Hot rooms and houses in summer need air conditioning to cool the air and remove excess humidity.
What is the best kind of air conditioner? There’s a long list of best air conditioners, and it depends on your specific needs.
This is a complete guide to central AC, room or zone AC and personal AC options.
Central Air Conditioning vs Room Air Conditioning vs Personal Air Conditioning
What needs cooling? Your entire home? Then central air conditioning using a split system is your best option. If it’s a room only, then a window AC, portable AC or similar type is your answer. For personal AC, we list a few types of air conditioner you might not be familiar with.
Here is a quick overview of each type.
Then we jump right into the 11 best air conditioners with a detailed description of each.
Features of Central Air Conditioning
- 2 pieces of equipment – The outside unit is called a condensing unit. It contains a compressor to pump refrigerant, a radiator-like coil to release heat and a fan to help cool the coil. The indoor unit is called an air handler or an evaporator. It contains an indoor coil where heat is gathered by the refrigerant and a fan to disperse the cooled, dehumidified air.
- Ductwork vs Ductless – Standard split systems use ductwork to pull warm, humid air into the air handler and push cooled, dried air into living spaces. Others, called ductless or mini split systems, have an evaporator in each zone. These individual air handlers cool and dry the air in that zone.
- Separate thermostat – A thermostat for standard split systems is usually mounted on the wall. The thermostat for a ductless system can be a wall-mounted unit or contained in a remote control.
Features of Room Air Conditioners
- Various types – Portable, Through-the-Wall, Window, Floor AC, Ventless
- 1 piece of equipment – All the components of an air conditioner are contained in a single case. Most use a separate remote control.
- No ductwork – These units serve a room or zone. They pull in warm, moist air, remove heat and humidity, and send it back into the room cooler and drier.
Features of Personal Air Conditioners
- Various types - Battery operated, Personal AC, Kapsul and Wearable AC
- 1 piece of equipment – These are self-contained units with various designs. Some types have remotes.
- No ductwork – No need for it with a personal AC.
Top 11 Air Conditioner Types
You’ll find detailed information about each air conditioner type, cost, best use and other details that will assist you in making your air conditioner buying decision.
In other words, this is your one-stop comprehensive Air Conditioner Buying Guide from Straight Line Designs, the most trusted name in consumer information on air conditioning, heating and ductwork.
Our unique Best Use section for each type gives you an idea of where each AC type is usually placed and other details that will help you decide if it is the best air conditioner for your purposes.
Portable Air Conditioners
These are a type of room AC with the ability to cool from 150 to about 500 square feet depending on the model.
Price: $290 to $750. Best Sellers cost $325 to $550.
Best use for a Portable AC: Buy a portable AC if you want to move the unit frequently – from every few days to once or more per day. Maybe during the day, you want it in the kitchen or living area. At night, you prefer it in the bedroom. They are the easiest room air conditioner to move and set up in a new room.
These are room air conditioners with casters, so you can roll them from room to room. To move it, open the window and remove the window kit from the window and detach the hose or hoses. Roll the unit to another room, install the window panel and hoses, and you’re all set. Total move time is 5-8 minutes.
How it Works: The unit sits on the floor on caster/wheels. A window is opened, and the rectangular plastic panel is placed in the opening. The window is closed to secure the panel. A piece or pieces of foam weatherstripping help make it a tight fit without air leaks. The panel has one or two openings for venting hoses. These hoses attach to the back of the portable air conditioner too. Single-hose designs are less effective, but far more common. Dual hose design allows for separate hoses to bring in fresh air and exhaust warm, humid air.
Brands to Consider: Whynter, LG, Honeywell, GE, Delonghi, New Air, SereneLife, hOmeLabs, RolliCool, Midea, Black & Decker and Danby.
Sizes: 8,000 BTU to 14,000 BTU – But due to a new ratings system for portable air conditioners, the effective rating is 5,000 to 7,500 BTUs.
If you want one AC that is easily moved from room to room, a portable air conditioner is a better choice than a window air conditioner. Portability is their best feature. In addition, most have 24-hour timers, remote controls and multiple performance modes including AC, Dehumidifier/Dry, Fan-only, Energy-saving Sleep Mode, etc.
