After evaluating the comfort and energy efficiency of your home, you may decide it’s time to implement a new cooling system. Though choosing an air conditioner may seem like a simple decision, there are actually numerous factors you should consider before making your final selection.
Given the variety of air conditioner models that exist in today’s market, homeowners should set aside time to research and educate themselves on the wide range of units available to them. This approach allows them to find the air conditioner that best fits their personal needs as well as the parameters of their given space.
Various Types of Units
One of the more well-known types of air conditioning, central air is used to cool entire houses or large commercial spaces. Central air is also known as ducted air conditioning because it utilizes internal air ducts. Installation experts typically place a heat exchanger inside the building’s central furnace/AC unit, which then distributes chilled air throughout the ducts when the system is turned on.
Window air conditioning models provide an attractive option for spaces that may not be suitable for a central air system. For that reason, window units are commonly used by renters who want to implement a cooling solution in a more temporary living situation.
Window AC units rest on top of the window’s lower edge, which requires the window to be partially opened. The cold air return system rests inside the home while the exhaust sits outside, blowing hot air out of the space.
Installers place these models either through or flush against a wall. Though wall-mounted or through-the-wall units appear similar to window units, they can differ greatly in size, design and function. The primary difference is the cooling capacity; unlike window units, wall-based air conditioners only have ventilation on one side.
Known for their flexibility and convenience, these free-standing ductless units have an innovative method for delivering cool air. Portable air conditioners take in fresh air, remove the heat from and dehumidify it and then return the air to the space. Simultaneously, the unit expels hot air from its exhaust. For this reason, many portable conditioners – evaporative units aside – must be set up near a window or configured to optimally allow warm air to flow out of the building.
Portable air conditioners come in three types:
- Split: Unlike other portable models, a split system consists of both an indoor wall-blower unit and an outdoor condenser; the two are connected through flexible pipes. The condenser releases cool air, which then flows through the pipes and into the home.
- Hose: These portable units can either come in single-hose or dual-hose form. Single-hose units use the room’s existing air to cool the system’s condenser and then dispels the air through the house, replacing it with hot air from outside or other rooms. While dual-hose units also use air to cool the condenser, they pull the air from outside as opposed to from within the room, generally making for a more efficient distribution of air.
- Evaporative: Unlike other air conditioners, evaporative units do not have a compressor or condenser. Instead, these units – also known as swamp coolers – use evaporated water molecules to trap heat. This, in turn, cools the surrounding warm air. Evaporative portable air conditioners tend to work best in warm, drier climates, such as those found in the southwestern U.S.
Package terminal air conditioners are especially popular options for hotels, offices and assisted living facilities. These commercial-grade units offer both heating and cooling functionality and, as commonly seen in hotels, are typically installed on an exterior wall underneath a window. Some brands offer technology that allows a user to control multiple units from one location.
Which Unit is Right for Your Space?
Given all the aforementioned choices, it can be difficult to determine which air conditioner will best fit your needs. Buyers can rest assured, however, knowing one of these models can do the job. Here are some common air conditioner benefits homeowners look for and a breakdown of which models best meet those conditions:
One of the most important factors when choosing the proper air conditioner is its functionality. Consequently, buyers will need to consider their space and determine whether a given model can be employed – and be effective – within their property.
Many homeowners, for example, choose to have central air installed in their home. This solution enables cool air to flow freely throughout every room in their home while simultaneously providing a less noisy environment, which can be ideal for more permanent living situations.
Commercial spaces that need to accommodate multiple users across a larger space may rely on individually controlled package terminal units. On the other hand, renters confined to a studio living situation may find their needs can be met with a single portable unit.
Buyers might also purchase a ductless air conditioner to complement their home’s existing HVAC system. Those who are in need of an outdoor air conditioner for a wedding or other special event would also likely find success with a portable unit.
In terms of flexibility, portable units should undoubtedly be at the top of buyers’ lists. These air conditioners can effectively cool a space but can typically be moved with little effort. It’s worth noting evaporative air conditioners do not use hoses or condensers, meaning they are the only option that is truly portable.
Window units, on the other hand, tend to be a bit more powerful than their portable counterparts yet less expensive and easier to implement than central air. Thus, they tend to be a great option for renters or those in a short-term living situation.
