After a long, cold, snowy winter (far more snowy than usual in many places), spring is finally on its way! Spring brings us mild, temperate weather, colorful garden growth, and the perfect opportunity to replace an aging air conditioner. In order to replace an air conditioner, however, it is necessary to know what type you have first (or what type you should have). In this article we are going to go back to the most basic of basics: common types of air conditioners. Let’s explore three of the most common varieties found today.
Central Air ConditionerThe most common type of air conditioner found in modern single family homes is without a doubt the central forced air conditioner. It consists of three major components: the outdoor compressor, a heat exchanger coil, and an air handler. The outdoor condenser (or central air conditioner unit) is what many people think of when they think of an “air conditioner”. Its job is to expel heat from your air conditioning system’s refrigerant to the outside air, significantly cooling the refrigerant's temperature. This now chilled refrigerant is transported to a heat exchanger coil indoors. This coil runs the refrigerant through a network of small tubes while your home’s air supply is drawn over it, transferring heat from your home’s air supply to the cold refrigerant. The end result is cool air that is ready to be distributed throughout your home by the air handler.
Mini Split System
Although less common than a central forced air system (in North America, at least), a ductless “mini split” system has many advantages over traditional air conditioning units, and is thus rapidly increasing in popularity. First and foremost, it requires no ductwork. A single zone mini split system consists of two main components, an outdoor condenser unit and an indoor cooling/air handler unit. The outdoor condenser operates in a similar fashion to a central forced air system’s outdoor condenser.
The only two differences are that a mini split condenser is traditionally smaller and may have multiple refrigerant outlets if the condenser is designed for multiple simultaneous indoor unit operation. The chilled coolant is brought over an insulated copper line called a “line set” to the indoor unit, which operates as an all-in-one air propulsion unit and heat exchanger coil. The end result is entirely ductless heating and cooling that can be installed in nearly any area of your home.
Packaged Terminal Air Conditioner
The last type of air conditioner we are going to cover is called a packaged terminal air conditioner, or PTAC. You have probably seen these before during a stay at a hotel or if you have ever rented an upper-end apartment. It is an entirely self-contained, compact air conditioning system designed for cooling single rooms or small areas. Inside of its case is a small compressor, heat exchanger coil, and blower that work together to efficiently cool an area with minimal space needed.
While not much space is needed inside or outside the building, PTACs do need to be installed in a wall, and sufficient space within the wall structure is required. These units are typically not as efficient as central air conditioner units or ductless mini split systems, and as such, are best suited for applications where many individually-controlled systems are required, such as hotels or apartment buildings.