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Different Types of Air Conditioners: Choosing the Best AC for Your Home

This guide covers all types of air conditioners that you need to know about to make the right choice for your next cooling or heating appliance! Let’s start with some statistics and move on to...

Best Air Conditioner For Your Home

This guide covers all types of air conditioners that you need to know about to make the right choice for your next cooling or heating appliance! Let’s start with some statistics and move on to learning about various types of ACs that are available in the market.

Air conditioners are among the most common electrical appliances in homes within the US. As per the statistics gathered by the U.S. Department of Energy, almost 75% of homes have air conditioners installed. In fact, air conditioner usage amounts to about 6% of the total electricity produced in the country, which translates to a staggering $29 billion.

Now that we know the amount of money spent on powering different types of air conditioners, let’s see what factors to consider when buying a new air conditioning system or replacing an old one.

The air conditioning unit is an integral part of any home and takes up a major chunk out of your must-have home appliances budget. Making the right choice is crucial as your home’s cooling, comfort, and energy consumption are directly dependent on it. There are different types of air conditioners, each having their own pros and cons.

Let’s dig in deep and go through the types of air conditioners available in the market so that you can make a qualified decision about your next air conditioning system.

Central Air Conditioner

Central Air Conditioner

If you have a large home and wish to cool multiple rooms at once, then a central air conditioning unit is best suited for you. This type of air conditioning uses a split system that regulates air through ducts installed in your home. It is also known as a ducted system.

The split aspect implies that the system is a combination of two main units. The outdoor unit consists of the condenser and compressor, while the indoor unit comprises the evaporator coils and air handler. Like any typical air conditioner, central air conditioning also uses refrigerant to remove heat from the indoor air. This heat is pulled outdoors, while cool air is pushed in through the ducts.

Utilizing modern HVAC technology, you can even couple smart thermostats with central air conditioners for a smart home experience.

Advantages of a central AC system:

  • Cools all connected rooms at once, creating a cooler and regulated environment in minimum time.
  • Reduces humidity around the house, making the overall environment more comfortable.

Disadvantages of a central air conditioning system:

  • Consumes a lot of energy, resulting in higher energy bills.
  • May lose efficiency and effectiveness if problems arise in the ducts.
  • Some find the outdoor unit unattractive, but there are creative ways to hide it in your backyard.

Ductless Mini-Split

Ductless Mini-Split Air Conditioner

If you want better efficiency, or you want to cool specific areas of your home without extensive ducting, then opting for ductless mini-split air conditioners is a great choice. Ductless systems are often preferred in contemporary homes.

A ductless mini-split is a combination of an outdoor unit comprising a compressor and a condenser, along with one or more indoor units. These indoor units are mounted on a wall and equipped with air blowers. The indoor and outdoor units are connected through tubing, and refrigerant circulates through them to provide cooling or heating.

Since these indoor units are small and compact, each room usually gets its own unit installed, which can be used for heating or cooling purposes. Ductless mini-splits are more energy-efficient compared to some other options available out there, but the cost can add up if you plan on installing one in each room to cover the entire house.

Ductless mini-splits come with a remote control, but you can also operate them using your phone from anywhere by coupling them with a smart AC controller.

Advantages of ductless mini-splits:

  • Easy to install without a lot of hassle and ductwork.
  • Allows control of the temperature in each room individually.

Disadvantages of ductless mini-splits:

  • A single unit may not be enough to cool large homes.
  • The indoor unit is visible, as it is wall-mounted.

Window Air Conditioner

Window Air Conditioner

Window air conditioners are suitable for cooling a single room or a small area. If you go for a large window air conditioner, you can even cool a small home, especially if it is a single story or one open space. Window air conditioners are the most common type of air conditioner and have been labeled as champions of cooling smaller spaces.

A window air conditioner is a single unit with all of its components enclosed inside. It ejects heat out of its outdoor side and blows cool air into the room on the indoor side. As the name suggests, it is installed in a window or by making a hole in the wall. Window air conditioners have a filter that slides out for regular cleaning to ensure optimal efficiency. These air conditioners have controls on the unit and may also come with a remote.

Advantages of Window ACs:

  • Typically less costly and cheaper to operate.
  • Simple to install.
  • Easy to maintain.
  • Do not take up floor space.

Disadvantages of Window ACs:

  • Can be noisy during operation and are visible from the outside.
  • Obscure the view from a window and need to be located close to a suitable electrical outlet.
  • Not suitable for all window types.

