How to Choose an AC Unit That’s Right For You

photo of a young man sitting on a white sofa aiming ac remote at mini split ac

Air conditioning is a luxury few people want to live without. Every homeowner deserves to be comfortable, and that’s what an effective AC system provides. But figuring out how to choose an AC unit involves more than simply plugging in a unit and relaxing.

There’s a wide variety of options for AC units, and each offers its unique benefits. If you’re not aware of the differences between your air conditioning choices, you could end up with an inefficient or ineffective system. This AC buying guide will help you make the right decision about your home’s air conditioning.

How To Pick the Right AC Unit

The common question of how to pick the right AC unit has more to do with your house than the AC unit itself. Specific types of air conditioners are better suited for different kinds of homes. Although there are several types of air conditioners—including window units and portable air conditioners—the two main AC categories we’ll cover here are central air conditioners and ductless air conditioners. 

Central air conditioners circulate air evenly throughout the house through ductwork. With central air, a thermostat controls your home’s temperature. When the temperature in the house surpasses the temperature set on the thermostat, the cooling system is activated. The AC draws warm air into the ducts, where it’s cooled and circulated through the home. This process essentially converts the warm air in your house to cold air. A central air conditioning system is excellent at keeping an even, consistent temperature throughout a home.

Ductless AC units, if the name didn’t give it away, don’t require ducts to circulate air. Instead, ductless air conditioning involves placing individual units in separate rooms of the house. These individual units connect to an outdoor compressor. When the AC’s temperature is set, cool air is filtered through the individual unit and circulated through the room. Each ductless unit controls the temperature in each room (or “zone”). This makes ductless AC effective at controlling the specific temperature from room to room in your home.

How To Choose Air Conditioner Units For Your Home

Room Size & Layout

First, the size and layout of your home are crucial points to consider as they will determine your cooling capacity and BTU (British thermal unit) requirements. Large homes with lots of open space are better suited for central air conditioning. This is because central AC works by circulating air throughout the house, providing a consistent airflow in every room all at once. If this is your goal, central air is probably your best option. Because of its consistency, central air can also be more efficient in some larger homes. Running too many individual ductless mini-split units to keep every room at the same temperature can be inefficient and drive up utility costs.

Infographic of a BTU recommended capacity based on room square footage size

On the other hand, ductless systems are great for smaller homes or apartments. Ductless units can work great if you have only a few rooms to keep cool. Ductless units are also an ideal option when your home only needs to be partially cooled. For instance, rooms used less frequently during the day don’t need constant air conditioning. Individual units can be used (or not used) to keep the most commonly used rooms cool. Meanwhile, your unused spare rooms can be left alone, keeping your energy bills down.

Generally, if your home is 2,000 square feet or more, central air will be more effective. After this threshold, cooling everything with individual units becomes less efficient, and central air will provide more efficient, consistent temperatures in these larger homes. However, if your house is under 2,000 square feet, ductless units are often more efficient.

Ductless units can also be a good option in rooms that can’t connect to central air conditioning. Finished attics, basements, and garages aren’t always connected to ductwork. If you have heavily-used rooms like this in your home, investing in individual units or window air conditioners may be a good idea.

Cost & Energy Efficiency

Because ductless mini-splits allow for more efficient temperature control, they also keep energy costs down. This makes ductless AC a cheaper option in the long run, but it may also come with higher upfront costs. However, this isn’t always the case. If your home doesn’t already have ductwork installed for a central air conditioning system, then a split system can be cheaper all around. Duct installation can come with high fees and is also fairly intrusive to the interior of your home. Thankfully, most homes are built with ducts already installed.

There’s also potential for higher maintenance costs with central air conditioning. This is because maintenance issues with your home’s ducts can’t be challenging to repair. However, your ductwork will run smoothly for many years with proper maintenance and care. Routine maintenance like cleaning your AC unit and replacing air filters can help save you from potentially expensive repairs down the road.

Indoor Air Filtration

If indoor air quality is a concern of yours, central air is simply a better option in this regard. The standard filtration system for ducted units needs to be strong to keep the ducts clean and efficient. The bonus is filtered air being circulated through your home whenever the unit is activated. It’s also easier to integrate other air purity units into a ducted unit than a ductless one. While filters for ductless systems do exist, they’re less powerful than duct filters, and each ductless unit would also require its own filter.

If members of your household are sensitive to allergens, the benefits of better filtration can be immense. Not only will your AC keep you cool, but it will keep you breathing easy as well.

Interior Design & Aesthetics

When learning how to pick the right AC unit, one last thing to consider is design and appearance. Ductless split air conditioning units can be pretty conspicuous in each room. These units can sometimes be bulky and may be disruptive to the visual layout of a single room. For some, this isn’t a big deal. But others prefer to keep their wall space clear. Window AC units can also be an excellent option for a small area; however, not everyone is okay with the look of a window unit.

Central air conditioning units, meanwhile, are more “out of sight” than ductless and window units. Because central air relies on ductwork throughout the home, the only visible parts of the unit are the vents that allow airflow and the thermostat. The actual cooling unit exists outside the house, so the interior is kept free from visual intrusion.

However, there’s one way ductless units have an advantage over central AC. In terms of noise, most ductless units are relatively quiet. The fans of a central AC unit, on the other hand, can sometimes be quite noisy. However, the noise from an efficient unit shouldn’t be too disruptive.

Want to Learn More?

You may still have questions about how to choose an air conditioner for your house. If this is the case, ask an expert to help guide you to the best air conditioner for you. Air Pro Heating & Cooling is southwest Washington’s most trusted expert for all your heating and cooling needs.

All of Air Pro’s technicians are fully trained and experienced and can answer any questions you have about your AC and selecting a cost-effective new unit. Contact us today for any HVAC maintenance, repair, or installation needs.

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