Consumer Reports: Best central air conditioning systems

If you're in the market to replace your air-conditioning system, don't sweat it.

Consumer Reports tested central-air systems to see which hold up best and has recommendations on how to keep them in tip-top shape.

When the hot weather sets in, repairman William Strempski says people get desperate.

"There's nothing worse than turning your air conditioner on and then finding-'Oh, no, my AC's not working' - and then we get that panicked phone call and we have to run out," he said.

The key to having your air conditioner there when you need it is getting the right system and taking care of it.

Consumer Reports surveyed more than 16,000 subscribers to find out which brands you can count on.

For conventional systems popular in our area, American Standard is more reliable than other brands - while Amanas are more likely to break.

Consumer Reports estimates about 30 percent are likely to break within five years.

"A lot of things can affect how well a system works: how it's installed, the quality of the duct work, even the size and layout of a house. But choosing a more dependable brand can boost your chances of getting a system that lasts," said Dan DiClerico, Home Editor at Consumer Reports.

The responsibility is on you, too.

Even the most reliable air-conditioning system will let you down if you don't maintain it.

Check and clean filters monthly. Clear debris and leaves from around the condenser coils and check for blockages in the drainpipe.

Also look over insulation around ducts. Bolstering insulation and sealing leaks can help prevent as much as a 40 percent energy loss.

And once a year, bring in a licensed professional to check things like refrigerant and mechanical components.

Consumer Reports says another important consideration is how you landscape around your outdoor unit.

Hedges and plants should be at least two feet away from the compressor.

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