Best Central Air Conditioners of 2019

Top 3 Central Air Conditioners

Best Overall

1. Goodman DSXC18 Central Air Conditioner

Comsumer Rating
4.5 rating
  • Highly efficient
  • Inexpensive
  • Better than average warranty
View details

Best Value

2. Goodman GSX16 Central Air Conditioner

Comsumer Rating
3.7 rating
  • Mid-level efficiency
  • Inexpensive
  • Better than average warranty
View details

Best Warranty

3. Amana ASX14 Central Air Conditioner

Comsumer Rating
3.7 rating
  • Moderately efficient
  • 10-Year warranty
  • Single-speed condensor
View details

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The 10 Best Central Air Conditioners of 2019

1

Goodman DSXC18 Central Air Conditioner

Questions about this model?

The Goodman DSXC18 won the best overall ranking from our reviewers. The unit features a two-stage Copeland scroll compressor and built-in diagnostics. It is designed for quiet performance due to an efficient variable-speed ECM condenser fan motor, a high-density foam sound blanket to muffle compressor noises and a wire fan discharge grille.

Compatible with Goodman’s ComfortNet system. ComfortNet was introduced in 2010 and it offers a number of benefits:

  • Simplfies the wiring between the indoor and outdoor components of the system.
  • Auto-detects both indoor and outdoor components and auto-configures air flow and operating characterstics based on those components
  • Monitors the system for problems, and displays problems that it finds on the diagnostic touchscreen.
  • Consumer Rating

    4.5 rating
    4.5

  • Max Efficiency

    18 SEER

  • Average Cost

    $1,967

  • Sound Rating

    as low as 71 – 74 decibels

Pros

  • Highly efficient
  • Inexpensive
  • Better than average warranty

Cons

  • On the noisier end
  • Small percentage of these low-priced contractors are not qualified to install these units

The compressor is covered by a lifetime limited warranty. Other parts are covered by a 10-Year limited parts warranty.

Read Consumer Reviews

2

Goodman GSX16 Central Air Conditioner

Questions about this model?

Goodman’s GSX16 air conditioner took the second-best position in 2018. It features a two stage scroll compressor and a two-speed PSC condenser fan motor. A factory-installed liquid line filter drier provides protection against moisture and contaminants, and the unit’s heavy-gauge galvanized steel cabinet has a powder-paint finish with 500-hour salt spray approval.

Compatible with Goodman’s ComfortNet Communications System.

  • Consumer Rating

    3.7 rating
    3.7

  • Max Efficiency

    16 SEER

  • Average Cost

    $1,621

  • Sound Rating

    as low as 71.5 – 73 decibels

Pros

  • Mid-level efficiency
  • Inexpensive
  • Better than average warranty

Cons

  • Small percentage of these low-priced contractors are not qualified to install these units

The compressor is covered by a lifetime limited warranty. Other parts are covered by a 10-Year limited parts warranty.

Read Consumer Reviews

3

Amana ASX14 Central Air Conditioner

Questions about this model?

Amana’s ASX14 central AC has an energy-efficient scroll compressor and a single-speed condensor fan motor, along with a factory-installed inline filter drier to protect against dirt and moisture. It features Copeland CoreSense Diagnostics, which contantly monitor the system and reduce failures.

  • Consumer Rating

    3.7 rating
    3.7

  • Max Efficiency

    15 SEER

  • Sound Rating

    as low as 70 decibels

Pros

  • Moderately efficient

Cons

  • Warranty is a little weaker than many

Compressor and functional parts are covered by a 10-Year limited warranty.

Read Consumer Reviews

4

Goodman GSX13 Central Air Conditioner

Questions about this model?

The Goodman GSX13 is the best low-efficiency central air conditioner in our survey. It uses an energy-efficient compressor which is protected by a factory-installed liquid line filter drier. It features a copper tube / aluminum fin condenser coil and a heavy-gauge galvanized steel cabinet. A three-bladed design combined with a louvered sound control top helps lower operating sound levels. The unit offers maintenance access on both the top and side, as well as easy access to internal controls through one panel.

Compatible with Goodman’s ComfortNet Communications System.

