Now that we’ve made our way into the Lowcountry’s hottest month of the year, area homeowners — now more than ever — are wondering if their air conditioners will make it through the summer.
While knowing if your air conditioner will make it through to the fall can be dependent on a variety of factors, including your HVAC system’s expected lifespan, the potential for a major breakdown greatly increases this time of year.
That breakdown potential is exactly the reason you should always have a gameplan ready in case the worst occurs, so to help you out with that we’ve pulled together a comprehensive buying guide that can be applied for just about every Lowcountry homeowner’s unique HVAC needs.
Here’s what we’ll cover in this AC buying guide:
1. HVAC System Types
2. HVAC Accessories & Other Essentials
3. HVAC Brands To Know About
4. Current System Information
5. Choosing An AC Installation Company
6. What To Do After Installing A New A/C
HVAC System Types
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems can come in a variety of shapes and sizes in order to accommodate the unique needs of Lowcountry homes. Without getting into too many technical details below are the system types you should know about and the differences between them.
Traditional Central Air Conditioning & Heat Pumps
These are the most common types of heating & air conditioning system types found around the Lowcountry. You’ll find the familiar, metal-cabineted traditional central air unit outside most homes around the area, which is paired with an indoor air handler that moves the air around the homes’ ductwork.
Some air handlers are also setup with an electrical heating element to provide support for any other primary heating source, most likely a standalone furnace or heat pump.
Heat pumps, while they may look almost exactly the same as a traditional central air conditioner setups, allow you to get two-way operation: cooling in the summer and heating in the winter.
The biggest advantage to this two-way operation is that in most cases, installing a heat pump can replace the need for a standalone furnace. Many homeowners here in Charleston take advantage of that two-way operation.
While this may not work for every home situation, our relatively moderate winters we get in the Lowcountry means that heat pumps are a completely viable choice for a primary heating source.
Ductless Mini-Split Air Conditioning
Ductless mini-split AC systems are on the rise here in the Lowcountry (and around the US actually), due to the fact that they eliminate the need for any existing ductwork in order to condition the air in the spaces around your home.
Not needing ductwork means that ductless mini-splits are great for new home additions and retrofitting into older Lowcountry homes that don’t have any existing ductwork to run through.
Eliminating ductwork from your HVAC equation also means less time maintaining and cleaning that ductwork — something many area homeowners that experience frequent flooding know all too much about.
Finally, ductless systems also can provide more granular, unique comfort settings to separate areas around your home. Each area or room in your home can have a ductless system installed and combined to make a complete-home multi-zoned system — each with individual temperature controls. That means your family and guests can achieve personalized comfort anywhere they go in your home.
Geothermal Air Conditioning
The last system type you should know about the Lowcountry is geothermal heating and cooling.
Becoming more and more common here in Charleston, geothermal HVAC systems use the naturally steady temperatures beneath the ground in your home in order to heat or cool your home — throughout any season.
While the outside temperature and humidity rises and falls rapidly, the temperature of the ground underneath your home stays about the same throughout the year, which makes it the perfect place to transfer heat into — and out of. In the summer, a geothermal heat pump will move warm, humid air from inside your home into the much cooler ground under your property and in the winter moves warmth from the ground into your home.
This ground source heat transfer is much more efficient than other systems types, which usually transfer heat from (or to) the air outside your home. That constant underground temperature means that it’s much more readily able to accept that heat (or withdraw from in the winter).
That efficiency leads to dramatically lower energy bills — sometimes cutting bills up to 70%(!).
Combine that with the tax incentives on both the state & local level, helps offset the increased installation costs and helps you recoup your investment within just a few years time, when that operating efficiency actually starts paying you back.
HVAC Accessories, Warranties & Maintenance Plans
Now that you’ve got a good understanding of the different system types, let’s jump into some of the different controls and other essentials you can choose to add-on to your new HVAC system.
Smart Thermostats & Real-time Diagnostics
Traditional digital thermostats are solid & dependable, but in today’s connected world smart thermostats are what most people are opting for these days.
Putting the “smart” in smart thermostats, you can stay connected to your home’s temperature & humidity controls via the internet allowing you to keep a closer eye on your system.
Smart control systems like the Trane + Nexia pairing can keep an even closer eye on your system with real-time diagnostics that can send alerts to your HVAC company to catch small problems — before they become large issues.
Other Wireless HVAC Control Apps
For ductless air conditioning systems, Mitsubishi’s kumo cloud service allows you to control & schedule comfort settings in multiple zones in your home — or groups of zones (“downstairs zones”, for example).
WaterFurnace – a leading geothermal HVAC manufacturer — also has a cloud-based control & monitoring system with its Symphony Home Comfort platform. This system also includes energy use monitoring and geothermal equipment notifications that can alert your local HVAC company about any faults and system condition.
To ensure you’re able to take advantage of these various cloud-based systems, be sure to ask your heating and air conditioning contractor if your system components will be compatible.
For most HVAC systems there are 3 types of warranties: base, registered & extended.
Base warranties, in general, are included automatically with any new HVAC system. These are very limited in nature in both coverage — only covering defective parts — and warranty length, usually only lasting a short time after installation. It also doesn’t cover any labor costs related to any warranty repair or replacements.
Registered warranties extend the base warranty’s coverage a bit further, but again only cover defective parts — not any issues resulting from a poor installation — and does not cover any related labor costs for service/replacement.
