 12-years or to a lifetime on their high-end products. Without registering, you can expect your AC warranty to last for a lesser time period of around 5 years.
A professional should install your central air conditioner
Unless you have experience with brazing, electrical work, plumbing and framing – and can handle refrigerant according to EPA regulations – it is ill-advised to install a central air conditioner yourself. Professionals have the education, skill and experience to install your central air conditioner safely and properly.
Not all contractors have the appropriate certifications and experience to work on your HVAC system. It's smart to seek out reputable, qualified contractors in your area. You can start by looking at online customer reviews on Google, Yelp, Citysearch and more, which often reflect the quality of an HVAC installer. Don’t choose the cheapest bid or closest contractor without vetting their qualifications first. AHRI specifically recommends finding a NATE-certified technician, as they have passed a nationally recognized test showing they have the knowledge to size, repair and install the proper system for your home.
Although professional HVAC installers often give specific recommendations on central air conditioners, take some time to do your own research before you call so you can explain your needs.
Choosing a thermostat for your central air conditioning unit
Central air conditioners are often only as good as the thermostats to which they are connected. When installing a new system or replacing old HVAC equipment, consider replacing your thermostat as well. We suggest a programmable thermostat that allows you to schedule when your HVAC system runs. If you want more advanced features, such as smartphone control, automatic schedules and smart home integration, consider getting a smart thermostat made by Nest or ecobee. You can also check with your contractor for recommendations.
Central air conditioner vs window air conditioner: which is better?
Ultimately, whether you get a window air conditioner or a central air conditioning unit will depend on your budget and your home’s layout. Based on how expensive a central air conditioner is, it’s understandable that you might want something more affordable. In our comparison of window air conditioners, we found that the average unit costs between $100 and $300, which is definitely cheaper than a central air conditioner by a wide margin.
Window air conditioners are more affordable to purchase and to run than central air conditioners. That said, if you need to cool your whole home, a central air conditioner is usually more cost effective and efficient, because you don’t have to run individual units.
The size of the space you’re cooling plays a big role in how comfortable you can make your home. In a large home, a central air conditioner will provide even cooling to all the rooms in your home. However, a window air conditioner is good for smaller spaces, such as studio apartments or single rooms.
If you live in a place with long, hot summers, a central air conditioner is a better option to keep you comfortable. However, if you live in a place with relatively cool summers where you don’t turn on your air conditioner very often, a window unit is a great choice to provide temporary relief from the heat.
The perfect air conditioner is one that slides gracefully in and out of your window, cooling you quickly and efficiently with nary a peep, and it’s also consistently available at an affordable price. In other words, it doesn’t exist. But the U-shaped Midea U MAW08V1QWT is the closest thing we’ve found to that ideal. We’ve been researching, testing, and recommending window ACs since 2012, and this Midea model is quieter and more energy-efficient than any other window AC we’ve ever tested—and as a bonus, it lets you keep using your window through the summer.
The Midea U MAW08V1QWT is simply the quietest air conditioner we’ve ever tested, but that isn’t the only reason it stands out from the crowd. It also has an inverter compressor, which means it uses almost half as much energy as non-inverter ACs. And unlike traditional air conditioners, which typically lock your whole window in a closed position as long as they’re installed, the Midea U has a unique U-shaped design that allows you to continue opening and closing your window as normal (if you want to get better circulation going, for example). As part of this design, Midea also moves most of the louder hardware to the back of this unit so that it sits outside the window, using the glass as an additional buffer layer to further mute the sound. In addition, it comes with its own bracket—about a $100 value—which locks firmly into the sliding tracks of your hung window. The AC is Energy Star certified and Wi-Fi–enabled, too, with easy and convenient smart-home integration. But there is one catch: the installation process. Though the process is easier than it looks, it’s still more involved than installing your typical AC, and you won’t get much helpful advice by reading any of the four instruction manuals that come with the Midea U.
If you’re looking for a more traditional window AC, the GE PHC08LY is the quietest one available, and it’s also better-looking than most. In its dedicated Quiet Mode, it’s comparable to the Midea U in volume; even with the compressor running and the fan high, it’s still quieter than the average conversation or any other AC that we’ve tested. The touch-sensitive controls and soft LED lights give it a classy, futuristic feel, and GE’s recently updated smart-home integration allows for seamless, natural voice commands. It’s also one of the few models we’ve seen with Apple HomeKit integration, as well as location services, which you can use to automatically turn the AC off when you’re not home (or on when you are). This model is not quite as energy efficient as the Midea U (though it is Energy Star certified), nor does it come with its own safety bracket, but it’s also much, much easier to set up than our top pick, and it’s just as pleasant to live with.