  • Consumer Rating

    3.3 rating
    3.3

  • Max Efficiency

    13 SEER

  • Average Cost

    $836

  • Sound Rating

    as low as 72 – 77 decibels

Pros

  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • Warranty is a little weaker than other Goodman warranties
  • Loudest of the air conditioners on our top 10 list

Compressor and functional parts are covered by a 10-Year limited warranty.

Read Consumer Reviews

5

Carrier Infinity 21 Central Air Conditioner

Questions about this model?

Carrier’s Infinity 21 air conditioner has a two-stage scroll compressor with a filter drier system to protect it from contaminants and moisture. The Silencer System II feature, along with a compressor sound blanket and forward swept fan blades, helps to keep operating sound levels low. The unit’s Infinity touch control provides accurate temperature and humidity management, along with other programmable features.

  • Consumer Rating

    3.5 rating
    3.5

  • Max Efficiency

    21 SEER

  • Sound Rating

    as low as 65 decibels

Pros

  • Most efficient of the units on our top 10 list
  • Very quiet unit

Cons

  • Warranty is a weaker than other warranties

Compressor and functional parts are covered by a 10-Year limited warranty.

Read Consumer Reviews

6

Bryant Preferred Central Air Conditioner

Questions about this model?

Bryant’s Preferred unit is available with either a single- or two-stage compressor, with an efficiency of between 13 – 17 SEER. Each galvanized steel unit features DuraGuard Plus protection, which increases durability by protecting against the weather. Other features include an copper tube / aluminum fin coil and corrosion-resistant interior parts.

  • Consumer Rating

    3.4 rating
    3.4

  • Max Efficiency

    17 SEER

  • Average Cost

    $2,259

  • Sound Rating

    as low as 66 decibels

Pros

  • Some of the series are very quiet

Cons

  • Some series in this line have SEER ratings too low to install in some US states
  • Warranty is a bit weaker than other warranties

Compressor and functional parts are covered by a 10-Year limited warranty.

Read Consumer Reviews

7

Coleman Echelon Central Air Conditioner

Questions about this model?

The Echelon was named one of Energy Star’s most efficient products of 2015. These units feature a two stage scroll compressor and numerous features design to reduce sound levels.

  • Consumer Rating

    3.4 rating
    3.4

  • Max Efficiency

    18 SEER

  • Sound Rating

    as low as 69 decibels

Pros

  • Better than average warranty
  • Owners have 90 days to register their warranty after date of purchase

Cons

  • Several reviewers have complained about the coils, although this can be an installation and/or problem in harsh environments

The compressor is covered by a lifetime limited warranty. Other parts are covered by a 10-Year limited parts warranty.

Read Consumer Reviews

8

RUUD Achiever Central Air Conditioner

Questions about this model?

Ruud’s Achiever series of single-stage air conditioners use scroll compressors and PSC fan motors. The unit has a composite base pan designed to prevent corrosion while reducing operating sound. The Achiever features PlusOne Expanded Valve Space, which provides a minimum working area of 27 square inches, and PlusOne Triple Service Access, which offers 15-inch wide corner service access for faster repairs and easier reassembly.

  • Consumer Rating

    3.0 rating
    3

  • Max Efficiency

    16 SEER

  • Average Cost

    $1,967

  • Sound Rating

    as low as 70.7 decibels

Pros

  • Mid-level efficiency
  • Cabinet is designed to give service techs easy access to the internals

Cons

  • Warranty is a bit weaker than other warranties

The compressor is covered by a lifetime limited warranty. Other parts are covered by a 10-Year limited parts warranty.

Read Consumer Reviews

9

Amana ASXC18 Central Air Conditioner

Questions about this model?

The ASXC18 features a two-stage scroll compressor, a two-speed ECM condenser fan motor, a galvanized steel cabinet and a powder finish with salt-spray approval. Units are Energy Star certified, and have numerous sound-dampening features.

Compatible with Goodman’s ComfortNet Communications System.

  • Consumer Rating

    3.5 rating
    3.5

  • Max Efficiency

    18 SEER

  • Average Cost

    $2,860

  • Sound Rating

    as low as 68 decibels

Pros

  • High-level efficiency
  • Good warranty

Cons

  • A bit more expensive than some comparable units from other brands

The compressor is covered by a lifetime limited warranty. Other parts are covered by a 10-Year limited parts warranty.

