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Portable, window, reverse cycle, split or ducted – if you’re looking for the right air-con system for your home, here are some important factors to consider.

Beginner’s guide to air conditioners
by: Veda Dante

When engineer Willis Carrier designed the first air conditioner in 1902 to control the humidity in a New York publishing house – a problem that had long plagued printers – I wonder if he knew that his groundbreaking solution would change the way people around the world lived, worked, and played?

By removing heat from a confined space, thus cooling the air and removing humidity, Willis’ modern electrical air conditioning unit inspired a population boom in America’s warmer southern states like Florida, Texas and Arizona. Even though temperatures in New Zealand are pretty mild in comparison, sunny summer days can get hot fast – and that’s where an air conditioner becomes a nice addition.

Often referred to as AC, A.C., or A/C, modern home air conditioners come in two main types – evaporative and refrigerative. The former cools the air via evaporation while the latter cools the air through a heat extraction process.

Portable, window, reverse cycle, split or ducted – choosing what’s right for your home or business depends on a number of factors, including your location, the size of the area that needs cooling, and of course your budget – not only for the initial purchase cost but also the running costs.


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Easy to set up and move, portable air conditioners are a convenient option

Portable air conditioners

  • If you’re renting, moving house or on a tight budget, portable air conditioners might be the way to go. Easily moved from room to room – or house to house – with minimal set-up, they work a bit like built-in air conditioning, which is drawing in warm and humid air, cooling and dehumidifying it, then blowing it back into the room.

    Single-duct models feature flexible refrigerant lines, or hoses, to remove warmed air out through the window, so this system isn’t an option for windowless rooms or workspaces.

    Certain makes and models not only provide cool air in summer and warm air in winter but also work as an effective dehumidifier – a handy feature to keep your house warm and healthy all-year-round.


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Window aircons are commonly installed in an open window. Image via Angie's List.

Window/wall air conditioners

  • These types of air-cons have been around for decades, namely because they effectively cool a room and can be easily installed and removed. Put simply, window systems use a gas compressor to suck warm air out of the room where it’s passed over a cooling coil and cooled down by the internal refrigerant. Chilled air is then pumped back into the room via vents, reducing both the air temperature and humidity level.


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High wall reverse cycle split systems are typically designed for a bedroom or large living area. Image courtesy of Metro Air Conditioning.

Reverse cycle air conditioners

  • These air conditioners are capable of cooling and heating a particular room or section of your home. They consist of one or more units that are wall-mounted inside, and a compressor unit mounted on the outside wall to remove the heat extracted from the area being cooled.

    Considered one of the more economical and energy efficient systems, reverse cycle air-con systems are also durable because they have no elements exposed to the weather.


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Quality split-screen systems also include a built-in air-purifying filter that traps fine airborne particles like dust and smoke. Image courtesy of Heat Shop.

Split-system air conditioners

  • Often known as ductless split or duct-free air conditioning, this system can comfortably cool a standard-sized home without extensive installation costs as they don’t require ducting. Made up of two key components – an evaporator and a compressor – that are separated, with the former located inside and the latter located outside.

    Quality split-screen systems also include a built-in air-purifying filter that traps fine airborne particles like dust and smoke, decompose odours, and even absorb and deactivate bacteria and viruses.


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Ducted air conditioning is considered the quietest and most versatile of all aircon systems. Image courtesy of The Cool Shop.

Ducted air systems

  • The ideal choice for evenly distributing cool and warm air across large spaces, ducted air conditioning systems feature unobtrusive vents installed either in the ceiling or under the floor. The air is circulated through a network of concealed ducts, which you control with a hand-held remote. In fact, you can regulate each room, or ‘zone’, separately, enabling you to climate control different sections of your home at the same time.

    While ducted systems can often be retro-fitted, they’re best installed during the planning, building or renovation stage to ensure the system can be properly accommodated.

Energy ratings

  • In a bid to decrease energy consumption, new whiteware appliances, televisions, computer monitors and heat pumps available for sale in New Zealand display the Energy Rating Label, which features a simple star rating and an annual energy consumption (kWh per year).

    If you’re comparing models for energy efficiency, make sure they are of the same type, meaning similar in capacity and features. For more information, visit Energywise.

 
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