Pros and cons: When considering portable AC pros and cons, the biggest problem is that they do not cool as powerfully as other AC types. This is because exhausting hot, humid air out of the hose slightly lowers the air pressure in the house, and the result is that warm, humid air from outside is sucked in through gaps around doors or windows and other leaks in your home. This can reduce cooling by almost 50%! For example, most portable air conditioners with a 14,000 BTU rating using the old system (ASHRAE) are rated for about 7,500 BTU using the new DOE SACC rating.
Window Air Conditioners
Window ACs might be the best air conditioner when you need a room cooled fast and efficiently. They are available in a wide range of sizes, so your room temperature will be just right, cool enough without being overly chilled. Depending on the size AC you choose, window air conditioners are rated for about 200 square feet all the way to 1,000+ square feet.
Price: $160 to $1,400. Cost is less than $180 for the cheapest window air conditioners with manual knob controls to around $1,200 for big, full-feature units. Those with a heat cost the most. The average cost for a best-selling 8,000 to 12,000 BTU window AC is around $450 or $500.
Best use for a Window AC: Window air conditioners are perfect for bedrooms, home offices, living rooms and kitchens. In cool climates, a window air conditioner might be the only type of AC used. In warm climates, homes and apartments might have one or more window air conditioners to supplement central air conditioning that doesn’t do a great job cooling off every room. If summers are hot where you are, our recommendation is central air conditioning instead of a window AC in every room.
Most window ACs stay in one room. They’re placed in the window opening when first needed, and they stay there until being put away in fall. A board or pole might be placed in the window opening to prevent the window sash from being opened – a security risk. Window ACs are technically portable, but they weigh from 45 to 80 pounds, so moving them from room to room is a challenge.
How it Works: Among the best air conditioners, window units have an inside half and an outside half. Air isn’t exchanged – just heat. Warm, humid air is pulled into the front of the unit. Heat from the air is absorbed by refrigerant in the inside coil. The refrigerant cycles to the back/outside of the AC where it travels through the outdoor coil fins that look like a radiator, transferring the heat to the great outdoors. This removal of heat from inside makes the air indoors cooler. As the indoor coil removes heat, it gets very cold. The cold metal causes moisture to condense on it. The water is then drained to the outside. You’ve probably seen moisture dripping from the back of a window air conditioner – that is what it is doing.
Brands to Consider: GE, Frigidaire, Amana, Friedrich, Arctic King, LG, Whirlpool, Haier, Midea, Koldfront, Toshiba, Keystone and many more.
Sizes: The smallest are 5,000 BTU; the largest are about 25,000 BTU. The most popular window air conditioners are 10,000 to 18,000 BTUs.
Pros and cons: There’s a lot to like about window units. You’ll find the right size for a tiny bedroom to a 1,200 square foot apartment with an open floor plan. Many are loaded with features including remotes, timers, AC/Dry/Fan modes, Low/Med/High settings and multi-direction louvers. Many of the best window air conditioners also work with Alexa, Google Assistant or other smart home equipment. Plus, you’ll find window ACs with WiFi and an app that you can use to control the unit from anywhere.
Before we move on to through the wall ACs, there are two specialty types of air conditioners for windows you might like to know about: U-Shape ACs and Casement Window ACs.
U Shape Window Air Conditioners
As the name implies, the case of the unit is shaped like a U. One leg of the U is indoors; the other is outdoors.
The value of a U-shaped window air conditioner is that the sash of the window closes into the center of the U. This creates a much tighter, more secure fit. If your window air conditioner is going into an upper-floor window, and you’re concerned about it falling out, consider a U shape AC. The only model currently available is the Midea U Inverter window air conditioner.
Casement Window Air Conditioners
Turning your standard window AC sideways will ruin it.
If you have casement windows or wide sliding windows, a casement air conditioner is the answer. They are also called vertical air conditioners. Instead of being wider than tall, they are the opposite, tall and more narrow. Other than the shape, they work just as nicely as standard units. Instead of having wings that extend to the sides, they come with an adjustable panel that fits between the top of the AC and the top of the window frame.
