Various types of air conditioners are some of the most common electrical appliances in homes throughout the United States, and roughly 75% of homes have them. Since they work so hard to keep you cool during the hotter summer months when your plants are flourishing, you know why they’re so important to keep in good condition. However, they can go through a lot of strain, and this can cause them to break down or require a replacement after a few years.
It can take up a decent portion of your home appliance budget. Making the correct choice when it comes to types of air conditioners is critical because your home’s energy consumption and comfort depend directly on it, as do your cooking abilities when temperatures climb. There are various types of air conditioners available on the market for you to consider.
We’re going to dive into the 12 most popular options available on the current market so that you can make an informed decision when it comes time to shop below.
Choosing which air conditioner is going to work best for your needs will depend on your house size and the local environment. What works well for one person may not work for another. Shiny New Air Conditioner by ActiveSteve / CC BY-ND 2.0
1. Air Source Heat Pumps
Air source heat pumps are an energy-efficient option and a low-maintenance way to cool your home if you already have ductwork in place. The installation costs for this type of air conditioner can be on the high end, but it pays off with maintenance and running costs.
Heat pumps utilize electricity to move the warm and cold air throughout your home instead of using fuel to do so. During the summertime, this type of air conditioner will concentrate the warm air inside of your home and dump it outside. During the cooler months, it brings the concentrated warmer air in from outside and spreads it throughout the home.
Typically, one of the biggest benefits of a heat pump system is that it’s much more energy-efficient than other systems on the market. However, this system is the most effective if you live in a very mild climate without any harsh winters. Some area’s scorching summers and freezing winters are anything but mild, so keep this in mind. You can use it in tandem with the core HVAC system to help it be more efficient.
2. Ceiling Air Conditioner
This is most useful for office spaces, and this type of air conditioner has a cassette-like look. It gets installed or suspended from the ceiling, and it attaches to invisible air pipes throughout the building. The biggest benefit of this unit is the power levels and the aesthetics. They usually come with a very sleek and modern design, and they don’t stick out like other types of air conditioners do from the floor or wall. Four outlet louvers do stick out, but it has a more refined look to it.
The power level is another huge draw of this unit because the airflow gets attached to a central airflow, one of these ceiling air conditioner setups can easily replace five window air conditioning units and seven portable air conditioners. The air’s direction is vertical instead of horizontal due to the position, and most of them get mounted to a wall to give you a sideways breeze. You’ll get a downward breeze for the most part with this type of air conditioner since it attaches to the ceiling.
3. Central Air Conditioning
For anyone who has a bigger home or who wants to cool a lot of rooms at once, a central type of air conditioner or “central air” is going to be one of the most efficient ones you can get. The system starts the cooling process with a compressor that gets put outside of the home. This is the piece that actually cools your air. There is a coil filled with refrigerant that gets used to cool the air, and a fan blows it to distribute it throughout the house through the ductwork.
Using the return and supply ducts, this setup will circulate the cool air throughout the building while the warm air gets carried back through the return system. Eventually, it’ll get pushed out of the house using the exhaust system. It will use the same duct system that your heating system uses to direct air from the furnace. Most older homes won’t have this type of air conditioner fitted, but they will have the duct system. So, you can install it if you choose to do so.
However, since you’re dealing with the interior of your home, this system requires a huge amount of planning. It can also be more time-consuming and expensive to maintain or repair if it should break down. You’ll need to bring in a professional to install this system, and it’s one of the most expensive options on the list.
Most newer homes come outfitted with central air because it’s easy to add it in during the building process. Retrofitting a current house can be more expensive and time-consuming, depending on the duct system. Air Conditioner by Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine / CC0 1.0
4. Ductless Split System Air Conditioners
Any type of air conditioner with a split system will give you cooling for different zones in your home. Unlike portable air conditioners or window units, these setups aren’t self-contained appliances. Instead, you’ll get a two-part system with them, like the name suggests. You find them used a lot in larger buildings with a comprehensive duct system. They get the name “split system” because they have two or more parts, including the condenser unit that you install outside and the evaporative units or compact blower units. These usually get mounted on the walls and situated so they can cool whatever zone you want.
The parts of this type of air conditioner connect using conduits, and they carry the refrigerant lines and power. The advantage of this system is that it can cool different rooms in your homes to different temperatures, and each compact unit has a thermostat. Due to this feature, this can be a much more expensive system to install, even when you look at a central air conditioning unit.
5. Evaporative or “Swamp” Coolers
Swamp coolers or evaporative coolers aren’t nearly as common as some of the types of air conditioners on the list, but they can be just as effective. Unlike a traditional air conditioner that uses refrigerant or Freon, this choice uses water and dry air to cool the interior air. The technology behind this type of air conditioner is so simple that you can easily trace a version of it back to ancient Egypt.