We like to think of the Frigidaire FHWW083WBE as the Old Faithful of window air conditioners. We’ve been recommending it (or its nearly identical predecessors) since 2014, and it has consistently proven to be a reliable and affordable option. It’s a little louder than our other picks (though still quieter than most ACs), with a less-pleasant mechanical growl that’s more pronounced when you run it at lower settings. But it still cools the room quickly and efficiently, and it typically costs less than our other picks while offering comparable performance and smart-home capabilities. If you want to save even more money, the Frigidaire FFRE083WAE is essentially the same unit minus the smart-home capabilities.
The Windmill Air might not be as quiet or efficient as our top pick, but it’s much, much simpler to install, and it offers plenty of other thoughtful features that make it easy to live with. It’s one of the nicer looking ACs we’ve ever tested, too, with rounded corners and subtle indicator lights that won’t keep you up at night. There’s even a plastic cover over the back of the unit, so you don’t cut your hands on those razor-sharp exhaust fins, and a shortcut in the app that helps you find installation help from TaskRabbit. Overall, it’s a great AC if you just want something that blends into the background and does the job without a fuss.
The inverter-style Frigidaire Gallery GHWQ083WC1 is as efficient as our top pick, using nearly 40% less energy than the federal standard for air conditioners, with all the same smart-home features. It’s almost as quiet as the Midea, too, with an average volume of about 48 decibels, making it essentially unnoticeable in the room unless the fan is on high. In our tests, the Frigidaire maintained an even more impressive cooling consistency across the room, keeping the air temperature within one-half of a degree when measured from 3 feet in front of the AC, and from 6 feet away on a diagonal. The LED display on the control panel also shuts off automatically after a few seconds so as not to illuminate the room (although this can be occasionally annoying, too, like if you want to check the settings). The smart-home app can be a little glitchy at times, but in spite of those flaws, it’s up there among the best ACs available.
This guide also includes our current thoughts on “smart,” Wi-Fi–controllable air conditioners (and a smart AC accessory), plus recommendations for other kinds of air conditioners, namely through-the-wall units and casement-window models. We have our portable air conditioner recommendations in a separate guide.
Everything we recommend
Why you should trust us
Since 2012, we’ve put in about 130 total hours of research and more than 90 hours of real-world testing on window air conditioners, along with more than 1,000 hours of being cooled off by the models we’ve recommended. Our expert sources include a former representative for the Environmental Protection Agency, which administers the Energy Star program; an HVAC/R (heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration) engineer who formerly worked as a staff senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; product managers from Midea and other manufacturers; and several members of the ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force, which was established by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers.
Which air conditioner is right for you?
Don’t fall into the trap of buying a significantly under- or overpowered air conditioner.
First measure the square footage of the room you need to cool and then look at this Energy Star chart to find the appropriate cooling capacity, as measured in British thermal units (Btu). Sun exposure, ceiling height, appliance heat, and the number of people who will usually be in the room can affect the AC capacity you need, but floor size is the most important factor. Note that you won’t always be able to find an AC with the perfect Btu rating, so you might have to round up: For example, almost nobody makes a 9,000 Btu window AC, so a 10,000 Btu window AC is the next-best option in that case.
An underpowered AC will run constantly, trying and failing to get the room down to the target temperature and a comfortable humidity. If, on the other hand, you choose a unit that’s too big, it can leave your room feeling clammy because it will reduce the temperature faster than it removes moisture from the air. Need to cool multiple rooms? Getting several smaller air conditioners and putting one in each room will be more effective than buying one big unit.
How we picked
The best window air conditioner is the one that makes you the most comfortable in your home. For most people, that means picking a quiet AC—no jarring whines, whooshes, or whirs—that offers as much control over climate settings and air direction as possible. Ideally, the best air conditioner will pass the bedroom test: If it’s good enough to sleep near, it’s good enough for any other room in your house.
Everything else is much less important. Installation and maintenance should be (relatively) easy, but those tasks don’t vary too much from model to model, and you have to deal with them only a couple of times per year. With a few rare exceptions, the cooling power and energy efficiency are so very similar for window ACs at a given Btu rating that they’re barely worth worrying about. When you’re comparing these models, the difference in reaching a target temperature is never more than a few minutes, and the difference in the annual cost to operate is never more than a few dollars. (Some newer models employ genuinely different technologies, such as dual inverter rotors, that improve on the efficiency of other standards. But so far these units have been hard to find, pricey, and often oversized for average rooms.)
For this guide, we focused on 8,000 Btu window air conditioners. Typically suited for spaces around 350 square feet, 8,000 Btu is the most popular AC size for residential use. If you need to cool a larger or smaller room, note that most of our picks are available in several different sizes between 6,000 and 12,000 Btu.
Cooling power and energy efficiency are so very similar for window ACs at a given Btu rating that they’re barely worth worrying about.
We’ve tested at least a dozen AC finalists over the years, generally looking for three types: reliable standard units, quieter models suited for bedrooms, and smart models with connectivity features.
