8 Types of Air Conditioners, Plus the Pros and Cons of Each

Find out the best way to stay cool during the hottest months of the year with one of these popular air conditioner types.

When the temperatures outside begin to rise, it can get uncomfortable in a hurry. Diving into a pool or sitting in the shade can help you escape the heat outdoors, but you will likely also need an air conditioning system indoors if you want to avoid sweating in the sweltering weather.

There are several types of air conditioners to choose from, including stand-alone systems, like portable air conditioners or evaporative air conditioners, and split systems, such as central air conditioners and ductless mini-split air conditioners, which have components inside and outside the home.

Before selecting an air conditioner for your home, learn more about the various types in order to find the unit or comprehensive air conditioning system that best suits your needs and budget. This guide provides a detailed overview of the most common types of air conditioners, including cost, installation, and efficiency considerations.

Window air conditioning unit installed in window
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Central Air Conditioner

One of the most common types of air conditioners is the central air conditioner. This system is designed to cool the entire home by forcing cool air through the ducts of the home and out through vents, similar to the way a furnace pushes heated air through ducts and out through vents to heat the home during colder months.

Central air conditioners are typically controlled by a thermostat and can even be designed with smart capabilities, allowing the user to adjust the temperature, set cooling cycles, or simply turn it on or off. On average, you can expect to pay about $4,000 to $8,000 for the purchase and installation of a central air conditioner.


  • Cools the whole home through the existing duct systems
  • Relatively quiet indoor operation
  • Can be controlled from the home thermostat


  • High initial purchase and installation cost
  • The outdoor components are often loud and unattractive

Window Air Conditioner

If the high price of a central air conditioner is a deterrent, window air conditioners are a cost-effective option that ranges from around $100 to $1,100 for purchase and installation. These smaller devices are designed to sit in a window with the front indoors and the back outdoors. This allows the air conditioner to release condensation and heat outside while using a built-in fan to push cool air into the home.

Window air conditioners come in several sizes and can even be used with remote controls or wireless devices if they have smart system capabilities. This type of air conditioner is ideal for a condo or apartment that doesn't have central air conditioning throughout the building. Just be aware that these units can fall out of windows if they are not installed properly, creating a hazard for any individuals walking underneath the unit.


  • Low initial cost
  • Relatively easy installation
  • Saves on floor space


  • Obstructs the window while the unit is installed
  • Loud operation and potential safety hazard

Smart Air Conditioner

A new feature that is becoming common with many air conditioner models is smart home or smart system compatibility, which allows the user to check and adjust the air conditioner settings remotely. Simply by pulling up the corresponding app on a phone or tablet, you can turn the air conditioner off or on, adjust the temperature, create a cooling schedule, and more.

Smart features are now available on almost every type of air conditioner, including affordable window and portable air conditioners, as well as more expensive whole-home central air conditioners. This wide variety of products means that the price of a smart air conditioner can range significantly from about $200 to $8,000, depending on the type.


  • Wide range of options with smart system compatibility
  • Features improve user convenience and accessibility
  • Can help improve energy efficiency


  • Requires wireless connectivity to function effectively
  • Some smart air conditioner systems have a high price

Ductless Mini-Split Air Conditioner

Not every home has an extensive duct system that can carry cool air throughout the house. Some homes have additions or guest rooms made after the initial heating and cooling system was installed. You might also have areas of the home that are rarely used. If any of these scenarios seem familiar, then a ductless mini-split air conditioner can be a great way to cool the home without installing new ducts.

A ductless mini-split air conditioner consists of an outdoor condenser unit and a compact blower that is usually mounted on a wall inside the home. These two components are connected by a large conduit that carries the refrigerant lines, an electrical line, and a drain line that empties accumulated moisture outdoors. However, before deciding on this system, it's important to note that on average a mini-split installation costs between $2,000 and $14,500.


  • Individually controlled units
  • Helps reduce unnecessary energy costs
  • Saves on floor space


  • Not intended for cooling large rooms or whole homes
  • High installation price

Portable Air Conditioner

Most people that have rented an apartment or lived in a condo know that it can be difficult to maintain optimal heating and cooling conditions indoors, especially if the building does not have a central air conditioning system. Window air conditioners are a good option, but depending on the building management, you might be required to have the unit professionally installed, which can increase the price.

Portable air conditioners are a great alternative. They are relatively inexpensive and don't come with the same risks as a window air conditioner. Simply set up a portable air conditioner in an appropriate location close to a window and an available electrical outlet. The air conditioner has an exhaust hose that runs from the unit to an available window in order to vent heat to the outdoors while the built-in fan blows cool air into the room. These products range from about $200 to $800 and are incredibly easy to install and use, though they do take up floor space.


