A/C Systems That Cool Your Home & Save Your Wallet

March 19, 2020

When we think of air conditioning, we generally think of a machine that cools down our houses during the sweltering summers; but that hasn’t always been the case. Civilization has come a long way from using moisture, snow, and ice in their raw forms to try and cool down, and while some of us may still reach for something to use as a fan, some form of mechanical air conditioning is now understood as a must have for any modern building.

Why Do We Need A/C?

We cool our houses for more than just our personal comfort. An overheated house can be deadly for the most vulnerable among us, but also contributes to conditions like dehydration, cramps, fainting, and heat exhaustion. Devices like computers and TVs can also contribute to the heat outdoors to create an uncomfortable environment for you and your family.

What’s The Most Efficient Way to Air Condition a Home?

There are several ways to mitigate heat in the summer, but which is the most efficient means of air conditioning? At our fingertips we have:
  • central air,
  • mini split systems,
  • A/C units, and
  • natural cooling hacks,
but which will get your home the coolest at the lowest cost to you?

A/C Units

Perhaps the first thing you think of when you hear the term ‘air conditioning’, the traditional wall unit provides refrigerated air to the room where it’s installed. In addition to the wall unit, there are also portable models that can be set up wherever there is a convenient window to set up its ducts, or ductless versions that still require access to outside air for venting purposes.

These units are of manageable size and can be installed almost anywhere. While a larger central air system may pose a problem for someone living in a condo, traditional air conditioning units are always available and convenient for multiple unit buildings like apartments.

A/C Unit Drawbacks

The individual unit is extremely limited as far as efficiency goes. Air conditioning units can’t cool more than one room, and require some sort of access to outside air: this requires you to have a convenient window for a frequently unwieldy unit, or a permanent installation in the side of a wall. Neither are they ideal for aesthetic purposes, breaking up walls and taking up space in windows.

A/C units, whether ducted, wall mounted, or portable, are a fast fix for a hot room; however, as it is the first thing we think of when we think of air conditioning, it isn’t an efficient use of space nor useful for cooling more than the room that it’s installed in.

Natural Cooling Hacks

Cooling yourself down naturally by opening windows, keeping a cold drink on hand, or freezing your sheets at night is probably the most cost effective means of cooling down. Many tips available online are simple tricks and hacks for the appliances and features of your home that already exist, thus eliminating the need to invest in a brand new system.

This is also one of the more eco-friendly options, as there’s minimal additional strain on your electric bill; some tips even help you reduce it through household investments such as insulated windows and the removal of incandescent bulbs.

Natural Drawbacks

This method of cooling off isn’t without its drawbacks, however. Some considerations to make before you decide to go without air conditioning are:
  • How cool do you need your home to be?
These hacks won’t cool down your house as much as an air conditioning system, which depending on your family’s needs, may make it the less efficient option. If your family includes young children, the elderly, those with special health conditions that benefit from a regular body temperature, or pets, you may want to look into more thorough cooling options.
  • How much time can you invest in cooling off?
Hacks like keeping a bowl of ice in front of a fan or cooking outside more often to reduce additional heat sources require some forethought and maintenance. If you’re a busy person, or if you have trouble following through with new routines, you might find that these hacks are more of a burden than a benefit.
  • What features does your house already have?
Some hacks make certain assumptions about the make-up of your house. You either have a freezer big enough to contain your frozen food and bedsheets, or you have to make an additional investment. The cost isn’t the only consideration: do you own your home or do you rent? If you rent, installing ceiling fans may be an issue. Make sure that your home is capable of sustaining the best hacks before you decide to ditch air conditioning.

Choosing to invest in blackout curtains instead of an A/C unit is a cost-efficient and eco-friendly way to cool down, but there are drawbacks. For larger houses or situations where a cooler house is necessary for health reasons, however, you may not want to rule out mechanical means of air conditioning.

