The Four Types of Air Conditioners

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When it comes to chilling out, nothing beats an air conditioner on a hot day. It’s fair to say, though, that not all air conditioners are created equal. There are several things to consider when deciding on the right air conditioner for your space, including the type and availability of windows, and whether your own or rent your home.

1. Window AC Units

The ubiquitous window unit is a quick and easy solution for cooling a room. They come in a variety of sizes meant to work in small or large spaces. When selecting a window unit, consider the size of the space you intend to cool and match it to the BTUs of the unit. Window air conditioners come out of the box ready to work, however installation may require two people if the unit is large.

Note that window units are ideally intended for use in vertical windows where the top panel slides down onto the unit, helping to secure it in place. However, horizontal sliding windows will also house the unit as long as you fill the space above it with an accurately cut piece of plywood or make a framed plexiglass insert as a temporary window for the gap above the unit.

window AC unit

2. Portable AC Units

Portable air conditioners function in much the same way as window units. They are self-contained and ready for quick installation. The true benefit to the portable unit is, well, portability. Easily move it from the bedroom to the den as the need arises. Portable air conditioners are typically a bit more expensive than traditional window units, likely due to this convenience.

To install a portable air conditioner, simply place it near a window. Run the hose from the back of the unit into the frame of the window. All types of air conditioners must have access to outside air so do not run your air conditioner without first taking this step. Secure the hose into the window frame with the hardware included. Then fill any gaps around the hose and turn the unit on.

portable air conditioner

3. Central Air

Both window and portable air conditioners are great options if you rent your space. If you are a homeowner and want a long-term solution, however, you may want to invest in central air conditioning. This can come in the form of a heat pump or be an add-on to your existing furnace.

Either way, you will have a separate unit either on the roof or near the foundation that draws, filters, and returns the cooled air to your home. These units are exponentially more expensive, costing many thousands of dollars, in contrast to a few hundred. However, they are also highly efficient, convenient, and invisible indoors compared to the clunky and space-consuming portable or window options. Central air conditioning is also controlled using the wall thermostat, just like heating.

outside fin for central air conditioner

4. Ductless AC

If your home doesn’t have ductwork, air conditioning called ductless or mini-split systems can be installed. This type of system provides units inside the home in the rooms where they are needed, rather than a central system that is “hardwired” in. However, the compressor and condenser unit remains outside like with the central air conditioning system, and in contrast to the self contained window or portable units.

Ductless units are mounted to the wall and basically work as a fan to blow the cooled air into the room. Tubing connects the indoor and outdoor units and circulates refrigerant between them. For individual spaces, ductless units offer an efficient way to cool without invasive installation. However, it’s not a cost effective way to cool an entire house.

ductless AC unit with remote control

Like most technology, options for cooling are ever-evolving. It wasn’t too many years ago that heat pumps were introduced and are now common across the country as an efficient way to both heat and cool with the same unit.

Geothermal systems are also growing in popularity as a way to draw air from beneath the surface of your yard, taking advantage of the natural heat of the planet to warm your home, and returning hot air from the home when cooling is needed instead. Geothermal is an expensive option to install, but it's ultra-efficient, sustainable, and long lasting.

When selecting an air conditioning system for your home, be aware of the square footage of the space, whether that be a single room or the entire home. Also check out the warranty for any model you buy and weigh the pros and cons of features such as fan delay and variable speed motors. Whatever type of unit you decide on, be sure to perform regular maintenance to your air conditioning system to keep it in optimal functioning condition.