Keeping It Cool: The Different Types of AC Units, Explained

Types of AC Units

Did you know that about eight in 10 US households rely on air conditioners? After all, homes can get unbearably hot without them. So, it’s no wonder they’re among the best engineering achievements of the 20th century.

Moreover, the use of air conditioners can help lower the risks of weather-related woes. The CDC even advises staying in air-conditioned rooms to keep acute heat illnesses at bay. These are common, landing 65,000 people in US emergency rooms each year.

So, if you need a new air conditioner, it’s time you learn more about the different types of AC units. The sooner you get to know what’s available, the sooner you can get one installed at home. You definitely want a working AC before the sweltering heat takes over.

This guide covers the most common air conditioner types, so read on to discover more about them.

Room Air Conditioners

Room air conditioners only cool specific rooms instead of an entire home. They have smaller motors, so they can only provide cool air within a limited area. Still, their typical cooling capacity ranges from 5,000 up to 12,500 British thermal units (Btu/hr.).

Note that air conditioners need about 20 Btu for each square foot of space they need to cool. So, if you have a 300-square foot room, a room AC with a 6,000 Btu rating can provide adequate cooling.

Room AC units can either be a through-the-wall or a window air conditioner. A through-the-wall AC unit is an individual system installed in a hole made in an exterior wall of a room. Its rear side can either hang out minimally out the wall or sit flush with the exterior wall.

Window AC units require installation within an existing window. For this reason, they protrude through windows, which is a must as their vents are on their sides. They generally cost less than wall systems, but they use more space and restrict the window’s use.

Central Air Conditioners

About 94% of new US homes that started construction in 2018 have central air conditioners. That makes central AC units the most common type of air conditioner in modern US homes.

One reason is that central air conditioners are more efficient than room AC units. You only need one central AC to cool (or even heat) your entire home. These units are quieter and out of the way, too, bringing conditioned air through hidden ducts.

With that said, central air conditioners rely on ducts to cool, and sometimes, even heat homes. If you don’t have existing ducts, you need to have them installed before the central AC itself. Otherwise, the air conditioner will have no way to circulate air throughout your home.

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) contractors can install ducts for you. If cost is a concern, the folks at Inland Empire Comfort say you can take advantage of a free HVAC consultation. This way, you can have an HVAC specialist help you estimate how much the ductwork and the central AC could cost you.

Having an HVAC expert on-site can also help you decide between the two main types of central AC units.

Split-System Central Air Conditioner

A split-system central AC comes with two components: an indoor and an outdoor unit.

The indoor unit is responsible for delivering cold air throughout your home. In some models, the indoor unit also houses a heat pump, circulating warm air during winter.

The indoor unit then brings the hot air it absorbed inside your home to the outdoor AC unit. One of the key roles of the outdoor unit is to expel all that hot air to the outdoor air.

Because a split AC system can provide just cooling, it may be a better choice if you already have a boiler or a furnace.

Packaged Central Air Conditioner

A packaged central AC comes with a single unit, with all its major parts housed in one cabinet. The cabinet, usually located outdoors, connects to the ducts installed inside a home.

Most packaged central air conditioners come with a heater or a natural gas furnace. So, if you need both a new heater and a central AC, a packaged HVAC system may be a good option.

Ductless Mini-Split Air Conditioners

As their name implies, ductless mini-split AC units don’t require ducts to work. Instead, they deliver conditioned air through zoning via individual indoor units. Each indoor unit, which makes up a “zone,” connects to a single main outdoor unit.

Many ductless mini-split AC units can handle four, sometimes even five, indoor units. These indoor units, also known as air handlers, can cool specific rooms or areas, hence the term “zone.” Each air handler has its own thermostat, letting you adjust the temperature in each zone.

For the same reason, you can turn off the AC in rooms that don’t need cooling or heating. This can then help you save a lot of money on your HVAC energy bills.

In addition, mini-splits eliminate the need for ductwork, as they don’t need them in the first place. Even if you already have ducts, you may still want to switch to a mini-split, as your ducts may be wasting energy. Do note that defective ducts can waste up to a staggering 40% of cooling and heating energy.

Moreover, the zoning technology of mini-splits allows for a greater level of customization. For example, you can set the thermostat in one zone at 78 degrees without affecting the other zones. Another household member can set the temp in another zone based on their preference.

Get Pro Advice When Choosing Among These Types of AC Units

As you can see, central air conditioners are the most common types of AC units in the US. On the other hand, room AC units are the least expensive. As for mini-split systems, they’re probably the most convenient and energy-saving.

If you’re still on the fence on which AC unit to get for your home, consult an HVAC contractor. Just be sure they offer free consultations so that you can get their pro advice at no cost at all.

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