How we tested
Among the finalists, we focused on noise as the primary distinguishing factor. As much as air conditioner technology has improved over the years, window units can still be pretty damn loud. According to this Energy Star memo (PDF), manufacturers claim that this volume creep is a side effect of stricter efficiency standards—increasing the fan speed is one of the lowest-cost ways for manufacturers to improve the units’ efficiency. We favored air conditioners with a lower operating volume and a smoother frequency response.
In order to test noise output, we used an audio-spectrum analyzer app to measure each unit’s volume at its low, medium, and high fan settings, with and without the compressor running, from the same position in a room (about 6 feet away). We made note of any frequency spikes, such as the kind of high-pitched whining that irritates some people or the midrange whooshing that can give some people a headache before they even realize it’s happening (or at least, that’s our experience).
As much as air conditioner technology has improved over the years, window units can still be pretty damn loud.
We also judged our finalists on the level (and quality) of user control they allowed. One important area where window ACs can differ is in their fan vents, which control the direction of airflow. If you sleep near your AC, you’ll typically want to be able to point the cold air away from your body, or at least away from your head. But some models have inconsistent zones, where airflow either never reaches or always reaches. We considered the number of fan speeds, any extra cooling modes, and the depth of remote control, as well, including any smart, Wi-Fi–controlled features.
Our pick: Midea U MAW08V1QWT
The U-shaped Midea U MAW08V1QWT represents a surprising departure from the standard box-style air conditioner in that it’s specifically designed with a notch in the center that allows you to open and close your window without uninstalling (or destabilizing) your air conditioner. This feature alone is a pretty great perk, especially for those who have limited window space in their home, who might want to get some circulation going for health reasons, or who just want to enjoy the occasional gust of fresh summer air. It also means that most of the louder hardware sits in the rear part of the unit—on the other side of the window, outside your home. As a result of this design choice, the Midea U is the absolute quietest window air conditioner we’ve ever tested: In our tests, even with the fan on high and the compressor running, it was still quieter than any of our previous top picks. It’s also cheaper than any other inverter-style AC we’ve seen, with reliable smart-home capabilities and a custom safety bracket. When the Midea U went on sale in the spring of 2020, we initially rolled our eyes at its ambitious promise to “reinvent” the air conditioner. But after living with it for an entire summer, we can say with confidence that it is genuinely the best window air conditioner we’ve ever tested—with the absolute worst AC installation process we’ve ever suffered through thrice (we’ll get to that).
Most window air conditioners are loud and annoying, and we’ve even considered some of our top picks to be merely the least worst when it comes to volume and grating sound. But that’s not the case with the Midea U. In fact, during our tests of the Midea U, it was difficult for us to take exact volume measurements that we could replicate without also picking up the white noise in the background inside and outside the home. At best, we measured the lowest, fan-only setting on the Midea U at 35 decibels—which is basically unnoticeable, especially if you live in a densely populated area. The compressor added only about 3 decibels of volume to the sound of the fan alone. This result initially surprised us, but it makes sense, as the compressor is housed outside the window, so the glass serves as an extra buffer to help muffle the sound. Even the audio frequencies remained mostly the same between the fan-only and compressor modes. We heard none of those awful midrange drones or high-pitched whines that are often associated with window ACs; instead, the compressor just added a slight boost around 13,000 Hz, which is toward the very top of the human hearing range anyway. Most of the frequency spikes that we measured from the fan alone were even higher-pitched than that, so we barely even noticed them. More than once, we’d often find ourselves forgetting that the AC was on at all.
The only downside to the Midea U’s unique setup is that, when the compressor does start up, it initially honks like a sputtering goose. As far as we can tell, this sound comes from the pressure or vibrations of the unit rubbing up against the glass of the window. We might be wrong, but either way, the noise is brief, and it disappears quickly.
Thanks to the Midea U’s unique design, you can keep opening and closing your window without uninstalling the air conditioner. Photo: Michael Hession
The control panel on the Midea U includes a built-in timer and extra-eco-friendly functionality. Photo: Michael Hession
The Midea U’s included remote doesn’t offer as many robust features as the app does, and the remote’s button labels don’t quite match up with the buttons on the control panel, but it’s still a nice convenience. Photo: Michael Hession
Speaking of the compressor: Unlike most air conditioners, the Midea U has an inverter or variable-speed compressor. Whereas most AC compressors have two settings—on or off—the Midea U can essentially rev its compressor’s “engine” up and down as necessary in order to maximize efficiency. Put another way: The Midea U has an energy-efficiency ratio of 15, as listed by the EPA, while the other, non-inverter models we tested all maxed out between 11 and 12. As a result, it uses nearly 40% less energy than the US federal standard for window air conditioners, according to the EPA. By comparison, our traditional-AC pick from GE uses about 5% less energy than the federal standard, and our basic pick from Frigidaire uses about 10% less (and those models still rank among the best available). The Midea U is inarguably the most efficient AC we’ve ever tested.
