According to the U.S Department of Energy, homeowners across the country spend $11 billion dollars per year to power their AC. That’s a lot of money spent on cool air throughout the year. When it’s time to replace your air conditioning system, it can be an overwhelming situation.
Your AC unit represents a large investment into your home and budget, so you definitely want to get your money’s worth. But how do you know which one is right for your home? Evaluating your AC unit size, high-efficiency features, home requirements, quality, cost, and all of the other features of any air conditioning system is enough to make your head spin. We are here to make it simple and easy to help you make the best choice for your family, home, and wallet.
Types of AC Units
There are six different types of air conditioners that are each designed for a different space/reason. These six types of AC units are the basic central AC, ductless, window unit, portable unit, hybrid, and geothermal.
Central Air Conditioners
A central air conditioner combines the evaporator, condenser, and compressor in a single unit that is placed on a roof or a concrete slab near the foundation. From the unit, ducts running through the exterior wall or roof draw air from inside the house and return cooled air indoors. This type of air conditioner can also be combined with a set of heating coils or a natural gas furnace inside the building.
Ductless, Mini-Split Air Conditioners
This is a good choice for houses that do not have ductwork. The ductless, mini-split systems combine an outdoor compressor and condenser with one or more indoor air-handling units. These units are mounted on the wall with blowers attached. Tubing connects the indoor and outdoor units and circulates refrigerant between them.
Each room in your home will have a separate unit that cools just that room, similar to a window unit. These can be installed without tearing up walls, and allow the temperature to be controlled independently in each room. They can be more energy efficient, but are more expensive if you’re cooling an entire house.
These are the most common types of AC units for single rooms. All of the components are enclosed in a single box with a single thermostat gauge that is fitted in a slot made in the wall or window sill where the unit sits.
This is similar to a window system, but it can be moved from room to room. It’s self-contained and freestanding on the floor so you can move it from room to room or apartment to apartment. It only uses an outlet to power on and a window to funnel out the exhaust air.
Hybrid Air Conditioner
Hybrid type of AC unit systems alternate between burning fossil fuels and using electricity to save money and energy while running your system. In the summer, the heat pump works as it normally does, pulling heat from your home and distributing it outdoors. In the winter, your hybrid heat pump system works in reverse, pulling heat from the outside environment and distributing it into your home.
Geothermal Heating and Cooling
As a newer method of heating and cooling, geothermal technology is able to extract the heat from below the ground and transfer it into your home. A geothermal coil is installed deep in the ground and can be used to heat and cool your home. In the winter, heat is extracted from the Earth; in the summer, heat is extracted from your home and distributed back into the ground. This is very sustainable, energy efficient, and provides a longer lifespan than other options.
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What Type of Unit is Best for My Home?
Once you know what types of AC units are available, it’s time to decide which one is best for your home. This depends on your budget, square footage, SEER ratings, warranties, and features.
$: The cheapest option is a window or portable AC unit that cools a single room. Of course, this is also the least effective option. It’ll cool the space similar to a good room fan, but won’t do much more.
$$: A ductless system can be cost effective if you’re only cooling a few rooms. If you do a whole home on a ductless system, it can add up costs very quickly.
$$$: A central air conditioning unit is more expensive, but also more effective and will last longer than the portable or window options.
$$$$: The most expensive option is a geothermal unit, but it could last you nearly the rest of your life.
Home Square Footage:
This should be your first consideration when choosing types of AC units. You will need an air conditioner that has the output capacity to cool the entire home it is intended for. The central air conditioners that are installed in your home range from 1.5-ton to 5-ton units.
A 1,600-square-foot home will generally require a 3-ton air conditioning unit. Anything over 5-tons is generally considered a light commercial HVAC unit. If your house requires an AC unit of this size, you’ll need to install multiple AC units in tandem.
When comparing central air conditioners, one term you’ll see repeatedly is the seasonal energy efficiency ratio, or SEER rating. The SEER rating is a measure of how much energy the air conditioner uses to cool a home. Central air conditioners range from 13 to 24 SEER. Experts recommend that people who live in hot and humid climates choose an air conditioner with a SEER of at least 15. They also note that if you have an older system with a SEER of 10, upgrading to a SEER 15 model could cut your air-conditioner utility costs significantly.
Good HVAC manufacturers stand behind their products and most systems are designed to last for 20 years or longer. While it is important to consider warranties that have the longest terms, it’s also important to look at what that warranty covers. Units with lifetime warranties may not cover the cost of labor, or may only cover labor-related expenses during the first year. Some warranties may have various timeframes for different parts or components, so it’s important to ask details about what the warranty does and does not cover.
Energy Saving Features
Air conditioners have been cooling homes for decades, but only recently have they become significantly more efficient. There are a few energy-saving features that are important to look for:
- Variable speed motors: This feature maximizes the efficiency of airflow because they are able to operate at multiple different speeds depending on the needs of your system at any given time.
- Automatic fan delay switch: This allows the air handler to run for a brief amount of time after each cooling cycle in order to make use of any remaining cool air by pushing it into your home’s living spaces. This way, it’s not left sitting in the system.
- Thermal expansion valves: When more cooling is required, the valve increases the flow of refrigerant. When less cooling is required, the valve restricts the flow of refrigerant. This allows your air conditioner to minimize energy consumption while still keeping your home comfortable.
- Two-stage cooling: Some air conditioners that have compressors with two different cooling outputs (high and low). This way, on milder days, the low setting is used and allows your air conditioner to consume less energy. On hotter days, the high setting is used in order to keep up with your home’s demands. It allows you to be more in control of your home’s settings and your monthly costs.
Protect Your Unit
If you have anything more than a window or portable unit, your air conditioning unit will likely be a big investment. Protecting it is a critical part of maintaining your unit for years to come. The best way to protect your unit is to follow three critical steps:
- Buy the best unit for your space
- Have it professionally installed
- Give your system the regular maintenance it needs to perform at its best.
For help with any of these areas, find a local HVAC contractor in your area.
Our contractors specialize in helping you make the best decision for your home and family, while protecting your investment and providing you with a comfortable space all year long. We partner with only the best HVAC companies to ensure you get the highest quality service for all you HVAC needs.