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How to Choose an Air Conditioner

How To Choose A Room Air Conditioner

Choosing an air conditioner involves many considerations—from price point to setup and from noise level to efficiency. Sometimes, the decision can be overwhelming. To help you learn how to choose an air conditioner that will work in your space, start by asking yourself these 10 questions.

For easy accessibility to questions discussed, use our indexed list below:

  1. How much do you want to spend?
  2. Does your residence or office have restrictions against installing a window air conditioner or thru-wall air conditioner?
  3. How much physical space do you have to accommodate a room air conditioner?
  4. What type of windows do you have?
  5. How much installation do you want to perform?
  6. What type of electrical outlets does your room have?
  7. How important is energy efficiency to you?
  8. How important is self evaporation?
  9. Do you prefer easy portability?
  10. How much noise can you withstand?

1. How much do you want to spend?

Window air conditioners are the most economical room air conditioners. The price for a standard-size window AC with basic features—such as multiple fan speeds, an adjustable thermostat, manual or electronic controls, and a timer—ranges from $250 to $500, depending on cooling capacity. The price increases for models with extra features, such as onboard heating modes, air purifiers, energy-saving functions, and remote controls.

Through-the-wall air conditioners are slightly more expensive than window air conditioners, ranging in price from $400 to $700 and above, depending on features. Thru-wall ACs may also require that you purchase a wall sleeve for installation if you don't already have one installed for a previous model.

Standard portable air conditioners are usually priced from $400 to $700. Commercial-grade portable air conditioners, which are often used to cool computer rooms, manufacturing facilities, and large office spaces, can extend into the thousands.

Mini-split air conditioners are the most expensive room cooling options, ranging in price from $900 for a single-zone system to more than $2,500 for multi-zone systems. Additionally, you'll need to figure in the cost of professional installation as well as any installation accessories needed, such as refrigeration tubing.

Although they cost more upfront for installation, mini-split air conditioner systems provide the most efficient, budget-conscious cooling of all room air conditioner types. This is partially because mini-split ACs do not require ductwork and thus, do not experience the average 30% energy loss often seen with ducted central air conditioners. Mini-split systems also provide more effective targeted cooling for only the spaces you use most, conserving your energy dollars.

To learn more about the different air conditioner types, read our article Types of Room Air Conditioners.

2. Does your residence or office have restrictions against installing a window air conditioner or thru-wall air conditioner?

Some apartment complexes, homeowners associations, and office buildings have rules against installing window- or through-wall air conditioners for safety and aesthetic reasons. Additionally, the more extensive installation required for a ductless mini-split air conditioner may not be feasible. In these cases, a portable air conditioner would be the best room air conditioner solution.

3. How much physical space do you have to accommodate a room air conditioner?

Portable air conditioners require a sufficient amount of floor space to ensure that they work efficiently. For example, the Whynter Eco-Friendly 12,000-BTU Portable Air Conditioner, which measures 31 inches high, 17 inches wide, and 19 inches deep, has a 4-foot exhaust hose that must be set up to exhaust warm air smoothly without obstruction. Window air conditioners and through-wall air conditioners do not require any floor space, since they sit inside a window or wall. Mini-split systems take up the least amount of indoor space with their wall-mountable blower units and the largest part of the AC situated outside.

If you have a smaller room without a lot of square-footage, opt for a window AC or through-wall AC to save space. If your space accommodates it, a ductless mini-split system will work well too. Larger rooms can usually accommodate a portable unit with little sacrifice of space.

4. What type of windows do you have?

If you are deciding between a portable or a window AC only, consider the type of windows you have in the space you want to cool. Portable ACs are most popularly set up to vent hot air through double-hung (vertical-sash) or sliding windows. However, some models can also be configured to exhaust air through a wall hole or a drop ceiling if a window is not available. Standard portable AC installation kits will not fit casement (crank) windows. But you can create your own customized casement window kit using Plexiglas. Learn more in our article How To Vent Your Portable AC.

Window air conditioners are designed to be installed inside vertical sash windows only. Specially designed window units can be installed inside sliding windows, but these are pricier. Generally, you won't be able to install a window air conditioner inside a casement window unless you make intense modifications to the window frame.

Mini-split air conditioners and through-wall ACs do not require a window for installation.

5. How much installation do you want to perform?

In terms of man-hours, window air conditioners and through-wall ACs will take longer to install and require more tools than installing a portable AC. The more sophisticated ductless mini-split AC systems require professional installation by a certified technician.

For window AC installation, you'll need to install the window kit, which typically includes window brackets, side curtains, foam sealers, and—in the case of Friedrich window air conditioners—a mounting sleeve or chassis.

More handiwork is required for through-wall AC installation. You'll need to cut an appropriately sized wall hole to accommodate the window unit and install a chassis sleeve. This may require the help of a professional, depending on your comfort and skill level. For both configurations, you'll need to take extra care to ensure that your unit is fully secured inside your window frame or wall opening without any unsafe wobbling.

Portable AC units are nearly "plug-and-go" devices. The only part you'll have to install is the hot air exhaust hose (single or dual). Window exhaust kits for sliding and vertical sash windows are typically included with your unit, and most window kits can be set up with tools you have around the house.

When exhausting a portable air conditioner through a wall, you'll need to create a custom wall hole to fit the portable AC's exhaust hose adapter. To set up drop ceiling exhaust—a setup that's popular in computer server rooms, which often don't have windows—you'll need the necessary ductwork accessories. Many times, drop ceiling exhaust kits are available as accessories to your model.