Because of its unique design, the Midea U also comes with its own window bracket to help secure the unit. This bracket is similar to our top-pick window bracket, the Top Shelf TSB-2438, as it has some customized grooves that allow the U-shaped AC to rest precisely on it. Considering that the Top Shelf bracket usually goes for about $100, this included accessory adds a bit of value to the Midea U package (although you can find other brackets for as low as $30). The Midea U also comes with a number of security features, including a pair of extendable latches to prevent anyone from opening your window from the outside. (Guide co-author Thom Dunn actually broke one of the latches by accident, but even only one of them made it impossible for him to break into his own house—which is good!)
An included support bracket—which would cost at least $30 on its own and is a heck of a lot safer than a makeshift support—adds value and safety to the Midea U. Photo: Michael Hession
The Midea U’s smart capabilities are quite good: Scheduling and adjusting the AC both work well, and the voice controls feel more natural than on competing smart models. Photo: Michael Hession
The Midea U is also smart-home compatible, with one of the more robust smartphone apps we’ve seen. In addition to creating a recurring schedule, you can set up a Sleep Curve, which adjusts the temperature with precision over an eight-hour period (presumably when you’re sleeping and don’t want to wake up in a room as cold as the one you passed out in). It works with Amazon Alexa and Google Home, too, and the language is impressively natural—you can say “Turn on Midea” or “Set Midea to 62 degrees,” for example, and it actually works (which in our experience is frustratingly uncommon for this product category).
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Some personal perspective from guide co-author Thom Dunn: Installing an air conditioner in your window quite frankly sucks. I say this as a 6-foot-tall, 200-pound man; there are many people who are smaller or less able-bodied than me for whom it sucks even more. I state this truism because when I describe my multiple installation experiences with the Midea U as “mid- to moderately hellish,” I want you to understand that they are uniquely so—they’re outliers in a field already known for its frustrations.
Even if you’ve installed a standard air conditioner before, the Midea U’s unique shape is intimidating, and the lack of clarity across multiple manuals does not inspire confidence. The Midea U comes with four—yes, four—separate instruction booklets, and none of them provide any useful guidance for how to install the thing. Case in point: In the main installation guide, Step 2, “Secure The Unit on the Bracket,” tells you to set the AC down on the bracket and then says that “You must install the Open Window Brackets.” It’s not really clear what that means or how to do that, and the tiny close-up illustration accompanying those words makes them even more confusing.
In our initial tests, we got so frustrated with the Midea U’s useless documentation that we gave up reading and just tried to muscle it into place; fortunately, by doing this, we realized that it’s actually pretty easy to install if you just treat it like a normal air conditioner. Luckily, taking it out of the window was simple. But when it came time to reinstall it the following year, I made the mistake of confidently assuming that I knew what I was doing that go-round; within minutes, I had invented a colorful menagerie of new profanity. After installing this thing nearly a dozen times, I still have no idea what that “Open Window Brackets” line is referring to (although I assume I must have installed them at one point).
Generally speaking, YouTube is your friend. But here are a few tricks I’ve learned: Every window is a little different, and the Midea U comes with enough hardware, padding, and other options that you can probably make it work in your specific home as long as you assess the situation correctly. The AC’s real stability hinges on the extendable metal bars at the bottom of the window-accommodating “canyon” in the unit. These bars are meant to slide into the window tracks to keep the air conditioner in place. Supposedly, the bracket is designed to have all of this lined up right, but it might not work on every window (like mine). If you’re having trouble, loosely position the bracket so it’s stable-ish, without locking the pins on the outside legs—you may need some help with this—and then place the AC on top of the bracket until you feel it settle snugly into place. Only then, extend those metal bars into the window tracks. Make sure the window fits into the canyon, and then you can finally lock the front and back braces of the bracket into place. Secure everything as necessary for your specific window using the included hardware. Finally, slap some installation padding everywhere you can. You should be good to go—until next year, anyway.
You might also be one of the lucky people who have a perfectly sized sill and sash for locking the Midea bracket into place, plopping the AC on top, and having it all line up without a problem. This is known to happen (the AC is designed to some sort of standard, after all). But I’ve personally had awful installation experiences in two very different homes, and anecdotally, I know of plenty of others who have dealt with similar frustrations. May the odds be ever in your favor.
The Midea U’s documentation doesn’t disappoint only on the installation instructions. The manuals also give no real explanation of the Sleep Curve and Express Modes features in the app. But at least the UI of the app itself is smooth and clear enough to give you the gist and guide you through the setup process.
Like many window air conditioners, the Midea U lacks a drainage plug, so the condensation that collects in the heat-removal process just kind of sits in the back of the unit. In the first few days of noticing this, we kept thinking there were sun showers outside that hit only our patio furniture; eventually, we realized that the fan was flicking the water out of the condensate pan and all over everything else. This might be a problem unique to the test location, or it may be an issue that’s genuinely worse than for other ACs because of the Midea U’s unique design. Either way, it’s not that big of a deal. But it is occasionally annoying.
