The best cooling system for you depends on your preferences and the size of your house. Don’t hesitate to contact a pro who can help you make the right choice.

A whole-house air conditioner combines with a furnace and comes in either a “single” configuration (meaning it sends the same amount of heated and cooled air all the time) or “multistage variable speed” configuration (which uses the lowest level of heating or cooling needed and uses higher levels only for extremely hot or cold temperatures).

Whole house AC is more efficient because the system doesn’t need to turn on and off as often to maintain a constant temperature.

Another option is a mini-split air conditioner. Mini-splits are popular as retrofits into existing construction, for a reason that also happens to be another big source of their efficiency: They don’t require costly duct work. This means they’re much easier to install than a traditional ducted HVAC system, and they can deliver more of the conditioned air they produce, too.

Last on the list would be a window AC. This would probably be your last resort. Window ACs are generally unsightly and inefficient, but definately can keep you cool in a pinch. However, the money you save by buying a window AC could be sucked up in higher utility costs.

What to inspect on an AC system
A cooling system is expensive to replace, so you’ll want to make sure the one in your potential new house is in good repair. Here’s what to look for:

  • Check the age and service history: If it’s not noted on the unit with stickers, ask the seller for the details. Although regular maintenance won’t guarantee there won’t be future repairs, it can prevent premature failure of components. And if the equipment has had excessive repairs, that might indicate installation issues or an improperly functioning system.
  • Inspect the ductwork: Take a damp white paper towel, lift up a floor register, and wipe the inside to see if it is dirty. If so, consider having the ductwork cleaned before moving in.

Cooling system shopping tips
You should look for energy-efficient units that have an Energy Star label. The days of the old dinosaur energy sucker are over. Yay!

Choose a well-known brand that will stand the test of time. Use a contractor who is certified in that manufacturer’s products to install it.

If you really want the bells and whistles, go for thermostats that have Wi-Fi which allows you to control your unit from your smartphone.

System maintenance

Routine maintenance will extend the life of the equipment and keep the unit working at top efficiency. You take your car in for regular tune-ups and oil changes to keep it working properly, so don’t neglect your AC unit. Filters need replacement regularly. Fans and other parts of the system are continually exposed to dirt, which affects the efficiency and capacity of the equipment. And, as the parts become dirty, other areas of the system are subject to more stress and can shorten the life of its components. Learn some basic maintenance, or put the system under a service contract.

With the right amount of TLC, your AC system should last about 12 to 15 years.