When air passes through or above the water, the air will cool down. Knowing this, evaporative coolers will pull the hot air into your home and through moistened pads. The pads will cool the air, and the cooled air will then distribute throughout your home. One of the limitations to this setup is that it only works in dry, hot planting zones. The dry, hot air is the thing that causes the evaporation to happen. Also, these types of air conditioners work as humidifiers and they don’t do well in environments where you already have a problem with humidity levels. So, this unit is very popular throughout the Southwest portion of the United States.
A big benefit of this type of air conditioner is that it uses a lot less energy than a traditional air conditioner setup. The only electricity it pulls is to operate the fan. Another benefit of being eco-friendly is that they don’t use Freon to cool the air, and they don’t emit any carbon dioxide as they run. Both of these things have a negative impact on the surrounding environment.
6. Floor Mounted Air Conditioners
This type of air conditioner is very similar to wall-mounted units. The only difference between the two setups is just as obvious as you think it is. The floor ones get mounted on the floor instead of the wall. This air conditioner type also has two metal pipes that go through the wall and release heated air. However, they’re nowhere near as popular as they once were, and this is unusual due to how energy-efficient they are.
They do tend to take up a lot of space in your home though, and you can’t tuck them away during the summer months like you can a portable air conditioner. They can be built right into older buildings, but most people won’t try to incorporate them into 21st century architectural designs.
7. Geothermal Heating and Cooling
Because the earth has insulating properties, the ground underneath us stays at a relatively consistent temperature right around 55-degrees all year round. No matter what the weather is like outside at any given money, four to six feet down, the earth stays relatively unaffected. Geothermal types of air conditioners take advantage of this fact, and it uses the ground temperature to cool or heat your home more efficiently than other methods.
A piping system called an earth loop or loop will circulate that water between your home, the earth, and a heat pump. The polyethylene pipes can get installed horizontally or vertically, depending on the geography of your specific site. During the winter, water will run through the earth loop and absorb heat from the ground. The heat then gets compressed, and this raises the temperature before delivering it into your home. During the summer months, the reverse process takes place. It takes heat from your home from the heat pump, removes the excess, and delivers it into the ground. As a result, the cool air then gets distributed through your home.
This is a revolutionary system that burns no fossil fuels to create the heat. The heat simply gets transferred to and from the earth. It does use electricity to run the fan, compressor, and pump. Because of how sustainable this method is, geothermal heating and cooling is gaining in popularity, especially throughout Europe. In Sweden and Switzerland, 70% of all new homes use this type of air conditioner.
8. Package Terminal Air Conditioners
If you’ve ever stayed in a hotel, you know that this type of air conditioner is usually installed just above floor height and it usually sits right below the window. The part of this unit that you won’t see is the one that is on the other side of the wall. It comes with an exhaust system that sends warm air outside of the building. Even though they’re typically used in commercial settings, they’re also something you can consider if you have a home type of air conditioner.
Like all air conditioners, this option sends coolant through a compressor that cools the air before redirecting it into the room that you want to cool. Unlike a central air conditioning setup, this is a ductless system that makes your installation slightly less expensive than a central air one. When you compare it to central air systems, this is a much more simple install with a lower upfront cost. One of the biggest advantages of this system is that along with being an air conditioner, it also doubles as a heating system.
You’ll typically use this type of air conditioner to cool or heat one room. In a lot of cases, this can be a very elegant solution to a specific problem. Maybe you added an extension with a room to your home that doesn’t have a connection to your central air ductwork. Or you have a room that gets much more sunlight than the rest of the home so it’s warmer. Installing this type of air conditioner can prevent you from overusing your central air to try and cool a single room.
9. Portable Air Conditioners
Very similar to window air conditioners, this type of air conditioner is a self-contained unit. What this means is that when you purchase this setup, every important component that you need to run it gets packed into a single appliance instead of having to have some parts outside and some inside. They’re very commonly used with building regulations or rules or the room’s design prevents you from installing a window unit. They work by cooling the air using a condenser coil that is inside of the unit and then sending the warm air outside using an exhaust hose.
The exhaust hose on this type of air conditioner is a larger tube that looks like a dryer vent and connects the unit to an airtight window kit that comes with your original purchase and directs all of the exhaust outdoors. As a direct result of the exhaust fan and the condenser being located in the same casing, this unit is usually much noisier than other types of air conditioner. The excessive noise comes from the evaporator fan, and this is the part that evaporates the collected condensation on the inside of the air conditioner.
