Familiarizing Home Air Conditioning Systems

Home air conditioning systems come in several types, ranging from large central systems driven by outdoor compressors to small plug-in units that stand on the floor or mount in a window.

​No matter what form they take, air conditioning systems have similar working components, including a refrigerant, a compressor, a condenser, an expansion valve, and an evaporator coil. All of these work together to transfer heat and moisture from the inside of your home to the outside.

Portable Air Conditioners

Many people use portable air conditioners for temporary space cooling or wherever it’s not practical to install a window-mounted unit. Like the window air conditioner, the portable unitary system has all the refrigeration components in one compact box.
This system is another version of a unitary air conditioning system. The portable air conditioner consists of a mobile, self-contained air conditioning unit that is placed on the floor inside a room and discharges exhaust heat using a hose vent through an exterior wall or window vent. Portable air conditioning units are a bit noisier than other types of AC systems and are typically suitable for room sizes under 500 square feet.

Window Air Conditioners

A window air conditioner is technically called a “unitary” air conditioning system and consists of a self-contained air conditioning unit that is placed in a window or, less commonly, through a hole in an exterior wall. Even a small home may be adequately cooled by a large window air conditioner, especially if it’s a single-story home.

Split (Ductless) Air Conditioners

The split system, also called ductless or “mini-split,” is commonly found in homes as well as hotels and other multi-unit buildings. It has become an increasingly popular option for homes that are not served by a forced-air HVAC system, such as those with hot-water (hydronic) heating or electric heating. Most split air conditioners are also heat pumps and offer heating as well as cooling functions.
This system breaks the air conditioning system into two packages, or terminal units: The condensing unit is located on the building’s exterior and includes the condenser, condenser, and compressor fan. The evaporative unit is located on the interior and handles the air cooling and distribution.

Central Air Conditioning

Central air conditioners are typically the most effective type of air conditioner for cooling entire homes. Proper maintenance of a central air conditioning system is also very important.

The evaporative unit typically sits in the plenum (the large central chamber between the duct and the furnace system) of your furnace. This means the air conditioning uses the same ductwork and blower fan as your heating system.

A central air conditioning system is the largest type of conventional air conditioner. Like a split system, a central system is made up of two units– the condensing unit and the evaporative unit– that are connected to each other by refrigerant tubing.

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