Home Air Conditioner Types: What Do They Mean for Homeowners?

Are you looking to take the edge off just a few hot weeks each year, or do you need more consistent cooling? Do you need to cool the whole house, or just certain rooms? There are four main types of air conditioners, each with different advantages. It’s always a good idea to consult with a trained professional experienced in your region to determine which one is the best fit for your home and your preferences. I’m sharing the basics so you’re more informed as you consider options for your home.

As a Home Advisor with the non-profit Enhabit, I’m here to answer your questions about home cooling. At the bottom of this post, I’ll let you know how to set up a no-cost phone consultation with me or one of my fellow Home Advisors.

Central air conditioning condenser

Central air conditioning: Making the whole house cool

Central air conditioning systems use ducts to circulate cool air throughout the house. Usually, refrigerant circulates between an indoor coil and an outdoor condenser and compressor. The refrigerant cools and dehumidifies the air. A fan circulates air through ducts and registers. Most central air systems tie into the home’s furnace, using the same duct system. Central air may be a good option if your home already has ductwork, or if it’s important to cool every room.

A variation of central air is a heat pump, which doubles as a heater in the winter. Heat pumps are all-electric heating and cooling systems that run efficiently and have a higher initial cost, but lower operating cost, than traditional systems. Note that the heater function may not work as well in colder areas and may require supplemental heating sources.

A window air conditioning unit

Window air conditioner units: Low cost cooling where you need it

A popular and low-cost choice for homes without central air conditioning, window units cool rooms directly. These units block part of the window, can be difficult to fully seal against outside hot air, and may post a security risk for windows at ground level. Some homeowners may find the appearance unattractive. Window units also drain water onto the ground outside, so some locations may not be appropriate.

Ductless mini-split

Ductless mini-splits: Efficient and green cooling room-by-room

Ductless mini-split systems are a form of heat pump that use an exterior condenser and interior wall mounted blower units to deliver cooling or heating to individual rooms. Tubes connect the indoor and outdoor units to circulate refrigerant. Because these systems are very efficient and “green,” they are increasingly popular.

Mini splits work well when some rooms need more cooling than others. Many older homes in Oregon have upper floors or converted attics that benefit from mini-splits.

Mini-splits are more expensive than central or window air conditioners but save more energy. They also serve as heaters in the winter.

Evaporative Cooler

Evaporative coolers (swamp coolers): A choice for drier regions

Evaporative coolers use water and a fan to circulate moist air in a room, making it feel cooler as the moisture evaporates. Usually these operate similar to window air conditioners, with each unit cooling only one room. These can work well in dry desert climates, but are not recommended in western Oregon where the air contains more humidity.

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