Portable Air Conditioner

Portable Air Conditioner

Portable air conditioners are similar to window air conditioners, but the difference is that they are free-standing units and can be moved from room to room. All they require is a power outlet to power them up and access to a window where the unit’s air can be exhausted through a funnel.

You can opt for a portable air conditioner if you want temporary space cooling or if it’s not practical to install a window or split air conditioner. They are very handy, and smaller versions can even be used for kennels or bathrooms. Portable ACs can be single-hose that take in air from inside a room and expel it outdoors, or dual-hose that pull air from the outdoors, cool the compressor, and then exhaust it outdoors.

Since a portable unit sits indoors, its evaporator fan runs continuously to evaporate the condensed moisture that is collected inside the unit.

Advantages of portable ACs:

  • Quick and simple to set up.
  • Easily movable around the house.
  • Do not require any permanent installation.
  • An effective option for spot cooling.
  • Easy to store when not needed.

Disadvantages of portable ACs:

  • Units can be noisy during operation.
  • Cooling larger rooms is a problem.
  • Units with hoses need to be placed near a window, and the hose obstructs the lower part of your window.

Floor-Mounted Air Conditioner

Floor unit in the room

Floor-mounted air conditioners are designed for convenience if you prefer a mini-split but lack the required space for a wall-mounted unit. The indoor unit of a floor-mounted AC rests on the floor, and the outer unit can be installed without major site preparation or any ductwork. This arrangement is also ideal for spaces with tilted walls, such as attics, or buildings constructed with fragile materials such as glass.

The unit is installed up to 6 inches higher than the floor and connected to the outdoor unit through a small hole in the wall.

An amazing benefit of the placement of this AC is that it allows you to easily check the air filters. Easy access to the air filters makes floor-mounted air conditioners ideal for individuals with respiratory issues or people who are keen on keeping their indoor air quality as clean as possible.

Floor-mounted systems cool or heat the room quicker than any other mounting system, as the fan blows the air directly at your level. On the contrary, units mounted high up on the wall can often face difficulties cooling the room uniformly and efficiently. Floor units require free space around them to function efficiently and circulate the air adequately. Make sure the unit is not obstructed by furniture or walls.

Advantages of floor-mounted ACs:

  • Perfect for elderly people due to accessibility.
  • Can be easily installed.
  • An excellent choice for difficult and small areas as they do not take up much space.

Disadvantages of floor-mounted air conditioners:

  • Airflow can be compromised by obstacles in the room, such as furniture.
  • Not suitable for big rooms due to uneven and localized distribution of airflow.

Smart Air Conditioner

A person using a smart AC app

Smart air conditioners are IoT-enabled devices that can be mini-splits, window units, or portable air conditioners. These ACs are connected to Wi-Fi and come with a native app that provides global control through a smartphone.

Depending on the manufacturer, these air conditioners come with numerous functionalities. Some of these include weekly scheduling, geofencing, comfy mode, temperature range control, and many other features. Using these, you can achieve great comfort coupled with energy savings.

Smart AC controllers are also available in the market, providing all the functionalities of a smart AC to any conventional ducted unit. They work like programmable thermostats and come at a fraction of the cost compared to smart ACs.

Advantages of smart air conditioners:

  • Provide comfort and convenience with numerous features.
  • Help save energy.

Disadvantages of smart air conditioners:

  • More expensive than regular units.
  • Require Wi-Fi connectivity to utilize all the features.

Geothermal Air Conditioning System

Geothermal Air Conditioning System

Geothermal heating and cooling is a relatively new method that works by utilizing the insulating properties of the earth. Since the temperatures under 4 to 6 feet of land remain consistent all year regardless of the weather, geothermal technology takes advantage of this to heat and cool your home more efficiently.

This system has piping that consists of a loop that circulates water between your home, a heat pump, and the ground. Geothermal systems require intensive work to set up underground.

Advantages of a geothermal AC system:

  • Highly efficient in terms of energy usage.
  • Has a relatively longer lifespan than other types of heating and cooling equipment.

Disadvantages of a geothermal AC system:

  • Installation depends on the location as loops are installed in the ground.
  • The setup cost is very high.

