13 Types of Air Conditioners: Best AC Units for Cooling Your Home

Summer is coming, which means one thing for homeowners and renters – air conditioning! If you’re like most people, you’ll be using your AC to stay cool all summer long. Some people use their air conditioners for as much as 75% of the year. But with all the different types of air conditioners available on the market, how do you know which one is right for you?

There are many types of air conditioners for a variety of purposes. Central ducted air conditioning systems work for the whole house. Ductless mini-split systems also work for homes, apartments, condos, garages, etc. but don’t use ductwork. Stand-alone ACs like window and portable units work for smaller open spaces from 100 to 650 square feet.

Let’s look at some statistics about air conditioning and the different types of air conditioners available on the market.

As of 2018, approximately 1.6 billion air conditioners are installed worldwide, accounting for about 20 percent of global building energy consumption. By 2050, the number should reach or exceed 5.6 billion.

The U. S. Department of Energy estimates nearly 100 million homes, or 87% of US households, have air conditioning systems and spend approximately $11 billion each year to power their air conditioners.

Now that we’ve established how much money is spent on various air conditioner types let’s look at what happens when you buy a new air conditioning system or replace an old one.

There are three main categories of air conditioners. Each contains different types of air conditioners you can install based on your individual needs.

Central Ducted Air Conditioner Systems and Heat Pumps: These use ductwork to distribute cool air and include a variety of package systems like:

  • Self-contained systems have all system components inside one container.
  • Split systems have two main components including an indoor unit connected to an outdoor unit by refrigerant tubes.
  1. Central air conditioner
  2. Air source heat pump
  3. Dual fuel heat pump
  4. Ground source heat pump (geothermal)
  5. Water source heat pump
  6. Evaporator system (swamp cooler)

Ductless Mini-Split Heat Pump: These hyper energy-efficient air-source systems do not use ducts, can be single- or multi-zoned and feature an indoor cassette and outdoor condensing fan. Cassette types include:

  1. Ductless mini-split heat pump
  2. Wall mounted cassette
  3. Floor mounted cassette
  4. Ceiling mounted cassette

Stand-Alone Air Conditioners work well in small spaces typically covering 100 to 650 square feet. These include:

  1. Window air conditioner
  2. Portable air conditioner
  3. Through-wall air conditioner

Now that we’ve seen the many sorts of air conditioning available on the market, it’s time to choose the best system for your home. We will look at the central ducted systems, ductless mini-split systems, and stand-alone units. We also have a buying guide with critical factors you need to consider when buying each.

1. Central Air Conditioner

A central air conditioner is the best option for cooling a house with six or more rooms or is over 2000 square feet.

A central air conditioner works in conjunction with the blower and evaporator coil inside the furnace to circulate air through ducts installed in your home. It’s also known as a central ducted system.

These systems can be both split or package systems.

A gas package system is a self-contained system that uses either natural gas or propane as a primary heat source coupled with a built-in electric air conditioner. These systems sit outside your home and connect to ductwork that delivers air conditioning to multiple rooms in your home.

They are generally one-zone systems with ductwork located inside the crawl space.

A split system has an inside electric or gas furnace with an outdoor condensing unit that contains the compressor.

The outdoor condenser unit is the air conditioner. The indoor furnace contains the evaporator coil and blower the air conditioner needs to operate.

The refrigerant passes between the two systems through copper tubing. The refrigerant-filled coil comes into the air conditioner super-heated. Refrigerant is then rapidly cooled to remove heat before traveling back to the blower, where it cools the air before distributing it throughout your house.

Smart thermostats may be connected with central air conditioners to provide an innovative home experience.

2. Air Source Heat Pump

Air source heat pumps look like an all-electric system similar to a central air conditioner system. The main difference is that an air-source heat pump, through a reversing valve, provides both energy-efficient air conditioning and heating.

The reversing valve reverses the refrigerant flow from heating to cooling mode.

These systems can be both split or package systems.

A package system is a self-contained system. It contains the evaporator coil, blower, compressor, and fan all inside one system that sits outside your home and connects to ductwork that delivers air conditioning to multiple rooms in your home.

