As spring, you know it's time to make sure you've got the right air conditioning to keep you cool through the summer months. If you've got central air conditioning, your system will run better with a tuneup by your HVAC company. If you've moved recently or know last summer wasn't comfortable, it might be time to research the different types of air conditioners you can buy.
There are several challenges to buying an air conditioner. You've got to decide what rooms you want to keep cool which determines the size needed. You also want a unit that's efficient to keep your electric bill low. In this article we'll review:
- The different types of air conditioners available. For those thinking about adding central air conditioning to their home, skip over to How to Buy a Central Air Conditioner.
- How big an air conditioner you need based on the room(s) you want to cool.
- The convenience features to consider when buying an air conditioner, like remote control.
Types of Air Conditioners (Except Central Air)
Today we take air conditioning for granted like many features in our homes. According to Time.com, “The first system was designed in 1902 by inventor Willis Carrier (the Edison of air-conditioning) as a solution to keep muggy air in a printing plant from wrinkling magazine pages … While the first home unit, proportional in size to early computers, was installed in 1914, air conditioners remained too bulky, noisy and full of chemicals to become widespread for several more decades.”
The window air conditioner was the first affordable air conditioner, with more than one million sold in 1953. In the 1970s, a new type of air conditioner started to eclipse window air conditioners. Central air with a condenser, coils, and a fan that distributed cool air through a home's ventilation system. These systems used Freon as the refrigerant, which is now being phased out because of it's affect on the atmosphere (read The R-22 Freon Pricing Story Not Being Told).
So for those who don't have central air conditioning, here are the different types of air conditioners available today.
Window air conditioners (photo on the left) are popular because homeowners can install them. They're easiest to install in double hung windows that use the top window to hold the unit in place (here's a video). Don't despair because it's also possible to install window air conditioners in sliding windows (here's a slider install video). When shopping for a window air conditioner, make sure you know which type of window you'll be putting it in and take measurements. You should also invest in a bracket for extra support and peace of mind.
Most homeowners install their window air conditioners during the cooling season, and store it indoors through the winter months. Some people like the fact that a window air conditioner doesn't take up space in the room. Others don't like that they block your view so you'll want to take this into account when picking which window to use.
Wall air conditioners (center photo above) are similar to window air conditioners. The benefit is you don't loose your view or sunlight because they're installed in the wall. While some window air conditioners can be installed through a wall, wall units cannot be installed in a window.
Installing a wall air conditioner is more challenging than installing a window air conditioner. It requires opening up your wall, adding structural support and finishing the interior and exterior walls once the unit is installed. If you don't have the tools and experience using them, you might want to call your handyman. We did lots of these installations so watch this video showing how April Wilkerson installed a wall air conditioner in her shop.
The portable air conditioner is the simplest to install but it's not as energy efficient as the window or wall units. If you need to cool several rooms and can't afford to buy multiple air conditioners, this might be the perfect solution for you. When I saw this installation video from DeLonghi, I realized you should buy a brand that includes the install kit. Every air conditioner needs a way to exhaust hot air so if you plan to use a portable unit in several rooms, make sure you also buy extra window installation kits.
How Big an Air Conditioner Do You Need?
Once you understand the types of air conditioners available and the type of unit you want to buy, it's time to determine how big a unit you need. Big refers to how much space you can cool, measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs). There are several factors to consider when sizing your air conditioner.
- Room size using the table below. You have to consider the entire space with an open floor plan. With smaller rooms, you should also consider how likely you are to keep doors closed between rooms.
- Ceiling height as the table assumes 8 foot ceilings. Higher ceilings require slightly more cooling capacity because they contain more cubic feet of air. For example, a room that's 10 ft wide x 10 ft long x 8 ft high = 800 cubic feet. If that room has 10 foot ceilings, there are 1,000 cubic feet (here's a simple calculator for cubic feet).
- Natural sunlight should also be considered. Rooms getting a large amount of sunlight need about 10% more BTUs while rooms with little/no sunlight can be cooled with slightly fewer BTUs.
- Number of people in the room can also affect how much cooling capacity. If the room has more than two people, it's recommended you add 600 BTUs for each extra person.
It's important to calculate your BTUs to avoid problems. Too few BTUs might mean a room isn't comfortable. Too many BTUs will cause the air conditioner to turn on and off too frequently, lowering it's operating efficiency and lifetime.
|# Rooms To Be Cooled||# Square Feet||# BTUs Needed|
|One Room||Up to 150 sq ft||5 – 6,000 BTUs|
|150 – 300 sq ft||6 – 8,000 BTUs|
|300 – 400 sq ft||8 – 10,000 BTUs|
|Multiple Rooms||400 – 600 sq ft||10 – 13,000 BTUs|
|600 – 800 sq ft||13 – 16,000 BTUs|
|800 – 1,00 sq ft||16 – 18,000 BTUs|
|Large Area||1,000 – 1,500 sq ft||18 – 23,000 BTUs|
|> 1,500 sq ft||24 – 28,000 BTUs|
Some Types of Air Conditioners Offer Extra Features
Over the years many new features have been developed to enhance these air conditioning units. Here's a quick summary of to help you identify the ones you want to look for when buying one.
- Remote controls – have been added to many units so you can activate them from across the room.
- Timers – are one of my favorite features, so you can set your air conditioner to turn on before you get home from work.
- Filters – are now available on some units to remove allergens and odors.
- Noise levels – are important so if you're at the store, try to listen to the unit before you buy it. If not, make sure to listen after installed and consider cost to return if too loud.
- Air flow – helps us feel cooler so the ability to adjust louvers can be helpful. Some models even have motorized louvers to blow cold air around the room. Most models have the ability to switch from fresh air to recirculating.
Ready to buy an air conditioner? You'll find the best prices during the fall or winter, when stores want to get rid of leftover inventory. Sales occur on holiday weekends but don't wait too long, as air conditioners disappear after the first hot spell.