If you have questions about setting up drop ceiling exhaust for a portable air conditioner, feel free to call our product experts at 1-800-934-9194. Visit our portable air conditioner for computer room page to see our recommended models for this application.

6. What type of electrical outlets does your room have?

Almost all standard-capacity portable air conditioners operate on traditional 110/120-volt outlets, which are found in all households. Certain models—such as the commercial-grade portable air conditioners by Movincool—use higher-voltage outlets because their cooling capacities are more powerful. Window air conditioners and through-wall air conditioners use either traditional 110/120-volt outlets or 208/230-volt outlets, again depending on their cooling capacities. Most mini-split system ACs operate on 230 volts, but they are hardwired and do not require an electrical outlet.

Make a note of the type of outlet you have in your room or your voltage power supply before you start shopping for a room air conditioner, then look for compatible voltage in the product specifications. As an alternative, you can always seek out an electrician to install the correct rated outlet or power supply for your AC model.

7. How important is energy efficiency to you?

Portable room air conditioners overall are less energy efficient and slightly less powerful than window and thru-wall air conditioners. This is because portable ACs use more energy to expel hot air and have exhaust hoses that may indirectly give off heat in your room. Additionally, single-hose portable ACs create negative pressure inside your space, which prompts warmer air from surrounding rooms to enter the room you are trying to cool. This may counteract the cooling process slightly.

As a result, portable ACs require more BTUs (British Thermal Units) of cooling power to cool the same size room than a similar-capacity window or through-the-wall air conditioner. Overall efficiency and effectiveness is reduced when a portable air conditioner is not vented properly or when the unit is too small to cover the total area of your room.

You can evaluate a portable air conditioner's efficiency by looking for the model's EER, or Energy Efficiency Ratio. This ratio tells you how many BTUs of heat energy a PAC uses for each watt of power. Remember, the higher the EER, the more efficient the air conditioner.

Window AC and thru-wall AC systems are more efficient than portable ACs because they vent hot air directly to the outside, without using extra energy to push warm air through an exhaust hose and window. In addition, half of the window AC—the exhaust system—is located outside, so you won't indirectly add heat to your environment, which slows the cooling rate.

Evaluate a window AC's energy efficiency by looking for an EER measurement and an Energy Star seal. The Energy Star certification means that a unit uses at least 10 percent less energy than similar models. EnergyStar.gov does not currently rate portable ACs using Energy Star criteria.

Ductless mini-split ACs are by far the most efficient room air conditioner systems on the market. Because no ductwork is involved, mini-splits avoid the problem of energy loss through ducts, which can account for up to 30% of your central AC's energy usage. Many mini-split AC systems are also Energy Star-qualified, carry high Energy Efficiency Ratios (EER), and have high Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratios (SEER). SEER ratings give you an indication of how efficient the AC under the conditions of a typical cooling season.

8. How important is self evaporation?

As part of the cooling process, portable, window-style, and thru-wall air conditioners remove moisture from the air, condensing it into a drip tray or evaporating it automatically through special auto-evaporation systems. With modern thru-wall and window ACs, you won't have to worry about getting rid of collected condensate because it automatically evaporates from the drip tray to the outside or through a drain pipe situated outside. Mini-split air conditioners also eliminate this problem because the large, self-contained condenser unit is located outside.

With portable ACs, on the other hand, you have a choice. Most portable air conditioning systems, including the DeLonghi PAC A120E, feature automatic condensate removal systems that exhaust collected water out through your window. However, you may still have to empty the condensate drip tray—especially if the unit dehumidifies a space faster than it can evaporate the water. A few modern portable AC models require you to manually empty collected condensate from an onboard water tank. These are good choices if you won't be venting your portable unit out through a window.

Before choosing a room AC, think about your preference in how to remove collected water and determine what would be best for your environment.

9. Do you prefer easy portability?

Portable air conditioners have the advantage in portability because these models are built to move easily from space to space. Many portable air conditioners include easy-roll casters or have caster kits you can purchase separately for mobility. Heavier window and through-wall air conditioners cannot be easily moved from room to room, since they require more installation work. Ductless mini-split systems are designed for permanent installation.

10. How much noise can you withstand?

As a rule of thumb, any appliance that has an internal fan will make noise. Room air conditioners are no exception. While a completely silent room AC isn't an option, you do have some control over the amount of noise you introduce into your environment. Window ACs, through-the-wall ACs, and portable ACs have comparable decibel (dB) ratings—with the average measurement falling around 55 dB on the highest cooling speed. This sound level is a little louder than a refrigerator "hum" heard from a few feet away.

With a window or thru-wall air conditioner, you may not be as affected by the unit's sound because its internal components are, for the most part, located outside. With a portable AC, you might be more disturbed because the entire unit is located inside your room. Ductless mini-split air conditioners provide quieter cooling than other room AC types. This is because the loudest part of the air conditioning system, the condenser, is located outdoors.

In any case, the type of sound you'll hear from a room AC is better described as "white noise" or background noise that eventually fades.

Still Have Questions?

For more information on Sylvane's room air conditioner solutions—and for a free consultation on treatment options for your indoor environment—please call our product experts at 1-800-934-9194. In addition, visit our Knowledge Center for more informative articles on how to choose a room air conditioner. We want to help make your indoor air healthy and comfortable.

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