Who makes casement window air conditioners? Frigidaire, Koldfront, Arctic Air and Keystone make air conditioner types like this.
Through the Wall Air Conditioners
There is only one difference between these units and window air conditioners: They fit into the wall using a steel sleeve rather than being mounted on a window sill. They are also called wall air conditioners and wall mounted air conditioners.
Price: $400 - $2,000. You don’t find as many cheap ACs with this type of air conditioner. So prices are higher. The most popular sizes and models range from $525 to $800. Those with heat are more expensive.
Did you know? Through the wall air conditioners are more likely to have a heat function. This is because many homeowners leave them in the wall all year, and they can be used to provide supplemental heat in cold weather.
Best use for a through the wall AC: If you don’t want to block a window with an AC – and if you need some heat during winter, then a wall AC is the ideal choice. In warm climates, a through the wall AC with a heater might be the only heat you’ll need in winter. In northern climates, the heat provides a little extra when the furnace has trouble keeping up on the coldest days. The best use for a wall AC is to mount the sleeve in the wall, slide in the air conditioner, insulate around it, and leave it.
How it Works: From a technology angle, these units work just like a window air conditioner.
Brands to Consider: Frigidaire, Amana, GE, Arctic King, Whirlpool, Midea, Friedrich, Perfect Aire, LG and Emerson.
Sizes: 6,000 BTU to 14,000 BTU
Pros and cons: On the good side, they don’t block a window, you can leave them in place all year and most offer heat in winter. They are equipped with similar features – remote controls, digital onboard controls, timers, multiple cooling levels and fan speeds and Dehumidifier mode to dry the air without cooling it. The downside to wall ACs is that creating the wall opening can cost $500 to $1,500 if you hire someone, and mounting the sleeve and AC into the opening can be a challenge. It usually takes two people.
Floor Air Conditioners
A lot of types of air conditioners are called floor ACs, especially portable ACs and evaporative coolers.
A true floor AC is mounted to the wall near the floor or to the floor itself. The installation is permanent. Commercial room air conditioners called packaged terminal air conditioners, or PTACs, are a type of floor AC. You’ve probably been in a hotel room with a PTAC that offered AC and heat.
We rarely see floor ACs in residential settings, so we’ll make this brief. .
Price: $800 to $2,500. The most popular floor air conditioners cost $1,000 to $1,500.
Best use for a floor AC: We recommend a PTAC or similar floor AC for a guest bedroom, converted attic or garage or a small home addition like a bonus room.
How it Works: The AC function is most like a portable AC or through-the-wall AC, but the heat and moisture are vented through piping that runs through the wall. Most have heat – either true heat pump technology ($$$) or a simple electric heating coil ($$).
Brands to Consider: The best brands are Amana, Lg, Blueridge, Cooper and Hunter, Friedrich, GE and Klimaire.
Sizes: 8,000 to 15,000 BTUs.
Pros and cons: We like the cooling power of floor air conditioners, particularly PTACs. The heat function is handy in winter as supplemental to central heating or as the sole heat source. The “cons” of a PTAC are difficult installation for DIY plus their permanent location taking up floor space.
Ventless Air Conditioners
A true ventless AC isn’t an air conditioner at all. What makes it ventless is that it doesn’t exhaust warm air to the outside.
A ventless AC is an evaporative cooler. Home Depot and others mistakenly call evaporative portable ACs “ventless,” but that’s not accurate.
Price: Personal models start around $30. Large residential and commercial evaporative coolers cost $1,000 or more. There’s more information on personal models below. This section is about ventless air conditioners for an entire room. Most cost $175 to $650 depending on size, CFM airflow and features.
Best use for a ventless AC: They only work in arid climates – those with low humidity. So the best us of a
How it Works: A membrane, like mesh or other material, is wetted from an internal reservoir. A fan pulls air into the unit and blows it over the wet membrane. As it passes through, the airflow causes evaporation, and the process takes heat with it. The result is that the air blown back into the room is cooled.
