With almost 90 percent of American houses now having central air conditioning, who needs a room conditioner? Martin Blenkinsopp and Ann Robinson, that's who. In June, the couple installed a room air conditioner in the attic of their Clintonville home, allowing them to use the space as an office. The home - which the couple bought in December - has central air conditioning, but the ductwork doesn't go to the attic.
With almost 90 percent of American houses now having central air conditioning, who needs a room conditioner?
Martin Blenkinsopp and Ann Robinson, that’s who.
In June, the couple installed a room air conditioner in the attic of their Clintonville home, allowing them to use the space as an office. The home — which the couple bought in December — has central air conditioning, but the ductwork doesn’t go to the attic.
“When it gets hot, you couldn’t really be up here,” Blenkinsopp said.
Homeowners such as Blenkinsopp and Robinson have more choices than ever when trying to cool sunrooms, attics, garages or additions beyond the reach of central air conditioning.
From a simple $150 window air conditioner to a $6,000 ductless split air conditioner that can cool a small house, systems come in a multitude of styles, sizes and prices.
“There are more options, and systems have become much more efficient,” said Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman, deputy home editor with Consumer Reports.
There are four main types of room air conditioners.
• Window units. These units are the most affordable room cooler. They are easily installed but block a window view and can be loud because the condenser and fan are in the unit. Most window air conditioners are designed for double-hung windows, although units are available for casement or sliding windows. The cost ranges from $120 to $700.
• Wall units. Wall units are basically window units installed in an outside wall. Although they’re more expensive than window units and might require professional installation (adding to the cost), they have the advantage of not blocking a window. Unlike a window unit, however, they can’t be removed in winter and might allow cold air in. The cost ranges from $400 to $1,000.
• Portables. These units, which resemble dehumidifiers, aren’t as efficient, cost more and tend to be louder than window units. But they don’t require installation, can be placed in unobtrusive places and can be moved from room to room. Like window and wall units, they require an exhaust to the outside to drain the humidity removed from the air. The cost ranges from $250 to $700.
• Ductless split air conditioners. As the term implies, this is actually two appliances — an air handler installed in the wall and a condenser installed outside and connected to the handler through a 2- to 3-inch hole in the wall. “Split ACs” are extremely efficient, quiet, powerful and relatively unobtrusive on the inside. But they’re also the most expensive of room coolers — and require professional installation. The cost ranges from $1,500 to $6,000.
Blenkinsopp and Robinson chose a ductless split system for their attic because of the reliability, efficiency and quietness.
“We could have done it cheaper, but this should really last,” said Blenkinsopp, who said the system, installed by Sears Heating and Cooling, cost about $3,300.
Officials at Sears Heating and Cooling and other Columbus HVAC companies say the split AC systems are popular in part because more than one air handler can be run off one condenser, allowing two or more rooms to be cooled.
“We install them in attics, home theaters, room additions, basements even .?.?. pretty much anywhere you can think of,” said Dan Fisher, sales manager at Sears. “All the heads have their own individual controls, so you can zone different rooms.”
Lehrman agreed that split ductless systems are the most efficient and quietest of the options. But she said window units have vastly improved during the past decade or two and can be a good choice for the money.
“If you’ve got an old window unit, you’ll be amazed at how light and small they are now,” she said.
Lehrman cautioned against ultra-inexpensive window units, which she said can be very loud, but she noted that price doesn’t always equal performance. Consumer Reports’ top-rated small model, for example, is a $190 Kenmore, which the magazine said outperformed units more than twice as expensive.
“You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a very good air conditioner, but there are a lot of downsides to super-bargain ones,” Lehrman said.
The most important consideration when buying a room cooler, no matter which type, is the room size, she said.
“The biggest mistake most people make is they oversize the air conditioner,” she said.
“People think if 6,000 or 7,000 Btu will cool the room, then 10,000 or 15,000 will cool that much faster, but what happens is, if you get one too big, it will cool the room before it dehumidifies it, so you get a cold and clammy room, which is really uncomfortable.”
Generally speaking, a 5,000 to 7,000 Btu model will cool a room between 100 square feet and 300 square feet; an 8,000 to 12,000 Btu model will cool a room 300 square feet to 500 square feet; and a 14,000 to 18,000 Btu model will cool a room between 500 square feet and 1,000 square feet.
Add 10 percent more power if the room is unusually sunny and subtract 10 percent if the room never receives direct sun. For more details, visit www. energystar.gov.
Lehrman also said portable air conditioners tend to produce less cooling power than their Btu ratings suggest.
“Portables are really the air conditioners of last resort,” she said. “We‘ve found they don’t work as well, they don’t pump out as many Btu as they claim, and they may be more expensive. .?.?. They’re also pretty darn heavy.”
Luke Peters, the CEO of NewAir USA, a California company that makes portable air conditioners and other small appliances, agreed that portable units will struggle to cool hot rooms such as sunrooms and attics, but said the systems have gotten much more efficient and reliable in the past few years.
“The main reason people want a portable is because they don’t have to look at that window unit and because of the safety concern,” Peters said. “They are especially nice for renters — great for cooling smaller areas.”