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How to Compare Different Types of Air Conditioners


Pop Quiz: We bet you could name a few different brands or models of cars, clothes, and cell phones, but could you name off more than one type of air conditioner. Not to worry if you can’t – this quiz isn’t graded, but it is important to know how to compare ACs, especially if you are in the market to buy a new one. After all, that’s what’s responsible for the comfort of your home during the hot and steamy summer months. Here’s a quick guide on how to compare different types of air conditioners.

Central ACs

When most people think about getting an AC for their house, a conventional central air conditioner is the most common type found in Minnesota homes. Often referred to as central air, those types of air conditioners move cool air through a home with a system that uses ducts and registers to distribute the conditioned air throughout the home. Central air conditioners fall into two types: a split-system unit and a packaged unit. 

Keith Hill, the technical support manager at Minnesota Air, says that it’s called a ‘split-system,’ because, “its two units connected together with copper refrigerant tubing and control wiring.”

Many people also think of it as ‘split,’ because the unit is ‘split’ among two places – the big metal box that makes up the outside unit that houses the condenser and compressor, and then the part of the unit that is inside the home that contains the evaporator. 

The Department of Energy says that “in many split-system air conditioners, this indoor cabinet also contains a furnace or the indoor part of a heat pump.” 

On the other hand, the other central AC, called a packaged unit, gets its name because everything is all in one area. The unit is usually on a roof or spot next to the foundation of the home and the Department of Energy says they are commonly found in small commercial buildings, where ducts come from indoors to connect to the packaged AC unit located outdoors.

According to Keith, that is not a very popular option in places like Minnesota. 

“It’s sort of a central AC system that uses a very large window unit that sits on the ground. They are popular in regions where there are no basements,” he says. 

Room ACs 

If you’ve lived in a condo or apartment, you will likely be familiar with room air conditioners. These are a very popular option in smaller spaces, apartments, and condominiums. Room ACs are compact and packaged ready to be installed in an existing window or a wall opening, and there is no need for ductwork. The good part about room ACs is that they are affordable and provide cooling only where it’s needed – such as a living room or bedroom. In some cases, that can save you money, but according to the Department of Energy, “their efficiency is generally lower than that of central air conditioners.”

Ductless Mini-Split ACs

Finally, another AC option that has seen growth in the last few years is a ductless mini-split AC. Keith says that we don’t see them too often in our state, but they are becoming popular in homes where there is hydronic (hot water) heat and no existing ductwork.

“These are quite small units (like window units), but they are “split,” with a unit outside and a unit inside on the wall,” he says. 

According to the Department of Energy, ductless mini-splits are small and able to go in many locations in a home – perfect for those who want zone heating/cooling – which can save you money since you can choose to condition only the space in use.

Furthermore, a ductless mini-split can be an affordable option to bring comfort to an addition on a pre-existing home, because you don’t need to install ductwork into the room.

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