They are generally one-zone systems with ductwork located inside the crawl space.

A split system features an inside air handler that contains an evaporator coil and blower with an outdoor condensing unit that houses the compressor.

The refrigerant passes between the two systems through copper tubing. The refrigerant-filled coil comes into the outdoor condenser super-heated. It is rapidly cooled to remove heat before traveling back to the air handler, where the blower distributes cooled air throughout your house. In heating mode, this process reverses refrigerant flow to heat the home.

Split-systems can be multi-zone by adding damper doors into the ducts controlled by thermostats. You’ll need a thermostat to control each zone.

Programmable thermostats can control heating and cooling modes through auto settings to provide a smart home experience utilizing cutting-edge, best heat pump technology.

3. Dual Fuel Heat Pumps

A dual fuel heat pump combines a gas furnace with an electric air-source heat pump to provide a low-cost and efficient heating and cooling performance. The system changes between burning fossil fuels and utilizing electricity according to the temperature outdoors.

You set the temperature at which the system changes from heat pump to furnace, or you may also make the manual switch.

The heat pump’s cooling and heating functions reverse during the summer season. The heat pump pulls hot air from within your house, removes the heat, and expels it outside—the furnace kicks in when the temperature is too low for a heat pump to work effectively.

The main benefit of a dual-fuel heat pump is that when temperatures drop below freezing, the gas furnace provides backup heat rather than electric heat strips, which are very inefficient.

With a dual fuel heat pump, you won’t experience high electric bills as you would from electric heat strips in frigid weather. The gas furnace is more efficient than emergency heat strips in conventional heat pumps and only runs when necessary.

A dual fuel heat pump can equally as quickly decrease a home’s temperature as a regular air conditioner unit. The home’s interior cools by reversing the heat over a sequence of coils with refrigerant to lower the temperature.

A dual fuel pump might be expensive to purchase. Compared to other HVAC systems, they’re relatively new, and some smaller HVAC companies still aren’t dealing with them. If you live in a populated area, you should find a contractor.

4. Ground-Source Heat Pumps (Geothermal)

Geothermal heating and cooling is a new technology that uses the earth’s insulating qualities to work. Because the temperatures beneath 4 to 6 feet of soil are constant all year, geothermal technology uses this to heat and cool your home more effectively.

Geothermal cooling is a relatively recent, energy-efficient technology quickly growing in popularity worldwide.

The earth’s temperature is relatively steady at 55 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year because of its insulating qualities. The ground maintains a relatively constant 55-degree Fahrenheit temperature year-round, regardless of the weather.

Ground temperature is an essential component of geothermal technology. It permits more efficient heating and cooling of your home than other technologies.

A piping system often called a “loop,” or “ground loop,” moves water between your home, a heat pump, and the ground. These polyethylene pipes can be laid vertically or horizontally, depending on the site’s topography.

Water runs through this earth loop in the winter, absorbing heat from the ground and storing it. Heat compresses, raises the temperature, and delivers it back into your house.

In the summer, this cycle reverses, and the heat pump removes extra heat and transfers it to the ground. The cooled air then travels throughout your house via ductwork.

This technology uses no fossil fuels to generate cooling or heating. However, you will still need electricity to operate the compressor, fan, and pump. You can use solar energy to power a geothermal system for an utterly green setup.

Europe uses geothermal heating and cooling in over 70 percent of new houses. Geothermal is now in more than 70% of new homes in Switzerland and Sweden.

5. Water Source Heat Pumps (Geothermal)

Water source heat pumps are an excellent option for using green energy to cool their home. These air conditioners use the earth’s natural temperature and water to create a cooling effect in your home. They are also highly efficient, which means you will save money on your energy bill each month.

A water source heat pump operates similarly to a ground source heat pump, except that the loop pipes are immersed in a body of water and not buried in the ground. The water needs to be deep enough to not freeze in the winter and not become excessively hot in the summer.

The refrigerant solution in the loop pipes circulates as usual, but it absorbs or releases heat from the water source. Lakes, ponds, aquifers, and wells are typical water sources.

