How to Select the Right Home Air Conditioning System
Shopping for an air conditioning system can be an overbearing process for the average home owner with all of the types and options available. In order to keep you sanity (and your money), it is helpful to have some guidelines at your disposal in order to narrow down the options to only those that meet your needs. Here are some high level guidelines to help you determine the best choices for you in your particular situation. I will list then by least expensive to most expensive.
Portable Air Conditioners
Portable air conditioners are a great utility appliance to have in any home. They are ideal for providing spot cooling for small rooms or areas on an ‘as needed’ basis. You will need to channel the heat exhaust to the outside via the exhaust duct provided with the unit, so you will need access to a window or some other portal to make this happen. Condensation is also collected inside of the unit and needs to be emptied after each use or when it fills up. When considering portable air conditioners, you should view them as an appliance like your vacuum cleaner that will be pulled out when needed and put away when not in use. If you envision yourself using this appliance on a continuous basis in a fixed location, then this is probably not the best solution for your application. If you do decide to move forward with the portable option, here are some features that you should consider:
Get the highest BTU rating that you can afford.
Find a unit with an automatic shut-off when the condensation reservoir fills up.
Look for units that come equipped with a washable air filter. This will cut down on your maintenance costs.
Other options like timers, oscillators, wheels, etc. are a matter of personal preference and budget.
Window Mounted Air Conditioners
Window units are a good solution for cooling individual rooms within your home and are used as the primary cooling solution in most of the northern US where high temperatures are limited to about three months out of the year. Window units can be installed by the average home owner without the aide of an air conditioning professional. Although they are not intended to be permanent fixtures, it is rare to see units that are taken down an stored away during the none summer months. The down side to window is that they create a lot of noise, both inside and outside. If you need to cool more than one room, then you will need additional units for the other rooms. Here are a few considerations if you are shopping for window units:
Highest BTU rating that you can afford.
A sturdy window/window frame to support the weight of the unit.
Condensation drips out of the back of the unit. Be sure that it is not going to land somewhere that will cause a potential health hazard for children and pets.
You will need a 3-prong outlet within close proximity of your window to provide power to the unit.
Is the filter accessible from the front of the unit? This is especially important for 2nd story applications.
Mini-Split -or- Ductless Air Conditioners
This is a 2-piece cooling solution that does about the same job as window units but does not require a window and is very quiet. A hole is punched in the exterior wall of your home to provide cool air to the fan unit that is mounted over the hole. Copper tubing connects the fan unit to the condenser that is installed on a slab outside of your home. Most ductless systems that I’ve installed are the result of not having a window available where the cooling was needed, or that the noise generated by a window unit was not acceptable. If this sounds like you, then here are some things you should consider before selecting the right unit:
The unit should be sized by a professional based on the square footage of the area to be cooled as well as the climate. Other considerations like orientation and shading of the exterior walls also play into the calculation.
Look for a washable air filter to reduce your maintenance cost.
R-22 Freon is being phased out, so only consider a PURON-based solution.Split System Central Air Conditioners Split system central air conditioning is the most common solution in the southern US or in areas where high temperatures extend for 6-months or more. There are three components to a split system solution: The compressor which is mounted on a slab outside of your home, the condenser and the blower/heater which are installed in-line with your ductwork in your attic area. The ductwork services all of the rooms in your home and the blower doubles as a heater for the short winter seasons. The air is recirculated within your home and filtered through a return duct. If you home was not originally designed to support a central heat and air conditioning solution, then trying to retrofit one into your home can be very costly. Routing the ductwork can be very trick if not impossible in some cases for homes not originally designed to allow for it. If you are considering a new central heating and air conditioning solution, then you should consider the following:
Do not use the size of your old unit to determine the size needed for a replacement unit. The majority of systems installed in the US are over-sized for reasons that will be discussed in another article. Installing a unit that is too big will result in higher energy consumption and less condensation removal. Have a professional size your system based on Manual “J” standards. If your air conditioning professional does not know what this is, then run away quickly (-;
Consider replacing your ducts at the same time. Old ductwork contains mold and other heath hazards. New ductwork will provide you with better efficiency and a healthier living environment.
Consider only Puron-based systems since freon (R22) coolant is being phased out.
Weigh the cost of systems with a SEER rating of 16 or higher against those with a lower SEER rating to determine of the Energy Tax Credit offered by the EPA will work for you.
If you have health issues, then you may want to look into electronic air cleaners and UV lights as additional low cost accessories that can be installed in-line for cleaner air.
Package System Air Conditioners
A package system is a single unit solution that contains all of the components that are found in a split system solution inside of a single unit. You will find most package system in office buildings mounted on the roof. There are some home applications in mostly high end homes where the units are hidden from plain site so as not to disrupt the landscaping. The other main difference between a package system versus a split system is that air is channeled in from the outside and heat exhaust is pumped outside. Because of this, package solutions are less energy efficient than split systems.
You have the same considerations when looking at a package solution as you do with a split system. The only difference is that the SEER rating requirement is 14 instead of 16.
Hopefully we have given you some information that will help to narrow down the seemingly infinite options that are available for your air conditioning needs. Happy shopping.