JAMES DULLEY Cutting your utility bills Get new air conditioner to save money and Earth

Q. Although it's noisy, my 12-year-old central air-conditioner still runs. With electric rates going up, rolling blackouts and global warming, I should probably replace it. What is the best model for 2001?
A. In addition to your excellent reasons for replacing your old air conditioner, vastly improved comfort is also a reason why many people make the change. The newest models for 2001, especially two-stage models, are quiet and hold room temperature very steady with improved humidity control.
If your central air conditioner is 12 years old, it probably has a SEER (seasonal energy efficiency ratio) of about 8. The newest, most efficient models have SEERs from 16 to 18. Installing one of these would cut the electricity usage by half or more. If everybody replaced their old units with new ones, there would be no need for rolling blackouts this summer.
Earth friendly: Air conditioners that use new Earth-friendly R410A refrigerant, instead of ozone-damaging Freon refrigerant, are becoming much more popular. In fact, Freon-type air conditioners will be phased out of production within 10 years by law. R410A models are beefier for better reliability and quieter operation.
The very best: If you are interested in getting the very best central air conditioner for your home, select one of the new two-stage models. These models have a low-cooling level for normal weather and a high-cooling level for extremely hot weather. In effect, it fine tunes the cooling output to your home's needs.
The newest, most efficient and least complicated design is a two-stage reversing R410A compressor. In the low-output stage, the compressor rotates in one direction which operates only one of two pistons. In high output, the rotation reverses to operate both pistons to double the cooling output.
Any of the two-stage models offer many advantages over a single-stage model. Since they operate on high level only during the hottest weather, they do not switch on and off as often during normal weather. This keeps the air circulating, reduces noisy start-ups and dehumidifies better.
New blower: Although your old indoor blower can be used with a two-stage model, it is best to install a new one with a variable-speed motor. These special blowers use 75 percent less electricity than your old one. The "smart" motors have a soft-start feature to reduce noise and drafts when they start.
This also allows a thermidistat to be used to precisely control humidity.
If you choose a single-stage model for its lower initial cost, select one with a scroll compressor (preferably R410A instead of Freon). Scroll compressors use a simple, reliable design and are quiet. Installing a new variable-speed blower with it can increase the SEER to 14 or higher.
Q. Our house is on a busy street. A lot of road noise comes through the front door and seems to echo in the hall. What is the best way to block the noise? How about gluing acoustical tiles on the door?
A. Generally, road noise does not come through a door. Instead it comes around faulty weatherstripping. Noise is also an indication that your door is inefficient and driving up your utility bills. Adding tiles will not help much.
Check the weatherstripping by holding a candle near it on a windy day.
Observe the flame to find leaky spots. Sometimes just adjusting the latch to close tighter will create a better seal.
XWrite for Update Bulletin No. 814 which contains a buyer's guide of the 14 most efficient one- and two-stage central air conditioners listing cooling outputs, SEERs, comfort features, warranties and a savings chart. Please send $3.00 and a business-size SASE to James Dulley, The Vindicator, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244. For an instant download, visit James Dulley online at www.dulley.com.

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