How to get the best A.C. for your money

Are you trying to keep cool and keep your energy bills down? Replacing an old central air conditioning system can help you do just that. But Consumer Reports says you have to shop carefully. Its survey of more than 40,000 subscribers reveals some systems have been much better at keeping their cool than others. Its latest product-reliability survey shows that some central air systems have been significantly more repair-prone—Amana, Goodman, and York. In the past six years, close to one in five of those systems needed repairs.

Consumer Reports' survey also shows how inconvenient repairs can be. Ten percent of those polled said they needed repeated repairs in the first year. Eighteen percent reported their system broke down completely. And 39 percent lost A/C for at least a day. About 30 percent who had problems had to pay $150 or more for the repair.

To prevent having to call a repairman, Consumer Reports says invest in a more reliable brand, including American Standard, Rheem, or Trane.

Consumer Reports says to avoid repair problems, it's important to get your A/C system inspected by a professional at the beginning of every cooling season. Plants and hedges should be at least 2 feet away from the air conditioning unit. Also, clean filters and grills monthly.

To save energy, be sure to seal and insulate every duct. Up to 30 to 40 percent of energy can escape through leaks when ducts aren't insulated. Another energy saver is to use a programmable thermostat and set the temperature higher when you're out of the house.

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