Choosing the right air conditioner
Temperature control is an important part of making homes comfortable and regulating indoor air quality. Whether you're installing a new air conditioning system in your home or revamping an old one, finding the right model for your household needs will help keep your living space cool for years to come.
Types of Air Conditioners
Air conditioners can generally be divided into compact systems and distribution systems. Compact systems, or room air conditioners, circulate air within confined or (semi-confined) spaces. They can be freestanding or installed in windows and walls. Window air conditioners are the least expensive units. They may be formatted for double-hung or slider windows and can be installed easily by the owner. Through-the-wall models are slightly pricier and are held in place with a metal sleeve. Freestanding portable air conditioners are approximately 2-3 feet tall and contained in wheeled cabinets that must be located near a window or another means of ventilation. In some models, the condensation collects in a tray which must be emptied periodically.
Among distribution systems are central air conditioning and split air conditioners, both of which circulate conditioned air to multiple locations in the house. Central air conditioning requires forced-air channels or ductwork to transfer cool air and is practical for homes with an existing network. Split air conditioners are comprised of an air handler inside the home and a compressor outside. They also rely on ducts and require professional installation by an HVAC contractor. An additional air handler can be set up in each room that needs cooling.
Some air conditioners are configured to reverse intake and transfer heat when necessary, while others can act as dehumidifiers in addition to cooling the air. No matter the type of unit, some form of filtration system should be present to limit dust and pollen released into the air. Air conditioner filters are usually washable foam, but more expensive electronic cleaners are sometimes included.
What to Consider
The size, placement and efficiency of an air conditioner largely determine its usefulness. Room air conditioners are assigned Energy Efficiency Ratings (EER) and are also assessed by Energy Star. An air conditioner's capacity is measured in British Thermal Units (BTU's) and matched to the square footage of the room. For a small room under 300 square feet, a 6,000-BTU unit is suitable, while a 10,000-BTU unit is appropriate for rooms above 600 square feet. Keep in mind that an incorrectly sized unit or one located in a window receiving a lot of sunlight will cost more to operate and perform at a lower standard.
Central air conditioners receive Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratings (SEER) based on the same BTU-to-energy usage ratio as Energy Efficiency Ratings.
The most inexpensive air conditioners are under $150, while the top-tier products can exceed $1,500. The average shopper will be purchasing within the $250 to $600 range, which can offer more than adequate BTU ratings and great features. Price differences are influenced by features such as precise temperature adjustment, remote controls, controlled temperature options and heating capabilities. If the air conditioner will be placed in a living room or bedroom, invest in a quiet unit, and always install the appliance securely to reduce rattling.
You can't always predict when you'll need a new air conditioner, but you can achieve great savings by shopping off-season instead of during the summer months. Opt for a lower-priced model if you use the unit infrequently and, of course, always shop around for the best deals before making a purchase.