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The Different Types of Air Conditioners

Window Unit Air Conditioners

The most common type of air conditioner is the generic window unit. Because these are designed to fit into standard windows that slide up and down, and window size is a large variable, size is an especially important factor in considering this type of unit. Measuring the height and width of the space reserved for the unit will ensure that the buyer doesn't purchase a unit that cannot be used.

Installation generally involves little more than opening the window, propping the air conditioner into the space and closing the window to hold the unit in place. In some cases, the edges of the air conditioner must be secured using screws in the window frame. Additionally, heavier units will require the preparation of added support. More powerful air conditioners are also larger and heavier and the installation of such may require more than one pair of hands.

Window units, also referred to as room air conditioners, generally have a cooling capacity of between 5,000 BTUs and 30,000 BTUs, with the most common being between 5,000 and 10,000 BTUs. Prices begin at around $100 for units with lower BTUs, and may reach $1,000 for significantly higher BTU ratings. Generally, one can expect to pay between $250 and $400 for a unit with a 10,000 BTU rating. (Look for sales at both the beginning and ending of the summer season.)

Casement Unit Air Conditioners

Although casement unit air conditioners are sometimes more difficult to find, windows that slide side to side necessitate this type of air conditioner. BTU ratings and installation are similar to regular room air conditioners, but because of a more limited selection, the price range is higher. In general, a casement air conditioner will cost $300 to $500.

Through-Wall Unit Air Conditioners

Through-wall air conditioners require a more complicated installation. This type of unit is installed into an outside wall of the house. The hole in the outside wall is lined with a metal sheath, which provides support for the unit. The installation of a through-wall air conditioner without this metal sheath can lead gaps through which cooled air can escape to the outside. Many through-wall air conditioners will act as window air conditioners if the homeowner does not want to install it through the wall, but the general advantage of this type of unit is that it does not occupy window space. (To insulate this unit during the winter months, measure the opening and purchase the appropriately sized insulated air conditioner cover.) Like window units, through-wall air conditioners are available with BTU ratings between 5,000 and 30,000, with prices ranging from $100 to $1,500.

Central Air Conditioners

Central air conditioners cannot be used in all homes and are only an appropriate choice if there is sufficient ductwork to allow the air to flow throughout the house. If the house's heating system involves electric heat or hot water baseboards and radiators rather than ducts, central air cannot be installed without an even larger price tag. If the ducts are available, installation tends to require a professional, causing largely varied prices.

Ductless Split Unit Air Conditioners

The ductless split system air conditioner places the air compressor outside of the house, connected through a small hole through the wall to the interior cooling unit. The location of the air compressor will reduce noise significantly. Ductless split units, which have an approximate BTU range from 10,000 to 30,000, are pricier than window units and typically require professional installation.

Portable Unit Air Conditioners

A comparatively new development, portable unit air conditionerss are ideal for rooms without windows, or with windows that cannot support the weight or size of an air conditioner. As the name indicates, these units are easily moved from room to room, especially convenient for those who would like to forgo multiple installations. These units use an exhaust system to vent the heat produced by the air compressor. The exhaust is then vented through attached tubes that can be set up to move air through a nearby window. Most portable units have between 7,000 and 30,000 BTUs of cooling power, although some units are much more powerful (and more expensive). Prices range from about $300 to over $10,000.

Portable air conditioners are not to be confused with portable air coolers, which use an entirely different method of cooling. In general, coolers do not have BTU ratings, because the technology has varying efficiency depending on conditions.

Rather than using an air compressor and condenser like an air conditioner, a cooler's mechanism involves a water tank and evaporation, useful in areas of low relative humidity, especially because the cooler itself acts as a humidifier. (Conditioners have a dehumidifying effect.) A cooler also uses less electricity and creates less noise than a conditioner. Approximate prices range from $80 to $150.

Also in this article:
Air Conditioner Guide
Air Conditioner Size, Strength, & Features