Brands to Consider: Hessaire, Frigidaire, Honeywell, Portacool, Arizona, Bonaire and Champion Cooler.
Sizes: Less than 200 cubic feet per minute (CFM) to more than 5,000 CFM.
Pros and cons: The advantages are that they cost less to operate than central air and do a remarkably good job cooling in low-humidity environments. You can also use one outdoors, but you need to be directly in front of it to benefit. The disadvantage is that they are ineffective in high humidity, so they aren’t sold in many hot, humid regions of the country.
Mini Split Air Conditioners
Mini split ACs are also called ductless ACs. Most are heat pumps – they use the same technology to bring heat indoors in winter as they use to pump it outside in hot weather.
Frankly, mini split air conditioners are the direction the market, and therefore the industry, is headed.
Price: Small DIY systems with one zone start at less than $1,000. Large systems with many zones top $10,000. The cost for most popular systems ranges from $3,300 to $6,000 installed.
Best use for a mini split AC: Are you building a new home or addition? Converting the garage? Choose a mini split AC. No question about it.
The most common use is for a single zone. That means there is one outdoor unit, the condensing unit, and one indoor unit called the evaporator unit or air handler. However, because mini split AC and heat pumps are so efficient, we recommend them for multi-zone systems too. See sections on single-zone and multi-zone systems that follow.
How it Works: There are no ducts. The outdoor unit contains a compressor and coil. The indoor unit has a coil and fan. Wiring, refrigerant lines and a drain line connect the two units. Heat and humidity are removed in AC mode; heat is pumped into the room when in Heat mode.
Brands to Consider: Fujitsu, Gree, LG, Daikin, MrCool, Klimaire, Mitsubishi, Senville, Blueridge, Pioneer, Impecca, Panasonic and Friedrich. Many major residential split system brands sell them too – Carrier, Trane and Lennox are among them.
Sizes: Small single-zone systems start at about 8,000 BTUs. Large multi-zone systems can be 48,000 to 60,000 BTU or larger, depending on how many outdoor units are used together.
Pros and cons: These units are more efficient than standard split systems. And they are more precise, so the temperature balance is always exact. Mini splits are durable too. Several brands make pre-charged DIY systems. You have many indoor unit options including wall-mounted (most common), floor mounted, ceiling cassettes that are flush to the ceiling and more. The only potential downside is the high cost of installation of a zoned system with more than 4 indoor units.
Here are the common mini split air conditioner types:
Single Zone Mini Split Systems
These systems serve one room or zone. There is one outdoor unit of 8,000 to 24,000 BTU, with 12,000 BTU being the most common, and one indoor air handler. Most are heat pumps, which means that both cool and heat the space depending on what season it is.
Multi Zone Mini Split Systems
These systems range from about 24,000 BTU to 72,000 BTU, but most are 36K to 48K. Each indoor air handler has a rated capacity between 8,000 and 24,000 BTU. The total indoor unit capacity can exceed the outdoor unit capacity by a little, but not much. Usually, it is best to match them.
For example, a three-zone 36,000 BTU system would ideally have a 36K condensing unit serving three 12K air handlers in three zones.
Split Central Air Conditioners
These remain the most common central AC type, but they’re losing ground to mini splits.
Price: $2,200 to $12,000 installed. The most common size, a 3-ton/36,000 BTU system, costs an average of $7,500 installed.
Best use for a split central AC: If your home already has ductwork and you’ve been happy with a standard split system in the past, there’s no reason not to install one now.
If you’re building a home or addition in a climate with really cold winters, you’ll probably have a furnace – and furnaces require ductwork. In this scenario, a central split AC is just as good an option as a mini split / ductless AC.
How it Works: Like other indoor/outdoor systems, refrigerant in the indoor coil captures heat, carries it outside and releases it via the outdoor coil. A compressor in the condensing/outdoor unit pumps the refrigerant. Compressors can be single-stage, two-stage or variable capacity. The indoor coil gets very cold as heat is removed, and humidity in the indoor air condenses on it and is drained away. A thermostat controls performance.