Read Consumer Reviews

10

York LX Central Air Conditioner

Questions about this model?

The LX is a series of compact, single stage air conditioning models that vary in efficiency from 13 SEER to 17 SEER. The 17 SEER YCG is Energy Star certified,

  • Consumer Rating

    3.3 rating
    3.3

  • Max Efficiency

    17 SEER

  • Average Cost

    $1,294

  • Sound Rating

    as low as 69 decibels

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Mid-level efficiency
  • 1 year labor warranty from the manufacturer

Cons

  • In their 2016 Product Reliability Survey, Consumer Reports found that York had the highest rate of system failure of the 10 brands that they studied

The compressor is covered by a lifetime limited warranty. Other parts are covered by a 10-Year limited parts warranty.

Read Consumer Reviews

Sound Ratings

Generally speaking the top 10 series in our ratings generate between 65 – 74 decibels of sound under ideal conditions. But, how loud is that?

Several universities and noise control websites suggest that a car driving 65 miles per hour about 25 feet away generates about 70 decibels of sound. Other comparisons include a shower or the sound that a typical dishwasher makes when running.

The sound ratings are measured in decibels (dB) — the lower the decibels, the quieter the air conditioner. The actual number of decibels produced by an air conditioner is a function of both its capacity (how many BTUs of cooling it generates) and the other components to which it is connected (such as a furnace or air handler used to distribute the cold air). In general, when you see a volume range, the lowest number of decibels is for the units with the smallest capacity that are paired with quiet components (typically components made by the same brand).

Decibels are a non-linear measurement scale meaning that only half as much sound is generated at 60 dB as at 70 dB. The quietest split-system air conditioners on the market today generate sound levels between 53 – 59 decibels. These series include:

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What Makes a Central Air Conditioner More or Less Efficient?

All split system central air conditioners consist of two units: the condensing unit (aka “condenser”), which is placed outdoors, and the air handler / evaporator coil, which is located indoors. (If you have a furnace, the furnace — with the addition of an appropriate evaporator coil — can also perform the function of the air handler). The condenser is responsible for cooling the air, and the air handler is responsible for distributing the cooled air throughout your home.

The outdoor condenser itself is made up of several components, such as the compressor, the condenser fan and the expansion valve. The compressor uses the largest amount of electricity of any of these components, and so there have been many innovations to reduce the amount of electricity required by the compressor. Compressors come in three varieties: single stage, two stage and variable speed (or modulating).

Understanding the Role of the Compressor

For this discussion, let’s imagine that you set your thermostat to keep the temperature in your home below 78° F. This temperature is known as your “set point”.

A single stage compressor has two states: on and off. When your thermostat sees that the temperature in your home has exceeded the set point, it tells the air conditioner to turn on and cool down the home. The compressor immediately turns on, and continues to run until the temperature is lower than the threshold. Then, the compressor turns off.

There are two primary benefits of a single stage compressor: they are simple and they are cheap.

There are three downsides. The first two are related to your compressor’s ability to cool your home: single stage compressors are less efficient than their more sophisticated counterparts, and they tend to be louder.

The third downside has to do with the level of humidity in your home. Air conditioners remove humidity as a side effect of cooling air. Because single stage compressors are either working at 100% capacity or not working at all, they tend to be “on” less than two-stage and variable speed compressors. As a result, they have less time to dehumidify your home.

two stage compressor has three states: off, low and high. When your thermostat determines that the temperature in your home is below the set point, the compressor is off. As the thermometer crosses that threshold, the two stage compressor will start in “low” mode. If that low mode is effective at reducing the temperature, then the compressor will never cross into its highest capacity state. (If the lower capacity state doesn’t reduce the temperature enough, then the system will eventually shift into high gear to combat the rising heat).

