New homeowners often go online and search “how to know if I have central air,” as someone inexperienced in home maintenance might not know the differences between various air conditioning systems! A new homebuyer also might not know how to determine if their home even has air conditioning in the first place.
First, note that “central air” refers to air conditioning that is pushed through the ductwork and vents in a home. This is unlike a window air conditioner, which pushes cool air through its front panel and only cools a small space.
The good news is that it’s easy to determine your home’s AC and furnace systems in just a few simple steps. You might also note some frequently asked questions about air conditioning systems so you know the best choice for your house when you’re in the market for a new unit. In the end, you’ll be cool and comfortable throughout even the hottest summertime weather!
A central air conditioner works with a compressor that is almost always located outside the home. This compressor is typically about three feet or four square, with grilles around it for venting hot air. You can also typically see a large fan inside the top cover of the compressor. This compressor will sit very close to the house and is actually connected to the home’s furnace through a series of hoses. To see if you have a central air compressor outside your house, check near the exterior walls just outside, wherever the furnace is located.
To note if the central air conditioner is working, turn the thermostat down and then note if the unit kicks on. If you can’t feel cool air coming through wall or ceiling vents, check if the fan inside the compressor is moving. If you hear humming sounds but the fan doesn’t move, the motor or fan might need repair or replacement. If there are no sounds or movement, the unit might need new wiring or a new motor.
Knowing a few vital details about central air conditioners, window units, and other AC systems can help you determine what’s in your home and which is the best choice when you’re in the market for a new AC system.
A central air conditioner is connected to the home’s ductwork, as said. This unit pushes air through all those ducts and attached vents, cooling the entire home at once.
A split system air conditioner is used in hotels; rather than connecting to the ducts, the unit is installed along a wall or ceiling and pushes air through its front panel. A split system then cools a small area rather than the entire home.
Portable and window air conditioners, as the names imply, are not permanent installations. These units are also not as powerful as central units or split systems and are typically far louder, but their portability is their advantage! You might use a portable unit in the living room during the day and then take it into the bedroom at night, as an example, or invest in a portable or window unit if you’re renting a home without air conditioning.
A portable or window unit is also an excellent choice to use in rooms not connected to the home’s ductwork, such as a basement or garage. However, note that a portable unit has a vent that you typically set in a window, so it’s not usable for an enclosed space or one without working windows.
A forced-air system refers to any appliance that forces air through the home’s ductwork and vents. If there is a furnace in the home connected to the ductwork, then the house has a forced-air system. If the home has a central air conditioner, that unit will also be connected to the home’s ductwork.
However, note that homes with forced-air furnaces might not have a central AC unit; they might instead have window air conditioners, split systems, or no AC at all. Whatever the case, don’t assume that a home with a “forced air system” automatically has a central AC unit.
Think about it like a standing fan...that's a forced air system. Not the same as central AC, of course, but a similar process none the same.
A central air conditioner works by pulling heat from the air as it circulates around that outside unit. That unit compresses a refrigerant kept inside a hose; as it does, the refrigerant helps evaporate heat so that the air is cooled and then circulated back into your home.
Air conditioning refrigerants don't “burn up” or otherwise evaporate but can leak out of a damaged hose. If your home’s air conditioner cycles on but don’t cool air, this might indicate a refrigerant leak. Call an air conditioning repair contractor so they can pinpoint the problem and recommend needed repairs.
As with all other household appliances, there are different sizes of central air conditioners; these sizes are indicated in tonnage, which refers to the amount of air a unit can cool in an hour. Two tons is an average-sized central air conditioner and might cost about $1500 to $2000 for the unit alone; installation often runs $1000 to $2000 or more.
This cost might seem high, but central air conditioner installation is often more complicated than homeowners realize, as the unit must be connected to the home’s furnace and thermostat and wired in properly. In total, most homeowners will pay between $3500 to $5000 on average for central air conditioning installation.
While only a homeowner can decide if their air conditioner installation cost is worth the investment, there are many advantages to a central unit versus window units or no air conditioning at all! A central air conditioner removes humidity as well as heat, protecting a home from moisture damage and mold growth.
An overly warm and stuffy home is not just uncomfortable; it can even affect your health! While you might get drowsy during the day, too much heat often interferes with your sleeping patterns at night. Excessive heat can also result in headaches and not allow you to concentrate. To avoid these health hazards and ensure a comfortable home, consider investing in a central air conditioner, no matter its cost!
A central air conditioner typically uses more power than window units or a split system. This doesn’t mean, however, that a central air conditioner is always costlier to operate or that it’s a poor investment for your home and family!
One vital consideration is that you might need to cycle on a split system or window AC more often and keep it on for far longer than a central air conditioner. Since window and portable units are somewhat underpowered, it’s not unusual for homeowners to keep them operating for hours at a time, spiking your utility costs.
Smaller units also might not work as well to remove humidity. In turn, you might need to run a dehumidifier as well as the air conditioner and invest in regular carpet and upholstery cleaning to remove growing mold and mildew!
If you’re still concerned about the energy usage of a central unit, note that many utility companies and HVAC installation companies offer free or low-cost energy usage evaluations. These note where your home might be losing heating and cooling through the year and how to make it more energy-efficient. Sealing the home’s ductwork, adding window film or thick curtains, upgrading the home’s insulation, and other such steps can keep it cooler during summertime, reducing your energy usage and lowering your utility costs.
If your home is somewhat old or has never had a central air conditioner installation for any reason, you might wonder if you can put central air into any house. The short answer is yes if the home has ductwork; if not, you will need ductwork installation before you can install a central AC unit.
If your home doesn’t have forced air ductwork, this is where a central air conditioner installation can get a bit tricky. Older homes especially tend to have plaster walls, fancy wood finishes, and other materials that are difficult to cut through and even more difficult to restore properly after ductwork installation. The more complicated the installation and cleanup, the more costly that ductwork installation!
A split system unit is an excellent choice for homes without ductwork; these units are installed in a ceiling or wall, as said, with a vent hose running through an exterior wall. Rather than forced air through ducts, these systems push cooled air through their front panel; while they’re not as powerful as a central unit, they can offer sufficient cooling without the need for ducts and vents.
Also, while a split system might not cool an entire floor, remember that you can always have more than one unit installed! You might choose a panel for the living room, dining room, and each bedroom so every space is cooled properly. You can also couple split systems with window units; a window unit in the bedroom is an excellent choice for keeping that space cool at night without the need for a central unit.
This information is proudly presented by Total HVAC Houston. If you’re still wondering “how to know if I have central air,” or if your home’s current unit needs a recharge or any other services, don’t hesitate to give us a call! Our technicians are happy to explain your various options and help you choose the right system and size for your home, and we always offer convenient service times that work around you. Whatever your needs for repairs or air conditioning installation in Houston and surrounding cities, call Total HVAC Houston today.
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