The water source system installation costs less than a ground source heat pump because you don’t need to dig ground trenches like you would in a ground-source system.

The depth and characteristics of the water source may determine whether you install loop pipes vertically or horizontally. Water-source loop pipes are more straightforward to set up.

However, water source heat pumps aren’t feasible if you don’t have a well, pond, aquifer, or body of water near your business where you can submerge the loop pipes.

A water source heat pump may need additional equipment for effective functioning, such as a cooling tower in which heat is transferred back and forth inside your home.

6. Evaporative Coolers (Swamp Coolers)

Evaporative coolers (swamp coolers) are not as popular as refrigerant air conditioners. Unlike traditional air conditioners that utilize Freon, evaporative coolers work entirely through air and water.

The technology behind a swamp cooler is so basic that you can trace it back to ancient Egypt.

When air passes over or through water, it is cooled. With this in mind, evaporative coolers take hot air from your home and chill it by drawing moisture into the pads, which cool air before distributing it throughout your home.

Evaporative coolers are only practical in hot, dry environments. Evaporation occurs as a result of the heated, dry air. In addition, swamp coolers function as humidifiers and would be undesirable in regions where humidity is already an issue.

A swamp cooler consumes significantly less power than traditional air conditioners, with the only electricity consumed being for the fan’s operation. Another advantage for environmentally aware individuals is that swamp coolers do not utilize Freon or emit carbon dioxide, harming the environment.

Evaporative air conditioners work by drawing heated air into the house through moisture pads. The air cools and distributes across the home using a fan. They are popular in the American Southwest, a dry, hot environment. If your house or region already has high humidity, this model isn’t ideal because it will raise humidity levels to unsafe levels.

7. Ductless Mini-Split Heat Pump

If you want better performance, a ductless mini-split heat pump is super-efficient. DIY ductless heat pump installation is available with some ductless systems. Ductless systems are an excellent choice for modern residences, but they can also be great for apartments, offices, garages, store buildings, etc.

A split system air conditioner combines an outdoor compressor and condenser with one or more indoor units or “cassettes.” These indoor units, including air blowers, are installed on the wall, floor, or ceiling. The wall cassette is the most common option. The indoor and outdoor units connect by refrigerant-filled tubing, which transfers heat from indoors to outdoors.

Because these indoor wall-mounted units are relatively small and best placed in an open space, they use heat pump technology for heating and cooling. Compared to other choices available, these ductless mini-splits can sport up to 30 SEER ratings.

8. Wall Mounted Air Conditioner

Ductless wall-mounted air conditioners are an excellent choice for families with limited space, as they are smaller and don’t use ducts. There’s no thermostat to install because they use a remote control programmed or manually operated. Some models even allow you to use your smartphone as a remote.

Ductless systems have washable and reusable air filters, which are easy to clean.

Mini-split air conditioners are becoming increasingly popular in the HVAC market. Benefits of ductless systems include:

  • No ductwork
  • Lower installation costs than central ducted systems (There are DIY mini-split units as well).
  • Extremely high-energy efficiency (Most have 20 SEER ratings and above)
  • Can be multi-zone (two or more cassettes with one outside compressor)

The compressor generates the most noise. Therefore the outside unit is positioned outside of the house. However, most are still quieter than central systems.

The ductless mini-split has one outdoor and one indoor unit, about 6,000 to 12,000 BTU. Larger capacity systems can handle multiple rooms and increase in BTU accordingly.

ZonesAverage BTU
Two indoor units24,000
Three indoor units36,000
Four indoor units48,000
Five indoor units60,000

In short, this implies you may have three 9,000 BTU, 12,000 BTU, and 15,000 BTU units inside the home. Outside the house, you’d have a larger, louder condenser fan. This type of system has a 36,000 BTU capacity beyond the capabilities of any stand-alone air conditioner.

9. Floor Mounted Air Conditioner

Floor-mounted air conditioners are similar to wall-mounted units in many ways. The main distinction between them is it secures on the floor rather than being mounted on the wall.