The advantages of two stage compressors over their single stage cousins include:

  • they often uses less electricity;
  • they often run more quietly;
  • variations in temperature in your home are typically less dramatic;
  • they usually dehumidify more consistently;

The disadvantages are that the system is mildly more complex, meaning that there are more moving parts to break, and the upfront (and replacement) costs are higher.

variable speed compressor can run at many different speeds: it can, of course, be off entirely. However, when the thermostat requests cold air from the air conditioner, the variable speed compressor can run at 25 – 30% of capacity. Or it can run at 90-100% of capacity. When outdoor temperatures are high variable speed compressors tend to run for much longer periods of the day than a single or two-stage compressor might, but draw much less electricity to keep the temperature below the set point. Because of these long run times, homeowners are likely to notice much more consistent humidity control as well.

It’s worth explicitly addressing one of the potential disadvantages of two-stage and variable speed compressors: Simpler systems tend to break less often than more complex systems, and they tend to be cheaper to fix when they do break. This argues in favor of single stage compressors. While in general this “simpler is better” ethos may be true, you still may prefer a more complex system because of the benefits it offers. In general, compressors tend to have the longest manufacturer’s warranty coverage of any component.

Here are some compressor-related questions to consider:

  • How many days a year will you use your air conditioner? The fewer the days the less likely that the savings from a more efficient system will offset the risk of failure caused by a more complex product.
  • Who is going to pay the electrical bill for the air conditioner? If it’s a tenant, or if you’re planning to sell your home in a few years, you may prefer to install a simpler machine.
  • How important a factor is the health of the global environment in your decision? The higher the efficiency, the less impact your air conditioner has on the environment.

What are Scroll Compressors?

Reciprocating compressors move pistons up and down, while scroll compressors move in a circular motion.

Until the 1990s the most common compressors in a condenser were reciprocating compressors. However, most air conditioners now ship with scroll compressors. Scroll compressors were invented in 1906, so they are a hardly new technology. However, they have a number of benefits over reciprocating compressors:

  • They require fewer moving parts, which tends to improve reliability
  • They can be more efficient
  • They tend to work more quietly
  • They are more compact

Should the presence of a scroll compressor affect your decision about a central air conditioner? Probably not. In 2018 even many 13 SEER condensers (the lowest efficiency that can be manufactured and sold in the United States) use scroll compressors. We were not able to find any higher efficiency condensers that used a reciprocating compressor.

Scroll compressors are found in single-stage, two-stage and variable speed configurations.

How Does the Condenser Fan Affect the Efficiency?

In residential air conditioners heat is transferred from the coolant to fins around the outside of the unit. A condenser fan draws air across the fins to disperse the heat. There have been a few improvements to the shape of the condenser fan — but, the impact on overall efficiency is relatively minor (a 2%-4% improvement). The newer fan shapes do reduce the amount of noise created by the condenser as a side benefit.

There are two types of condenser fan motors, PSC and ECM. PSC motors can be either single-stage or two-stage. ECM motors are variable speed motors. As with compressors, variable speed motors tend to be both more expensive and more efficient.

Is It Important to Match your Outdoor Condenser to your Air Handler?

If you want to get the advertised efficiency (SEER) from your air conditioning system, you must match the condenser with the air handler. That’s because the evaporator coil in the air handler must be matched to the condenser coil in the condenser. In fact, a 2008 study from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy found that “Improperly matched evaporators and condensers can reduce efficiency by 4 to 27%”.

One way to think about how an air conditioner works is that the evaporator coil absorbs heat from inside your house, and transfers it to the condenser coils, which are located outside the house. The condenser coils then discard the heat. Therefore, the condenser coils must be able to discard as much heat as the evaporator coils are capable of absorbing. In general, then a 3 ton evaporator coil must be matched with a 3 ton condenser coil.

Let’s imagine, for a moment, that you paired a 4 ton evaporator coil with a 2.5 ton condenser coil. The evaporator coil will send more heat to the condenser coil than the condenser coil can release, so the condenser coil will return heat to the evaporator coil. This will limit the evaporator coil’s ability to absorb heat, so the system will have to run longer than it ideally would. This reduces its efficiency.

Not only will mismatched coils result in lower efficiency, they will also put stress on the cooling system and cause the premature failure of the coils, and in severe cases, failure of the compressor.

