What’s the Best Air Conditioner?

air conditioners

What's the Best Air Conditioner?

It all depends on what you want the air conditioner to do, the climate you live in and how much money you are prepared to spend.

Reverse Cycle Ducted

If you want ducted climate control, the best choice is a reverse cycle ducted system.

These systems come with all the bell and whistles you could possibly want. You can have warmth and cooling in any room. You can set different temperatures for different zones. And you can set the time that the machine comes on and off so that you can get up on those frosty mornings to a nice warm house or come home on a stinking hot summer’s day to a cool one. But this level of convenience comes at a cost. Although efficiency is always improving, these systems are still not as cheap to run as an evaporative cooler or a gas ducted heater. And they are not cheap to install. But if you’ve got the cash, a good reverse cycle ducted system gives you luxurious year round comfort without cluttering the place up with obtrusive heaters and bulky split systems on the wall. They’re quiet too. And if you already have solar panels, the cost of electricity is no longer a critical issue.

Ducts ain’t Ducts

Can you use the same ducts for gas heating and reverse cycle cooling?

No.  I mean you can, but it won’t work very well because gas heating ducts are narrower than air con ducts. And then you have to find someone who’s prepared to set up such a strange hybrid system. Ducted gas heating and reverse cycle do not mix and match. For one, the reverse cycle does heating anyway. The gas systems are designed for the narrower ducts and you’re likely to lose heat or work the system too hard. And how do such separate systems both feed into the same ductwork? What about the return air vent for the reverse cycle? Use your ductwork for what it is designed for.

The Right Ductwork

Can you use existing evaporative ducts when changing to reverse cycle?

The same applies to evaporative air conditioning ducts. They are designed to move very large volumes of air through the house and out through open windows. What’s more, they don’t zone areas.  And they’re not fully insulated. It seems like a good idea to use the same ducts that just move air for another system, but in fact the ducts are an important and integral part of a ducted system and made to match its very particular needs.

Evaporative Air Conditioners

Now we’ve established that putting in ductwork means a commitment to one system, you need to work out which of these systems suits your requirements.

Because we’re talking about air conditioners, we’ll leave gas ducted out of it.  If you have decided that you want a whole home cooling solution delivered via vents in the ceiling, the choice is between evaporative ducted or reverse cycle ducted. The advantage of evaporative is that the initial price for the unit is lower and it costs less to run. The issue is whether it works as well as reverse cycle. In some circumstances it does. In the dry heat of cities like Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne, evaporative coolers make for comfortable sleeping conditions and work remarkably well even on days of extreme 40 degree plus temperatures. The downside is that the principle that makes them work is also the thing that makes them not work. Evaporation works fine as a cooling process when the air is relatively dry, but really struggles when it becomes humid. Given that it’s not unknown to have hot and humid conditions in the southern capitals, there will be times when an evaporative cooler will clearly perform worse than reverse cycle. There is also the need to have windows open for the system to work properly. But evaporative does the job most of the time for a good deal less money.

Split Systems

Reverse cycle split systems are an excellent solution if you only want to keep one or two rooms cool.

They are better than the old school boxy window and wall air conditioners that were noisy and inefficient. These days they are very quiet and are definitely a good economical option.

Multiple Split Systems

There is not only the standard single split system, but also multiple split systems that have up to five outlets run by the one compressor.

In this sense, they are similar to a conventional ducted system. They can be a great solution for two storey homes that lack ceiling space for ducts on the ground floor. So what else do they have going for them? The main thing is that because they are easier to install than a full ducted system, they are cheaper to put in. They’re also efficient and flexible, allowing for zoning and different temperatures for different rooms. They double as heaters. No open windows mean better security.  The disadvantage is that you have to find somewhere to put both the compressor and the outlets. Wall space can be a problem. To some people, they don’t look the best either.

Size Matters

For your reverse cycle split system to work optimally, you have to select the right size.

An authorised air conditioner installer such as Upside Down can do the full heat load calculation to make sure that you pick the right-sized unit. That way we can include all the factors such as window sizes and orientations, as well as ceiling heights and insulation levels. An air conditioner that is too big for the space it is cooling will have short cycles and continually switch on and off. That means that it uses more power than it needs to and puts extra strain on the unit. An air conditioner that is too small for the space won’t give you adequate cooling. The unit has to work constantly and struggles to achieve the temperature you want.

The Best Air Conditioner

So which one to choose? Split system, evaporative or reverse cycle ducted?

If all you want from an air con is a decent night’s sleep during a heat wave and relief from the worst of the heat, an evaporative cooler will do the job. It’s cheaper to put in and to run. But they do need maintenance and if you change your mind they are expensive to uninstall. You can partially deal with the cost factor of reverse cycle (split and ducted) by going solar, but the clincher for most people is the guaranteed coolness in any conditions. So most people go for reverse cycle if they can afford it. The truth is, however, that the best air conditioner is one that works.

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