How to select the best air-conditioning system for your home

Written by the Square One team

Reviewed by George Baral

Updated June 13, 2024 | Published November 17, 2018

Canadians welcome the heat of mid-summer days as relief from the long, cold winters they endure. Of course, the downside is that stifling summer humidity can be enervating.

Luckily for all concerned, in today’s world air conditioning provides a respite from extreme heat. When it comes to choosing the most appropriate means of providing that relief, you want to select an air conditioner that best meets your needs, and we’re here to help.

An air-conditioner at home

The important points

  • There are several types of air conditioner, some being more suitable for certain homes than others.
  • The cooling capacity of an air conditioner is measured in British Thermal Units.
  • There are portable air conditioners that are far easier to add to your home than wall- or window-mounted units.

How much power do you need from your air conditioner?

Prior to purchasing an air conditioner for your home or apartment, you should determine how much cooling power you’ll need. Cooling capacity is measured in British Thermal Units, or BTUs, referring to the amount of heat a unit can remove from your residence.

A BTU calculator such as this one can help you determine the appropriate capacity necessary for a unit to properly cool your living space.

When considering the purchase of an air-conditioning unit or system, there are four main choices. We’ll discuss the pros and cons of each so that you can focus on the type of unit or system that will best meet your needs.

Window air-conditioners

Window air conditioner installed in a brick building

Window units pack a lot of punch for their price. They are designed to fit into your window, and there are even small units designed especially for casement windows, which swing open from the side, rather than raise and lower.

They contain everything you need in one package: compressor, condenser, expansion valve/coil, etc. They are relatively inexpensive and generally have good cooling power, although it may take a bit of time to cool outlying areas.

Window units are also relatively easy to install and they don’t require you to make any modifications to your walls. If you are a tenant, this is an important consideration. However, you need to close off the area around the unit so air is not coming in and out of the window through the gaps.

And as a bonus? You can take a window air conditioner with you if you move.

Portable air-conditioners

Man puts portable air conditioner to

Portable units are the easiest option, aside from window units, although they are space hogs. They are usually on wheels and sit on the floor near a window, where a hose can pump out hot air through the window to the outdoors.

An adjustable frame for the hose blocks off the rest of the window. You can move them from room to room as needed, although they may be challenging to roll on carpet. They’re not terribly efficient compared to other styles.

Dual-hose systems cool the air in the room more efficiently by using outside air to cool the unit, but of course they are slightly more expensive than single-hose units.

Both are more expensive than window units and use more energy. They are also heavy and use up precious floor space in small apartments. However, they don’t require modifications to your walls. Again, if you are a renter, this is very helpful.

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Ductless/Split air-conditioners

A ductless unit is a more visually attractive option. The term “split” refers to the unit’s two component parts: an indoor fan box that attaches to your wall and a condenser unit that stays outside.

“Ductless” is actually a misnomer because there are hoses involved. You will need to run them from the indoor unit to the condenser outdoors, requiring you to have some understanding of the system’s workings and assembly. You’ll also need to drill holes in your wall to mount the indoor cooling unit.

Unlike the window and portable units, this system should be installed by a professional.

Split systems are excellent for cooling a large amount of space, but you’ll need multiple units for various rooms, so the cost can add up. In addition, the units themselves are more expensive than either window or portable air conditioners.

Wall air-conditioners

Women holds screwdriver with a confused look in front of wall air conditioner

A wall unit is the most complicated option for cooling a room, because it requires you to cut a hole in your wall to mount it. In doing so, you need to be alert to the presence of studs and copper pipes.

Although you can install it yourself, it might be wise to consult a professional who understands construction. Wall units are much more efficient than portable units and are also better than window units, thanks to the tighter seal.

The cost savings over time may cancel out the installation costs. However, if you don’t own the property, you will need permission from your landlord to make a fairly significant cut in the wall.

After this lesson in air-conditioning you should be all set to deal with warm weather (whatever time of year that means for you), so bring it on!

Want to learn more? Visit our Home Improvement resource centre for tips and inspiration for your next big home improvement project. Or, get an online quote in under 5 minutes and find out how affordable personalized home insurance can be.

About the expert: George Baral

George Baral has an MBA and a masters' degree in chemistry. He spent almost 35 years inspecting and evaluating heating and air conditioning systems before retiring. He obtained a California general contractor's license to start a company focusing on energy-efficient construction, became certified as a LEED AP and earned a NATE (North American Technical Excellence) certification, which provides advanced training for HVAC technicians.


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