Floor-mounted air conditioners are ideal for those who want a mini-split but don’t have enough room for a wall-mounted unit. The indoor floor-mounted air conditioner unit is on the floor in the room, and the compressor is outside.

You can install it six inches higher than the floor and connect it to the outdoor unit through a hole in the wall, allowing the refrigerant tubes to pass through to the condenser.

Another great advantage of putting this AC is checking the air filters. Filters are washable and reusable.

Floor-mounted mini-split systems cool and heat rooms more quickly than other installation methods since the fan blows air directly at your level. Units that are mounted high on the wall, on the other hand, might frequently have a hard time uniformly and efficiently cooling the space.

However, to operate effectively and efficiently, the floor units require open space all around them. Remember not to block the AC with furniture, disrupting air circulation.

10. Ceiling Mounted Air Conditioner

The cassette ceiling-mounted air conditioner is most suited for business spaces but can also work in your house. You can install it on flat or slated ceilings.

The main advantage of ceiling air conditioners is aesthetics and power.

They are typically modern-looking, don’t stick out from a wall or the floor, and are more expensive than wall-mounted units. The only thing that sticks out of the ceiling is the four outlet louvers. They are suitable for businesses like restaurants, doctor offices, and salons.

Given their location, cooling air is directed vertically rather than horizontally. Most air conditioners are installed on the wall and move air horizontally. Because cassette air conditioners are on the ceiling, they blow downward when standing underneath the AC unit.

11. Window Air Conditioner

Window air conditioners are available in various sizes, so you may use them to cool a single room or a tiny space. If you choose an oversized window air conditioner, you can effectively cool a larger open space.

As an alternative to larger HVAC systems, window air conditioners have long been known for cooling small places and are the most frequent kind of air conditioner.

A window air conditioner is a single piece that contains all of the components. As the name implies, it throws heat out of its outdoor side and inflates cool air into the room on the indoor side. As the name implies, it’s put in a window or through a hole in the wall.

Air conditioners with a filter that slides out for cleaning are more efficient. These air conditioners feature front controls and may also be remote control.

A window air conditioner is placed against a wall or a window on one side and outdoors. You may put it up through a window or a wall.

Even with window AC units, there are still challenges. Even if you mount it in the wall, the wall mustn’t be thicker than 9 inches. Thick walls frequently limit airflow and make your window AC unit less energy efficient than other kinds of air conditioners.

Window air conditioners are less expensive and easier to install than split-system devices. Some advanced models can heat your room throughout the winter.

12. Portable Air Conditioner

Portable air conditioners are comparable to window air conditioners except that it’s portable, and you can move them from room to room. All you need is a power outlet and access to a window for the unit’s return duct.

If you only need temporary cooling space or installing a window or a split air conditioner isn’t an option, consider investing in a portable ac unit. These portable units are helpful and come in small sizes that you can even use for pet kennels or restrooms.

Portable air conditioners may be single-hose, taking in air from inside space and expelling it outside, or double-hose, which draws air from the outdoors through one hose and then cools the compressor by circulating it.

The primary benefit is that you can relocate the AC unit, but you’ll also need to move the air pipe. You must release the hot air outside of the house. Every portable AC unit comes with an air hose (4″ to 6″) that may be up to 10 feet long for this purpose.

Because a portable unit stays indoors, its evaporator fan continues to run to evaporate the accumulated moisture, which can be loud and distracting on high settings. The evaporator fan, which evaporates condensation, is blamed for the excessive noise.

They are also relatively tiny. The capacity of the smallest portable AC units ranges from 5,000 to 14,000 BTUs (largest portable AC units).

A 10,000 BTU air conditioner can adequately cool a 400-450 square feet area (based on the EnergyStar BTU chart).

A portable air conditioner is a self-contained air conditioner with an exhaust vent on the top of the unit. It rolls on wheels, and you can relocate it.

You have many options for selecting the best type of portable air conditioner. For less than $500, you can get an outstanding one. It’s the most adaptable form of air conditioning.

They are ineffective in rooms larger than 500 square feet, and they have shown to be insufficient in a variety of other situations as well.

