As summer temperatures across Alberta rise, more homeowners are becoming interested in central air conditioning. However, AC is an important investment—so if you’re planning to install a new air conditioning unit to your Alberta home, it’s important to make sure you do it correctly.
To help you, we’ve put together a guide to buying air conditioning systems just for Albertans. Read on and learn everything you need to know about how to make this technology work for you.
See also: air conditioner repairs
How Does Air Conditioning Work?
Air conditioners use a chemical called refrigerant to transfer heat inside your home to the outdoors. Different parts of your air conditioner change the state of the refrigerant as it moves, allowing it to absorb and release heat in different areas.
Here’s a breakdown of how the process works:
- Low-pressure liquid refrigerant absorbs heat from your home’s air in a part of your air conditioner called the evaporator. When it absorbs enough heat, it turns into a gas.
- The refrigerant moves from the evaporator into the compressor, which squeezes the gas until it’s highly pressurized.
- The high-pressure refrigerant moves to the condenser, where the heat it contains is released and vented to the outside of your home.
- The refrigerant leaves the condenser as a high-pressure liquid and moves to the expansion valve. The expansion valve depressurizes the liquid.
- The refrigerant, now a low-pressure liquid once more, moves back into the evaporator where it can absorb heat from the air in your home again.
What Factors Do Albertans Need to Consider When Investing in AC?
There are a few things you should think about when adding AC to any home—but Alberta has a few specific factors to keep in mind. Here are the most important:
For any air conditioner to run efficiently, its output capacity needs to be appropriate for the area where it’s installed. Sizing an air conditioner precisely can be challenging (more on that later), but the basic rule of thumb to follow when choosing an AC is to have 20 Btu for every square foot of space you need to cool.
Short but Hot Summers
Alberta’s summers aren’t long, but they can be extremely hot. Temperatures in July and August can easily reach the high 30s, while records in the Southernmost parts of the province have been known to top 40 °C. You might not need to run your air conditioner every day during the summer in Alberta, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t need one.
Alberta’s temperatures don’t just change significantly from one season to the next—sometimes, the heat climbs and plummets within the space of a single day. It’s common for warm days in May and June to finish off with cooler evenings, but living without air conditioning can still make you swelter during daylight hours during these months.
While all air conditioners dehumidify spaces to some extent, some AC units are specifically designed to remove moisture from the air. However, humidity isn’t generally a problem for Albertans, since the province has a semi-arid climate. If you’re buying AC for a home in Vancouver, it might be worth investing more in one of these systems—but if you live in Calgary or Edmonton, not so much.
All air conditioners produce some amount of noise as the fan blows air through the ductwork in your home. Usually, this noise blends into the background and isn’t distracting. However, poorly-installed or malfunctioning air conditioners can make noises that are harder to ignore, so it’s always best to have your AC installed by experienced professionals like us.
What Do Homeowners Need to Know about Air Conditioners?
Once you’ve decided to install central air conditioning in your Alberta home, you’ll need to make a few other choices. Here’s how to set up your AC for success:
Choosing the Right Size Air Conditioner for Your Home
As noted earlier, sizing an air conditioner can be a complex process. While the broad rule is to have 20 Btu of cooling capacity for every square foot of space that needs to be cooled, the following factors can affect this number:
- Windows. You’ll need more cooling capacity for rooms with lots of glass, since sunlight will enter the space and warm it up during daylight hours. The direction your windows face also matters, since east or west-facing windows will let in direct sunlight at sunrise or sunset.
- Sealing and insulation. The better insulated your space is, the easier it is to maintain a consistent temperature. Poor seals around doors and windows generally make a space harder to cool efficiently.
- The age of the home. Older homes are often built with cavities in the walls that let heat in and out. These spaces will either require more cooling capacity or renovations to help them retain heat.
- Ceiling height. Rooms with high ceilings have more volume, so these spaces can require extra cooling capacity as well.
When you contact us about installing central air conditioning in your home, we’ll perform a consultation to find out about your home’s cooling requirements.
Where to Install Your Air Conditioner
Choosing the right location for your air conditioner makes it more reliable and keeps you more comfortable. For best results:
- Make sure the outdoor unit has 2-3 feet of space around it on all sides. This will allow the warm air that comes out of it to move away from your home effectively.
- Place the unit away from trees and bushes. Falling leaves, twigs, and other debris can build up around the unit and block the flow of air.
- Make sure the outdoor unit is elevated on a slab or patio to protect it from pooling water.
- The indoor unit of your air conditioner should be located as close to your home’s ductwork as possible so cooled air can travel into your home more easily. Basements and downstairs laundry rooms are often excellent spots.
Ground vs. Building Mounted Air Conditioners
Most central air conditioners used in Alberta homes are traditional split-system designs—with the condenser in the outdoor unit and the evaporator inside. The outdoor units for these systems are mounted on the ground outside the home.
