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Buying an A/C unit for your home is a big investment. But it also performs a big function in your home. In the summer months, you’ll probably be turning your air conditioning unit on every single day. That’s why you need to make sure that the A/C unit you select will work efficiently and last a long time. With a wide range of air conditioners available on the market right now, it can be hard to decide which one is best for you. In this guide, we’ll help you identify the most important considerations when selecting A/C units, explain the main differences between various categories such as central, portable, window, or ductless. And reveal our picks for the best air conditioner for your cooling needs.

A/C Buying Guide: 12 Things to Consider 

When buying a new air conditioner for your home, consider these key factors to assess the new cooling system. 

1. SEER rating 

SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. Every air conditioning unit has its own SEER rating. This is an indicator of energy efficiency you can expect from it. The higher the SEER rating the more efficient your cooling system. 

A model with a higher SEER will keep your home cool while saving you money on energy bills. That’s why selecting a more expensive model with a higher SEER can be less costly in the long run. 

2. ENERGY STAR rating 

The older models don’t tend to have an energy star rating certification and it is indeed not necessary, but it is a further indicator that your A/C unit will run efficiently and save you cash on cooling bills.

The modern air conditioner units that are energy star certified have better insulating materials and eliminate unnecessary leaks. 

3. BTU (British Thermal Units) 

British Thermal Unit indicator on your device illustrates how powerful an air conditioner is in cooling a room.  

Here are the general guidelines on what BTU unit is required, based on the size of your space:

  • 150 to 350 square feet: 5,000 to 8,000 BTU
  • 350 to 550 square feet: 8,000 to 12,000 BTU 
  • 550 to 1,050 square feet: 12,000 to 18,500 BTU 
  • 1,050 to 1,600 square feet: 18,500 to 25,000 BTU 

4. Durability and Quality 

The good news is that all the air conditioners in the Canadian market meet a certain standard when it comes to quality. A modern air conditioning unit should last you around 10 to 15 years. 

Some models come with a more reliable build and can last longer than others. If you want to ensure the longevity of your unit you can select a reliable brand with positive reviews on its durability, or models with rust-resistant and corrosion protection technologies that will protect the unit from the outside elements. 

5. Size 

Selecting the air conditioner that is the right size is one of the most important factors. If you buy an A/C unit that is too small for your home, it can’t be a surprise when it doesn’t perform in terms of efficiency, cooling properties, or durability. 

6. Compressor 

Compressor is the heart of your A/C unit. In Canada, you can get units with single-stage, two-stage, or variable-speed compressor. 

The type of compressor you select influences the price, performance, and noise level of the air conditioning unit. 

Components of an air conditioner

  • The refrigerant is a substance that circulates through the air conditioner, alternately absorbing, transporting and releasing heat.
  • A coil is a system of tubing loops through which refrigerant flows and where heat transfer takes place. The tubing may have fins to increase the surface area available for heat exchange.
  • The evaporator is a coil that allows the refrigerant to absorb heat from its surroundings, causing the refrigerant to boil and become a low-temperature vapour.
  • The compressor squeezes the molecules of the refrigerant gas together, increasing the pressure and temperature of the refrigerant.
  • The condenser is a coil that allows the refrigerant gas to give off heat to its surroundings and become a liquid.
  • The expansion device releases the pressure created by the compressor. This causes the temperature to drop and the refrigerant to become a low-temperature vapour/liquid mixture.
  • The plenum is an air compartment that forms part of the system for distributing warmed or cooled air through the house. It is generally a large compartment immediately above the heat exchanger.

7. Warranty 

Let’s be honest. During the 10 to 15 years that you can expect your air conditioner to last, it will probably break or stop working at some point. 

Investing in an air conditioner with a better and longer warranty can save you money on expensive repairs and spare parts.

8. Budget 

The price of your air conditioner can be an indicator of its quality. But this is not always the case. It is important to compare the price with the value the unit will provide for your home. 

Smaller homes will be cool enough with inexpensive entry-level models and the most expensive premium conditioner doesn’t always mean that it will be the best Bt for your space. 

The A/C units come in three main categories, depending on price: 

  • Entry-level – these air conditioners mostly have a single-stage compressor and stick to basic functionality with less energy efficiency. There are some two-stage models in this category with more advanced features. 
  • Mid-range – some of these models have a two-stage compressor but there are lots that still have a single-stage compressor. You can expect more features and more advanced technologies with longer warranties. 
  • Premium – these are the most expensive models from renowned brands like Lennox and Carrier. They have a two-stage or variable speed compressor, attractive designs, advanced features, the highest energy efficiency ratings, and longest warranties. 

9. Noise 

If you’ve ever slept in a room with a noisy air conditioner, you know the value of noise-reducing properties. 

While there are no air conditioners that are completely quiet, some can make a lot of noise compared to others. Not to even mention constant humming or rattling noise. 

Portable air conditioning units are always noisier than central conditioning systems. It is best to be guided by the decibel rating of the given model. Some air conditioners have fan designs, advanced features, and technologies that help to further reduce the noise. 

