Best Central Air Conditioning Brands
Why Buy a Central Air Conditioner?
We've evaluated central air conditioners since 2013, spending over 100 hours researching the top brands in the industry. Using our research, we compiled a brief overview of the best features each brand has to offer, including unique features, energy efficiency ratings, noise output and warranty. Finally, we selected our top picks in three categories: best for most homes, best value and best warranty. We also wrote a short guide with buying tips and information to you help pick the best central air conditioning unit for your home.
Best for Most Homes: Lennox
Lennox central air conditioners keep your home comfortable, even on the hottest summer days. They work year after year while using very little energy and making very little noise. In terms of energy efficiency, Lennox makes units that range from 13 SEER to 26 SEER, the latter of which is the best efficiency rating we've seen for a central air conditioner. Lennox air conditioners also come with advanced multistage compressors, durable components and a 10-year limited warranty.
Best Value: Amana
With the exception of our top pick, Amana Corporation makes the most efficient central air conditioners you can buy. Depending on the model you choose, you can expect a SEER rating between 14 and 24.5. The two-speed fan motor means it uses the best setting for your needs rather than a single speed that may be too weak or too strong at times. In addition to excellent energy efficiency, Amana AC units also have lifetime warranties, further adding to their value.
Best Warranty: Goodman
Goodman sells five central air conditioner models with SEER ratings between 13 and 18, which means they aren't as energy efficient as other brands we evaluated. However, if you're replacing an older air conditioner, a model from Goodman can likely cut your electrical costs over time. All five models are also quiet, use environmentally-friendly refrigerant and come with a lifetime warranty, which is impressive compared to most central air conditioner brands.
What to Look For
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 unwise to install a central air conditioner yourself. Simply put, you can damage your home, break your expensive new AC unit or get injured. Professionals have the training, expertise and experience required to install your central air conditioner correctly, safely and securely.
That said, take time to research and find reputable contractors in your area. The best HVAC installers have good reputations as reflected in online customer reviews on Google, Yelp, Citysearch and more. Don’t just choose the cheapest bid or closest contractor without vetting their qualifications first. This is a major investment, so spending a few extra hours and dollars is well worth it to get the best results.
Although professional HVAC installers can also give you recommendations on the right central air conditioner for your home, it helps to do a little research first so you can explain your specific needs.
While the initial investment in a central air conditioner is steep, it usually saves electricity and money in the long term. The easiest way to identify an energy efficient air conditioner is its Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) rating as defined by the Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute. Air conditioners with exceptional cooling performance that also consume very little electricity earn high SEER ratings. Naturally, units with high SEER ratings usually cost more, so it's a good idea to compare the extra cost with your potential energy bill savings over time to see if it's worth the investment.
The U.S. Department of Energy requires a minimum of 13 SEER or 14 SEER for central air conditioners, depending on where you live. Most models and brands we looked at far exceed that; the highest rating we came across was 26 SEER on a Lennox model. Although they don't have the same high rating as Lennox, Amana, Trane and American Standard are also excellent choices for efficient central air conditioners.
Today’s central air conditioners often have noise-reducing features such specially designed fan blades, compressor and pan base insulation, and variable fan speeds. However, since the unit sits outside your home, it's important to choose one that won't bother you or your neighbors. The best AC units produce noise levels under 60 decibels – as loud as a conversation in a restaurant.
Most central air conditioner models come in multiple sizes so you can get one that is appropriate for your home's size. In fact, the best central air conditioners are designed for specific home sizes. For example, 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 too much when a smaller model would be more energy efficient, and it also won't dehumidify your home effectively enough for cooling to feel comfortable. A properly trained technician can help you choose the perfect unit for your home, local climate conditions and budget.
Picking a Thermostat
Although the central air conditioner does the hard work of cooling your home, it's best to pair it with a good thermostat. If you're installing or replacing a system, upgrading your thermostat is probably a good idea. If you don't already have one, get a programmable thermostat that lets you schedule when your HVAC system runs. To add smartphone controls and automatic scheduling options, consider getting a smart thermostat made by Nest or ecobee. Although many air conditioner manufacturers recommend using their thermostats, you can check with your contractor for suggestions as well.