Which Type of AC Is Right for Your Home?
With our typical hot and humid DC summer weather, air conditioning is more of a home comfort necessity than an option. If you're feeling the heat in your home, it might be time to explore other options. Or, if you are considering purchasing a home that may not come equipped with AC, you might be wondering what your options are. There are four main types of home air conditioning units and systems that function on the principle of removing heat. Results can vary between systems and units when it comes to efficiency levels, aesthetics and the ability to provide comfort. In this article, we walk you through the pros and cons of each of the units and systems to help you decide on the best option for your home.
Window AC Units
A popular type of cooling equipment is window units, which are designed to fit in double- and single-hung windows. They’re commonly found in older homes and apartments that lack central air conditioning, or providing a cooling boost to single rooms in larger homes. Thanks to improvements in technology these little guys do the job and are the most budget friendly AC option.
Window air conditioning units are smaller, more portable, and easier to install than most other types of units. They are also the cheapest option for adding air conditioning to your home, especially if you’re working with a tight budget. Models manufactured today are up to 30 percent more efficient than those manufactured only a decade ago. And many come with warranties as long as five years, so you will have peace of mind when you make your purchase. The ability to condition only specific areas of your home can save money if you don't need the whole house cooled.
Always remember, window air conditioners aren’t meant to cool your entire home. Even if you live in an apartment, you’ll need multiple units to keep the entire apartment comfortable. Each unit you install takes up a window for the entire summer. You will also have to deal with loud compressors running in each room. If you decide to go with a larger unit, it may be awkward to install and remove. Factors may limit the efficiency of your window air conditioner, including high ceilings, numerous windows and doors, high sun exposure, or cooling a room on the top floor.
Cost: $150-$500 per unit depending on the size and model
Portable Air Conditioners
These units are similar to window air conditioners, but the unit sits on the floor instead of sitting in the window. Portable air conditioners draw in air, remove heat and moisture, and vents cool dry air into your home. The hot and humid air is vented out of your home through an exhaust host going out the window. This is only a superior option to window units if you have the wrong kind of windows or are worried about installing a window unit. Check out Forbes recommendations for the best portable AC units here.
Portable units are even easier to install than window units. The floor unit rolls around on casters so you can quickly position or move it, and the hose leading out the window does not obstruct your view. Plus, the hose is easy to take out of the window temporarily when the weather is nice.
According to Consumer Reports, portable air conditioners usually only deliver half the cooling capacity they claim, leaving you feeling hot and sweaty even if the unit is running full bore. They’re also typically more expensive and less efficient than similarly sized window units, which drives up purchasing and operating costs. Noise can be another factor, and most portable air conditioners have reservoirs that need to be manually drained as the unit removes humidity from the air.
Ductless Mini-Split Air Conditioning Systems
A ductless mini-split is essentially a heat pump minus the ductwork. It has two main components. One is an outdoor compressor, similar to one you would find in a central AC unit. The second is an indoor evaporator coil and air handling unit placed on a wall or the ceiling. A conduit links the two units together through a tiny hole in the wall. Ductless mini-split air conditioners are built to cool older homes without ductwork, or smaller homes and add-ons where ductwork isn’t practical. Some Ductless AC models have higher efficiency ratings that any other type of air conditioner.
The greatest advantage to a mini-split system is their ability to provide flexible cooling to each individual part of your home through a smaller, more energy efficient operation. It’s as close as you can get to central air without having to tear up your ceiling and walls for ductwork. Also, since mini-splits are a type of heat pump, they can provide heating for your home in the winter. An added bonus to a ductless system is that they are as quiet as an ordinary fan. With a compressor located outside, the unit is much quieter than a window or portable air conditioner. Plus, there is no need to obstruct the window with a unit or exhaust, so you have an unobstructed view outside, the ability to operate the window as you wish, and better home security. These can be a great option in apartments or condos where installation of a traditional unit on the roof isn't possible, or in rowhomes where one unit can heat and cool an entire floor.
Ductless mini-splits are more expensive than window or portable units. You will need to hire a professional to perform the installation, which includes linking the indoor and outdoor components by drilling a three-inch hole in the wall. And you need to take interior design considerations into account, because the unit needs to mount to the wall or ceiling of the room. Since each unit will cool a defined space, if your home has multiple bedrooms or separate spaces, the cost of adding multiple mini-split units may be more than one central system.
Cost: $3,000-$6,000 per unit (installed)
Central Air Conditioning System
This system is the best way to cool your entire home. Central Air distributes cooled air throughout ductwork with return and supply registers in each room. The air conditioning components are located outside, except for the air handler, which is typically shared with the furnace. If you have ductwork in place and are looking for whole-house cooling, this is the most popular system. If your house has multiple levels, you may want to consider a 2 zone system, with one system located on the roof. The shorter the distance the conditioned air needs to travel to reach your rooms the more efficient it will be and it will make consistent climate control easier.
A central AC system is the most efficient way to keep your entire home cool. This system ensures that you lower energy bills and maintain indoor comfort with cooler temperatures and lower humidity. And with components located outside, you can keep cool with a nearly invisible, silent system.
Installation is fairly straightforward for our trained professionals, especially in homes with ductwork. Central AC systems are also a valuable investment as a permanent fixture to your home.
Central air conditioning systems require annual maintenance to stay in top working condition for years to come. You should prepare for higher upfront costs, especially if you also need to install ductwork. However, replacing an existing central air unit is cheaper than installing a new ductless mini-split.
The final question is what size air conditioning system you need. If you choose a unit that is undersized, it won’t keep up on the hottest days. An oversized unit will short cycle, wearing out the parts faster even though the system can’t dehumidify your home.
No matter if you choose a central home air conditioner or ductless mini-split system, a licensed professional contractor sizes the unit for you so it perfectly meets your home’s needs. It’s just another reason to opt for a professionally installed home air conditioner.
For more information, check out this article from Washington Consumer Checkbook on how to choose new HVAC equipment.
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