Extended warranties are generally only available from manufacturer-trained HVAC companies (to ensure quality, professional installations), include coverage for parts and in most cases, labor.
Speak with your HVAC company about different options they offer, and be sure to get the best HVAC warranty possible to avoid any additional costs involved with any installation defects.
HVAC Maintenance Plans
Like the warranties mentioned above, HVAC maintenance plans add an extra layer of protection for your new HVAC equipment.
Very affordable, maintenance plans typically include two yearly appointments to review your system (one in the spring and one in the fall) to stay ahead of any potential issues and keep your system operating at a high level.
These plans can also include discounted labor & parts should any issues come up during your maintenance plan agreement length of time, giving you yet another way to lessen the blow of any unexpected issues.
Heating & Air Conditioning System Brands To Know About
There are literally dozens of HVAC brands on the market today, so sorting through the differences and finer manufacturer details can be quite the challenge. To help you out, below is a shortlist of brands that we love working with and Lowcountry residents have been getting great performance from.
Trane Air Conditioners For Traditional AC’s, Heat Pumps & Furnaces
Trane might be one of the most recognizable brands in the entire HVAC industry — even worldwide — and it goes without saying they produce excellent products.
They’ve been voted America’s Most Trusted HVAC brand for the past 6 years and unlike other manufacturers, they design, build and test their own parts. Among those parts are its Spine Fin All-Aluminum Coils, which is highly resistant to corrosion and higher efficiency — things you definitely want here in the Lowcountry.
Mitsubishi Electric Air Conditioners For Ductless Mini-Split AC’s & Heat Pumps
Mitsubishi is another worldwide brand, but not a lot of people know they’ve been making ductless HVAC systems in the US for over 30 years now and produce some of the easiest to use products on the market.
Lowcountry homeowners have loved the ease of use of their kumo cloud app as mentioned above, and their unique room occupancy adjustments. On select models they use a 3D i-see infrared sensor to adjust the temperature in a particular room based on the heat signature of the area. So as more people come in the room (and overall temperature increases from the body heat), it will adjust its settings to make sure it maintains the comfort level automatically.
WaterFurnace For Geothermal Heating & Cooling
Known for their long track record of high quality products (since 1983), the WaterFurnace brand of geothermal heating and cooling systems work only with trusted installation dealers to ensure homeowners get their systems in place and running correctly.
Review Your Current System’s General Info
Now that you’re properly briefed on system types, accessories and brands, you can now take a look at the current state of your HVAC system. The 5 items below are important for your HVAC company to know ahead of time so they can help you determine the most cost-effective system for your particular Lowcountry home.
1. System Type
2. Manufacturer & Make/Model
3. System Age
Your heating and air contractor can help you determine this if you can’t track down the original installation date.
4. Maintenance/Service History
This one may also be harder to track down, but it’s a good thing to start tracking after your new installation (see more about this below).
5. Additional Components/Accessories
There may be more than one thermostat control in your home so jot down those placements so your HVAC company can include those with your new installation bundle.
Choosing A Local HVAC Company Near You For Installation
With your current system information all collected, now is the time to start researching HVAC companies in Charleston. Below are some items you should cover and know about your contractor before hiring them for your installation.
Look For Recent, Frequent Online Reviews
Track record is an important indicator long-term quality work, but recent reviews can give you the clearest look into what to expect when you hire an A/C installation company so keep both of those in mind.
Ask Friends, Neighbors & Colleagues
When online reviews aren’t enough, try asking your friends and colleagues who they use. First-hand feedback from people you know and trust helps ensure you’ll be happy with the A/C installation results.
Check Licensing & Insurance Info
This is a critical step as hiring a company without proper licensing and insurance can leave you footing a large bill in case something goes wrong on your property during the installation.
Local & Professional Organization Status
Local organizations like Lowcountry Local First allow you to see which companies are 100% locally owned & operated so you know you’re supporting the local economy by choosing a membership contractor.
Another important membership to look at — especially for HVAC companies — is the NATE (North American Technician Excellence) organization. Technicians must pass real-world tests in order to get certified, so be sure ask your HVAC company if they have their technicians certified by NATE.
Things To Do After Your HVAC Installation
Sign Up For A Maintenance Plan
Mentioned above, maintenance plans give you an added layer of protection for your new unit and makes sure you always get the most out of your air conditioning for years to come.
Offer Your HVAC Company A Review
HVAC companies, like many other industries, rely heavily on a consistent stream of online reviews to help other homeowners find them online, so be sure to offer your feedback on the platforms they suggest.
Keep Good Service & Maintenance Records
If you stick with one HVAC company over time, they’ll help you with this, but it’s always important to keep your own details in case you might want to share with another company or want to pass this information to another homeowner should you decide to sell your home down the line.
Enjoy Your Cool, Comfortable Summer
Now that you’re cool & comfortable, kick your feet up, relax and enjoy some good old fashion Lowcountry Livin’. 🙂
Charleston Air Conditioning Buying Guide Summary
If you’ve made it this far, well done!
To help you review everything above, here’s a summary of what we covered:
1. The Differences Between HVAC System Types
2. HVAC Accessories & Other Essentials
3. Important HVAC Brands To Know About
4. Collecting Your Current System’s Important Information
5. Choosing The Right AC Installation Company
6. What To Do After Installing A New A/C
You’re now well on your way to making a smart, informed decision on buying your next heating and air conditioning system for your Lowcountry home.