What are the best central air conditioner brands?
Some of the names, like Trane, you’re probably familiar with. But what about Ducane? It’s on the list too. Or Armstrong Air? Definitely a top central air conditioner brand but not a household name.
We’re going to cover the specification basis of central air conditioner, but if you’re in a hurry, you can just jump to the section of the best central air conditioner brands here:
Best Central Air Conditioner Brands
Here is the list – and please consider reading the rest of the page for a wealth of information that will assist you not just in choosing one of the top central AC brands, but selecting an air conditioner that’s right for your home, climate and budget.
- American Standard: 8.5 out of 10
- Trane: 8.5 out of 10
- Armstrong Air: 8 out of 10
- Ducane: 8 out of 10
- Payne: 8 out of 10
- Rheem: 8 out of 10
- Ruud: 8 out of 10
- Bryant: 7.5 out of 10
- Carrier: 7.5 out of 10
- Lennox: 7.5 out of 10
Criteria for Choosing the Best Central Air Conditioners
Who says those are the best AC brands?
It’s not just us. Pick HVAC gathers a range of data to put together the list. The information includes predicted reliability results gained by independent testing, consumer satisfaction and the input of HVAC technicians that work on all central air conditioner brands.
What is the brand’s service record? Are its ACs durable?
Do homeowners and property owners have a good experience with the brand? Surveys ask whether the AC is reliable, does its job, operates quietly, is efficient and questions on other related issues.
This is how a list of the best central air conditioner brands can be put together with confidence.
Full reviews of the top brands are below. But first, there are other important topics to cover to ensure that you get the right AC for your needs.
What Size Central Air Conditioner Do I Need?
This is quite an important matter if you want your central air conditioner to effectively cool your home while removing excess humidity.
So, it needs to be large enough.
But central ACs that are too large do a poor job dehumidifying a home, and they tend to short-cycle, meaning they turn on and off a lot. And that leads to mechanical trouble.
The table below lists the common central air conditioner sizes from 1.5 tons to 5.0 tons. And it shows how large a home or space the unit will serve in an “average” climate.
Below the chart is a link to another page on Pick HVAC where you can take advantage of our Central AC BTU Calculator. There, you can accurately determine the exact size AC you need for your climate, home size, your home’s insulation and sun exposure.
What size central air conditioner do i need for 1.5 – 5 ton ac unit?
|Central AC Unit Capacity||Cooling Btu||House Size|
|1.5 Ton||18,000 Btu||900 sq ft|
|2 Ton||24,000 Btu||1,200 sq ft|
|2.5 Ton||30,000 Btu||1,500 sq ft|
|3 ton||36,000 Btu||1,800 sq ft|
|3.5 Ton||42,000 Btu||2,100 sq ft|
|4 Ton||48,000 Btu||2,400 sq ft|
|5 Ton||60,000 Btu||3,000 sq ft|
And this is where you can find the Central Air Conditioner Sizing Calculator for precise information on what you need to efficiently and effectively cool your home.
Central Air Conditioner Efficiency Ratings – What’s Best?
Most brands sell AC models starting at 13 or 14 SEER. The most efficient are in the 20s SEER. The Lennox SL28XCV has a 28 SEER rating – the highest of any brand.
Central AC efficiency is a measure of how much electricity the unit uses to cool your home. The less power it uses to get the job done, the more efficient it is.
Efficiency is expressed in SEER – the seasonal energy efficient ratio (or rating). The higher the SEER, the less energy the central air conditioner uses. Oh, and probably the more the air conditioner costs.
Simple principle: The hotter your climate, the more it makes economic sense to buy a more-efficient air conditioner.
This chart lists each SEER rating (Left Column), gives average annual electricity costs for them (Center Column) and the % Running Cost Saving as the units get more efficient (Right Column).
Costs are based on 3 ton air conditioners and US average electricity costs.
A more precise way to determine your costs and potential savings is found below the table.
SEER annual savings comparison:
|Seer Rating||Annual Electricity Cost||Running Cost Saving
(Compare With 13 Seer)
* Electricity cost is based on 3 Ton Central AC Unit, Electric Rate: 13.85 ¢/kWh, Cooling Hours: 1320 hrs/yr.
Ex. How much does it cost to run a 16 SEER AC?
According to the chart, the average cost for a 3 ton, 16 SEER air conditioner is $411 per year.
If you live in a very warm climate and the AC runs 7 or more months of the year, the operating cost could be higher.