10. Installation and Maintenance 

With many air conditioning systems, professional installation and maintenance are required to ensure your cooling unit will last you for many years. 

Even though you might not be able to avoid these expenses, some brands focus on designing their A/C units with straightforward maintenance and installation, saving money on professional services. 

11. Portability (Applies to Portable Models)

If you choose to go with a portable model, consider whether it is as easy to move around as you need it to be. If you need to move your unit frequently, don’t select a cooling system that is too heavy, bulky, or awkward to carry. 

Some air conditioning units have features that make them easy to move around, like wheels and handles. 

12. Additional Features 

When looking at advanced models, many air conditioners come with impressive features and technologies that go beyond cooling the air. Some of these include. 

  • Self Diagnostics – self-monitoring functions are useful for maintenance issues. The professional repairs will be faster and if the issue is minor, like a dirty Blter, you can Bx it yourself. With these self-monitoring tools, your air conditioning unit will notify you when there’s an issue, which gives you the certainty that it is always operating at optimal performance. 
  • Smart Thermostat and Remote Control – with these advanced features, you can customize the thermostat programming, set a 24-hour timer, and make the cooling system more energy efficient. 
  • Humidity Control – if you live in a climate with hot humid summers, getting an A/C with humidity control can be life-changing. While this is an important feature of any cooling system, a model that features enhanced humidity control will make your air more comfortable and easier to cool. 
  • Air Quality Improvement – if you’re not only interested in humidity control but also in improving the air quality of your home, some models effectively remove contaminants ensuring improved indoor air quality. 
  • Green Features – it is important to reduce the environmental impact of your A/C system by making sure it is energy efficient. Apart from being good for the environment, the green properties of your cooling system will save you money on energy bills too. 

Types of A/C Units 

There are four main types of air conditioning systems. 

  1. Window Air Conditioners 
  2. Portable Air Conditioners 
  3. Ductless Air Conditioners
  4. Central Air Conditioners 

The range of air conditioner units varies greatly and some small window models can cost less than $200, which makes them exceptionally affordable. But keep in mind that unless you have a very small area that you need to cool, such a model will not be sufficient for your space. 

When selecting your A/C unit, consider your requirements and the size of your home, before making a decision. 

1. Window Air Conditioners 

Window air conditioners come at the most affordable price, the smallest models starting at less than $200. These inexpensive models have the smallest capacity, around 5,000 to 6,000 BTU, and are only capable of cooling a room less than 300 square feet. 

Medium capacity models are more expensive, more difficult to install, and can cool around 250 square feet to 400 square feet, setting you back up to $400. 

The capacity of the large window air conditioners ranges from 9,800 to 12,500 BTU and can cool up to 650 square feet, costing up to $600. They would be sufficient for cooling a large room but they are bulky and difficult to install. 

2. Portable Air Conditioners 

Portable air conditioners are good for spaces where you cannot install a window unit because of building or apartment regulations. These models range between 9,000 and 15,500 BTU and can cost you around $350 to $700. 

They usually feature wheels and some people may select the portable models over window mounted air conditioners because they give you the flexibility to move them to the space that needs cooling. 

They don’t block the sunlight as the window models do and can be compact, which makes them a good Bt for small homes that don’t have much available space. 

The common disadvantages of portable models are that they tend to be noisier than window units. They are also not as portable as the name suggests, weighing around 50 to 80 pounds, so they can be difficult to move around. Portable models can also be pricey compared to wall mounted units with similar performance. 

3. Split Ductless Air Conditioners 

If you want to avoid window installation and are looking for a smarter option for cooling your home, consider split ductless air conditioners. 

Compared to the window and portable air conditioners, they offer a quiet operation and can be a good solution when you only need to cool a few rooms in your home.

They are more pricey than portable or window units, costing around $1,000 or more. They are still more affordable than central air conditioner units but if you need to cool the whole house, the central A/C is more energy-efficient and can be therefore more cost-effective in the long run. 

4. Central Air Conditioners 

Installing a central air conditioning system in your home is an expensive investment but if you live in a hot climate, it can provide valuable peace of mind knowing that your whole home is going to stay cool for the whole summer. 

The central air conditioning unit offers the best performance per square footage with consistent temperature in all the rooms. Apart from excellent efficiency, it is also the quietest air conditioner and often comes with other advanced features like built-in timers or a Wi-Fi Thermostat. 

While a central conditioner unit will deliver efficient cooling, it will also cost you thousands of dollars. This is a big investment but if you live in a climate that experiences intense summer heat and you factor in potential energy savings in the long run, installing a central air conditioner unit can be the best solution for you. 

Which A/C is Best For You? 

These are the three main factors that will determine which air cooling unit is best for you: 

1. Budget 

If you don’t have the budget to invest in a central air conditioner system, portable or wall units present more affordable alternatives. 

But if you need an efficient air conditioner that will cool your whole home, since a central air conditioner will save you cash on energy bills, it can be a more cost-effective investment in the long run. 

