Types of Air Conditioners: Choose the Right One for Your Home

Josh Miller

Josh is a contributing writer to the site and former HVAC specialist.

Last Updated on June 3, 2021

Air conditioners are used by people every day, whether in their car or home. In fact, in the United States, approximately 100 million homes are equipped with air conditioning systems. Air conditioners are used to regulate the temperature of a space, but they can also treat the air quality. 

There are many types of air conditioners, with different designs being more suited to particular buildings and climates. Before purchasing a new system, consumers should always research the potential options. There are several considerations to make before deciding on a suitable unit, from the cost to the controls.

Home Air Quality Solutions Types of Air Conditioners
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Table of Contents

Ductless Mini Split Air Conditioners

A mini split air conditioner is unique in that it works without ducting. Most traditional systems operate by pumping air around a building using ductwork. A mini split system uses refrigerant lines to transfer air from an outdoor unit to individual air handlers inside. These handlers treat the air in specific zones around a home. 

Mini split ductless systems are highly efficient, making them popular amongst those focused on reducing their carbon footprint. Another advantage of mini split systems is that they heat and cool your home, so they are functional in the summer and winter months. 

The most common types of mini splits are single-zone and multi-zone systems. A single-zone system consists of one outdoor unit and one indoor air handler. It is designed for single rooms or small homes. 

A multi zone system consists of one outdoor unit and up to 8 indoor air handlers

It allows you to program specific heating or cooling settings to individual spaces, meaning you can set different conditions in different areas of your home. This is ideal for houses that experience inconsistent heating or cooling issues. 

The downside to mini split systems is that if you want to install multiple handlers into a large home, it can be quite costly upfront. However, the long-term savings and reduced energy waste are worth the investment for many.

Central Air Conditioner

Central air conditioners are some of the more common types of air conditioners found in homes and commercial properties. They disperse and circulate air through ducting. In a central air conditioner, there are two types of ducts: supply ducts and return ducts. 

Supply ducts transport cooled air from the conditioning unit to the inside of a building. As the air heats up and circulates around a building, the return ducts begin to absorb air, allowing it to flow back to the conditioner. 

Central air conditioners are either split systems or packaged unit systems.

A split system is similar to a mini split system as it contains one outdoor unit and one indoor unit. However, it differs in that it uses ducting as the primary air supply. 

In a packaged system, the component layout is different. The outdoor unit (generally placed on a roof or the ground) contains the evaporator, condenser, and compressor. These systems often come with electric heating coils or a gas furnace, meaning there is no need for a separate furnace.

The main reason for the popularity of central air conditioners is how fast and effective they regulate the temperature. They are also useful for reducing humidity. 

Unfortunately, central air conditioners use a lot of energy, increasing your utility bills. They are also known to lose efficiency due to ducting issues, such as leaks and poor insulation

Portable Air Conditioner

Portable air conditioners are singular units that contain all air conditioning components inside. They are free-standing and usually have wheels, meaning they can be easily moved between rooms. A portable air conditioner needs to be plugged into a regular power outlet to operate. 

These devices usually require very little setup time. However, because they get rid of warm air and moisture as they cool, portable air conditioners require somewhere to exhaust air. They should be positioned near a window to allow the air to be dispersed from the funnels or exhaust hoses.

Portable air conditioners are designed to provide temporary cooling or be used in areas where more permanent conditioners aren’t possible. Some building regulations prohibit the use of certain types of air conditioners, meaning portable options are a must.

The main advantages of using portable air conditioners are portability and ease of use. However, these types of air conditioners are typically quite noisy and generally don’t have the powerful cooling capabilities of a more permanent style air conditioner.

Window Air Conditioner

Window air conditioners are some of the most basic types of air conditioners. They’re highly effective in cooling the air supply for one particular room. A window air conditioner is a singular unit, but some are indoors while some are outdoors. 

Of all types of air conditioners, window units are some of the most popular in city apartments. This is because they are generally affordable and effective in smaller areas and apartments. They can also be moved to different windows around the house. Although, a technician may be needed to do this. 

Window air conditioners come with some downsides. They’re often not powerful enough for an entire home, meaning several must be installed. Operational noise can be a disturbance, and many regard them as eyesores to a home. Once installed, the window holding the air conditioner can’t be adjusted, leaving residents vulnerable to break-ins. 

Geothermal Air Conditioner

Geothermal air conditioners use energy stored in the earth to heat, cool, and ventilate a home. This type of air conditioning works due to the insulating properties under the ground

At 4’ to 6’ underground, temperatures are stable year-round, regardless of the weather. Using a frost line, pipe loop system, and heat pump, the heat from the ground is extracted and subsequently dispersed around a home

Geothermal air conditioners are highly efficient as they are leveraging natural heat from the earth. The system is also quite long-lasting, meaning you can save money and energy waste in the long-term. 

Unfortunately, these types of air conditioners cannot be installed everywhere. The system is relatively new and complex, meaning the initial costs are quite high

There is No One Size Fits All

For air conditioning and HVAC systems, there is no perfect home solution. Depending on your home, location, climate, and budget, there may be a limited number of options available to you. 

If there are several types of air conditioners suitable for your home, the initial setup price shouldn’t be the only consideration. Long-term savings, efficiency, energy use, and waste are important factors in determining what system to buy.

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