In a cooler climate where the AC doesn’t run as much, the savings will be less.
Calculate your Savings: For precise calculations, use the PickHVAC SEER Savings Calculator to determine how much you’ll save on energy costs over 1, 5 and 10 years with a more efficient unit.
SEER Ratings and Lower Energy Bills – Is it Worth It?
There are three key questions: When you’re deciding on what SEER level is right for your home, ask three questions and do the math –
1). What is the difference in cost between the less efficient and more efficient models?
2). How much less does the higher SEER AC cost to operate?
3). How many years will it take to recoup the extra cost – how long is the payback period? Divide the higher equipment cost by the annual savings to get the number of years for the payback.
Example: Using the 3 questions, consider this:
A 20 SEER AC costs $1,400 more than a 14 SEER AC.
In the example climate, the savings would be $141 per year.
$1,400 divided by $141 = 9.9 years. So, in about 10 years, you’ll recover the higher cost.
How Much Can You Save with Higher SEER?
We’ve prepared a table with common SEER savings comparisons like 10 SEER (older, existing units) vs 14 SEER and 16 SEER vs 20 SEER.
Consider how much you can save – and will it be worth it when you understand the payback time?
Common seer savings comparison:
|Seer Compare||Annual Electricity Cost Saving||Running Cost Saving|
|10 seer vs 14 seer||$94||29%|
|10 seer vs 16 seer||$123||37%|
|13 seer vs 14 seer||$18||7%|
|13 seer vs 16 seer||$47||19%|
|14 seer vs 15 seer||$16||7%|
|14 seer vs 16 seer||$29||12%|
|14 seer vs 17 seer||$41||17%|
|14 seer vs 18 seer||$52||22%|
|15 seer vs 16 seer||$14||6%|
|16 seer vs 17 seer||$12||6%|
|16 seer vs 18 seer||$23||11%|
|16 seer vs 20 seer||$41||20%|
* Based on 3 Ton Central AC Unit, Electric Rate: 13.85 ¢/kWh, Cooling Hours: 1320 hrs/yr.
Ex. How much can I save with 14 SEER vs 18 SEER?
About $52 per year in average climates, which is 22%. No, if the 18 SEER AC costs $600 more, your payback time will be 600/52=11.5 years.
AC Performance: Single Stage vs Two Stage Vs Variable Speed
ACs are made using three types of condenser – the pump that moves refrigerant through the system to take heat from inside and dump it outside.
Here they are with the efficiency ranges for each.
Single stage, aka 1-stage: 13 to 17 SEER. These cost less but don’t remove as much humidity as the other types. Best for cool to moderate climates.
Two stage, aka 2-stage: 16 to 20 SEER. These units run quieter than single-stage and dehumidify better, but they cost $400-$1,000 more. Best for cool to warm climates.
Variable capacity, aka modulating: 18 to 28 SEER. Variable capacity air conditioners modulate their performance between about 40% and 100% to produce precisely balanced air conditioning that does the best job removing humidity. But they cost $750 to $1,800 more than 2-stage units. Best for warm to hot climates.
Best Central Air Conditioner Brands
The best brands were listed above. Here are full reviews of what they offer. Below are second-tier “notable” brands, like honorable mention. And following that, we list a few brands to avoid.
Some of these brands are identical, and so we review them together.
Trane and American Standard
8.5 out of 10
The motto, “It’s hard to stop a Trane,” holds true for these ACs. In many tests and surveys, including from the prestigious Consumer Reports, Trane and American Standard top the list for reliable service and customer satisfaction.
Why? Superior quality in the parts used is definitely one of the keys, of course. But so is installation. Trane and American Standard require a higher level of training and experience among the companies they allow to sell and install their products. This is especially true of Trane.
Installation is an essential part of AC durability, for good or bad, so make sure you hire a qualified, experienced installer.
Ingersoll-Rand is the parent company of these brands. Trane and American Standard HVAC equipment is identical except for the nameplates.
Air conditioners: 7 units are produced, and you have options in all three performance levels (variable capacity, two stage and single stage). A low-profile model is available for use where installation space outside is limited.
American Standard names its units with Platinum (most efficient), Gold and Silver. The ratings are based on efficiency and performance rather than quality. Trane doesn’t give names indicating these things.
Efficiency ratings: 14.5 SEER to 22 SEER. Most units are Energy Star qualified.
Warranties: 10 years on all units. Warranty covers the compressor, coil and internal functional parts.
Cost: $5,700 to $11,250.