However, this unit only works well in rooms that are less than 500 square feet. Anything over this will be ineffective at cooling it. Because of how weak these units are and the noise output, a lot of people consider this type of air conditioner a last resort where a window unit won’t work. These units are relatively lightweight and usually come on wheels, and this makes them easy to move from room to room.
10. Spot Coolers
Spot coolers are typically reserved for people who own ships, boats, or airplanes. They usually have more than a 30,000 BTU capacity, and this is enough power to cool down a mid-sized boat. Depending on the size, you could use it to cool down an entire boat, and they come with dual pipes that take care of the hot and cold air exchange.
Spot coolers are also mobile, and they usually get parked on the outside or warm side of a boat while most types of air conditioners get placed inside of a room or on the cold side. They blow cold air in while sucking hot air out to cool the space.
11. Through-the-Wall Air Conditioners
This type of air conditioner will bring in warm air before exhausting it and sending cool air out and back into the room to lower the temperature. Unlike portable air conditioners or window units, these are a self-contained setup. If you don’t have accessible windows, this is a viable option to consider. However, it does require some planning to get it installed because they get permanently mounted through the wall and you can’t take them out and move them.
To mount one of these systems, you have to cut a hole in your home’s exterior wall before installing a sleeve. The sleeve is a necessary component that will help support this type of air conditioner’s weight because the wall itself isn’t strong enough to do so. Since you’re cutting through the wall of your home, it’s highly recommended that you enlist a professional’s help instead of DIY. One of the biggest advantages of this type of air conditioner over a window unit is that you don’t lose the use of your window. It also creates an airtight seal, and this makes it much more energy-efficient.
12. Window Air Conditioners
The final type of air conditioner on the list is one of the most common types on the market. If you take a walk down a city street and look up, you’ll see plenty of these. This air conditioner normally gets mounted in the window as you’d guess from the name, and it has an exhaust system on it that pushes hot air out of the back and sides of the unit. The refrigerant cooling system is pointed to the home’s interior.
They usually offer the ability to cool one room at a time, so if you have a bigger home, you might have to install them in each room you want to cool down. They’re pretty cost-effective, and they are still the most popular option for those who live in smaller apartments or homes. Additionally, you can move it between rooms as necessary to keep cool and remove it totally during the winter months.
However, a disadvantage is losing the window that you install this type of air conditioner in, both in terms of the amount of light that you let in and access to fresh air.
Window air conditioners are extremely popular, and they come in a large range of sizes and outputs, and this allows you to customize it to your needs. A Frosty Air Conditioner by starmanseries / CC BY 2.0
What to Consider Before Buying Your Air Conditioning System
Before you buy your air conditioner or decide to have a specific air conditioning system installed, there are some factors that you want to consider to ensure that you’re getting the best option for your needs. They include:
The amount of energy that your air conditioner can put out at any given moment gets measured in BTUs. In order to figure out how many BTUs your system should have to cool the space efficiently, you have to figure out how many square feet of space you have in the room. You can do this by getting a tape measure and measuring the length of the room and the width before multiplying them together. However, unless the room is a perfect rectangle, you also have to account for the closets, entrances, or nooks and crannies that the room has. Onee you figure out the square footage, the following is rough estimate of how many BTUs your type of air conditioner should have:
Square Footage – BTUs Required
- 100 to 150 square feet: 5,000
- 150 to 250 square feet: 6,000
- 250 to 300 square feet: 7,000
- 300 to 350 square feet: 8,000
- 350 to 400 square feet: 9,000
- 400 to 450 square feet: 10,000
- 450 to 500 square feet: 12,000
- 500 to 700 square feet: 14,000
- 700 to 1,000 square feet: 18,000
- 1,000 to 1,200 square feet: 21,000
- 1,200 to 1,400 square feet: 23,000
- 1,400 to 1,500 square feet: 24,000
- 1,500 to 2,000 square feet: 30,000
- 2,000 to 2,500 square feet: 34,000
Another thing to consider when it comes to the type of air conditioner you pick out is figuring out the controls. For example, a central air conditioning unit usually connects to your thermostat, and once you’ve set it to your ideal temperature, you’ll be able to leave it be. The system will automatically do all of the work for you. Other units like windows or portable ones don’t respond automatically, and you have to monitor them manually. They can have everything from digital keypads or manual dials to remote controls.
Depending on the type of air conditioner you’re considering buying, the cost of cooling your home can range anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. There is no real reliable way to price an air conditioning system unless you know what you’re getting. The best thing you can do to make the system as painless as possible is to decide what you want and compare prices from different retailers, both online and in person.
We’ve picked out the 12 types of air conditioners you can choose for your home, and you can look and see which ones work best for your needs. You want to consider your home size, budget, and the environment. Doing so will help you narrow down your choices and stay cool all season long.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.