These days, you won’t find many people who consider air conditioning in the home a luxury. Depending on where you live, it’s about as necessary as running water. But maybe you bought a house without any type of cooling system, or perhaps your AC has given up the ghost, and it’s time to upgrade.
If you have to shop for air conditioning during the scorching summer months, remember to keep your wits about you and not fall for the first sales pitch that comes your way.
First, figure out your budget and space size, then familiarize yourself with options that go beyond traditional central air conditioning. No matter the style you get, you need to ensure that it’s adept at its primary function, which is to cool down your space, and don’t forget the AC’s essential secondary role – to remove the humidity from the indoor air. Let’s look at the common types of air conditioning systems you’ll find on the market and see which one best suits your needs.
Different types of AC units
1. Window units: Depending on where you live and the layout and size of your home, you might get by with the most common type of air conditioner, the window unit that fits either in a window or even through a cutout in your wall.
Window air conditioners are relatively inexpensive and can blast plenty of cold air into a room if you select the correct model. They are easy to install, and you can get various sizes to match your room’s dimensions. So they could work equally well in a single room or smaller area. They even come with remote controls, and if you want both heating and cooling solutions for your home, look for models with window heat pumps. Window AC units have a removable filter that you should clean regularly to maintain efficiency.
Negative aspects of window units
They are likely the noisiest appliance in the room, and if you have an oddly shaped window, they won’t fit. Plus, you have to place them near an electrical outlet.
2. Portable air conditioners
At first glance, some of these free-standing single units resemble Robbie the Robot with his fat hose-like arms stuck out the window. Similar to a window air conditioner with its enclosed components, the portable unit can be taken from room to room because it simply needs access to an electrical outlet and a window where the hose (or double hoses) takes the moisture from the air and exhausts it outdoors.
Essentially, a portable AC unit works with a fan that draws the hot and humid air from the room and chills it by condensing the air on cool coils inside the unit. The cold air is blown back into the room, and the remaining moisture travels through one or two hoses, depending on the model, and is vented outdoors. If you don’t have a window, the water drains into a bucket.
Typically, portable AC units are best for temporary cooling or where installing a window unit is impractical. They’re quick to set up, and you can store them out of the way when you don’t need them.
Negative aspects of portable air conditioners
Like their window AC cousins, portable air conditioning units are noisy and take up some floor space. Plus, they look sort of cumbersome with the bulky hose poking through the window.
3. Ductless mini-split air conditioners
These quiet and flexible systems are becoming more popular for those who want efficient cooling units without the fuss of ductwork. Mini-splits are indoor units you can mount on the wall or ceiling for interior design options. Unlike the familiar window AC unit, the mini-splits come as combination indoor and outdoor units. The outdoor unit comprises a compressor and condenser, while the indoor section has a blower that distributes air throughout the room. As their name suggests, mini-splits are compact, and one unit is installed in each room. Generally, they also are combined with heaters.
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Because these air conditioners don’t need ducts, they are relatively easy to install and require only a 3-inch hole in the wall or ceiling for the conduit that connects it to the condenser. You can get connecting lines of various lengths, so it’s possible to place the condenser far from the indoor unit to set it in an inconspicuous area.
Another plus is that mini-splits are ductless, avoiding the energy loss of central air conditioning. For instance, if you have AC ducts in a hot attic, the energy loss can account for more than 30% of energy consumption. And you only turn on the units when you’re using a room, saving money and energy.
Negative aspects of mini-splits
Although these are excellent cooling (and heating) units, they are pricey, and one unit won’t cool your entire house. So, depending on how many units you need, you could spend more than with central air installed. Since they’re wall-mounted, they’re not invisible.
4. Floor-mounted air conditioners
Although similar, floor-mounted air conditioners provide a convenient alternative to wall-mounted mini-split units when wall space is limited. Also ductless, the floor-mounted AC sits on the floor (up to 6 inches off the ground) against a wall and connects to the outside unit with a conduit passed through a small hole in the wall.
These AC units cool a room faster than other mounted versions because they blow the frigid air at your level.
Floor-mounted and mini-split units use replaceable filters. However, the advantage of floor-mounted air conditioners is that they’re easily accessible, so keeping the filters in tip-top shape doesn’t require ladders, making the units ideal for those with certain mobility issues.
Negative aspects of floor-mounted air conditioners
These units are not designed to cool large spaces, so you’ll need more than one to cool a house. You will have to leave plenty of open space around the unit, so furniture placement is a consideration.
5. Central air conditioning
We’re all familiar with central air conditioning, which cools the entire house by blowing cold air through ducts that eventually lead to vents in every room.
Central air is controlled by a wall thermostat that allows you to set cooling cycles, adjust the temperature and turn it on and off. Indoors, central air conditioning is fairly quiet and unobtrusive. Often, the AC is combined with a central heating system.
Negative aspects of central air conditioning
Central air conditioning is expensive to purchase and install, especially if you have to install a new ducting system.
Although the central air is quiet indoors, the large outdoor condenser is pretty noisy and not particularly attractive.
Now that you’ve learned about the most common air conditioning models available, you’ll need to consider energy ratings to determine whether the AC you want has long-term, cost-effective benefits. As you begin shopping, you’ll notice that AC companies provide an energy efficiency rating (EER), helping you select the unit best suited to your needs. You also need to consider cooling capacity to help you choose the most efficient unit. You’ll find the cooling capacity typically measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs). The higher the BTUs, the more cooling power. An air conditioner needs approximately 20 BTUs per square foot of living space it’s cooling. So, for example, a 1,700-square-foot home will need a unit with about 34,000 BTUs. That isn’t an exact figure because you also have to consider ceiling height, doorways, and windows.
Finally, it’s essential that you do your research when it’s time to purchase air conditioning for your home because, depending on the type of AC you select, it could take a big bite out of your home appliance budget. You don’t want to make a mistake when it comes to your family’s comfort.