Armstrong Air and Ducane
8 out of 10
The brands can get a little confusing. Armstrong Air and Ducane are both made by Allied Air Enterprises (AirEase is too and is identical).
Allied Air is owned by Lennox, but these units are not identical to Lennox air conditioners. They rate a little higher, in fact. This is mainly because they use fewer proprietary parts, and the result is fewer breakdowns and shorter repair times.
Air conditioners: Armstrong Air makes 6 models; Ducane makes 3. Ducane does not make a two stage AC.
Efficiency ratings: 14 to 20 SEER for Armstrong Air. The most efficient Ducane unit is 18 SEER.
Warranties: Armstrong Air and Ducane back their units with 10-year comprehensive warranties.
Cost: Air conditioners start at about $5,300 installed. The most expensive Ducane model is around $9,500 while the cost is $10,300 for Armstrong Air’s top unit.
8 out of 10
Here is a little more brand trivia: Payne is a Carrier company.
But the air conditioners are a little different – and there’s a more limited lineup. But quality is outstanding. In fact, the Payne quality rating is slightly higher than that for Carrier/Bryant, and that is probably due to the smaller lineup of models. Variable capacity units tend to have a slightly higher incidence of mechanical failure, and when they break down, repair costs are higher. That combination leads to lower consumer satisfaction ratings and reviews.
Air conditioners: Payne offers 6 models. Five are single stage and one is a 2-stage air conditioner.
Efficiency ratings: 13 to 17 SEER, and three are Energy Star qualified.
Warranties: 10 years for all models on all parts.
Cost: $4,750 – $8,100
Rheem and Ruud
8 out of 10
In the last 5 years, these identical brands have revamped their lineup to become quite a bit more efficient.
They also improved quality and offer better warranties on top models.
Air conditioners: Rheem makes 11 units in three tiers – Prestige, Achiever and Select. Ruud offers 10 models identical to Rheem options. They name them Ultra, Achiever and Choice series. Variable capacity, two stage and one stage models are manufactured.
Efficiency ratings: 13 to 20.5 SEER.
Warranties: 10-year comprehensive warranties on the top two lines; 5 years on the entry level Rheem Select and Ruud Choice Series. Top models are backed by a 10-year Unit Replacement warranty. If the compressor or coil fails during the warranty period, the entire outside unit, the condensing unit, will be replaced – not just the failed part.
Cost: $4,700 to $10,500
Carrier and Bryant
7.5 out of 10
These two identical brands have maintained consistently high quality for decades, and the current lineup is no exception.
Air conditioners: Carrier has been an innovator in variable capacity air conditioners and heat pumps for more than decade. The Greenspeed technology, called Evolution by Bryant, is proven trustworthy and reliable.
The brands make a full series of two stage, single stage and low-profile ACs too. The 16 models form the largest selection of any of the best central air conditioner brands. Carrier calls its tiers Infinity (best), Performance and Comfort. Bryant uses Evolution, Preferred and Legacy.
Efficiency ratings: 13 SEER to 26 SEER.
Warranties: All models are covered by a 10-year comprehensive parts warranty. The top Infinity and Evolution models have a 10-year Unit Replacement warranty on the compressors and coils.
Cost: $4,900 to $12,500
7.5 out of 10
Lennox has improved its products in recent years with greater quality and reliable service. And the ratings and reviews show the improvement.
Lennox also makes the most efficient central air conditioners available.
Air conditioners: Lennox makes 9 models from basic to very advanced. It calls the top models the Dave Lennox Signature Series. The mid-level ACs are called Elite Series, and the entry-level Merit Series. In our opinion, there is a drop-off in the quality of the Merit Series models.
Efficiency ratings: 13 to 28 SEER. Lennox models are the most efficient in their performance tier – variable capacity, two-stage and single-stage.
Warranties: The Signature Series have 10-year warranties. Elite Series are divided into those with 10-year and those with 5-year warranties. Merit Series warranties are 5 years.
Cost: $4,950 to $13,000
Notable Brands – Worth Considering
There are a handful of brands worth considering as you shop for a central air conditioner. They aren’t right at the top, but offer good value.
ICP Brands: International Comfort Products
ICP is a subsidiary of Carrier. It’s lineup of air conditioners is similar but not identical. Cost is significantly lower than Carrier or Bryant, so they offer good value. Cost ranges from about $4,400 to $10,500.
ICP brands are Heil, Arcoaire, Day & Night, Tempstar, Keeprite and Comfortmaker. Some are sold regionally, but you should find at least one in your area.
