Which Air Conditioner Is Best for Me? Your Guide to Choosing the Right A/C

There’s nothing like stepping into a cool, humidity-free room in the middle of a blazing hot summer afternoon.

Air conditioning makes it possible to stay comfortable even on the muggiest days of the year, and many of us find it hard to imagine going without it for even a few hours.

So what’s the best air conditioning option for cooling down your home? You have several options to choose from these days, and all are more energy efficient than they were just a decade ago. If you’re upgrading an existing system to a new unit, you’ll almost certainly spend less on your utility bills simply by bringing your cooling system up to date.

The right air conditioning system for your home depends on your budget, your home’s construction and your need for flexibility. You may also want to take overall efficiency into consideration as well, particularly if you want to keep your energy bills and carbon footprint as low as possible. Take a look at the pros and cons of each of the major types of A/C units to choose the best air conditioner for your home.

Central Air

Smiling Man Adjusting Thermostat On Home Heating System

According to the New York Times, about three-quarters of American households have a central air conditioner that pumps cool air through a ducted system into every room of the house. This type of cooling unit operates from one big compressor located outside, and air flows through ducts in the walls and out through vents placed strategically around the house. Central air systems usually have great energy efficiency ratings, but they also come with the highest upfront costs to install. That’s because it costs a lot of money to build ducts to carry air through the walls of your home, and a big, motorized system isn’t cheap.

If you live in an older home, retrofitting your property for central air conditioning may not be practical — or even possible. That’s because you’ll need to snake ducts through your existing walls, which will require cutting and patching holes in your drywall or plaster to get the job done. In some cases, the studs aren’t spaced properly for this work, or you may have other obstacles you find when you start to poke around in an old house’s infrastructure. You’ll also need a spot outside to put the compressor — a tricky proposition if you live in a dense urban area.

Ductless Mini Split Systems

plit air conditioner on a white wall.

A ductless unit can be a smart choice if you’d really like central air but can’t get a ducted system to work in your home. This type of A/C system mounts to the wall and requires only a small hole to be cut, making it easier to install. The big bonus is the lack of ductwork: Air blows directly into the room where the ductless system is placed. The lack of long ducts for air to travel through also means that ductless systems are highly efficient, since air doesn’t have a chance to warm as it travels through your walls to get to your room.

Though not as costly as central air, split systems can get expensive if you add one to every room. The unit itself is large and, unlike central air, it’s not hidden — you’ll have to mount a big, white box on your wall where it will stay in your line of sight all year long. If you don’t mind the way it looks, this system offers some extra conveniences like the ability to control individual room temperature instead of relying on a central thermostat and the potential for heating your home as well.

Window Air Conditioners

Air conditioner system on wall

A window A/C is a miniature version of a large central air conditioner. It’s compact enough to fit in your window, and it works by keeping the compressor outside of your home and shuttling cool air through the louvered vents just inside your window. They are typically very easy to install, though heavier units may require additional support to stay put in the window. Window air conditioners aren’t as efficient as central air or ductless units, and they’re generally designed to cool a small space. If you have a large, open concept home, a window unit may struggle to keep up with your cooling needs. However, they are great for rooms in older homes where you can close a door to keep cool air contained, and they’re perfect for allowing each family member to control their own temperature in a bedroom for sleeping.

Because window units don’t require any permanent installation modifications like cutting holes into walls or installing ducts, they’re also a good choice for renters. When you don’t have the option to make changes to your living space, a window unit makes sense as a temporary cooling solution, and you can take it with you when you move.

Portable Air Conditioners

newair portable air conditioner

Portable A/C units take the convenience of a window unit and put it on wheels so that it’s easier to move. These air conditioners are typically lightweight and easier to carry or roll into position that a standard window unit. They also tend to be designed with more flair to blend in with your decor, and have a lower profile to fit into tight spaces.

Though portable air conditioners aren’t quite as efficient as a window unit, they are a good choice for renters who move frequently and don’t want to lug a bulky window unit around. They’re also the ideal solution for anyone who doesn’t actually have a window to put an air conditioner into. If you don’t have a window near an outlet, or if your have casement windows that can’t be closed properly around a window unit, portable A/C is a great alternative. A simple venting kit allows you to vent hot air through a sliding door or even a casement window, so it’s still a good choice for renters.

Your Air Conditioner Buying Guide

Still not sure what to get? Take a look at our cheat sheet to help you decide:

Buy a Central A/C System If …

  • ✔ You’re dealing with new construction
  • ✔ You’re doing a full remodel and will tear out walls as part of the process
  • ✔ You can piggyback onto existing heat ducts
  • ✔ You want a largely invisible cooling system
  • ✔ Money is no object

Buy a Ductless A/C System If …

  • ✔ You care about energy efficiency and the environment
  • ✔ You don’t mind the way the wall units look
  • ✔ You want to avoid the upheaval of retrofitting ducts in existing walls
  • ✔ You’re planning to cool a garage or new addition that’s not convenient to existing central air
  • ✔ You want to heat a new space as well

Buy a Window Unit If …

  • ✔ You only need to cool a single room or a small space
  • ✔ You rent and can’t modify the building
  • ✔ You don’t mind a bit of noise or vibration when the unit kicks on
  • ✔ You’re strong enough to lift the unit to install and take it down
  • ✔ You’re looking for instant results

Buy a Portable Air Conditioner If …

  • ✔ You rent and can’t modify the building
  • ✔ You need a lightweight solution that’s easy to move from room to room
  • ✔ You don’t have a window near an outlet
  • ✔ You have casement windows or sliding doors instead of traditional sash windows
  • ✔ You want a more stylish appliance in your home

Tips for Choosing the Right Air Conditioner for You

Portable Air Conditioner |NewAir AC-12200E

Once you’ve considered the pros and cons of the different types of A/C units, it’s also important to think about some specific features before you buy. Here are ones that will have the biggest impact on your enjoyment of your new appliance:

  • • Sizing: Selecting the right size air conditioner for you room size is crucial. If your air conditioner is too small for a large living room, you’ll never cool down properly. Multiply the length by the width of your space to get its square footage; then check this Energy Star chart to see how many BTUs (British thermal units) of cooling capacity you’ll need to stay comfortable.
  • • Fan Settings: Make sure that any air conditioner you consider has multiple fan speeds so you can control the fresh air flow in your room. This will help you feel cooler faster, and it will also help you sleep better if you can keep the fan quieter at night — a must for light sleepers.
  • • Convenience Features: Look for a thermostat that helps you get the perfect temperature. You may also want a remote control to adjust fan speeds and cooling settings from your bed or the couch. Many A/C units also come with energy saving settings that can help you cut down on your electricity usage throughout the season.

The best air conditioner for you depends on your living situation, the size of your room and the features that are most important to you for comfort and convenience. Consider your budget and the time involved in modifying your home vs. choosing a unit that simply needs to be plugged in as well. Once you know what kind of A/C you want, you’re ready to comparison shop to get the right unit for your home based on price and feature.

 


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NewAir Portable Air Conditioners

Portable Air Conditioner | NewAir AC-14100E
  • • Chill any room in about any circumstance
  • • Cools and automatically maintains your ideal temperature
  • • Perfect for cooling large rooms and indoor spaces

 

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