Choosing the right type of air conditioner for your home is quintessential to having the desired comfort and keeping energy consumption under control.
While most homeowners focus on the capacity and energy ratings of an air conditioner, considering the type, design and functionality are also necessary.
These days, home air conditioners come in six types, which we’ll explain fully on this page:
- Window Air Conditioners
- Through the wall Air Conditioners
- Portable Air Conditioners
- Ductless Mini Split Air Conditioners
- PTAC Cooling & Heating
- Central Air Conditioning
Every manufacturer has its own patented technologies.
But at the core, all air conditioners have some basic similarities.
Each unit will have a refrigerant, compressor, condenser, evaporator coil and expansion valve that works in conjunction to cool down a room, entire house, or office complex.
To help you learn more about these air conditioning systems and how they work, we put together this comprehensive guide discussing each type.
By reading this guide, you’ll get a better idea of which one you may want to use for your home or office.
1. Portable Air Conditioners
Portable air conditioners are one of the most popular types of AC because they’re a standalone unit with all components inside one case.
The major advantage of these devices are:
- They can be placed on the floor
- Do not need any permanent installation
- Can be moved around from room to room
- Are cheap to use because they don’t use very much energy
The design of such units includes an exhaust hose that carries hot air out of a room and expels it through a window vent or wall opening.
It is important to note that these appliances are best suited for areas measuring less than 600 square feet. At this time, higher-powered cooling products don’t exist.
These units are a great solution for areas of the home that get hotter than everywhere else and it is not practical to install a window-mounted unit.
They are also perfect for people who live in an apartment without central AC.
If this sounds like something you’d like to try, check out our free guide on how to pick the best standing air conditioner for the home. It explains everything you need to know to find the best possible air conditioner.
We also have another page on the top portable air conditioner with no window required or you can view our best budget portable air conditioners here.
See all of Amazon's Best Selling Portable AC Units
2. Window Air Conditioners
As the name implies, such air conditioners are installed at the windows.
A window air conditioner is one standalone unit.
It is self-contained, which means all the components are inside a single case.
Window air conditioners are popular among homeowners because these units don’t require any elaborate installation and are very compact. They are also very cheap to purchase and operate.
Using a part of the window, usually the lower half along with the sill, and a grille or encasement as the base, these air conditioners are relatively painless to install.
These devices pull hot air from the room and expel it outside while blowing cold air into the space through the reasonably sized vents.
Window air conditioners are most ideal for cooling one room at a time, or several connected rooms that don’t have doors to block air circulation.
If you want to enjoy cold air indoors for the lowest price possible, take a look at our best window AC unit page to find the best AC unit for every size room.
See all of Amazon's Best Selling Window AC Units
3. Through the Wall Air Conditioners
Through the wall air conditioners are not very different from window air conditioners.
In fact, the designs are almost identical and if you are not careful you could end up buying the wrong type.
Instead of mounting the unit by using an already available space (a window), through the wall air conditioners are mounted on the actual wall.
The major difference between through the wall air conditioners and window air conditioners is the housing design.
Unlike window AC units, these devices do not have venting mechanisms on the sides of the housing.
If they did, then cooling efficiency would be lowered because the venting grills would be blocked by the internal cavities of the walls.
Due to this special design, through the wall air conditioners have higher cooling capacities than windows units but also weigh more.
These units also require you to cut a hole inside a wall to mount the unit.
Take a look at our post the best through the wall air conditioners to see what’s available and how to select the right one for your needs.
See all of Amazon's Best Selling Wall AC Units
4. Ductless Mini Split System Air Conditioners
Ductless mini split system air conditioners equally popular among homeowners and commercial property owners.
These systems offer a quiet operation because the actual noise making condenser is located outdoors, while the inside contains wall-mounted blowers.
Due to their design, ductless mini split air conditioners do not use ducts to send cold air throughout a home or office, but rather refrigeration lines that go from the condenser to the blower units.
This is what allows these units to be used to cool multiple rooms from one system.
Depending on the capacity, the same outdoor unit can be hooked with more than one blower, which can be installed in one large room or several rooms with individual cooling controls.
These types of air conditioners do not require as large a hole in the wall as through the wall units.
They only need a small outlet through the wall for the coil and the drainpipe.
Mini split air conditioners come in various designs, capacities, and energy ratings.
They are highly efficient but may require more maintenance than window or through the wall air conditioners.
HGTV.com has a great article on the pros and Cons of these systems or you can check out our dedicated buying guide on choosing the best ductless mini split air conditioner for your needs.
See all of Amazon's Best Selling Ductless AC Systems
5. PTAC Cooling & Heating
PTAC stands for Package Terminal Air Conditioner. While cooling is apparently highlighted in the acronym, PTACs can also heat the same space as it can cool, just as effectively.
These are commercial grade units most commonly opted for by commercial property owners.
You are more likely to find these units at offices, hotels and assisted living facilities than inside a standard home.
The capacity range of these units is massive, hence making them ideal for small or large commercial premises.
Multiple units can be controlled from a single location so there is administrative control.
These units are usually installed outside the room, above the floor or under the window.
If you have ever seen or used a combination unit air conditioner and heater in a hotel room, then you’re already familiar with PTAC units.
6. Central Air Conditioning
Central air conditioning is the most efficient and also the largest system you can have inside a home or office building.
It is the default choice for large commercial properties and most new homes are outfitted with this type of air conditioner as well.
There is almost no noise from these types of air conditioning systems because the loud condenser unit is located outdoors.
The evaporative part of the system sends cold air through ducts that is then circulated through vents in a room’s ceiling or floor.
Central air conditioners also act as dehumidifiers. Moisture is not as much of an issue as in other models or designs but there can be frosting in the vents or ducts if proper cooling settings are not used and if the entire system is not maintained.
Because of their massive design, such type of air conditioning is ideal for large properties or premises, not for cooling one or two rooms.
If that is something you are after, a window or portable air conditioner is a better choice.
In fact, many people use these types of air conditioners to supplement a central air conditioning unit as a way to save money and energy use.
There are several types of small air conditioners you can buy that work for this purpose.
You can find out how to pick the best small room air conditioner here.
That guide explains everything you need to know and offers several top recommendations.