However, this does not mean that you must match an air handler / evaporator coil with an outdoor unit of the same brand. While those pairings have typically been tested (and guaranteed) by the manufacturer, the most important step is to match the sizes. Any qualified and licensed heating contractor can help you choose the appropriate units.

What Else Affects the Efficiency of my Central Air?

So far we have only discussed how the components of the condenser and air handler affect the efficiency of your system. However, there are at least two other important factors: the size of your system and the health of your ductwork.

Homeowners looking to replace their central air conditioner on the cheap often consider buying their units directly from a wholesaler. However, it is at least as important to work with a qualified contractor during the planning and purchasing stages as it is during the installation stage. That’s because a good contractor will accurately calculate the size of the unit that you need, and they will carefully check the status of your ductwork to make sure that there are no leaks and that it is properly insulated.

A cooling system that is too large will turn on and off too often. This makes the system less efficient, costing you extra money through your electric bill. On the other hand, if you install a system that is too small, it may not be capable of keeping your house cool enough, or adequately dehumidifying it. To make sure that your system is properly sized, you want to ask your contractor to do a load calculation.

If your ductwork is not sealed properly, you can easily pump cooled air into your basement or attic, which means that you’re spending money without making your home more comfortable. If your ductwork has a lot of conditioned air losses, and you don’t discover them, you may end up buying a larger unit than you actually need, costing you more up-front and on your electrical bill.

Salt Air Exposure and Coastal Rated Units

If you live near the ocean you may be concerned about the corrosive effects of salt spray or salt mist. These can indeed corrode the mechanical and electronic components of your air conditioner. Almost all compressors are hermetically sealed, so you should not need to worry about salt entering the compressor itself. However, it can be very corrosive to the (typically aluminum) fins of the condenser coils. You can replace the aluminum fins with copper fins (at about twice the cost), but reports from the field indicate that salt can corrode the copper as well (although more slowly). Once those fins begin to corrode, your unit’s efficiency will decline, until the fins literally disintegrate.

If you live near the ocean, you may want the cabinet of your condenser (the outdoor unit) to be finished with a coating that protects against salt spray. You will see many units that are rated with “500 hours of salt spray approval”. However, even if you have a salt spray resistant coating, you will need to rinse the coils regularly to remove the salt. Many contractors suggest that homeowners located near the ocean should plan to replace their condensing units every 5-7 years, and those contractors often recommend installing less expensive units for that reason.

Why Should You Trust Us?

Since 2002 our business model has been simple: to provide unbiased data on heating and cooling equipment to help homeowners and HVAC professionals make purchasing decisions.

Our air conditioner ratings are based on data that no one else has: thousands of reviews by consumers and HVAC professionals that actually own and operate the units that they review. There are more than 65 brands and more than 600 different series of air conditioners. Accurately choosing the best from that crop requires information on all of them, something most other companies can’t offer.

We spend hundreds of hours every year examining reviews to eliminate spam and errors. This gives us a unique dataset from which to identify the units with the highest satisfaction.

We don’t sell equipment, so we have no bias towards a particular brand or series. Manufacturers cannot pay to influence our ratings.

How Our Ratings Work

Consumers and homeowners have submitted thousands of reviews to this site. Each reviewer rates their unit from 1 (“Very Unsatisfied”) to 5 (“Very Satisfied”). After eliminating spam and duplicates we aggregate those ratings, then filter the top results for units that are still being sold in 2018.

We only include a series on this list if it has at least 7 reviews. If we only have a few reviews, there is a risk that a single homeowner will skew the average rating too far in one direction or another.

Pricing

There are two different types of prices shown in the “Pricing” column.

  • If you see a price followed by the note (equipment only), that is the average price found on the websites of internet retailers that sell that particular series of air conditioner.
  • If you see a price followed by the note (installed), this means that retailers are under agreement with the manufacturer not to publicly display the price of the units. In these cases, the price is an average of quotes given to different homeowners for fully installing the unit in question.

Note that prices — even when they are published online — can vary substantially based on the capacity of the unit in question: 24,000 BTU units are typically cheaper than 60,000 BTU units of the same brand and series. The “installed” prices can vary even more dramatically. Not only do they cover a range of capacities, but prices also vary geographically and from installer to installer.

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