Get It for Less: Air Conditioning - TheStreet

Editor’s Note: This piece is part of an ongoing series called “Get It for Less” that will appear every week on MainStreet, so check back for more shopping tips on your favorite products.

NEW YORK (MainStreet) – It was an unseasonably warm winter in much of the country, and here in New York it’s already hitting the 70s. That means it’s time to start thinking about putting an air conditioner or central air system in your home. To find out how to get the best deal on air conditioning – and how to keep your resulting energy bill down – we spoke to Erin Huffstetler of the About.com Frugal Living Guide.

Buy during the winter.

If you’re in the market for a new air conditioner, the best time to buy it is during the cold months, when no one else is thinking about air conditioning and prices are low. So if you were in need of a new unit for this summer, hopefully you acted during the fall or winter when units and installations alike were on sale.

“You need to replace these things before it’s boiling,” she says. “A lot of stores will offer a discount in the offseason, and if you can catch a [HVAC] contractor in the fall or spring when they’re not busy you can negotiate with them.”

Aim for efficiency.

Much like an iPhone, when you buy an air conditioner you’re not just paying the sticker price – you’re also setting yourself up for monthly service charges. In this case, those charges come in the form of higher electric bills, so you’ll want to aim for a fairly energy-efficient unit. In our guide to air-conditioner shopping, we note that getting an Energy Star-qualified unit should mean 10% lower energy costs, which will come out to $60 less during the course of the unit’s life.

But there are other ways to make things efficient, specifically by keeping your house cool in other ways to make the air conditioner’s life easier. Huffstetler has previously written about several such tips, including keeping plants in front of the south-facing windows to keep out sunlight (as well as planting for shade around an exterior condenser unit so your central air system has to work less hard to cool the outside air). She also encourages people to consider how appliances in your house can raise the temperature, and suggests turning off your computer when not using it, switching to cooler compact fluorescent lamp light bulbs and avoiding using the dryer whenever possible. 

Get some financial help.

If you’re spending thousands to upgrade your central air system, you don’t have to shoulder the full cost by yourself. Huffstetler says that when she recently upgraded her own system, she had a representative from her utility company perform an energy audit to confirm that she needed a new system, which netted her a $250 incentive. She likewise got a state incentive in the form of a Visa prepaid card, as well as a federal tax credit for installing a more efficient system.

You’re not the only one who wants to be more energy-efficient – the government also has an interest in promoting efficiency, so see what sort of incentives it’s offering to upgrade your system.

Matt Brownell is a staff reporter for MainStreet. You can reach him by email at matthew.brownell@thestreet.com, or follow him on Twitter @Brownellorama.