The Best Type of AC Unit For Your Home: A Consumer Guide

Kenneth Wilson

When that summertime heat rolls into your home, no one can resist the urge to crank up the air conditioning. If you don’t already own an air conditioning unit, however, you’re subject to the whims of Mother Nature. Finding one to fend off the weather, however, can overwhelm even the wisest mind.

With over 87% of American households possessing air conditioning, others’ recommendations could leave you with an infinite number of options. While selecting from eight different types of AC units can seem impossible, there’s a method to determine the unit for you. Breaking down their four aspects – effectiveness, aesthetic, environmental impact, and price – can provide a holistic picture of your potential purchase.

Window Air Conditioners

Window air conditioners act as self-contained units slotted into a window. These units eject heat outside through their backside port and draw cool air indoors. Buttons on the machine itself allow for specific control over its limited range of temperatures.

  • Benefits: On a strict budget you can’t deviate from? Fear not: window air conditioners benefit even the most miserly customers. Their prices range from as little as $150 to as steep as $500 per unit. Unlike other units, window air conditioners keep your floors clear and clean. This allows for avid decorators to utilize every inch of available space.
  • Drawbacks: Wherever you place a window unit, guests will undoubtedly notice its presence – as will you. While small enough to slot into a conventional window frame, they still congest a wall space. Outside passersby are not spared from its sight, either. The back of the unit pops out of the window, creating an unattractive protrusion visible to all neighbors. If you manage to overlook the air conditioner itself, it will happily remind you that it exists by its sound. An activated unit fills the room it occupies with a distinct, consistent hum. This can interrupt conversation, override music, and interfere with deep sleep. As window air conditioners require electricity in order to function, you will need to position these units near outlets. That consumes a valuable outlet that could be allotted elsewhere. Even worse, it means windows without nearby outlets are out of the question. Older models of air conditioners require at least 240 volts worth of energy, which common outlets cannot supply. Even the newest models consume 120 volts – an amount that can short whatever other appliances are plugged into that socket. Speaking of windows: these units only support conventionally-shaped, square window frames. Circular windows, or windows with other abnormal and unique shapes, cannot uphold these units.

Portable Air Conditioners

Portable air conditioners are mobile cooling units that stand on their own atop any form of flooring. These units utilize hoses, attached to a nearby window, to inhale air from inside and expel it outdoors and vice versa.

  • Benefits: Like their window-mounted counterparts, portable air conditioners offer affordable pricing for any potential buyer. Average prices range from $250 to $500, making them marginally more expensive than window units. Their greatest asset is right in the name: their portability. Wherever you wish to station them, setup will take only a short while. If you ever want to relocate them in the future, transporting the unit is a simple, easy process.
  • Drawbacks: Portability comes at a cost. That price? Their power. Portable air conditioners can only affect a limited space around them. Smaller units can affect up to 350 feet, while their moderate-sized variants can cool up to 700 feet around them. Their radius of impact lacks the range of other units, requiring homeowners to keep these stationed nearby at all times. That vicinity will also suffer from the noise these machines emit. Air conditioners generate an unfortunate level of sound whenever they cool their surroundings. Unlike window units, which only obscure the wall, portable air conditioners consume valuable floor space. Guests and inhabitants alike will have to navigate around them, and no one can overlook their presence. One would think that portable air conditioners would at least keep the window area clear. However, their funnels require access to the lower portion of a window, congesting walls all the more.

Floor Mounted Air Conditioners

Unlike their predecessors, floor mounted units come in pairs that act in tandem through a small hole in the wall. One unit, placed indoors, sits on the floor, while the other, left outside, sits on the ground. A wire runs in the hall between them, linking both units with one another.

Their negligible size and freedom of location make them perfect for hard-to-reach places or abnormally-shaped rooms. Consider adding one to an attic or crawlspace, where other units cannot fit.

