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Choosing the Right Kind of Air Conditioner

Choosing the Right Kind of Air Conditioner

The summer heat is on its way. Whether you’re thinking of upgrading your air conditioning system or it’s time to replace an old unit, choosing the right type of system is important for efficiency and comfort.

Here are the pros and cons of the most popular air conditioning systems on the market.

Central Air Conditioning

This is the most common type of air conditioning system. These systems push cooled air into rooms through supply ducts and registers mounted in the wall, floors, or ceiling. Then once the air warms, it circulates back to the air conditioner unit through the ducts and registers.

Installing a central air conditioning system is quite an undertaking. It requires expert planning to lay out the duct work and registers properly. The ducts must be installed in the floors, walls, or ceiling of the building.

A significant advantage to a central air conditioning unit is that they are quiet and easy to operate. They also have a long life expectancy, averaging 15-20 years.

For all of their advantages, central air conditioning systems are not the most efficient option because you cannot set the temperature room by room or only cool the part of the house you are using. And “duct losses” can add up quickly, especially if the ducts are in unconditioned spaces.

The costs of central air conditioning units vary widely depending on the unit you purchase and installation costs. Expect to pay between $1,500 and $4,000 for a central air conditioning unit plus installation costs, which can be several thousand dollars.

Room Air Conditioning Units

Room or window air conditioners are the most basic type of air conditioners. They are usually installed in a window and allow you to cool specific rooms rather than the entire building. If used only when needed, window units are cheaper to operate than central air conditioning systems even though they are less efficient.

Like most other air conditioning options, size matters. An oversized window unit will cool the room to the thermostat set-temperature before the room is dehumidified, making the room feel “clammy”, damp, and uncomfortable. An appropriately sized unit unit is more efficient and effective.

Room air conditioning units operate on 115-volt or 230-volt circuits. Make sure the electrical system can handle the system’s power requirement. Large room units rated at 115 volts may need a separate, dedicated circuit.

Window units are surprisingly cost effective. Each unit costs between $150 and $875, depending on size and capacity. They are easy to install and don’t require extensive construction.

Ductless Mini Split Air Conditioner

These handy little air conditioners are great for cooling residential, commercial and institutional buildings because each room or zone has its own thermostat. They are also easy to add to houses with “non-ducted” heating systems (like hot water heat, radiant panels, and space heaters) and to buildings where installing ductwork is impossible or impractical.

The biggest advantages to these types of air conditioners are the small size and the ability to heat or cool individual rooms to different temperatures. Because they don’t have ducts, they are more energy efficient, too. Duct loss can account for at least 30% of energy consumption by central air conditioning and other systems that rely on ductwork.

Ductless mini split air conditioners are surprisingly flexible. They can be installed practically anywhere and require only a small hole in the wall (usually about 3-inches) to run the conduit to the outdoor unit.

For all the conveniences and energy-efficiency these units come with a slightly higher price tag—about 30% more than a central air conditioning system (not including ductwork). On average, a ductless mini split air conditioner system costs about $1,500-$2,000 per ton of cooling capacity. The average lifespan of this type of unit is 12-15 years, slightly shorter than central air conditioning systems.

Heat Pumps

Heat pumps work similarly to refrigerators; they use electricity to move heat out of a space, keeping the area cool. During the warm months, heat pumps move warm air out of the building. One of their benefits is that heat pumps can heat and cool air. Other air conditioners can only cool air.

Heat pumps are surprisingly efficient, providing heat or cooling for as little as a quarter of the cost of a central air conditioner unit. High efficient heat pumps also dehumidify more effectively than other air conditioning systems. Because they use electricity instead of fossil fuels, heat pumps are cleaner and better for the environment.

In very cold environments it might be necessary to have a secondary heat source. Heat pump technology has improved dramatically but they are less effective when temperatures regularly drop below freezing.

When considering a heat pump to cool your building, be sure to factor in the life expectancy of the unit. Because heat pumps serve as both a heater and air conditioner they have a shorter lifespan. Air conditioners get a break in winter when the heating unit takes over. Heat pumps work year-round.

Evaporative Cooler

Sometimes called “swamp coolers”, evaporative cooling systems use a fan to pull warm, dry air into the unit where it passes over wet pads and cools off. This process cools the air up to 20 degrees. Evaporative cooling systems constantly circulate cool air, making the air feel cooler than the actual temperature.

The nickname “swamp cooler” is a little misleading. They are very ineffective in damp, humid, or “swampy” environments where the air is too humid. Evaporative cooling systems depend on having warm, dry air to draw over cool water, making them most effective in desert-like climates where humidity levels are below 60%.

Evaporative cooling systems come in a variety of styles and designs, from portable units to industrial sized units. They require minimal set-up and are shockingly energy-efficient. They cost up to 50% less than other types of air conditioning systems and are more environmentally friendly.

Which type of air conditioning system is right for your situation?  If you aren’t sure, we can help.  Contact us today to request a free consultation about replacing your existing system or installing a new system before the full heat of summer is upon us.