Those in the market for an air conditioner should heavily consider the space with which they’re working. Though compact, portable units can be invasive for individuals in smaller apartments whereas window air conditioners can save in-demand floor space. Central air requires the least amount of indoor space, yet purchasers will need room outside to place the condenser.
Air conditioning systems can range widely in price. In general, portable, window and wall units tend to run on the lower end of the scale while central air is known as the most expensive.
In addition to the upfront costs, buyers should also consider the amount they’ll pay over the life of their system’s use. Portable, window and wall units tend to be more efficient than central air conditioning, allowing you to reduce energy bills and save money in the long run.
You can also cut costs associated with your air conditioning unit by engaging in the following practices:
- Continuously monitor your system’s settings: Many users tend to set it and forget it when it comes to their air conditioner, which is an easy way to rack up high energy bills. Keep costs low by consistently checking your thermostat and turning down the air at night when you’re less likely to notice a difference.
- Be mindful of which rooms you cool: Instead of lowering the temperature throughout your entire home, you might find it beneficial financially to limit the amount of space you’re cooling. Consequently, you could focus your efforts on the rooms where you spend the most time, such as the living room, office and kitchen.
- Block out the sun: Your air conditioner’s efforts will be greatly enhanced when complemented with sun-blocking shades or even tinted window film.
For buyers concerned about reducing their carbon footprint, energy efficient AC units may present an attractive option. Not only do efficient models emit fewer greenhouse gases and other harmful pollutants, they can drastically reduce energy bills and open the door to federal tax credits.
Buyers seeking an energy efficient solution should pay attention to a unit’s BTU, or British thermal unit, rating. This number, which typically ranges from 5,000 to more than 20,000, indicates how quickly and efficiently a unit can cool a space. Homeowners should determine the square footage of the area they’d like to cool and calculate the appropriate BTU from there.
Additionally, most air conditioners should have an EER, or energy efficiency ratio; models that carry a ratio higher than 10 are considered highly efficient.
Air quality can be especially important to those suffering from allergies; consequently, buyers might want to be conscious of a unit’s dehumidifying capabilities. Typically, a larger unit or central air system is more likely to remove moisture from the air – and control mold growth – than smaller models.
If homeowners or commercial buyers are concerned with the noise level within a space, they should carefully consider their air conditioning choices. Wall and window units tend to be among the loudest cooling systems, while central air is known for keeping noise at bay. Split systems are typically quieter inside the home, but the outdoor condenser may generate a noticeable amount of noise.
Central air can be expensive to implement, but also offers many benefits.
Each system unmistakably comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Central air, for example, can be the most expensive system to implement, but it also offers a number of benefits, including the ability to cool multiple rooms, dehumidify and keep noise pollution at a minimum. Ultimately, buyers will need to decide which benefits are most important to them before making a final decision. For those who have difficulty making a selection, it might be worthwhile to talk to a knowledgeable HVAC professional.
The Post-Decision Process
Though the majority of work is done once you’ve put in your research and made a final selection, there are still factors air conditioning users may need to consider before their system is ready for use, including:
Getting the Right Size
Some cooling units, such as wall, window and portable air conditioners, require buyers to be mindful of space constraints.
Instead of attempting to guess measurements or eyeball individual systems, buyers should get out a tape measure and record the measurements of their wall or window space. This reduces the likelihood of the user returning the system due to a sizing error. For portable units, be mindful of the size you’re buying compared to the amount of floor space you’ve allotted for the air conditioner.
Properly Placing Your Unit
There are some elements AC users – particularly those of portable, window and wall systems – should keep in mind when it comes to the location and optimization of their systems. First, users should consider the best placement for air flow. If your intention is to cool your entire apartment with a window unit, for example, placing the unit in a central location is ideal. Alternatively, by putting that system at the front or back of the space, you may be limiting its cooling span.
As previously mentioned, portable units may need to be near a window so that hot air can be efficiently expelled through the exhaust hose. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, users should be aware of the electrical situation within their space. If the electrical system isn’t equipped to handle a high-powered cooling unit, users may need to reach out to an electrical contractor.
Keeping Up with Maintenance
Routine maintenance will enable users to get the most out of their systems. Such actions include removing debris on or near the air conditioner, changing filters, cleaning the condenser coils and straightening fins. Following through on these maintenance items will keep air conditioning units running efficiently and provide the benefits that led you to buy the unit in the first place.