With sweltering summer temperatures just around the corner, it’s the perfect time for a new HVAC system. If you’re in the market for a new unit, your priorities are probably efficiency and cost first and foremost, but there’s also another factor that you might not have considered yet.

Based on the location of your system, as well as its size and features, the sound of your HVAC unit can have a significant impact on your quality of life at home. Imagine trying to host a fun backyard party, only to have your HVAC system periodically drowning out your music and conversations. Or maybe your bedroom window is close to your system and you wake up at night repeatedly when the fan kicks on during hot summer nights. So how can you choose a system that is quiet?

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Understand the Decibel Rating

All HVAC systems have a decibel (dB) rating that correlates to the intensity of sound. The lower the decibel rating, the quieter your system. If you’re trying to decide between two systems based on the decibel rating, it’s helpful to know that most people perceive one sound to be twice as loud as another one when they are about 10 dB apart. Use this guide from Purdue University as a frame of reference:

  • 50 dB is equivalent to a quiet conversation at home
  • 60 dB is closer to the volume of a conversation at a restaurant
  • 70 dB is considered “annoyingly loud,” like the sound of a vacuum cleaner
  • 80 dB is similar to the sound created by running a garbage disposal

Given those examples, you’ll want to look for an HVAC system that is below 60 dB.

Look for Features that Reduce Sound

So why is your HVAC system so noisy in the first place? It’s a complex machine with many moving parts that rattle from the intense vibrations that occur when it is running. These noises—typically associated with the starting and stopping of the fan—are the number one culprit of HVAC-related noise pollution. When the weather is extreme outside, your unit will be especially loud, since it’s working overtime to keep the inside of your home at a stable, comfortable temperature. Other sounds could be created by outdoor elements, like leaves or twigs falling into your unit.

In addition to looking for a system with low decibels, be on the lookout for these features, which will also help to minimize the sound from your unit:

  • Variable speed fans
  • Compressor insulation mounts
  • Noise-reducing fan blades
  • An insulated base pan

General Preventative Maintenance

As with all appliances, this is an important step for maintaining efficiency and lengthening lifespan. Get your unit checked out once a year to head off potential problems from refrigerant leaks, worn parts, loose bolts and screws, and outdoor debris.

Choose the Right Size System for Your Home

If you don’t choose a system that’s large enough to accommodate the size of your home, the decibel number won’t even matter; your HVAC system will be loud regardless because the fan will be running constantly to try to keep  If you’re unsure what size you need, consult with an HVAC professional to help best address your home’s needs. Beyond your square footage of your home, and the climate of your area, they’ll also consider factors like your ceiling height, as well as what type of insulation is in your home.

And don’t fall prey to the belief that you can err on the side of caution and just opt for a bigger unit. Sure, it’ll cool your home quickly. But for that very same reason, it will shut off before it’s gone through the entire cooling cycle, so heat will sneak back in, and your HVAC unit will have to click back on again and repeat the same energy-wasting process. This constant cycle sucks up energy and drives up your electric bill, in addition to the wear and tear it will cause to your overworked HVAC system.

Ultimately, you want your HVAC system to keep you comfortable in your home, not to create a lot of disruptive noise. Hopefully, understanding more about what makes your unit noisy and the features that can minimize those sounds will empower you to make a great choice for your home.