Efficiency ranges are 13 to 19 SEER including many Energy Star air conditioners. ICP offers good warranties including 5-year and 10-year complete unit replacement warranties on top models.
Daikin is a global HVAC equipment giant.
In 2011, Daikin bought Goodman Manufacturing – owner of Goodman and Amana brands. For a few years, all the brands were identical. Now, Daikin is the best-quality out of the three. It’s central ACs cost $5,000 to $12,000.
Daikin central air conditioners are available in all performance levels. The best is the Daikin DX20VC variable capacity AC with 24.5 SEER efficiency. Warranties are 12 years on top models with a 12-year unit replacement warranty on the coil and compressor.
Did you know? Daikin makes some of the best mini split ductless heat pumps too. If you’re building, and no ductwork is yet in place, consider a mini split like Daikin and other top brands.
Goodman and Amana
These budget brands make the “next best” list for good quality and a lower cost. They’re ACs are identical, though you can get the super-efficient 24.5 SEER model in Amana, but not Goodman. Costs range from $4,550 to $11,900 for Amana – and about $500 to $1,000 less for Goodman based on the model.
Goodman offers a few 10-year unit replacement warranties. Amana raises the warranty to Lifetime on it’s top four models.
Worst Central AC Brands
There are two manufacturers that consistently rate near the bottom of the list – Johnson Controls and Nortek Global.
Johnson Controls: York, Luxaire, Champion and Coleman
5.5 out of 10
The major problem seems to be with bad coil design. Leaking coils that require replacement several times over the life of the AC make owning one an expensive hassle for many consumers.
Nortek Global: Maytag, Frigidaire, Gibson, NuTone and Broan
5 out of 10
Overall inferior quality seems to plague these brands – including bad/leaky coils.
Central AC Prices and Installation Cost by Brands
OK, let’s quickly divide central air conditioner prices into three common tiers. This will assist you in finding a brand and model that fits your budget.
Unit Cost is the wholesale cost of the AC and installation supplies. We show these to explain where your money goes.
Most brands on our list except Goodman and a smattering of low-cost options from other brands must be bought as a package – equipment plus installation. You cannot buy the equipment separately, so the Installed Cost is the “bottom line.”
Prices and installation cost by brands:
|Product Lineup||Brands||AC Unit Cost||Installed Cost|
|Budget brands||Goodman, Amana, Payne||$1,750 – $7,200||$3,600 – $10,300|
|Standard brands||Rheem, Ruud, ICP Brands, |
Armstrong Air, Ducane,
|$2,800 – $8,800||$4,800 – $12,000|
|Premium brands||Trane, American Standard, |
Lennox, Carrier, Bryant
|$3,950 – $11,000||$5,700 – $13,750|
Wow! Prices are high! Yes, they are. In 2020 and 2021, all the major brands raised their prices – some of them made several “upward price adjustments” to cover increased costs. The problems involve supply chain, higher wholesale inflation costs and labor shortages/increased costs.
Central Air Conditioner Types
There are two types of central air conditioners that are ducted.
Split system central air conditioners are the most common. The outside unit is called the condensing unit. A line set carries refrigerant back and forth from the outside unit to the indoor coil, which is housed in an air handler. The air handler can be a furnace.
Packaged central air conditioners are a single cabinet installed outside. They contain all the equipment – the AC plus the air handler, which again, can be a furnace. These units connect to the home’s ductwork, of course. Packaged (or package) central air conditioners cost less than a complete split system, but they don’t have the higher efficiency ratings. And because all the equipment is outside, they don’t last as long.
We’ve focused on split system air conditioners in this guide.
Mini split air conditioners are a third type. They don’t require ductwork and come in single-zone and multizone options. We recommend considering a ductless mini split for new construction. Both AC-only and mini split heat pumps are available.
When is the best time to buy central air conditioner
At the end of summer but before extreme winter cold hits and people start needing furnace and heat pump repair. During this “slow time,” manufacturers are trying to reduce inventory to make room for next-year’s units. Plus, local heating and AC companies are trying to reduce whatever inventory they might have – and they need the business in order to keep busy.
What is the best brand of central air conditioner?
Trane consistently ranks as the best air conditioner brand. American Standard, an identical brand, Carrier, Bryant, Rheem and Ruud are also on the list year after year as determined by product reliability and performance.
What to look for when buying a central air conditioner?
