Q: What air-conditioning options should I explore so we can stay cool this summer?
A: It’s the right time of year to think about how to stay cool this summer. There are a few low- and no-cost cooling strategies, such as using ceiling fans to keep air moving, turning off unused electrical devices and appliances, and blocking direct sunlight with window coverings.
If you live in a climate with cool summer evenings, you can let cool air in late at night or early in the morning, then seal up the home to keep that air from leaking out.
If that’s not enough, you can install air conditioning. Below are three common options for home cooling, including approximate cost estimates. Please be aware that costs vary.
Window and portable air-conditioning units are the lowest-cost approach.
Portable units can be moved from room to room and come equipped with a length of duct to exhaust hot air out a nearby window. Window units are mounted in a window opening and cool one room. The efficiency of portable and window units has improved, but none is as efficient as most central air-conditioning units or a mini-split heat pump.
If you live in a hot, dry climate, consider an evaporative cooler—sometimes referred to as a swamp cooler. Window units have been around for a while, but there are portable options. Evaporative cooling units can be less expensive than traditional air-conditioning units, but don’t buy one until you determine how well evaporative cooling works in your area.
Whatever option you choose, make sure it is rated for the size of the space you are cooling. Portable and window units cost $149 to $1,000 each, depending on your climate and how many square feet you’re trying to cool.
Ductless Mini-Split Heat Pumps
A ductless mini-split heat pump has a compressor outside the home connected to air handler units in as many as four rooms. Each room’s temperature can be controlled separately. Ductless mini-splits are a good choice for homes without forced-air ducting systems, or with leaky or undersized ductwork.
Heat pumps can also be a supplemental source of heat in the winter.
Heat pumps cost $3,000 to $10,000, including installation.
If your home has forced-air heating ductwork, it can be used for an air conditioner or heat pump unit. This is a good option if the ductwork is sized properly and doesn’t leak, and if ducts are in unheated attics or crawlspaces that are insulated.
In some U.S. locations, contractors can install evaporative cooling as a whole-house system.
Central air-conditioning units cost between $3,000 to $7,000, not including repairs to ductwork.
As always, you can save energy and money by buying Energy Star-rated appliances and collecting a few quotes from licensed contractors.