When it comes to cooling your home, there’s no question that central air is the best choice for our region. Alabama summers (and late springs and early falls) can be brutally hot and humid. For whole home cooling, it definitely takes the power provided by central air to keep things consistently comfortable.
However, for some homes, central air conditioning just isn’t an option. There are many living spaces out there that just can’t incorporate a ducted system without a high installation cost or potentially ruining the overall appearance of the space. For rental homes and office spaces, it’s generally impossible to make such a large change due to landlord restrictions. These limitations do not mean that cooling is impossible; it just means considering different options, generally either a window unit or a mini-split (a.k.a. ductless) system.
Many people ask us which option is better for their needs. Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons for each type of system.
Window A/C Units
Window units often get a bad rap for not being the most attractive solution for cooling small spaces. It is true – window air conditioners do tend to be bulky, and one installed they take up precious window space, which often comes at a premium in smaller homes or apartments. But for a single room solution, there is something to be said for this traditional source for cool air.
Window air conditioners tend to be inexpensive and readily available – all it takes is a trip to your local big box or hardware store to purchase a new unit. They are generally easy to install, requiring only one strong person to heft the unit into the window frame. Once it is in, all you have to do is plug it in and turn it on…it’s that simple!
But there are a few drawbacks to having a window A/C unit. If you are hoping to cool an entire home with a single window unit, think again…this will only work if you live in a very small space. Window units are designed to be one room solutions, so they won’t efficiently cool other spaces in your home.
You also need to be very aware of which window is being used for installation, for both security and noise purposes. One of the most disappointing drawbacks to window units is that they are a security risk – the accordion wings used to secure the unit in the window frame are easily broken, and it doesn’t take much force to push a window unit into a home, giving burglars free access. Thinking about installing your A/C near a TV? Get ready to turn up the volume, because window units are LOUD. Light sleepers, adjusting to a new window air conditioner in your bedroom may take some time.
Mini-split systems are a relatively new addition to the U.S. HVAC marketplace. Long common in Europe and Asia, these systems are permanently installed and generally offer cooling solutions for one room or “zone.” The portion of the mini-split system that blows air into the room is generally installed near the ceiling of the room, in an effort to be as inconspicuous as possible. A three-inch hole is required to be cut into the wall, allowing for the indoor unit to be connected to the outdoor condenser, which is very compact and easily hidden.
These newer systems are definitely more expensive than purchasing a window unit, and professional installation is required. But that initial expense is often offset due to the higher efficiency of these types of units. While window units are meant to cool a single room, mini-split systems are used in terms of zones and have the ability to be expanded over time with multiple indoor components attached to a single outdoor unit. This makes the mini-split option much more versatile than window units.
In addition to being more efficient and able to expand the climate controlled area, ductless systems are made to be unobtrusive. Not only do they allow you to keep access to all of your windows, they are much quieter than the traditional window units. Light sleepers, this means no distractions for you!
Another plus for the mini-split system? They can also provide heating as well as cooling, potentially solving two problems at once.
Which Is Right For You?
Deciding between a window unit and a mini-split system still boils down to individual needs. For those who are renting and cannot permanently install a cooling solution, then opting for window units is the better option. For those living in older homes that are a little more spacious but won’t be able to accommodate a ducted A/C system, a mini-split option may solve the climate control issue. It all comes down to personal preference and budget, but know that there is a cooling solution out there for everyone.