Also great: GE PHC08LY
If you’re looking for an attractive, relatively quiet, yet traditional air conditioner, we recommend the stylish GE PHC08LY. It’s the quietest AC we’ve ever tested besides the Midea U—and that’s before we even factor in its dedicated Quiet Mode (which is really just a very low-speed fan). It’s also one of the best-looking ACs around, with a sleek curved control panel, gentle white LED indicator lights, and capacitive (touch-sensitive) buttons that feel delightfully retro-futuristic—especially if you aspire to full-on spaceship-aesthetic living. The smart-home features and voice commands are similar to what you get with the Midea U, too, with the addition of location services and Apple HomeKit compatibility (a rarity in the AC field). This model usually costs about the same as the Midea U, as well, and although it doesn’t come with its own bracket, this GE AC is a lot easier to install. The only real downside is that it’s not quite as energy efficient as the Midea U, even though it is still Energy Star certified with a combined energy-efficiency ratio of 11.4 (which is good, although the Midea U earned a max score of 15).
At its lowest settings (fan only, on Quiet Mode), we measured the GE PHC08LY at around 37 decibels—about the same as the Midea U (which is to say, basically unnoticeable to the average person). The compressor adds about 10 decibels, but even then this AC is still quieter than any of our previous picks; at its absolute loudest with the compressor running and the fan on high, this GE model was about as loud as our discontinued upgrade pick, the Frigidaire Cool Connect FGRC084WA1, on the same setting, and it was still quieter than the average conversation.
Photo: Michael Hession
Photo: Michael Hession
When we first tested the GE PHC08LY in summer 2020, we had an especially frustrating experience with the Wi-Fi setup and general use of the app. We encountered the same Wi-Fi problems when we began to test ACs in 2021—but this time, we reached out to GE’s customer support line, and a representative helpfully walked us through the reset process and made sure that everything worked as it was meant to. We haven’t had any trouble since then, and in fact we feel even better about recommending this GE model now that we know that the customer support team will actually take good care of you. The company has made tremendous strides in its smart-home integration since 2020, too, with a clean app interface and much more natural voice commands. (Previously, you had to go through a cumbersome ordeal of telling Alexa to use the Geneva app to turn on your air conditioner; now, you can just say “Alexa, turn on air conditioner,” which is as it should be.)
You’ll need a bracket to hold the AC
Also great: Frigidaire FHWW083WBE
The Frigidaire FHWW083WBE is the latest in a line of Frigidaire ACs that we’ve been recommending since 2014. Though each year’s model has had a slightly different name, they have all provided the same consistently reliable performance plus decent features and the highest possible energy-efficiency rating for a non-inverter AC, all at an affordable price. However, this Frigidaire AC is slightly louder than our other picks and tends to emit a low mechanical growl that’s less pleasant on the ears than the sounds of the Midea U or the GE PHC08LY. Even so, it is still quieter and less annoying than most other ACs, and the sound is a fair trade-off if you want to save some money. If you want an even cheaper option, the Frigidaire FFRE083WAE is essentially the same minus Wi-Fi connectivity, and you can often find it for around $50 to $100 less. Both models are Energy Star certified.
We measured the FHWW083WBE at 50 decibels from 6 feet away on the lowest, fan-only setting and 55 decibels on the max setting with the compressor. Those results make this model about 3 to 8 decibels louder than the Midea U at its absolute highest volume, or about the same as the GE model when it runs the compressor with its fan on medium or high. That being said, this Frigidaire is still quieter than the average conversation (which is about 60 decibels), as well as most other ACs we’ve looked at. Even our previous top pick, the LG LW8017ERSM, was only about 3 decibels quieter than the Frigidaire FHWW083WBE at the top of its volume range and about the same on the quieter end. This Frigidaire model does emit some more noticeable and higher-pitched whines, however, including peaks at 7,000, 9,000, and 16,500 Hz, as well as a low-end mechanical growl around 3,700 Hz. The faster the fan moves, the more these noise spikes tend to disappear and blend into the blur of white noise. That white noise is still busier overall (at least to human ears) than the white noise from the Midea U or the GE PHC08LY.
The disc-shaped fan blades on the FHWW083WBE permanently blow at least some air toward the right side of the unit, even if you direct most of it to the left. That can be annoying if you have it near your bed, blowing cold air on your neck all night. Also, the Frigidaire doesn’t have a drain, so in very humid conditions it can start to make an obnoxious flickering, bubbling noise as the fan passes through the pool of condensed water built up in the baseplate. If that happens to your unit, you’ll need to manually tilt the AC to drain it and make the noise stop.
In its favor, though, the Frigidaire FHWW083WBE is nearly 10 pounds lighter than the Midea U, with a slightly smaller chassis and a more centered weight distribution, both of which make it even easier to install. Also, its side curtains slide in rather than screw in, saving you a few minutes of work and frustration.
