What’s the Right Air Conditioning System for Your Home? A Side-by-Side Comparison
It’s a fact, when summer temps and humidity are at their peak, air conditioning is a necessity to keep your home comfortable. But it pays to be smart about selecting the right air conditioning system because you have many options to choose from. Below we take a look at the pros and cons of each unit or system to help you decide which is the best option for your home.
There are four main types of home air conditioning units and systems that function on the principle of removing heat, however, when it comes to efficiency levels, design and the ability to provide comfort, results can vary.
Window Air Conditioners
These popular AC units are designed to fit in double- and single-hung windows. Usually installed in apartments or homes with no central air conditioning.
Window Air Conditioner Advantages:
- They are relatively small, fairly portable and easy-to-install without calling in the professionals.
- If budget is an issue, window units are most likely the cheapest AC option for your home.
- Today’s systems are up to 30% more efficient than those manufactured only a decade ago.
- They usually come with warranties of up to five years.
Window Air Conditioner Disadvantages:
- They are not intended to cool an entire home. Even if you live in an apartment, multiple units are required to keep every room comfortable.
- Every unit you install impairs your ability to use that window and blocks your view.
- You may have to deal with the noise of an AC compressor running right by your ear, even in a bedroom.
- They can be difficult to install and remove for winter storage.
- Other factors can impair a window unit’s efficiency, like high ceilings, lots of windows and doors, high sun exposure, and cooling a room on your home’s top floor.
Portable Air Conditioning Units
Similar to window units, these do not go into a window but stand on the floor. They draw in air, remove heat and moisture, and vent cool, dry air back into your home. Hot, humid air is vented through an exhaust hose, which must be out of a window. Portable air conditioning units are only a better option to window units if your window size doesn’t accommodate a window unit or if you can’t lift heavier window AC units.
Portable Air Conditioner Advantages:
- Easier to set up than window units.
- They move easily on casters so you can position them exactly where you want.
- The hose leading out of the window doesn’t obstruct the view, and it’s easy to temporarily remove the hose so you can use your window when required.
Portable Air Conditioner Disadvantages:
- According to Consumer Reports, they tend to deliver only half the cooling capacity that they claim.
- More expensive and less efficient than similarly sized window units, which drives up both purchasing and operating costs.
- They are noisy and most units have water reservoirs that must be drained manually.
Ductless Mini-Split Air Conditioning Systems
A ductless mini-split AC system is basically a heat pump without ductwork. It has two main components:
- An outdoor compressor, similar to the ones found in central AC systems.
- An indoor evaporator coil and air handling unit that mounts to the wall or ceiling. A conduit which goes through a sealed hole in the wall links the two units.
Ductless mini-split AC systems are a perfect solution for older homes without ductwork, smaller homes and add-ons where adding ductwork isn’t feasible. Some ductless systems have the highest efficiency ratings of any type of AC system.
Ductless Mini-Split Air Conditioner Advantages:
- They provide flexible cooling to individual parts of your home, with a compact/small size and energy efficient operation.
- They are the closest you can get to central air conditioning without the need to rip your walls apart installing ductwork.
- Since mini-splits are a type of heat pump, they can also provide home heating in colder weather.
- Ductless AC systems operate as quietly as an ordinary fan and since the compressor is located outside, they are much quieter than window or portable AC options.
- With no window access required they provide better home security, better views and use of your windows.
Ductless Mini-Split Air Conditioner Disadvantages:
- They are more expensive than window or portable units.
- Installation must be done by professionals, including drilling a three-inch hole in the wall to link indoor and outdoor components.
- Interior design considerations must be kept in mind, since the unit mounts to the wall or ceiling of the room.
Central Air Conditioning Systems
A central AC system is the most comprehensive way to cool your home. The system distributes cooled air through ductwork with return and supply registers in every room of the home. Every system component is located outside, except for the air handler, which is usually shared with the furnace. If you’re looking for the best whole-house cooling, and already have ductwork in your home, this is the best AC option.
Central Air Conditioner Advantages:
- It’s the most efficient way to keep your whole house cool and comfortable.
- It provides better indoor comfort, cooler temperatures and lower humidity and the latest systems are more energy-efficient than ever
- With all system components located outside, it’s a virtually invisible and silent way of cooling your home.
- If you have ductwork, installation is pretty straightforward but it must be handled professionally.
- Since it becomes a permanent fixture, it is an investment that adds value to your home.
Central Air Conditioner Disadvantages:
- They require annual maintenance to remain at their best and operate at peak efficiency.
- Upfront costs can be high, especially if you need ductwork. However, if you’re just replacing an existing central air conditioning system, the cost is cheaper than installing a new ductless mini-split AC system.
When picking the right air conditioning system for your home, always consider the size you need. An undersized unit won’t keep up on the hottest days. An oversized unit will short cycle, wearing out parts faster and won’t give the unit a chance to dehumidify the space.
If you choose a central or ductless mini-split air conditioning system, a licensed professional contractor sizes the unit for you, to match your cooling needs. It’s just one more reason to opt for a professionally installed home air conditioning system.