Decoding AC Types: A Guide to Choosing the Right Air Conditioning System

May 20, 2024

During a long summer season, your air conditioning is one of the most essential appliances in your home. It provides relief from hot, humid weather, ensuring that you and your family members are cool and comfortable.

However, if you don’t choose the right AC based on your home’s size, climate, and cooling needs, you could end up with inefficient cooling, high energy bills, and zero home comfort.

At Seatown Electric, Plumbing, Heating, and Air, we’ve spent decades helping homeowners in Seattle and the surrounding areas with their AC installation, repair, and maintenance. We’re here to go over all the information you need to choose your new AC and keep your home cool throughout the summer.

Air Conditioning: A Quick Breakdown

Air conditioning is a wide description for several systems that manage heat and humidity in indoor spaces. Most home ACs are either ducted or ductless systems. Ducted systems use a large AC unit to distribute cooled air, while ductless systems rely on smaller units in different spaces in your home.

The common types of air conditioners include: [1]&

  • Central air conditioning: Central ACs are common air conditioning systems that are designed to cool a whole home as a unit, instead of individual spaces.
  • Mini-split systems: Mini-split AC systems use a small heat pump for customized cooling for a home. They may be ducted or ductless and provide personalized, zoned cooling and temperature control.
  • Heat pumps: Though heat is in the name, heat pumps can be used for both heating and cooling as a year-round solution. They work by transferring heat inside to outside – or vice versa – to reach the desired temperature.
  • Evaporative cooling: Evaporative coolers, also known as swamp coolers, add moisture to the air to make it feel cooler and damp. They work by moving air into your home instead of cooling the air directly.
  • Window air conditioning units: Window AC units are an affordable and versatile option that homeowners may use if they don’t have central AC. These smaller units are installed in a window to remove the heat and humidity from an individual room and distribute cooled air.
  • Portable air conditioning units: Portable AC units are similar to window AC units in that they’re affordable and offer cooling for just one room. They aren’t installed in a window and can be moved easily to cool specific spaces, but they have a drain pan that needs to be emptied regularly.

How to Choose the Right Air Conditioner

When you’re looking for a new AC, it’s not enough to choose the top-rated model, the cheapest model, or any other model that looks good. You have to choose an AC that’s appropriate for your home and cooling goals.

Here are some factors to consider:

Cooling Needs

The AC’s cooling capacity is one of the most important factors in choosing the right AC. This is measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs), which measure the heat an air conditioner can remove from a room each hour.

Don’t just buy the biggest unit available. Many homeowners make this mistake, believing that the bigger unit will keep their home freezing all summer. However, a unit that’s too big for the space won’t cool efficiently. Instead, it will cycle and off without completing a full cycle, which is known as short cycling. This wastes energy, adds wear and tear to your system, and fails to remove humidity.

HVAC technicians assess the cooling capacity of a home by measuring the square footage of the whole home or individual rooms with a BTU calculator. But you also have to consider your home’s sun exposure, shade areas, insulation condition, and climate, which is why it’s best to consult with a certified HVAC technician.

Energy Efficiency [1]

Energy efficiency is a key factor for many homeowners looking to save money and make eco-conscious choices. If that’s among your criteria, you have to pay attention to energy-efficiency measurements.

Energy efficiency ratio (EER) is calculated by dividing the BTU capacity by the power input in wattage. Higher EER ratings signify better energy efficiency.

Seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) measures the efficiency of an AC during the cooling season. Higher SEER ratings indicate better long-term energy savings.

If you’re still not sure, go with Energy Star appliances. These efficiency standards were created by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and indicate that the unit consumes less energy than similar units in size and capacity.

Noise Level

Any air conditioner will make a little noise during operation, but some are louder and more irritating while you’re trying to sleep, watch television, or go about your day. It’s important to consider the various noise levels and how they influence your decision.

For example, if you have family members who are sensitive to sound, a new baby, or other concerns about sound, make sure you assess the noise level of the AC units you’re considering. Each unit is measured in decibels (dB).

If you’re not overly concerned with sound, it’s still worth considering options that offer low noise levels or features to reduce sound, such as “sleep mode.” In this mode, the AC adjusts the fan speed and temperature to ensure a quality night’s sleep without disruptions.

Smart Features

Smart technology has made its way into just about every aspect of our homes, including our air conditioning. Some AC units offer smart features to give you more precision and control over your home cooling, such as scheduled cooling times, energy usage reporting, and adjustable settings.

You may see higher prices for smart AC units, but weigh the upfront costs against the long-term cost benefits. For example, energy usage reporting helps you identify possible waste and optimize your cooling to stay comfortable while saving money.

Indoor Air Quality Features

Some AC units have extra features to improve indoor air quality, which is crucial if you have family members with allergies, respiratory conditions, or general health concerns. You may want to consider indoor air quality if you smoke, have pets, or live in areas with heavy pollution.

You can check the quality of the unit’s filters by looking at the minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) rating. Higher MERV ratings indicate better filtration. While your needs may vary, the ideal MERV rating for most homes is 13 or higher.

Cost vs. Savings

The price you pay for your air conditioning unit isn’t the only cost to consider. You need to weigh both the upfront purchase and installation costs and the potential costs over time in your energy bills.

Make sure to consider warranties and reliability as well. Though you may pay more, a warranty ensures that you’re covered if your AC has major problems or breakdowns earlier than it should.

Cooling Zones

If you have areas of your home that aren’t insulated well or experience temperature extremes, you may want to consider zoned cooling options. This is also helpful if you have family members with different temperature needs. Ductless mini-split systems are the best choice for precise, personalized temperature control in different areas of your home.

Year-Round Temperature Control

If you need year-round heating and cooling, consider a heat pump system that can handle both winter and summer seasons. In areas that don’t have extreme winters, heat pumps are often enough to warm your home in winter and cool it in summer more efficiently than other options.

Best of all, heat pumps are efficient because they don’t burn fuel or use electricity to generate heat. They transfer heat between the indoors and outdoors to heat or cool.

Can I DIY My AC Installation?

Window ACs and portable ACs are easy enough to install and use by yourself, but you shouldn’t tackle central air, mini-split, or heat pump installation on your own. You may save money trying to DIY, but you could end up with big problems – not to mention a voided warranty.

These systems have a lot of complex components and technical components that you need to understand to install them properly. If you don’t have experience, it’s not only dangerous for you but could cause problems that will require repairs in the future.

For example, handling refrigerants requires specialized training and protocols for safety, and electrical work can be dangerous if you don’t have experience. You also need to prepare for installation by complying with local codes and regulations.

In addition, if you got a warranty with your AC unit, you may void it by trying to install, repair, or maintain your system on your own. Many warranties have requirements to cover repairs or failures, including work performed by a professional AC technician. Doing it yourself could leave you stuck with the repair bill that would otherwise be covered.

Upgrade Your AC System

If you’re shopping for a new AC for your home, make sure you evaluate your options to get the right cooling capacity, efficiency, and features. An expert consultation with the team at Seatown can help you determine the best choice for your home, cooling goals, and budget. Contact us today to schedule your appointment!

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