The FHWW083WBE also has Wi-Fi connectivity, including smart-home capabilities. This means you can control the AC from the Frigidaire app on your phone, so you don’t even have to leave the bed or couch to change the temperature. The Frigidaire app offers scheduling opportunities for repeated air conditions, although it’s less helpful if you want to program a one-time or temporary cooling scenario, such as if you want to set it to run for just two hours on a particularly hot day. Frigidaire is one of the first companies we’ve encountered in our testing to figure out the trick to more natural voice-command integration through Amazon Alexa and Google Home—simply say “Alexa, turn on air conditioner” (or whatever you choose to name it), for example, and you should be good to go.
If the FHWW083WBE is not available, the FFRE083WAE is nearly identical, although it lacks Wi-Fi connectivity. We still think that model is a good, reliable choice for a decent, lower-priced air conditioner.
As for the price, this Frigidaire model can jump all over the place from day to day, but it tends to range from $200 to the mid-$300s (though the non-smart version typically saves you about $50). Keep your eyes peeled for deals.
Also great: Windmill Air
If you just want an air conditioner that’s easy to live with and does the job well while it blends into the background, get the Windmill Air. It’s also, without exception, the absolute easiest to install among the many competitors we’ve tested firsthand. The Windmill Air comes with all the expected smart-home features, as well as some thoughtful subtle details—things like highly personal customer service and a cover for those razor-sharp fins on the back—that really make it stand out from the average window air conditioner. It’s not the absolute quietest or most energy efficient AC we’ve ever tested, but the Windmill is certainly one of the most pleasant models you can find overall.
Let’s start with the installation. Most window ACs (except the Midea U) require you to install a pair of brackets that screw into the top and bottom and then stretch out from the sides, so you can expand the plastic accordion screen side panels designed to block out the rest of the window and keep the cool air in. It’s not a difficult process, but it typically involves a screwdriver and can occasionally be frustrating, even on higher-end machines. Right out of the box, the Windmill stands out because it arrives with all these pieces already assembled and attached to the air conditioning unit. In addition to taking some work off your hands, these pieces also create a frame around the air conditioner that serves as a guideline to fit it right into your window sill. You take the thing out of the box, slip the bottom edge into the sill, then pull the window down so it sits behind the top edge. Then all you have to do is extend the side panels so they fill the width of the window sill. Windmill even makes this part easier—the box includes some foam pieces marked with guidelines for cutting that snap right into these side panels, keeping them fully outstretched and airtight while also providing some extra insulation.
My wife, who watched me install, uninstall, and re-install a dozen air conditioners for testing this year, saw how easy it was to install the Windmill and said, “I would just buy that one.” If you do run into any trouble—or you either can’t or don’t want to install the Windmill by yourself—the instruction manual includes a direct link to TaskRabbit, where you can plug in your zip code and find some help. We didn’t vet this feature ourselves, but it’s a nice option to have.
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As you decide on the best central air conditioner brand for your home and budget, there are many factors to think over. The home ac units you’ll consider will differ based on your needs.
If you’re ready to invest in a high-quality hvac system for your forever home, you may explore different brands than if you’re replacing a unit at a rental income property. Your investment will create years of comfort and increase your home’s value.
Our goal is to help you evaluate the best ac brands of 2021 and decide which would best fit your needs. We’ll explain why we like the brands listed below and introduce you to hvac units that have received top reviews from homeowners.
Best Air Conditioner Brands
- Trane – Best for Quality
- Amana – Best Value
- Carrier – Best for Reliability
- Lennox – Best for Efficiency
- Rheem – Best Warranty
Here’s an overview of the best central air conditioner brands of 2021 and why we picked them.
Trane Central Air Conditioners
Trane has been named America’s Most Trusted HVAC brand by Lifestory for seven consecutive years. Homeowners rely on Trane because of the quality and dependability of their products. Their HVAC units have a distinctive, sleek design, but the brand’s portfolio of equipment and systems extends far beyond home ac units. Customers also turn to Trane for ventilation and indoor humidity and air quality solutions.
- Efficiency Rating
- 14.5 to 22 SEER
- Sound Rating
- An average of 70 decibels
- Price Range
- $5,800 – $14,000
- Our take: There are not many cons when you choose Trane. You get a great unit that lasts, but you’ll pay more for it. If you don’t live in a hot area, a Trane unit may not be worth the price and efficiency rating.
- Types: 9 models from single-stage to variable capacity. A compact model will fit in smaller homes.
- Advanced features: The TruComfort feature reduces humidity by running longer at lower speeds instead of shutting off to remove moisture from the air.
- Warranties: Standard 10-year warranty that covers both parts and labor and a 12-year compressor warranty.
- Customer satisfaction: Trane is rated as the second most reliable brand in the Consumer Reports survey.
Our Featured Trane Unit: Trane XR16
The Trane XR16 has a SEER rating of up to 17, providing energy-efficient cooling for your home. This Energy Star qualified unit offers up to 54% in energy savings and operates on a single stage cooling system. The installed cost for this Trane unit typically runs between $6,800 and $10,800. Your family will experience quality comfort with this Trane HVAC system.