Central Air Conditioning

For a larger house with an existing duct system, central air conditioning is the most efficient way of cooling down during the summer. Through the ductwork, central air is connected to every room from an outdoor until that filters the warm air in your home through its refrigeration-like internal system. This will by far keep your house the coolest, as it uses the vents in your home to get air to every single room.

Central air conditioning can also work to dehumidify, which provides an even more comfortable environment for your home. It’s method of constantly cycling air can also help with:
  • reducing airborne allergens, and easing summer asthma
  • filtering common lingering odours in the home
  • reducing the risk of mold and mildew

Central Drawbacks

But as with most systems, central air conditioning isn’t a perfect solution. There are several common disadvantages with such an all-encompassing system, including:
  • the expense of ductwork
If your home doesn’t have pre-existing ductwork, then it needs to be installed for the unit to work. This is an additional expense on top of the price of installing the outdoor unit, and neither are cheap: Home Depot quotes the average price for the unit alone at $3,900, with the high end at $7,900. If your house doesn’t already accommodate a central air conditioner, then it may be too expensive to consider.
  • lack of control over individual rooms
With a central air conditioning system, the temperature is set statically for the whole house. If you live with more than one person, or prefer certain rooms to be warmer or colder than the rest, central air conditioning is inflexible. All rooms are the same temperature, which may cause discomfort and discord in your home.
  • high energy demands
Besides the extensive costs of installation, central air conditioning systems have a high energy demand. ENERGY STAR’s list of Most Efficient 2020: Central Air Conditioners and Air Source Heat Pumps cite high capacity central air conditioning units having a yearly annual cost of up to $519 on average. This is not only bad for the environment, but also cost-prohibitive.
  • aesthetic considerations
Forgetting price for a moment, central air conditioners are also large units better suited for environments with open spaces for them. Depending on the design of the home or building where central air is desired, the ductwork may also be large and intrusive on the interior aesthetic.

Another disruption to the environment of your home from central air would be the noise that the unit creates when actively running. There are certain steps that you can take to reduce the noise pollution from your central air unit, but all involve additional effort and potential financial investment.

Central air is the most extensive option, offering clean and cycled air to every room of your home with little to nothing for you to keep track of besides what temperature you’d like it. When handled responsibly, it could be the most efficient way to cool down your home: however, consider issues of pricing, aesthetic, and electrical demands before deciding on central air conditioning.

Mini Split Air Conditioning

Perhaps the perfect middle between wall-mounted units and central air systems, mini splits contain the benefits of both. A mini split air conditioning system is ductless, removing the need for expensive renovations or noisy ductwork. Lines attach multiple interior units to a single outdoor unit, allowing for temperature control in individual rooms and reducing energy loss when compared to a central air conditioning system.

Their indoor units are also much smaller than wall mounted air conditioning systems while keeping the same air cycling method that keeps indoor air cleaner and free of allergens.

Mini Split Drawbacks

No system is perfect, and unfortunately there are significant issues associated with the installation and function of mini split systems:
  • installation problems
The installation of mini split systems requires a skilled technician, as each interior unit must have a direct connection to the outdoor unit. Having to install each indoor unit strategically convenient to the stationary outdoor unit and the line work involved make it so that local technicians can’t always provide installation services.
  • upfront cost
Split air conditioning systems are often more expensive upfront, in addition to installation prices. While they do save money in the long run, the investment in them to begin with is more significant.
  • aesthetic considerations
While no unit is undetectable in the home, central air conditioning units are the least visible as it runs through ducts that are frequently not exposed by design. Mini splits have interior units that, while smaller than A/C units, still need to be openly attached to your walls. While some companies strive to create interior units that are stylish, whether or not they fit with your decor is ultimately up to you.

With a flexible budget and a mind for future savings, mini split systems are an efficient, energy-saving air conditioning system that combines the benefits and occasionally the drawbacks of other more widely known systems.

Which Air Conditioning System is Best?

Ultimately, there isn’t a clear and objective winner when comparing different air conditioning systems. To get the best value out of whatever system you use, research is required to decide which is the most cost efficient, useful, and valuable system for your home and family.

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