Many homeowners may use a portable air conditioner as a last resort when using a window unit is impossible due to these units’ noise and relative weakness. To their credit, these devices are light and commonly have wheels, making them simple to transport between rooms.

Portable air conditioners work for houses with window restrictions or building regulations that prohibit the use of window units.

Our most recent evaluations say portable air conditioners don’t cool as efficiently as manufacturers claim. They are also more expensive and require more energy than window units of similar size.

13. Through-Wall Air Conditioners

Through-the-wall air conditioners, like window ACs, use the same basic technology: they pull in warm air and exhaust it. These are self-contained or “unitary” systems, like window units and portable air conditioners.

For individuals who do not have access to windows, through-the-wall air conditioners are an excellent alternative; nevertheless, you need some planning because they are permanently installed.

To install one of these, you must make a hole in an exterior wall and a sleeve inserted. Because the wall isn’t strong enough to support the air conditioner’s weight, these sleeves are necessary to keep it from collapsing. It’s best if a licensed contractor does the installation if you’ll be cutting into your home’s wall for the first time.

One of the benefits of using a through-the-wall air conditioner over a window unit is that you don’t have to give up your use of your window. Another benefit is that there is now an airtight seal, making the device more energy efficient.

Commonly, these systems are found in hotel rooms and studio efficiency condominiums.

Air Conditioner (AC) Buying Guide

When the weather gets hot, thoughts turn to air conditioning. In 2020, almost 6 million room air conditioners were sold, up by nearly 10% over the previous year. That’s not surprising given that many of us were working from home rather than in an air-conditioned workplace.

According to Energy Star, the average household devotes 13% of its annual utility cost to cooling. It’s critical to get the unit. A room that isn’t adequately cooled may be due to an air conditioner that is too small or too large.

Air Conditioner Cost and Budget

The cost of cooling your home can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on the kind of system you’re seeking.

The fact is that there is no precise method to assess the cost of an air conditioner until you know exactly what you’re getting. Like everything else, your best bet is to figure out what you want and then compare prices from various vendors.

The most budget-friendly choices are window air conditioners and portable air conditioners. Keep in mind that such systems may only cool a single room at a time.

A ductless air conditioner or a mini-split AC is considered cost-efficient if you only need to cool one or two rooms. If you want to use a single ductless system to cool your entire house, you’ll have to keep it on at all times, adding to your energy expenses and effectiveness.

Depending on the sort (window, mini-split, or portable), Smart ACs are somewhat more expensive than traditional units. They do, however, result in lower energy consumption and so are not as costly to operate.

Compared to the previous types of air conditioners, a central air conditioning unit is more costly and more efficient than stand-alone units. Furthermore, these air conditioners tend to survive longer than portable or window air conditioners. The cost of operation for these, however, is considerably greater.

While geothermal heating and cooling might be the most expensive alternative, they are typically the most efficient over time for energy efficiency. Geothermal systems have an unmatched level of efficiency and effectiveness when compared to other AC technologies available on the market today. If you invest a significant amount of money in such a system, it may pay dividends for many years to come.

Air Conditioner Energy Consumption

Ensure that you make the most of your energy costs by purchasing an energy-efficient air conditioning system. The Energy-Efficiency Ratio (EER) rating measures how efficient a system is. It’s vital to verify that you can take the most cost-effective alternative into account. The higher the rating, the more efficient the equipment is.

The Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) is another critical variable. The cooling output divided by total electric energy input during the same period is expressed as a percentage.

On the other hand, the SEER rating is different from the EER rating. The SEER is calculated over a whole cooling season of many months at various temperature points, whereas the EER is only calculated at a single temperature point. Once again, the higher the unit’s SEER rating, the more energy-efficient it is.

If you’re looking for a way to save money on your air conditioning, look no further. Here are some simple methods to help you cut back on your expenses while keeping the temperature just right!

Air Conditioner Cooling Capacity

Choosing the appropriate British thermal unit (BTU) for your needs ensures that you get the most energy-efficient cooling available. To assist you in estimating the cooling capacity you’ll require from a room air conditioner, use our BTU calculator.

