An excellent choice for a high efficiency central air conditioner

There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of the Nordyne air conditioner, even though you might have one running in your own home.

Nordyne has been in the HVAC business for decades, but originally focused on heating and on the manufactured housing market. But in the last 10-15 years they have been quietly developing an extremely efficient and extremely quiet family ofair conditioners, which they then rebrand under at least eight well-known brand names.

Their latest entry in the central air conditioner market is a stunningly efficient set of units that run from 21 to 24.5 SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) depending on the tonnage or BTU output of the unit. Considering that until recently the minimum required standard was only 10 SEER, and this was recently raised to 13 SEER, a rating of 21 to 24.5 is very impressive, and can translate into big savings on your home cooling bill.

At the heart of the Nordyne system: iQ Drive technology

These ultra efficient air conditioners all have something called iQ Drive technology, which is a combination of a variable-speed compressor motor (most air conditioners have a single-speed compressor motor) and built-in intelligence that adjusts the compressor speed carefully to maximize comfort, minimize energy usage, and minimize noise. The iQ Drive system has won top-level awards for its quality and performance.

A typical central air conditioner runs at the standard alternating current frequency of 60 Hz. That means the motor rotates 60 times a second, or 3,600 times a minute (that is, at 3600 RPM). Since full cooling capacity is often not needed for long periods, these traditional air conditioners tend to cycle on and off a fair bit except on the most scorching hot days, and they cycle on and off several times at night. While they are on, they are going full hog, which translates into higher peak energy use, lower overall efficiency, and higher noise levels.

The beauty of the iQ Drive system is that it continually monitors your cooling needs, and can adjust your compressor speed to any speed between 900 RPM and 3,600 RPM. This is referred to as inverter rotary technology – a fancy name for something that sounds painfully simple: if you don’t need full-strength cooling, why run the compressor at full speed!?

Because the compressor is both more quiet and more energy efficient when run at lower speeds, you get better performance and less noise bother from an air conditioner with Nordyne’s iQ Drive technology. And that’s good news both for you and for any of your neighbors who might sleep with the windows open.

As well, because the system is intelligent and continually monitors the indoor temperature, and can vary the workload of the compressor over a wide range, it can keep air flowing at a steady temperature through your ductwork, unlike traditional air conditioners which either provide very cold air (when running full throttle at 3600 RPM) or lukewarm air (when just recirculating air while the compressor is shut off).

What brands use Nordyne’s iQ Drive technology?

There are at least eight companies that sell the Nordyne air conditioner imprinted with their own company label. In some cases the companies are well-known and respected HVAC or appliance manufacturers; in other cases, relatively obscure to the residential market.

Some of these brands make claims to having “unique iQ Drive technology” or the highest efficiency air conditioner on the market. But really all of them are just selling a Nordyne air conditioner with their logo on it, and adding a few variations such as slightly different warranty conditions.

The brands that sell Nordyne air conditioner systems with iQ Drive technology are:

  • Maytag
  • Frigidaire
  • Westinghouse
  • Kelvinator
  • Broan
  • Gibson
  • Philco
  • Tappan

Most of these brands sell either in the residential market (meaning installing a Nordyne air conditioner in an existing home) or in the manufactured homes market (where the air conditioner comes as part of a standard home configuration). There may be other brands under which the Nordyne air conditioner is sold for manufactured homes, and provides equivalent performance and efficiency. The key is to look at whether the unit in your home comes with iQ Drive technology and has an SEER in the 21 to 24.5 range; if it does, it is a Nordyne air conditioner.

Note on Maytag Air Conditioners: While the Maytag whole house air conditioner with iQ Drive technology is a very good quality Nordyne product, the Maytag brand also applies to what in my opinion are very poor quality Maytag window air conditioners, which are neither made, nor sold, nor serviced by Maytag.

Unmatched quality in the industry

Nordyne air conditioners have been recognized for outstanding quality and efficiency by several industry associations. They have been recognized for having the fewest compressor failures of any manufacturer in the HVAC market.