Quality, efficiency, performance, the right fit for your climate and your desired level of climate control:
Quality: See our list of the Best Central Air Conditioner Brands as discussed on this page.
Efficiency: The hotter your climate, and the more months you use the AC, the more it makes sense to buy a very efficient unit – something 17 SEER or higher.
Performance: Keep efficiency in mind. Single-stage ACs range from 13 to 17 SEER. 2-stage models can be 16 to 20 or 21 SEER. Variable capacity central air conditioners start at 18 SEER and go up to 28 SEER.
Your climate: You’re wasting your money, so to speak, on an 18 SEER AC in Minnesota. And your energy costs will be really high if you choose a 14 SEER AC in Arizona or Florida. Match efficiency to heat levels.
Climate control: Definitely also consider climate control. A single-stage unit is cheaper, but doesn’t remove a lot of humidity. It might be OK in a dry area like New Mexico, but in a place like Florida, you might end up with cool, moist (clammy) air. Your air would be better dehumidified with a two-stage or variable capacity AC.
Questions to ask when buying a central air conditioner?
Ask about those topics just discussed – Quality, efficiency, cooling performance and suitability to your climate.
What size AC do I need? Are you guesstimating, or are you going to do a load calculation?
What brands do you sell, and why do you recommend them over other brands?
What is the warranty and do you offer a workmanship warranty.
Ask about service agreements – what they cost, what is done during annual maintenance and whether those with a service agreement get preferred service and/or discounts on repairs.
Are energy rebates available? Most energy suppliers give customers rebates of $150 to $500 for the purchase of an Energy Star qualified AC, furnace, heat pump, etc.
How long have you been in business in this location?
How experienced are the technicians who will install my AC? Are they licensed? Are they NATE-certified? NATE is the North American Technician Excellence program, an independent agency that provides levels of testing for technicians to demonstrate their skills.
Are you insured – and are the technicians covered?
Are you bonded – which means if they “walk out” on the job before it is done, the bond company will pay to have the work completed by someone else.
Are there any accessories you recommend? These include air purifiers, germicidal air cleaners and whole-house ventilators. Do your own research to know whether you would benefit from one of these upgrades or if you’re just being “sold something you don’t need.”
Is financing available?
When will you begin installation, and how long will it take?
Should I check reviews?
We recommend using our no-cost and no-obligation form on this page or the 800 phone number at the top to receive free written estimates from some of the most experienced, pre-screened installers in your area.
But before you hire one, look at their reviews on Google, Yelp or other places you normally check.
Do mini-splits cool as well as central air?
Yes, they certainly can come close if not do just as good a job. Just be sure that the unit is properly sized, something that is true for all central air conditioner types.
And also consider that for large, open spaces, a dual-zone setup with two indoor units in the space will cool better than having one larger indoor unit at one end of the zone.
Is a heat pump better than central air?
Heat pumps are preferred in warmer climates where winter temperatures don’t drop below freezing a lot or stay there for a long time. In those really cold climates, we recommend a furnace with a central air conditioner. However, some of today’s mini split heat pumps are effective in temperatures down to -20F.
In mild and warm climates, you’ll enjoy lower operating costs with a heat pump than you would with an AC/furnace system.
How long does a central air conditioner last?
To get the most years out of your AC, buy one with good quality. And have it cleaned and maintained every 1-3 years depending on how heavily it is used.
The average time of central air conditioner replacement is 16-18 years.
What seer rating should I buy?
Base the decision about SEER rating efficiency on your specific climate and use.
13-14 SEER: Best for part-time use like a vacation home or workshop
15-17 SEER: Best for cool to warm climates where the AC gets moderate use.
18-20 SEER with 2-stage performance: These are ideal for hot climates with moderate to high humidity.
20+ SEER with variable capacity performance: These are for the homeowner that wants premium cooling and the greenest, lowest-cost operation.
Do I need 2 ton or 3 ton AC?
There is quite a lot of cooling difference between the 2-ton, 24,000 BTU AC and the 3-ton, 36,000 BTU AC.
Under average conditions, a 2 ton AC is right for about 1,200 square feet. A 3 ton unit can serve up to 1,800 square feet. If you have 1,200 square feet to cool but your climate is hot and humid, the 3 ton unit might be a better fit.
Does a higher seer cool better?
No. The SEER rating is only about how efficiently the air conditioner cools the space.
For example, a 3 ton 14 SEER air conditioner should cool 1,600 square feet just as well as a 3 ton 18 SEER AC. But the energy costs for the 14 SEER model will be higher.