Quick easy guide to air conditioning systems: Central AC, ductless mini splits and heat pumps

Air Conditioners: A Quick and Easy Guide

Whether you’re looking to upgrade your existing air conditioner or to install a new ac, you have more options than ever. This quick guide to air conditioners will help you choose the right model for your home.

Air Conditioner
Written by
Kate Webb
May 18, 2021

Different types of air conditioning systems

Central air conditioning:

A typical central ac is a two-part, or split system that includes an outdoor component and an indoor component, connected by a series of refrigeration lines. Central air requires the installation ducting throughout your home. While the cost of installing central air is an investment, it offers many benefits such as reduced humidity and cleaner air—and because the compressor-bearing unit is located outdoors, it’s the quietest option for cooling your home.

Ductless mini split:

A ductless mini split is a smart way to cool a room, or a small area, without having to install ductwork, or install and remove window units each year. Ductless mini splits also have an indoor and outdoor component, but the indoor component goes directly in the room you want to cool. These units won’t cool your entire home, but they are an affordable option if you want to cool a few rooms or a smaller space. They also make an excellent supplement to an existing heating and cooling system.

Heat pump:

A heat pump uses refrigeration technology and electricity to provide both heating and cooling for your home. In heating mode, the heat pump extracts heat from the air outside your home, and in cooling mode, it does the opposite—it transfers heat out of your home and returns cool air inside. Heat pumps can be ducted, like central ac, or ductless like a mini-split. These systems offer the highest efficiency rates (as high as 300%) of any heating/cooling appliance.

How do I choose the right type of air conditioner for my home?

It depends on how much space you need to cool. If you want to cool your whole home, or tackle house-wide humidity, central ac or a heat pump is your best choice. If you need to cool a smaller area, like an upper level or an extension, consider a ductless mini split. 

You’ll then need to determine the right size and the ideal number of BTUs for your home. It’s best to speak to an expert about your options. They will be able to calculate your home’s cooling needs based on industry standards. An air conditioner that’s too small will struggle to cool your space. If it’s too large, it may leave your home feeling cold and clammy. 

What do ac efficiency ratings mean?

Air conditioner efficiency is measured using a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) rating, which tells you the cooling output of an air conditioner divided by the energy input, for a typical season. Experts generally recommend you look for a new AC with a SEER rating of at least 15. If you splurge on an ultra high-efficiency unit, your new air conditioner can have a SEER rating as high as 21.

Should I splurge on a high-efficiency air conditioner?

If it’s within the budget, always go for higher efficiency. The cost of central air replacement generally rises along with its efficiency rating. While the upfront cost of high-efficiency ac may be high, you will recoup the additional cost through lower monthly bills over the life of the new air conditioner—especially in warmer regions, or areas with hot, humid summers. Plus, when you choose high efficiency, you’re doing your part for the planet.

Get to know your Air Conditioner

While it’s always best to have a trained professional service and install your air conditioner, you should have a basic understanding of how your system works. Here’s quick parts overview:

Blower- This component works with your furnace and supply registers to circulate cooled air into your home and pull room-temperature air back for re-cooling.
Evaporator coil- This indoor component is located near the blower. Refrigerant runs through the coil and extracts heat and humidity from the air. 

Compressor - Once your AC’s refrigerant has absorbed heat and humidity, it becomes a gas. The compressor further heats and pressurizes the refrigerant so it can cool down again.
Condensing coil - This is the outdoor equivalent to the evaporator coil. As refrigerant passes through the condenser, it expels the heat collected from indoors to the outside. 

Expansion valve - Located in-between the evaporator and condenser, this valve regulates how much liquid refrigerant moves into the evaporator.

Fan - The outdoor condensing unit gets very hot as it processes overheated refrigerant. The fan draws the heat away so your AC doesn’t overheat.
Air filter - The filter traps dust and dirt in your HVAC system, improving indoor air quality and preventing damage to your HVAC components.

Thermostat - The thermostat uses a sensor to monitor the temperature of your home. It switches your AC on and off as needed to maintain your home’s target temperature.

Controller - Some AC units, like ductless mini splits, have a controller for the indoor component. This allows you to turn the unit on/off, adjust temperature, mode, fan speed, and more.

Still have questions? Tetra’s experts are ready to talk you through your options and help you choose the best air conditioner for your home. Get an instant quote today.

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