Nordyne has been a leader in quality for decades. The Nordyne air conditioner was the first in the industry to come out with a 5 year warranty. And now their quality is so good they’ve doubled that warranty period to 10 years – including all of the brands mentioned above.

You know you’ve got a good product when every one of the rebranding companies are comfortable selling the product with a compressor warranty of ten years or more (Maytag goes even further, with a 12 year warranty).

Let’s throw heat and humidity into the mix

As they say on hot summer days in Toronto, it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. Here again the Nordyne air conditioner excels. Its combination of iQ Drive system and intelligent thermostat carefully monitor indoor humidity levels and can keep them at a constant level anywhere from 35% to 70% based on your preference. They are the best in the industry at pulling moisture out of the air quickly, quietly, and efficiently.

The Nordyne air conditioner thermostat also lets you tie its humidity controller to a whole house humidifier for winter humidity management, since in the winter heating season the problem is usually low humidity. And since hot days feel hotter when it’s humid, the same applies for cold days: if you can raise the humidity level in your home during the heating season, you can actually heat your house to a lower temperature, and achieve the same comfort level, as if you heat it a bit warmer but with lower humidity. So this tie-in to a whole house humidifier is another energy saving bonus.

Finally, the Nordyne air conditioner is also sold as a Nordyne heat pump – a very similar unit, with the same iQ Drive technology and rotary inverter drive – but it can also heat your home in winter. Like all heat pumps, its efficiency is best when the outdoor temperature is above 8C or 46F, but the heat pump system can be tied in with a high efficiency furnace to deliver optimally efficient heating – heating your home with the heat pump when temperatures are not too frigid, and with the furnace when the thermometer dips.

Rebates and tax credits for the Nordyne air conditioner

Most of the companies that rebrand the Nordyne air conditioner were offering a rebate of $1,300 for systems installed between April 1 and June 30 2009. Unfortunately, as of this writing (June 19) it’s a bit late to take advantage of this offer, but given the ongoing economic slump I would not be surprised to see Nordyne and its partners extend this rebate for longer, so check with your local HVAC specialist to find out if it or a similar rebate is available.

Because the Nordyne air conditioner is ENERGY STAR rated (and in fact is far more efficient than the ENERGY STAR standard requires), you will qualify for a generous tax credit off your US Federal income tax, if you install one in your US home. You can get a tax credit of up to $1,500 (but limited to 30% of the installation cost).

Finally, several US states, local utilities, Canadian provinces, and other governments may offer their own financial incentives. For example, in Ontario just about every summer, the “Every Kilowatt Counts” program offers direct rebates of about $400 to anyone who installs an ENERGY STAR air conditioner, and in some states or provinces you may save on sales tax on the purchase or installation costs.

If you’re looking for an efficient central air conditioner…

Not only will you be saving money and reducing your energy use with a Nordyne air conditioner, but you’ll be using an environmental R-410A refrigerant which is non-ozone depleting and chlorine free. And thanks to the iQ Drive technology, if you pay time-of-use charges or you pay more for peak hour electricity use than for off-hour use, you’ll save with a Nordyne air conditioner because they tend not to reach peak energy usage as often due to their continually variable compressor speed.

I really don’t think you can do better than the Nordyne air conditioner in its various brands. Any brand sporting the iQ Drive technology, with an SEER rating of 21 to 24.5, is going to give you years of high-quality, low cost comfort.

Other Nordyne air conditioners

Don’t imagine that just because you buy a Nordyne air conditioner that it is energy efficient. While I think highly of the iQ Drive based air conditioners, Nordyne makes air conditioners that it or other companies resell under a number of obscure to well-known brands, that are only modestly energy efficient. For example, Broan is a Nordyne brand that includes iQ Drive systems as well as systems that are quite low on the efficiency scale by today’s standards; while Miller and Intertherm air conditioners are Nordyne-owned brands targeted at the lower-end and manufactured home segments of the consumer market.

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