Brands to Consider: Brands that are identical are combined with /. Carrier/Bryant, Trane/American Standard, Rheem/Ruud, York/Luxaire/Coleman, Heil/Keeprite/Day&Night/Tempstar/Comfortmaker, Armstrong/AirEase, Lennox and Goodman are the top-selling brands.
Sizes: 18,000 to 60,000 BTU.
Pros and cons: Most homes have ductwork, so ducted split systems work pretty well. Total installation cost can be lower than if you choose a multi-zone mini split system. Central split ACs are getting more efficient each year. We wouldn’t choose one for new construction. A mini split is a better choice. Also, if you have a ducted system, you have to keep the ducts in excellent repair, or you’re wasting cooled air through leaks.
Here are two subcategories of central air conditioner types:
Packaged Air Conditioners
This simply means that the two components – the condensing unit and the air handler – are combined in a single cabinet that is installed outside. Ground and roof installations are common. Efficiency isn’t as high as for standard split systems or mini split systems. But they keep noise down and are convenient if your home doesn’t have a basement.
Dual Fuel Air Conditioners
Everything is the same as in a standard split AC system except that the outdoor condensing unit is a heat pump, not an air conditioner, and the air handler is a furnace. Sounds strange? Well, many heat pumps don’t function efficiently in sub-freezing (and definitely sub-zero) temperatures, so that’s when a gas furnace does the job of heating. Dual fuel is all about heat, not air conditioning, but you’ll see the term when shopping for a central AC, so we thought you’d like to know what it means.
4 Latest Air Conditioner You Probably Didn't Know About
Straight Line Design is an innovative company, and so we enjoy technological innovations.
Here are four cutting edge air conditioner types you might enjoy using at home or when you’re out and about enjoying yourself.
Battery Operated (Tent AC)
These are portable ACs, and there are a couple air conditioner types – those with true air conditioning technology and evaporative coolers.
The Zero Breeze brand is the leader in battery operated air conditioning. It’s latest Mark 2 is pricey but cool in all the right ways. It employs refrigerant, coils, a compressor, fan – all the works found in a window air conditioner, but in a hand-held, portable and battery-operated unit that weighs about 16 pounds.
Zero Breeze ACs are ideal for tents, cars with broken ACs and for personal use in small spaces. Current cost is between $1,400 and $1,600 depending on whether it is On Sale.
Most other battery operated ACs are personal ACs, covered next.
Personal Air Conditioners
These are small evaporative coolers. Explained earlier, they use water, an absorbent material and a fan. Air is pulled across the material, causing moisture to evaporate. Evaporation takes heat with it – like when your skin dries after getting out of water. It’s chilled.
Cost starts around $30 for decent quality. The best personal air conditioners run about $50 to $75. Larger units that are ideal for cars, boats, RVs, tents and other smaller confined spaces range from $125 to $275.
Kapsul Air Conditioners
Kapsul is a window AC brand that markets its product as the most compact unit available – if it's available! The current and only model made to this point in Kapsul’s turbulent crowd-funded existence is the Kapsul W5 for $800.
The K5 is light, easy to install and WiFi connected. Alexa and Google compatibility is in the pipeline, per the Kapsul website. The concern about this unit, beyond cost, is that it is just 5,000 BTU, suitable for just the smallest rooms.
Wearable Air Conditioners
Most so-called wearable air conditioners are fans or evaporative coolers. A few spray you with a mist of water that cools as it evaporates. Most are worn around your neck. They are cheap, costing from $24 to $50. At best, they deliver a small amount of cooling by causing sweat on your skin to evaporate.
There have been many efforts and millions of dollars invested in trying to produce a true wearable AC.
The closest yet is the Sony Reon Pocket 2. The technology used is the Peltier Effect in which an electric current is passed through a circuit of a thermocouple. Heat is produced at one connection of the circuit; it is absorbed at the other. Hence, the Reon original and 2 can both apply heat to your skin or remove heat – absorb it – from your skin to cool it.
Cost is around $140 USD, but unfortunately, the Reon is available only in Japan.