How to choose the correct Air Conditioner for you

By Ross Lam
     There are several types of air conditioners available in North America. These are portable air conditioners, window or wall mounted air condtioners, ductless split system air conditioners, and central (ducted) air conditioners.  With this guide, I will attempt to explain to you the differences between the different styles of air conditioners that we sell at to help you decide on which style is right for you.
     There are several reasons why our customers choose to buy a portable air conditioner.  Many of our customers live in highrise condominiums and apartment buildings. Most newer condos in Vancouver (and probably in your city) have large floor to ceiling windows. These windows often offer great views, but they also let in a lot of sunlight, which equals to a lot of heat.
     The majority of condos here are strata ownership and therefore subject to the rules set by their strata corporation, and these rules almost always forbid the alteration of the exterior of the a unit in order to keep a unified appearance of the building from the outside. This basically means that you can not install an air conditioner. The beauty of a portable air conditioner is that it is portable and not permenantly installed, and therefore your only real option if you live in a condominium.
      We also have many customers who live in rental buildings. If you rent, it would not make sense for you to go to the expense of installing a permanent air conditioner in the house or apartment if you don't own it and can't take it with you when you leave.
     With all that said, the most common reason why our customers buy portable an air conditioner is that they do not think to buy an air conditioner until it is unbearably hot and they do not want to wait to have one installed. A portable air conditioner usually only takes a few minutes to set up.
     If this sounds like you and you need a portable air conditioner, there are a number of factors to consider. You have a lot of selection for portable air condtioners, and places to buy them. There are even some supermarkets that are now selling air conditioners. However, buying an air conditioner is much more complicated than buying a bag of groceries. We stock a variety of makes and models of portable air conditioners because there are a number of factors to think about when deciding which one is best for you. Following are a few things to consider when choosing which to buy:

  1. Brand Name: An air conditioner is a major purchase for most people. It is probably not something you will be using all year long, but when you need it, it needs to work. My rule of thumb is that if your buying an appliances that you rely on, then don't cheap out. Brands like DeLonghi and Toyotomi have been pioneers in portable air conditioning and really know what they are doing. DeLonghi first started manufacturing portable air conditioners in 1986 (in Italy) and Toyotomi has been manufacturing them since 1992 (in Japan). Both of these brands now manufacturer there air conditioners in China, but unlike most other brands, these companies have their own factories in China to keep up the quality control. Most smaller and less established brands will find an existing factory that is already making air conditioners and have their brand name put on it.
  2. Cooling Capacity: Consult the chart at the bottom of this guide to see which BTU/h capacity you require to cool the size of room you have. This chart gives you a size range for each BTU/h rating, since there are a variety of factors to consider besides the size of the room, such as the direction of the windows in the room, the height of the ceilings, and what the room is used for. For example, an room in an office which has several people in it, along with several computers and other electronics which all produce heat, will require a higher BTU/h air conditioner, than a bedroom for two people. (NOTE: BTU/h stands for British Thermal Unit per Hour, which is the measurement use for the heating and cooling capacity of appliances)
  3. Single Hose vs Dual Hose: All portable air condtitioners have an exhaust hose at the back of the machine which must be streched out to a window. The purpose of the hose is to extract the hot air from inside your room and blow it outside, while keeping and recirculating the cool air in your room. You will notice an air intake at the side of the air conditioner. This is where is collects in the air from inside you room. It then seperates the hot air from the cool air, and blows cool air back out from the front of the air conditioner and hot air out from the exhaust hose in the back. Some new models of portable air conditioners have two flexible hoses at the rear of the machine which both must be stretched out to a window. Dual hose models are more efficient than single hose models. The additional hose brings in fresh air from outside and uses this to cool down the compressor inside the air conditioner. This outside air is not blown into your room. Note that the dual hoses may be more clumsy to install, since they both need to be streached out to a window.
  4. Drainage: Hot weather often brings with it humdity. When it is humid it is stuffy and hard to breath. Air conditioners remove the humidity from the air. Other forms of air conditioners are partially outside your home, so the humdity is easily drained from the system. Since portable air conditioners are completely inside your home the drainage is more complicated. Some models have a drain tank that need to be emptied one it is full of water. Once the tank is full the air conditioner will automatically shut off. Depending on how humid it is on a particular day you may need to empty the drain tank several times a day. Many newer models are self-evaporating and will expel the humidity it collects through the exhaust hose, so you don't need to be bothered to empty a drain tank.
  5. Functions: Besides cooling you air, portable air conditioners have a few additional features. They also work as dehumidifiers, air cleaners, and fans for circulation
  6. Warranty: The most important and expensive part of an air conditioner is the compressor. This is the part of the air conditioner that circulates the coolant in the machine. Most major brands provide a 3-year warranty on the compressor and the sealed coolant system. The rest of the air conditioner is typically covered by a limited 1-year warranty. Limited means that if you drop it down the stairs you void the warranty.
     For older apartments and houses many of our customer choose to install a window or a wall mounted air conditioner. These are the tradtional square box style air conditioners that you have probably seen hanging part way out windows of may older buildings.  They are the least expensive type of air conditioner and also the easiest ones to install. Most people install these themselves, as it comes with a kit to allow for different window widths. Note that this kit is designed for windows that open up to down, so if your window opens from side to side, the kit will not work for you. Some customers have these air conditioners professionally installed. You do not need an air conditioning contractor to install this, but you may want to consider hiring a glass contractor to do this work. A glass contactor will be able to cut your window to fit the air conditioner, instead of using the window kit which is not very attractive. 
     If you are using a radiant heating system or electric baseboard heating system you should consider a split system air conditioner.  This type of air conditioner has a fan unit on the inside of your room and a separate compressor unit on the outside of your house.  These two units are connected with copper pipes to exhange the coolant and a electrical wire for power. A three inch hole must be drilled behind the inside unit to allow for the attachment of these pipes and wires.
     Since the compressor (which is the noisy part of the air conditioner) is located away from you room, split system air conditioners are much quieter than other forms of air conditioners. This type of air conditioner must be installed by a licenced technician.
NOTE:  If you are considering installing a split system air conditioner in a condominium or strata townhome complex, please check with your building manager or strata corporation. Most newer buidlings (less than 15 years old) are covered by an insurance policy against leaks in the building known as a Building Envelope Warranty. With this warranty the exterior walls (known as the "envelope" of the building may not be punctured in any way, or this warranty for the entire building may be voided. In order to install a split system air conditioner, your contractor must drill a hole (aproximately 3 inches in diametre) through your exterior wall to connect the ourside unit with the inside unit. This would mean puncturing the envelope.  As the homeowner responsible you would be liable for this unless you have written premission from your strata corporation or the building owner (if it is not strata). 
Central Air Conditioners:
     If you have a forced air heating system then another option for you is the central air conditioner. These systems will utilize the existing air ducts installed for your heating system to distribute cool air to all of the rooms in your house at once. This type of system is more cost effective to install for homes with forced air heating, but may be tricky if you are using other systems such as electric baseboard or radiant hot water heating. This type of air conditioner must be professinally installed by a licenced technician.  
NOTE:  Central air conditioners will cool your entire house, even if you are only using a couple of rooms, so they will use a lot of energy.

We hope this information was useful to you.
If you have any questions or comments regarding this article please contact us.