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
- 2020 Best Central Air Conditioner Brands
- What Difference Does Installation Make?
- Choosing a Qualified Air Conditioner Installer
- Central Air Conditioner Cost
- Central Air Conditioner FAQs
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.
2020 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
#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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 2020