Some air conditioners bundle the condenser and evaporator into a single unit. These units are usually located on the rooftops of the buildings where they’re installed.
One key difference between these systems is that ground mounted outdoor units are easier to install. Although building-mounted air conditioners have all key components located in one area, getting up on the roof to install them can be a challenge—and the roof must be able to support them.
Split systems with outdoor units on the ground are also easier to access and maintain, because they normally experience less wear and tear. Building-mounted units are naturally more exposed to the elements—including Alberta’s bright sunlight, frequent snowfalls, summer hailstorms, and debris from high winds.
What Kind of AC Maintenance Should Homeowners Expect?
All air conditioners require routine maintenance to keep them running smoothly. Some of these tasks can be performed by yourself, but others require professional help.
DIY Air Conditioner Maintenance
- Replace air filters every month or two during the cooling season (depending on the type of filter your system uses and the quality of air in your home).
- Clean the area around your outdoor unit by raking or sweeping away any fallen debris within two or three feet every few weeks and trimming back any plants at the start of the cooling season.
- Check the seals on the doors and windows in your home at the start of each cooling season to make sure there are no leaks that could compromise your air conditioner’s efficiency and force it to work too hard.
Professional Air Conditioner Maintenance
To keep your system efficient and cost-effective, schedule an air conditioner maintenance appointment once every year for us to visit your home and inspect your unit. During this tune-up, we will:
- Perform a comprehensive inspection to look for problems
- Check and top up your refrigerant
- Check and calibrate the fan in your compressor
- Ensure all moving parts are properly lubricated
- Measure the air output of your system to compare with results from future inspections
Frequently Asked Questions about Air Conditioners
How Much Should an AC Unit & Installation Cost?
The costs to purchase and install an air conditioner in Canada range from ~$2500 on the low end to ~$6700 on the high end, with an average cost of nearly $5000. Factors that can affect the costs of your AC and installation include:
- The size of your home and amount of space that needs to be cooled
- The quality of your home’s insulation
- The quality and complexity of your home’s current ductwork
- Whether you want to add air purifiers, dehumidifiers, or other extra systems
What Does an AC Sound Like During “Normal” Operation?
A well-maintained and properly installed air conditioner should emit a low and steady blowing sound as the fan sends cool air through your ducts and into your home. Noises that might indicate your air conditioner has a problem include:
- Hissing, which can be a sign of leaking refrigerant
- Clicking, which can be the sign of a broken or bent fan blade
- Grinding, which can indicate a loose or damaged belt
- Rumbling, which may signify that the motor in the compressor has come loose
If any of these noises persist while running your air conditioner, call us for help. We’ll be able to diagnose the problem and present you with options.
How Much Does an AC Cost to Run During the Summer?
Modern air conditioners are designed to be more energy efficient than their older counterparts when sized and installed correctly. A reasonably efficient new central air conditioner might cost approximately 35 cents per hour to run.
Calgary’s summer typically lasts for 96 days. Even assuming that you’d need to run the AC for 10 hours every day during this period (which is unlikely), your total cooling costs for the summer would only total $336. Most homeowners—especially those who live further north in Alberta—would pay significantly less.
Should You Set the AC to Run at Specific Times or Have it Maintain a Specific Temperature?
Some people believe that setting your air conditioner to a specific temperature and leaving it running throughout the day puts less strain on its components and ultimately saves you money by extending its lifespan.
However, this isn’t true—in fact, air conditioners work best running at full speed, so starting your AC up doesn’t put it under unnecessary strain. Keeping your AC on is kind of like keeping the engine in your car running because you’re afraid starting it will wear it out.
If you want to avoid coming home to a hot house and having to wait while your AC starts up, consider a programmable thermostat. These devices can be set to turn your AC on at specific times (like an hour before you come home from work) so that you step into a comfortable space.
How Long Do Central Air Conditioning Systems Last?
Most central air conditioning systems can be expected to last for 12 to 15 years. However, it’s vital to ensure that you are taking good care of your system and scheduling regular maintenance as recommended above.
How Long Does Installing a Central Air Conditioning System Take?
Each air conditioning system is as distinct as the home it cools, so installation is always a little different. However, most of our installations in Alberta homes take between 8 and 14 hours.
When you contact us about installing an air conditioner in your home, we’ll evaluate your current infrastructure and cooling needs. Then we’ll provide you with a timeline for the installation that’s specific to you.
What Are the Signs Your Air Conditioner Needs Service?
Even properly installed and maintained air conditioners sometimes have problems. Recognizing the signs of an issue before it becomes critical allows you to call for help when the problem is still relatively small and can save you money in the long run.
Look out for:
- Vents producing warm air
- Weak airflow
- Leaking water
- Abnormal noises (as listed above)
- Bad smells
- A system that cycles on and off unexpectedly
If you have any questions at all about purchasing, installing, repairing, or maintaining an air conditioner in Alberta, please contact our team. One of our professionals will be happy to answer your questions and give you the support you deserve.