Hybrid / Dual Fuel Air Conditioner

A hybrid system combines a gas furnace with an electric air-source heat pump to deliver cost-effective and efficient performance in terms of heating and cooling. Depending on the temperature outdoors, the system automatically switches between burning fossil fuels and using electricity. You can program the temperature at which the system switches from the heat pump to the furnace, or you can make the switch manually.

During the summer season, the heat pump pulls hot air from inside your home and throws it outdoors. During the winter, this process is reversed, and heat is distributed throughout your home. When the temperature is too cold for a heat pump to function efficiently, the furnace kicks in.

Advantages of hybrid air conditioning:

  • Maximizes indoor comfort and minimizes utility bills.
  • Lowers your carbon footprint.

Disadvantages of hybrid air conditioning:

  • The high cost of initial setup.
  • Breakeven may occur in the long run.

Evaporator Cooler

Evaporative coolers, also known as swamp coolers, are sometimes categorized as air conditioning alternatives, although technically, they are not air conditioners and differ in mechanism and structure.

This inclusion in the list stems from their ability to effectively cool indoor spaces. Unlike conventional AC systems with ducts and refrigeration cycles, evaporative coolers operate by drawing in warm air through water-saturated pads or media.

They consume less electricity than other types of air conditioners. However, they utilize a lot of water and need to be regularly filled. Additionally, they increase the humidity levels in the room. When operating an evaporative cooler, it’s advisable to partially open windows so that your room’s humidity levels do not exceed the recommended levels.

Evaporative coolers are more suitable for arid climates such as Arizona, as compared to humid areas.

Advantages of evaporative coolers:

  • Consumes much less electricity.
  • Adds moisture to a very dry space.
  • Has a lower carbon footprint.
  • Available in a wide range of sizes.

Disadvantages of evaporative coolers:

  • Not favorable in humid climates.
  • May not be able to achieve the same level of cooling as traditional air conditioners.
  • Water needs to be regularly refilled.

Important Factors When Selecting the Best Type of Air Conditioner for Your Home

Now that we have covered the types of air conditioning available in the market, it’s time to consider the factors that can help you make the best decision for your home.

1. Budget

The cost of installing a new unit ranges from $3,884 to $7,928, depending on the unit’s size and type.

Here is the budget-wise ranking of AC system types, from lowest to highest:

  • Window air conditioners and portable air conditioners are the cheapest options. However, they can only cool a single room at a time. Portable ACs can cost around $100 - $500, while window ACs are priced around $150 - $800.
  • Ductless air conditioners or mini-splits are cost-effective if you’re only cooling a room or two. Cooling your entire home on a single ductless system may result in higher energy costs with low effectiveness. Prices range from $600 - $20,000.
  • Smart ACs, depending on the type, are slightly pricier than conventional units. However, they result in energy savings and are thus less expensive to run. Smart AC controllers cost around $70 - $130 and provide the same functionalities.
  • Central air conditioning units are more expensive but are also more effective. On average, prices range from $1,500 - $4,000. These units tend to last longer than portable and window air conditioners. However, the running cost is higher.
  • Geothermal heating and cooling is the most expensive option, but it pays off over time with energy savings. Geothermal units are known for their unmatched efficiency and effectiveness. Although they require a big investment upfront, they can last nearly the rest of your life.

2. Energy Consumption

When selecting an air conditioning system, ensure that it is energy-efficient to help decrease your utility bills. Check for energy efficiency ratings such as Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) and Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) before making a purchase. Higher ratings indicate greater efficiency.

3. Space Requirements

Choose an air conditioner that is best suited for your home's space. For apartments or single rooms, portable units, mini-splits, and window units work well. However, make sure to get permission from your landlord before installing mini-splits or window units.

4. Ease of Maintenance

Consider the ease of maintenance when choosing an air conditioner. Single room ACs, such as mini-splits or portable units, require fewer repairs and are easy to maintain. Central units with lengthy ductwork may require professional maintenance, including duct cleaning.

5. Cooling Power

Make sure to consider the cooling power of an air conditioner before purchasing. The cooling capacity is measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs). Common BTU capacities range from 6,000 to 12,000, suitable for common-sized living rooms. Select an AC size that is suitable for your home to ensure optimal cooling performance.

With these factors in mind, you are well-equipped to make the best decision for your home's cooling needs. Remember, there is no definitive answer to which type of air conditioner is best for your home. It depends on your unique circumstances, budget, and climate. Take into account upfront costs, long-term energy efficiency, maintenance requirements, and your comfort preferences.

Wishing you a great summer!