  • Cost-effective option
  • Great for apartments, condos, and small homes
  • Easy to set up


  • Takes up floor space in the home
  • Very noisy during operation

Through-The-Wall Air Conditioner

Similar to a mini-split air conditioner, through-the-wall air conditioners are designed for cooling small rooms or isolated parts of the home without relying on ducts. The main difference is that through-the-wall air conditioners connect directly to the outdoor unit instead of connecting through the electrical and refrigerant lines.

These units are also known as floor-mounted air conditioners, though this term is often misleading because they are installed through the wall of the home. The reason for this term is that these units are usually located at the bottom of the wall, near the floor. Through-the-wall air conditioners are not as popular as other air conditioner types because you need to cut a hole in the wall the size of the entire unit instead of simply running a conduit outdoors. Due to the stand-alone design, you can expect to pay less for a through-the-wall air conditioner than you would for a mini-split system. On average, the price for the purchase and installation of a through-the-wall air conditioner falls between $850 and $3,000.


  • Low mounting location improves accessibility
  • Relatively quiet indoor operation
  • Saves space with wall-mounted design


  • Large hole in the wall is required for installation
  • Obstacles like furniture can block airflow

Geothermal Air Conditioner

A geothermal air conditioner is an alternative to a central air conditioner. This innovative system moves cool air through the home's existing ducts, forcing cool air out through the vents in order to reduce the temperature of the entire home. It can also provide heat to the home during colder months and typically has a lower energy cost than a standard furnace or central air conditioning system. However, the initial purchase and installation cost is much higher than other options, ranging from $15,000 to $35,000.

Geothermal systems work by circulating water down into the ground. In the winter, the cold water from the home absorbs heat from the soil deep underground, at a depth of about 10 feet. The heat is then carried back into the home where the heat pump uses a compressor to increase the temperature before releasing heated air into the home. During the summer months, the water carries heat out of the home and releases it deep into the soil, allowing the ground to serve as a heat sink.


  • Cools the whole home through the existing duct systems
  • High efficiency keeps cooling costs down
  • Longer lifespan than other cooling systems


  • High initial purchase and installation cost
  • Not suitable for apartments, condos, or homes with limited yard space

Evaporative Air Conditioner

Another option that has been in use for thousands of years is the evaporative air conditioner, which is sometimes referred to as a swamp air conditioner. These units vary in price from as low as $100 for small, portable units to $7,000 or more for whole-home evaporative air conditioner systems. As opposed to typical air conditioners that use refrigerant to cool the air, evaporative air conditioners rely on water or ice to cool the air.

These systems blow warm air across buckets of ice or through water-moistened pads. The temperature of the water or ice cools the air as it is blown into the home. However, a primary drawback of these devices is that they only function effectively with cold water or ice, which means portable units need to be monitored and regularly refilled. Additionally, evaporative air conditioners increase the humidity in the home, so if high humidity is an ongoing problem, these devices are not the right choice.


  • Available as portable or whole-home units
  • Doesn't rely on harmful chemicals, like freon, for cooling
  • Increases humidity to help improve dry, arid conditions


  • Cooling power falls short of standard air conditioners
  • Increased humidity can be a problem for some
  • Ice and/or water needs to be regularly monitored and refilled

How to Choose an Air Conditioner

Learning more about the different air conditioner types is only the first step in the buying process. You will also need to consider the energy efficiency rating of the device to decide whether a product is cost-effective in the long term or if you will spend more on electricity bills just to try and keep up with the unit's energy demands.

Air conditioner manufacturers provide the energy efficiency rating (EER), allowing you to choose a product that is suited to your needs. While lower-efficiency air conditioners typically have a lower initial cost, this low-efficiency rating can result in a significant increase in your utility bills.

Similarly, taking the time to research the cooling capacity of the unit can help you make a better decision about which air conditioner is right for your home. The cooling capacity is generally measured in BTUs, though some companies provide the approximate square footage that the air conditioner is designed to cool. Smaller homes or individual rooms can be cooled with a portable air conditioner or by installing a mini-split system. When these rooms aren't in use, the air conditioners don't need to be on, saving you money on your energy bills.

If you are looking for a whole-home unit, a central air conditioner is often the best choice, though some opt for a geothermal system or even a whole-home evaporative air conditioning system. Keep in mind that the initial cost of a whole-home air conditioner is typically much higher than the cost of a portable or stand-alone system.

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