The BTU rating indicates how quickly and effectively a unit can chill a space. Ratings are generally between 5,000 and 20,000 BTUs.

When purchasing a room air conditioner, consider the BTUs needed to cool the area. A single-room air conditioner with insufficient BTUs may not cool a large space adequately. In contrast, an enormous room air conditioner in a confined location will cycle on and off, wasting energy and lowering the unit’s dehumidification capacity.

When selecting a unit with the appropriate BTU rating, consider things like ceiling height, room insulation, sun exposure, site location, and your region’s climate.

  • If there is a lot of sunshine in the room, select room air conditioners with 10% more BTUs than needed to cool the space.
  • If you’re putting a unit in your kitchen, choose one with 4,000 more BTUs than the space require.
  • If your area has more than two occupants on a regular basis, add 600 BTUs for each person.

Space Requirements and Ease of Maintenance

The essential component in ensuring that your air conditioner lasts for years is to keep it simple to maintain. Similarly, invest in one that is appropriate for your home’s space.

Air Conditioner’s Noise Levels

Window and portable air conditioners will operate much louder than split systems, mainly because the entire (or majority) unit is indoors. Window and portable units will be noisier because of your proximity to the fan. The white noise created by these units is appealing to some people, while others could find it disruptive to sleep.

Split systems are much quieter because the fan is always outdoors. While all AC systems create interior noise pollution, most don’t find the split system’s noise disruptive.

Factor In the Window Location

Window air conditioners are more likely to provide a uniform airflow in one direction. Suppose your window isn’t positioned precisely on the wall. To properly cool your space, you’ll need to send air straight down to its middle, so double-check whether your AC needs to blow air to the right or left. Some window units have a rotating fan or directional control.

Install It Correctly

It is critical to install your window air conditioner correctly to get the most out of it. The majority of units fit single-hung and double-hung windows. A through-wall air conditioner will be a better option if you have casement windows.

Make sure your window unit is level to ensure that it drains properly.

If you live in an apartment or condominium, be sure to seek the landlord’s permission before you install an air conditioner.

Consider Smart Cooling Options

Some air conditioners have gotten very smart, allowing you to manage and regulate them from your smartphone. You could also be able to connect them to other cooling systems in your home.

Check the Warranty

Some air conditioners and split systems come with longer warranties than others. When purchasing a new AC system, look up the manufacturer’s website for information and ask about the warranty on the brand and model you’re interested in buying.

How You’ll Control the AC Unit

Another element to consider while selecting a type of air conditioner is the sort of control you want to use. Central air conditioning, for example, is typically linked to your thermostat. After you’ve determined your ideal temperature, you may leave it alone and let the system handle everything for you automatically.

Manual dials, digital keypads, and remote controls are just a few examples of manual-response devices. Other than that, most portable or window units don’t respond automatically, so you must manually turn them on and off.

The ability to cool different rooms or “zones” at precise temperatures is one of the significant advantages of ductless mini split systems. It doesn’t make much sense to cool the whole house if your family spends time in one area and the rest is empty.

Plug Types for Stand-Alone AC Units

Because of the high amount of energy many air conditioners consume, a large number of them will not be able to work with traditional wall outlets. Many smaller portable and window units use conventional 120-volt connections, although many bigger units need a 240-volt outlet, requiring different terminations.

If you’re buying one of these bigger units, an electrician will need to install a 240-volt outlet with a separate circuit for your air conditioner.

Conclusion

No matter what type of air conditioner you buy, you’ll likely need help. Even installing a window unit can be a two-person job as many weigh from 60 to 90 lbs and may require bracing.

Before purchasing your system, contact an HVAC professional to discuss your AC needs. If installing a through-wall AC for the first time, you may need a licensed contractor to cut the opening.

When installing a ductless mini-split system, you’ll likely need an electrician to run the wire circuits from the panel to the outdoor fan and wall cassette.

Photo of author

Hubert Miles

I've been conducting home inspections for 17 years. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and FHA 203k Consultant. I started HomeInspectionInsider.com to help people better understand the home inspection process and answer questions about homeownership and home maintenance.
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