2. Climate 

Some climates require more frequent use of air conditioning than others. If you experience milder summers and you’re likely to turn your A/C on only a few times a year, purchasing a more affordable model like a portable or a wall air conditioner will be sufficient. 

But if you live in a climate with long and hot summers, central air conditioning might be a good investment. 

3. Space 

The choice of your ideal air conditioner also depends on the size of your home. The inexpensive models can be sufficient for smaller rooms and apartments.

If you need to cool a big apartment or a house, central A/C will provide the comfort of efficient cooling without any hassle for the years to come. 

Our Top Picks 

Best Window Air Conditioner

LG LW1517IVSM 

Cooling capacity: 14,000 BTU 

This LG model is our best pick for the category of window air conditioners. It comes with a powerful cooling capacity of 14,000 BTU and is able to cool an area of up to 800 square feet. However, being bulky and weighing 98 pounds, it will also take quite a large amount of space in your room. 

It is exceptionally quick and effective, especially for a window air conditioner. In terms of the noise, you can expect a steady hum that blends in with the background. It features a wiB control, which means you can easily turn it on and off from your phone, adding an extra touch of convenience. 

This A/C unit also features a multi-compressor that controls the cooling, it has a dual-inverter design which means it can speed up the cooling when needed to provide constant temperature, rather than just cycling on and off. This reduces the wear on the compressor as well as the energy used. 

Best Portable Air Conditioner

Whynter ARC-14S Dual Hose 

Cooling capacity: 14,000 BTU 

This portable model comes with a similar cooling capacity as our window top pick with the ability to cool around 500 square feet. Being a similar weight, around 80 pounds, it still takes up a fairly large space for a portable air conditioner. 

Its dual-hose configuration, rather than the more common single-hose one, enables more efficient and faster cooling. This is reflected in positive customer feedback and is the main reason why this unit often ranks high in its category. Averaging around 4-star customer ratings on Amazon, homeowners vouch for its ability to maintain a consistent temperature. 

The model enables you to program the settings to your desired temperature and control them remotely. It also offers a large temperature range, meaning it can accommodate a variety of different conditions and climates. 

One of the best extra features is its self evaporating function which eliminates the need to drain water from your air conditioning unit. 

This air conditioner also offers exceptional versatility. You can also use it as a fan to circulate air without cooling it, or a dehumidifier for a more comfortable home on the days it’s not that hot.

Best Ductless Air Conditioner

Fujitsu General Halcyon Wall Mounted RLF/RLX Series 

Cooling capacity: 12,000 BTU 

Fujitsu is a trusted brand of ductless air conditioner units and known for their highly efficient heat pump that comes with great features. The ductless heat pump comes in a variety of lengths, giving you the freedom to have the indoor unit 40-50 feet away from the outdoor unit. 

No need for ductwork means less energy loss which can result in up to 30% energy saving. The deoxidizing Blters remove dust and dirt, ensuring a healthy home without mold. 

This model heats and cools with an efficient variable capacity inverter technology and boosts the comfort levels with an advanced humidity control A/C mode. 

Other convenient features include a wireless remote, a 24-hour timer with a sleep function, and a safe restart after a power outage. 

Best Central Air Conditioner

Lennox SL18XC1 

Cooling capacity: 22,400 to 58,000 BTU 

Lennox is one of the best, quietest, most energy-efficient central air conditioner brands on the Canadian market. It is known for high-end air conditioning units known for their reliability, efficiency, superior performance, and industry-leading energy condensation efficiency. 

With its unique Lennox Quantum Coil technology, it is exceptional at handling the heat. Made of aluminium alloy, the material resists corrosion, extreme heat, snow, or rain. 

It can be connected to a smart thermostat that maintains adequate and precise comfort, even temperatures and consistent airflow, even when you’re not at home. The enhanced home dehumidification system further improves air quality. 

It comes with an Energy star certificate saving you money on the utility bills and allowing you to qualify for energy rebates. Further high-end technologies include a silent fan motor with quiet operation and an option to combine it with a solar unit. 

The only downside is that this model is very expensive. But with its superior energy-saving properties, the investment will pay off in the long run. For further peace of mind, it comes with a generous 10-year warranty. 

The Bottom Line 

With a wide variety of choices in different types and models of air conditioning units available on the Canadian market, it can be difficult to know which one to pick. 

Among the 12 things to consider when selecting the best cooling system are the SEER rating, performance measured in BTU, energy efficiency, size, durability, noise levels, budget, and other extra features.

The main types of air conditioning systems include window, portable, ductless, or central air conditioners. Deciding which ones are best for you will depend on the size of the space you need to cool, your budget, and your climate. 

If you only need to cool a room or a studio apartment, an efficient window or portable air conditioner will be sufficient. But if you live in a climate with long hot summers and you are willing to invest in a central air conditioning system, the Lennox SL18XC1 is our best pick.

Romana King

Romana King is an award-winning personal finance columnist and real estate expert. She specializes in creating editorial content that uses data to help home buyers, sellers and investors make smarter real estate decisions.