Whether it be a studio apartment, small condo, cottage, or modular home—you have suddenly found yourself in a small living space with limited cooling options. Maybe the building never had central air conditioning or there’s a lack of adequate space to install one. Without room for ventilation ductwork in the attic, walls, or floors, traditional fan-forced central HVAC systems cannot simply be put in after the fact years later.
Fortunately, there are a variety of options to cool your small living space without needing to drain your bank account. Here are some of the air conditioning options that work in place of a central system.
Window Air Conditioners
Both the most affordable and most popular cooling unit on the list, window air conditioners have stood the test of time. Decades of small improvements have produced a sleek and powerful cooling machine that can be found in every price range. Self-installation is quick and easy, requiring only common household tools. Many window ACs are surprisingly energy efficient since the hot condenser is kept outdoors away from the cool evaporator coil inside. They’re easy to operate, and many like the LG LW6017R come with multiple cooling and fan speeds, on/off timers, and remote controls. Dealing with waste water is a breeze, since the unit self drains out a port on the outside portion of the machine.
Window air conditioners are not always easy to install. Sometimes unique window designs or geometry make self-installation agonizingly difficult, or yield a poorly sealed window that needlessly leaks cool air even when the unit isn’t running. If you live in a space small enough where only one or two windows are even available, it might be impossible to install a window unit if the available windows are not large enough to accommodate one of the smallest machines.
Many also hate how they look on the outside of a house or building. The metal on the outside rusts and corrodes over years of weathering, making the machines look like eye sores from the road. Although, newer models which feature plastic and synthetic-polymer components have made great strides in addressing the corrosion issue. Window ACs, like most of the others on this list, draw a considerable degree of volts and amps from your home’s energy grid. As such, plugging them into extension cords or ungrounded outlets could cause an electrical short or a fire.
Wall Air Conditioners
Wall air conditioners are perfect for living spaces that lack a window built with adequate dimensions for a window air conditioning unit. A section of an external wall is cut to fit the machine, so it’s often a tighter fit with better insulation from the elements.
Although it’s found at a considerably higher price point, machines like the Haier HTWR08XCR also feature multiple cooling and fan speeds, on/off timers, and remote controls. The air vents can additionally be positioned to push the cool air in different directions in your home.
Like their window unit cousins, wall ACs cannot be used with standard extension cords or select electrical outlets. Since an external wall has to be extensively modified to fit the machine, wall air conditioners might not be an option for renters or homes with hard to cut concrete block walls. Dollar for dollar, wall air conditioners also cost more than window air conditioners and aren’t as readily available either.
Portable Air Conditioners
Portable air conditioners have seen a surge in popularity in recent years. They look elegant and can be used in applications where neither a window air conditioner nor a wall air conditioner can foreseeably be installed. This is either from a lack of large enough windows or from living in a rented space. The exhaust hose on most portable air conditioners is small enough to fit in nearly every sized window, making them more versatile from home to home. They also feature wheels that allow you to position the machine in varying places in the room you choose for installation. This allows you to fit the machine into a tight space already crowded with furniture.
Like wall air conditioners, portable ACs often carry a hefty price tag, especially if you want one with higher BTUs that equals a mid range window air conditioner. Portables are also considerably louder than most other comparatively priced air conditioners. For some, the noise is too much and the machines end up being returned for something else.
Because all of the components are housed together and kept indoors, this presents two immediate issues. One, the wastewater has to be properly drained and the cheap plastic drain hoses that come with the machines can flood the room if great care isn’t taken when installing them. The other issue is with cooling the condenser component. In most air conditioners, the condenser and compressor are located outdoors, providing natural air cooling as a fan keeps the air moving over the hot components. To cool the warm condenser in a portable AC, air that has just been cooled has to be pulled back into the machine and used to cool the warm component. The air, now warm, exits the machine through the exhaust hose in the back.
Ductless Mini Splits
Ductless mini splits are also surging in popularity in recent years, in part from their elegant designs and forward looking features and controls. The name is taken from a central split style air conditioner system, where the cold evaporator coil is split away from the warm condenser coil—the former being indoors and the latter being outdoors. Like wall units, the air conditioner is fit into a cavity in an external wall, bypassing the need for any ductwork. They are powerful and offer both cooling and heating capabilities.
The major obstacle for ductless mini splits is their price. At well over $1000 per unit, these machines are beyond many people’s budgets. They also have to be installed by a professional HVAC technician to ensure the system is safely operating.
Evaporative coolers utilize an old-world air conditioning technique that simply utilizes the natural air cooling effects of water as it evaporates into a gaseous state. These coolers pull warm air in from outdoors, or from an indoor space if using a table top unit, and the air is pushed through water pads. As it moves through, the water starts to evaporate, making the air colder. They’re extremely energy efficient and cost pennies to run compared to other air conditioners. If you live in an uncomfortably dry climate like the desert, they act as simultaneous humidifiers because of the evaporation effect.
Evaporative coolers are not ideal for humid environments like the southeastern seaboard. Because they produce humidity as they run, an existing indoor mold problem could be exacerbated from using one as a primary source of indoor cooling.
There are numerous substitutes for central fan-forced air conditioners. No matter what kind of dwelling you reside in, or whether or not you’re open to modifying an existing wall or window, there is an option for every budget. Regardless of the chosen air conditioning method, consult with a local heating and cooling technician for safe and proper installation. This will prevent unwanted injuries or permanent damage to expensive equipment.