Amana Central Air Conditioners
Michigan-based Amana has been manufacturing home AC systems since 1934. Amana central air conditioning systems are affordable, and the company emphasizes value and reliability with each of its units. Amana is most readily recognized for its systems being designed, engineered, and assembled in America.
- Efficiency Rating
- 14 to 24.5 SEER range
- Price Range
- $2,800 – $5,900
- Our take: Ideal for hotter climates due to their higher SEER rating. The unit’s installation costs could be higher than other brands, offsetting the lower price point of the unit.
- Types: Eight types including single to variable-speed models.
- Advanced features: ComfortBridge smart home technology gathers the system’s performance data to automatically make adjustments and minimize energy use in a home.
- Warranties: One of the best HVAC warranties of all brands. Besides the standard 10 year warranty, compressors come with a Limited Lifetime Replacement warranty.
- Customer satisfaction: Most complaints on Consumer Affairs are about the warranty not being transferable or not covering the installation of covered replacement parts.
Our featured Amana unit: ASXC16
The Amana ASXC16 offers quiet performance and energy efficiency with a SEER rating of up to 17. This unit offers a two-stage compressor and a two-speed condenser fan motor for cooling that may save your family money each month on the energy bill. The installed cost for this Amana unit typically runs between $2,300 and $4,225. Experience years of reliable cooling comfort with an Amana ASXC16.
Carrier Central Air Conditioners
Carrier heating and cooling systems have been around since 1902. The AC company houses its residential business headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana. The brand builds reliable AC units for the multipurpose uses of today’s homes. Carrier is recognized for its testing of normal wear and tear to ensure the HVAC units that bear the Carrier logo keep your home comfortable well into the future.
- Efficiency Rating
- Up to 21 SEER rating
- Sounds Rating
- 49dB to 72dB
- Price Range
- $3,500 – $8,400
- Our take: Carrier may be pricier but they require installers to be certified by the company, guaranteeing proper installation of your investment.
- Types: Regardless of single-stage and two-stage models in the range, all our built with quality Copeland compressors so you can cool your home more precisely.
- Advanced features: Carrier makes the quietest central air conditioners on the market thanks to their quality insulation and chassis.
- Warranties: 10-year parts warranty.
- Customer satisfaction: Considering Carrier has been in business for over 100 years, the company doesn’t have many complaints at the Better Business Bureau. Most were resolved.
Our featured Carrier unit: Comfort™ 16 Central Air Conditioner
The Carrier Comfort™ 16 Central Air Conditioner is part of the Comfort™ Series line from one of the best air conditioner brands of 2021. This unit offers cool air with up to 17 SEER rating and five standout features: efficiency, durability, environmentally friendly, quiet cooling, and a limited warranty. The installed cost for this Carrier unit typically runs between $2,700 and $4,700. Rest easy knowing Carrier Comfort™ Series air conditioners are covered by a 10-year parts limited warranty upon timely registration.
Lennox Central Air Conditioners
Lennox was founded in 1895 in Marshalltown, Iowa. Now headquartered in Richardson, Texas, the brand is recognized for high-efficiency AC units in every price range. With more than 6,000 independent Lennox Dealers across the country, there’s likely to be an HVAC expert nearby to install one of the best AC units available. From smartphone compatibility to cool, clean air, Lennox leads the way in HVAC innovation to make indoor comfort available to everyone.
- Efficiency Rating
- Up to 26 SEER rating
- Price Range
- $4,700 – $10,700
- Our take: Except for the XC25, other units are more expensive than similar competitor offerings. Considering the high price point, the warranty is disappointing.
- Types: 11 models featuring two-stage or variable speed compressors for cooling your home more precisely.
- Advanced features: The XC25 model has a 26 SEER for the lowest running cost of all units and an impressively low 41 dB noise level.
- Warranties: The unit and parts are covered by Lennox for five years from installation. Select models have a 10-year warranty.
- Customer satisfaction: Lennox is among the more reliable central air systems in Consumer Reports’ owner survey, with around 17 percent of owners reporting that their unit required service in its first five years.
Our featured Lennox unit: Elite Series® EL16XC1
The Lennox Elite Series® EL16XC1 is a single-stage cooling system that offers comfort and energy efficiency in one. The system has up to 17 SEER rating and provides quiet cooling for your entire home. The installed cost for this Lennox unit typically runs between $5,550 and $9,100. The outdoor unit operates seamlessly in extreme heat thanks to the Lennox® Quantum™ coil and the fortified aluminum alloy exterior allows the unit to handle the most severe weather conditions.
Rheem Central Air Conditioners
Rheem Manufacturing Company was created in Emeryville, California, in 1925. The brand is best known for its water heating systems, but the expansion into air conditioning in 1970 quickly ranked Rheem as one of the best central air conditioner brands in the U.S. The systems are known to be efficient and affordable. The brand is strongly committed to creating products that are good for the environment and has made a 2025 commitment to design for zero waste.
