Dear PoPville – What Type of Air Conditioner Do You Recommend?

Photo by PoPville flickr user ekelly80

Dear PoPville,

Summer is almost upon us and I’m sure a lot of folks are thinking of AC, either as installing or in considering houses. One question popped up in this thread regarding “split” AC units.

I was always under the impression that split units were just more economical but not as effective as the big blower/condenser units. It sounds like there are mixed opinion in the comments. Wonder if others have thoughts and personal experiences in how well they handle DC summers.

23 Comment

  • Six splits (a double plus a quad) in my 4 story house and I could run a Birds Eye frozen peas plant in the middle of August. They are really good.

    • I haven’t had a split system in DC, but have used them in much hotter places (Bangkok in April, I’m looking at you). Generally, I have found the split systems to be as effective as central AC and much, much quieter.

      That being said, I’ve observed that many american AC installations suffer from poor planning/sizing. If the unit is undersized the room(s) will never feel comfortable and the unit will run almost constantly. If the unit is oversized, it will rapidly cycle on and off, wasting energy (and money!) in addition to being annoying.

      There are calculators galore on-line to make sure you are buying and installing a unit that matches the heat load of your living space. Use them and select a split system that meets your needs.

  • Have a split ductless- it’s fantastic and summer electric bills are super cheap. House stays very cool, and rooms that I don’t cool during the day can be cooled down in about 15 mins when I get home and turn them on.

  • Split systems have come a long way in the past few years and are certainly an effective option for those who don’t have central air infrastructure but want something more than window units, which are wholly inadequate for DC summers.

    • I was very satisfied with window units when i had them in a previous condo. Tolerable noise (no worse than my “central” air that I have now) and one medium sized unit cooled the whole place even though the floor plan wasn’t very open. And much cheaper than what I pay now. When i had a small house (in Atlanta, which is even more deadly than DC), I also was underwhelmed with central a/c, although it probably made more sense for that kind of dwelling.

    • Not sure what kind of window units you’ve used in the past, but mine do the job in my 1 bedroom apartment. Perhaps you just mean for a house or larger sized condo?

  • ah

    The impression is correct, but split units certainly have their place because installing duct work can bereally expensive if not done in connection with a renovation. And they are better than window units from efficiency and noise standpoint.

  • Does anyone have a sense of how much it costs to put in a split ductless system in a typical rowhouse?

    • Like with all other reno projects, there are just too many variables for a catch-all response, but I’m guessing somewhere between 10-15k should be doable.

    • Mine was $7k or so for putting the big unit on the roof and fully installing three units in different parts of the house.

  • I got a system installed last year and took proposals from a few different companies. All of them recommended different systems. The company I chose (Polar Bear) gave me a great deal and did the install quickly and without major alterations to my interior.

  • “was always under the impression that split units were just more economical but not as effective as the big blower/condenser units.”

    Your typical residential unit with the “big blower/condenser” is a split system unit. All split means is that you have a separate evaporator (the indoor unit) and condenser (the outdoor unit).

    I think most know what the OP is referring to, but just for clarity, these units are ductless mini-split systems. Keep in mind there is also such a thing as a ducted mini-splits. They can come in either AC units or Heat Pump units.

    To answer the OP’s question, it all depends on the existing conditions, the size of your home, the layout, your preferences, how much money you are willing to spend, the extent of work you’re willing to have done, etc…Way too many options to be able to provide accurate answers to “what type of air conditioner do you recommend” type of questions.

    That said. For typical row houses in DC, especially those that don’t have an open floor plan and still have the ability to close off rooms, a ductless mini-split would be my choice. They are made for retrofits like this.

  • I live in a condo where:

    1) A ducted system would be virtually impossible
    2) Permissin to hang the condensers of a “split system” would be really difficult.

    I have to live with window units, and know that most people say “yuck”. However, that being said — their price is incredibly low, and they have gotten hugely better since I started using them, without increasing in price. They are lighter, quieter, and EER has consistenly risen. Also, you can decrease power costs by just cooling the rooms where you are going to be. Also they now have timers, which allow you to have them turn on in public areas of your place at something like 5:00 am, when the exterior air is cool, resulting in efficient humidity control.

    Except for the “yuck” factor, I am happy with the flexibility of window units.

    • See my comment above. there’s nothing wrong with decent window units and they can be very cost-efficient in the long run. the snobbishness is probably based on not having them or living in some hovel with an old one (which i did during grad school).

  • When I came to this country 12 years ago, I was so surprised people were using windows AC. Coming from a much poorer country, the majority of people have been using split AC. If you’re tempted to reason, first of all there is nothing fancy or snobbish about split AC and before you ask none of those people were making money like you guys. But I wonder how split unit is so expensive in US? Boy…..oh boy I sometimes think living standards get lowered in the west in exchange for god knows what these days

  • window units are the way to go. you can probably locate them so they dont affect your curb appeal. you will have the lowest upfront cost and the lowest utility bills.

    People buy into social signaling way too much. If you have a window unit you must be “poor”. But, any air conditioning is going to interfere with the aesthetics of your house, unless you go with the high velocity systems (which have drawbacks).

    So, there are tradeoffs. You can save a lot of money and go with window units without making permanent unsightly modifications to your house. Personally, I find big air conditioners hanging off the back of my house 4 months a year, far preferable to huge units sitting on the wall or big bulkheads and chases that interfere with the historical charm of my house.

    • If you are sensitive to noise, be sure to look into that regardless of what kind of system you get. I am admittedly ultra-sensitive, but the “hum” of my basement apt. unit AC, and my neighbor’s, wakes me up all night. With earplugs, and windows closed.

    • My central A/C bit the dust a couple years ago and I’ve been using window units until I can get a new system installed the way I want it, in conjunction with a new roof and some other renovations. The cost of running them is cheaper than the central was, and I like that you have more control over temperature. The timers and automatic settings work nicely. Take the time to install them properly. I use various sizes of foam tape to seal gaps and also isolate various points of contact to reduce noise and vibration. I also use rigid styrofoam panels that I wedge in front of the “accordian” panels on the sides. This blocks light, reduces noise from outside, and probably provides better insulation. When you buy window units, be sure to buy the correct size.

  • Well, i have had splits in the past, but I have to say they are effective but aren’t so beautiful..esp in a period house like a craftsman or victorian. I’m looking at either a traditional ducted system or a high velocity system for my Bloomingdale home. Admittedly, they are pricey. But i anticipate having this house forever…so it’s a good investment. And if I ever sell, it will increase the houses value.

  • We installed Spacepak in the upstairs of our rowhouse 2 yrs ago and love it. We went with a split system in our basement reno we’re doing now. Sure, it would have probably been smart to plan for both at the same time… But anyway, the split just made sense. We have one compressor and two blowers, and the system heats as well as cools. The cost was just over $6K.

    • Seventhstreet, Can you tell me who did the install? Would love to get a quote from them? Thanks!

      • Also, did you look at Unico? Seems like some folks like Unico, others like Spacepak. I think I’ve heard good things about both.

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