  • Benefits: If you suffer from respiratory issues, like asthma, then these units can protect your lungs from further damage. How, you ask? Through their built-in ionization systems. Ionizers electrically charge molecules in the air around them, ridding our atmosphere of fatigue-inducing contaminants. This simple change can subconsciously improve your moods, your sleep, and your allergies all in one go. If that was not enough, customers can check on and swap out air filters at will. Ease of access helps preserve the purity of your home’s air quality with none of the hassle. While floor mounted air conditioners require more room than window units, they’re considerably smaller than house-wide cooling systems. These need only a small segment of the wall to function.
  • Drawbacks: Given their low positioning, floor mounted units cannot effectively cool cramped rooms. Any furnishings therein will disrupt the airflow and increase time until cooldown occurs. This inefficient system makes these units only ideal for small spaces. Any larger areas should rely solely on units that match their size. If you wish to set it and forget it, seek alternative options for air conditioning. These units accumulate water from their surroundings into internal trays which need emptying every three hours. Picking a different option will save you the hassle of constant air conditioner management. 

Central Air Conditioners

Central air conditioners utilize the same split-unit system as their floor mounted counterparts, but access the ducts to do so. This method has earned them another moniker: a ducted system.

While the outdoor half is out for all to see, you can stow the indoor portion in spaces where no one else would notice. In fact, you ought to do so – that makes accessing the ductwork all the easier. Tapping into the ductwork allows for the continual refrigeration of indoor air, while evacuating any heated air outside safely.

  • Benefits: The power of central air conditioning surpasses that of any unit we’ve discussed thus far by a longshot. The appeal of these systems is their ability to influence every room in a household at once. Because of their broad scope, humidity throughout the house stays at a minimum. This keeps summertime heat at bay, no matter the temperature outdoors.
  • Drawbacks: The bigger the system, the higher the bills. Central air consumes copious amounts of energy each month in order to function. That hikes up a homeowner’s utility bill, especially during the summertime. (Related: Exploring The Cost of Central Air For A 1200 Sq Ft House) But central air conditioning doesn’t only damage your wallet – it damages the environment. The amount of electricity required to fuel these machines leaves a substantial mark on the atmosphere. The average American home produces up to 3,500 pounds of carbon dioxide from air conditioning alone. Combine that with the 2,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity consumed per household and you’re looking at a significant atmospheric injury. Those looking to lower their carbon footprints should seek an alternative means of cooling. While you can store these units outside, that makes them visible to any visitors or neighbors. It takes effort to help central air conditioning blend in with your aesthetic. If not, these machines will undoubtedly stick out like sore thumbs.

Ductless, Mini-Split Air Conditioners

If you prefer to keep your air conditioners out of the ductwork, then this could be a viable compromise. These air conditioners function in pairs, but neither the indoor or outdoor units tap into the ducts.

Instead, they utilize a system of refrigerated tubes to conduct air in whatever direction they need to. Ensure you have the 3 in. (or 8 cm.) needed between units to accommodate the conduits before buying, though.

As these units sit high above the rest of your room, each comes with a remote control needed to control it. Better not lose (or break) it, lest you need to spend extra for a replacement.

  • Benefits: True to their name, these units don’t require complicated ductwork to install. Save yourself the hassle – and the expense – of laborious installations and go ductless instead. Not only do ducts complicate the installation process, but they expend valuable energy and air that will never reach you. 30% of the air cooled by centralized units goes to waste in the ducts instead of in your house. Remove the ducts and your rooms receive the entirety of your air conditioner’s attention. Each of these units have the capacity to control temperatures in individual rooms. If certain rooms tend to grow colder or hotter than others, you can set their temperatures accordingly. This helps keep the whole house at one, equal level – even if you have to do so manually.
  • Drawbacks: One unit won’t cut it when it comes to cooling entire homes. These air conditioners work best when regulating the temperature of a contained space. More units purchased means more money spent – and more energy consumed. Beyond their power capacity, these air conditioners catch the eye wherever you place them. While not oversized, they can congest overhead wall space all the same.

Smart Air Conditioners

Technically speaking, these are not separate from the aforementioned units. Instead, smart air conditioners branch off of the former concepts and improve them.