- Efficiency Rating
- Up to 23 SEER rating
- Sounds Rating
- 55dB to 72dB
- Price Range
- $2,300 – $4,300
- Our take: Rheem sells solid units at a middle price range. But the company doesn’t require certified installers, which may create issues if the unit isn’t installed properly.
- Types: Three series of multi-stage and variable speed central AC units are their standard offerings. Other companies consider those features as premium add-ons.
- Advanced features: EcoNet-enabled systems can be programmed and voice-controlled using Amazon Alexa.
- Warranties: 10 years limited warranty on parts and compressors if you register your product within 90 days of purchasing.
- Customer satisfaction: The most common customer complaint is about unhelpful customer service and problems which may be due to improper installation.
Our featured Rheem unit: Classic Series: Two-Stage RA17
Rheem offers efficiencies up to 17 SEER with the Classic Series: Two-Stage RA17 unit. This two-stage cooling system operates at either 67% or 100% to provide more precise temperature control, lower humidity and efficiency that helps you save each month on your energy bill. The installed cost for this Rheem unit typically runs between $2,300 and $2,800. Your family will enjoy cooling comfort in peace as the Rheem unit relies on a scroll compressor for efficient and quiet performance.
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Here are a few brands we recommend:
Founded over 100 years ago, Trane is a well-known provider of HVAC products systems.Explore Trane furnaces
Lennox specializes in innovative technologies that maximize efficiency and minimize noise.Explore Lennox furnaces
Goodman HVAC systems are proudly “designed, engineered and assembled in the U.S.A.Explore Goodman furnaces
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Air Conditioner Buying Checklist
Determining the best HVAC unit for your home will require more information than just the price. A unit with a lower initial price may cost you more in repairs and utility bills down the road. Consider these important factors as you determine the best central air conditioner brands 2021 has to offer.
Manufacturers build central air conditioning units according to the size of the spaces they will cool. The term “size” is not about a unit’s dimensions but its ability to produce cooled air. There’s an art to choosing the right-sized unit so that you don’t buy one that’s bigger (and more expensive) than you need or is too small and has to work harder to cool your home. Your installation expert will help you decide which size is best for you.
A unit’s energy-efficiency rating will predict how much it will cost to operate. The higher the rating, the more efficient your system and the more you’ll save on your utility bill. Some common terms you should know are:
- EER and SEER Look for the rectangular yellow Energy Guide sticker or tag. EER (Energy Efficiency Ratio) shows how much electricity the system needs to run at 95°F outside and maintain 80°F with 50% humidity inside. SEER shows a unit’s efficiency as the temperature in your area changes each season. Modern HVAC units have a minimum rating of 13 and go up to a 26 SEER. The more efficient the air conditioning system, the higher the number.
- ENERGY STAR certification ENERGY STAR is a voluntary program and the “trusted, government-backed symbol for energy efficiency” designed to help consumers know how much their unit will cost to run.
- HSPF – Heating Seasonal Performance Factor measures the efficiency of a system’s heat pump. It measures a unit’s heat output, or energy consumption, over a typical heating season. Again, a higher number means greater efficiency.
There are a number of factors that go into the cost of an air conditioner, including size, labor, brand and installation. On average, central air conditioner costs range from $3,000 to $6,000.
A good warranty will save you thousands in repairs over the life of the unit. Different parts may have longer or shorter coverage, so read the fine print. Look for a warranty with a term of at least 10 years or longer. A warranty that can transfer to the next homeowner is an attractive selling feature. Ask the dealer how to register your unit. Many warranties will not go into effect until the system has been registered through the manufacturer’s website.
Advanced features can add to your home’s comfort level and your personal convenience. Some features worth considering include:
- Smart programmable thermostat(s).
- A system with zones that can be individually controlled to adjust the temperature in different rooms.
- HEPA filters to keep allergy-producing particles away.
- A dehumidifier to keep moisture (and mold) under control.
- Quality insulation for quieter operation.
- Customer reviews
Websites like Consumer Reports and the Better Business Bureau provide customer reviews of different brands. These are good resources to see how a central AC manufacturer handles customer complaints and issues.
Installation is a very important element to consider. An improper install could void the manufacturer’s warranty or damage the unit. Look for an installer that’s certified by the company and offers a warranty on installation.
Frequently asked questions
The best central air conditioner brands 2021 (based on many factors) include Amana, Carrier, Lennox, Rheem and Trane.
If you’re looking for the top rated air conditioning system, Lennox’s XC25 model tops the list in energy efficiency with a SEER rating of 26 — the highest rating on the market and double the minimum rating required of 13. Carrier offers the quietest range of central air conditioners on the market with a sound rating as low as 49 dB.
When choosing an AC system for your home, there are seven factors we cover in this guide you should consider: cost, customer reviews, energy efficiency, features, home size, installation and warranty.