Smart air conditioners refer to any window, portable, or mini-split unit with internet access. That one innovation allows connected phones to program the air conditioners – so long as they have wiFi access.

  • Benefits: No other unit on the market compares to the convenience of these. One click of your phone lets you access every function of these air conditioners. This makes programming a breeze, even before you make it back home. The array of features available to most smart units can help reduce energy usage. Cielo, an established air conditioner manufacturer, believes they can reduce energy emissions by up to 25%. This shrinks your carbon footprint and your electric bill alike.
  • Drawbacks: No one could ever call smart technology inexpensive. This newfound technology will have a stranglehold on your wallet. Add on installation and you’re looking to spend a pretty penny for a cool home. As an alternative, many interested customers are instead ordering smart remotes along with ductless units. This provides all the same basic benefits, but from a controller instead of your phone. That remote, however, comes at a fraction of the cost of a smart unit. While smart technology seems like a wise purchase if you have the funds, it has one fatal flaw: WiFi. Without access to the internet, none of these units can function. Something as common as an internet crash can transform your living room into a volcano. 

Hybrid Air Conditioners

While other systems utilize ducts and tubing to keep your home cool, hybrid units tap into another source: the furnace. By combining the gas of a furnace with an electric air-source heat pump, these air conditioners effortlessly control all temperatures.

Designed with energy efficiency in mind, hybrid air conditioners reserve fossil fuel usage for when it’s necessary. Otherwise, they tap into electrical power.

Depending on the season, the system differentiates the direction of its pumps. In summer, the heat pump extracts the heat from your home and pushes it outdoors. In winter, however, the pump reverses to pull outdoor heat inwards.

  • Benefits: The energy-efficiency of this technology mitigates your utility expenses. Less electricity used means more money saved every month. Not only does this spare your pocketbook, but it reduces your energy emissions. Environmentally minded homeowners ought to investigate this option if they hope to heal the atmosphere.
  • Drawbacks: The biggest drawback to these machines? Manufacturing them doesn’t come cheap – nor does installing them. Anyone hoping to house these units needs to have considerable cash to spend. Most hybrid air conditioners cost anywhere between $6,000 to $12,000.

Geothermal Heating and Cooling Air Conditioners

Unlike any other air conditioner, geothermal units draw their power from the planet itself. This technology extracts energy from four to six feet underground, where temperatures remain unchanged by the weather above ground. The machine can then take the heat (or lack thereof) and distribute it around your home.

While over one million units now exist throughout the United States, the market for homeowners still struggles to find a foothold. Your house could set the trend while other residences lag behind the times.

  • Benefits: Compared to other air conditioners, geothermal units stand the test of time and stay in mint condition. According to Carolina Climate Control, geothermal air conditions can survive for 25 to 50 years. While other homeowners will have to replace their units, you will never need to worry again. Their means of transferring energy to and from the earth means this benefits the environment all the more. A lack of electrical output keeps air pollution minimal and our atmosphere clean. But their atmospheric impact does not stop once they leave the property. Each home that relies on geothermal energy prevents 21.5 barrels of foreign oil consumption, according to Yoder. That keeps greenhouse gas emissions to a minimum – and our planet will have you to thank.
  • Drawbacks: As expected of such advanced technology, their price tag could easily deter the average customer. Be prepared to drop between $10,000 to $30,000 on these units. If their price tag didn’t scare you off, their other requirement might. Geothermal air conditioning requires intricate positioning in order to install them properly. Ensure that these are compatible with your home before you buy one.

What is the Best AC Unit for You?

The best AC unit is the one that fits your individual needs, desires, and resources. Taking your funds and square footage can narrow down the options. From there, find which unit fits the features that matter the most to you.

No matter what you choose, every AC unit accomplishes the same, central mission: keeping your house cool in every season.

Kenneth Wilson
September 8, 2021

Kenneth Wilson

Retired contractor. Currently residing in Southwest Florida. Now in semi-retirement, I write and manage this blog focused on helping home owners make savvy decisions when it comes to finding contractors and getting their projects done. I also operate remodeling design service for homeowners.

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