Choosing the right aircon for your home

Living in the Southern Hemisphere goes hand in hand with hot summer temperatures. Air conditioners in all homes will be cranked up to maximum speed to keep families cool, providing welcome relief from the sweltering heat. Not too long ago, having an air conditioner in your home was a luxury only accessed by the elite; nowadays almost all households have a system.

The cost of air conditioning units have come down considerably, making the technology accessible to the average Joe, and it comes with some great benefits. The air being pushed through the ducts is filtered therefore improving the air quality of your home, which means fewer allergy-causing bacteria, and the added security which comes with not having to leave windows and doors open to cool a room.

“It is very easy to jump and quickly have an aircon installed when we are boiling hot in the summer months – we have all made expensive mistakes in times of un-comfort. I do believe that knowledge is power, so ensure that you stay updated with everything property. The market, home finishes and technology available, even décor trends. This will guarantee that you can make an informed, educated decisions in the spur of the moment, and not sit with a very expensive, unattractive wall decorations” Craig added.

Buying an air conditioning unit should be researched carefully. Start with your own requirements such as the space to be cooled, where the unit will be located, and then pair this up with the models available taking into consideration budget, installation, maintenance costs, and most of all increased energy bills ” says Craig Hutchison, CEO Engel & Völkers Southern Africa.

If you are in the market for an air conditioner or simply wish to gain some ‘power’ for future reference, then this is where to start…

Measure & determine your size:

You will need to measure the space that needs to be cooled. If you have a large home with many rooms, it’s possible more than one air conditioning system will need to be used to sufficiently cool every room effectively. While split air conditioner units could be cheaper alternative compared to a central air system, they also have limits on how far the air will reach.

Too Big:

• If your unit is too large for the area that you need cooled, it will turn on quickly, cool the room rapidly and then shut off. Heat will soon sneak in to your house and it will have to turn on again to re-start the cooling process.
• The constant on-off cycle will defeat the purpose of its energy efficient design.
• A too big unit will also not run long enough to dehumidify the air, resulting in a "clammy" feeling.
• Oversize can also reduce air quality and aggravate allergies.
Too Small:

• You will end up spending more on electricity without much benefit as your level of comfort will not be optimal.
• If your unit is too small, it will run constantly and spend most of the day trying to cool your home. Without the power to cool it rapidly; it will run constantly and increase your electric bill.

Just Right:

A basic rule of thumb is 220BTU (British Thermal Units) per square meter of the room. Other factors such as ceiling height, size and location of windows and doors may cause a need for more cooling power.  If we keep to optimal conditions, then an 8000BTU can cool up to 36m2 , 9000BTU = 54m2 etc.

Decide on the position & select a type:

• Central air or ducted systems are the most energy efficient type of air conditioners; they maintain a consistently cool temperature throughout the home, are silent, and offer the best smart home cooling automation solution.  As the aesthetics of the system is important - the best solutions are always ducted as all units can be hidden and noise levels are lower than decorative or exposed units.

• A split air conditioning system perfect for cooling just a room. This system is unobtrusive and silent as the unit sits in your room and the compressor that makes the noise is installed on the outside wall near the room. No major installation or ductwork is required. 
• Portable aircon units are mobile and can be moved around to any room in the home. These units are becoming increasingly popular especially among individuals who live in rented flats and apartments. Portable aircon units are comparatively cheaper and easy to maintain.

• Ductless air conditioner is a great option for enclosed spaces as there is no need for pipes connecting to a box outside the window.  The ductless mini split air-cons also have the same components as the split air conditioning systems. The installation of these units is easy and they also have a near-silent operation with high reliability, demanding less maintenance and replacement of components over its operating lifespan.

Turn to the calculator & think of cost

Byron Baty from SA Heating & Cooling advises clients to look for the energy ratings to assess what system is best for them. “Selecting on brand is often a common mistake. Don’t assume that because you are buying a consumer brand that you are purchasing a good, efficient, air conditioning system, good quality units use less electricity” he added. 

• Be aware when choosing a portable air conditioner which is less expensive due to its smaller nature and cooling abilities that it might not always be what you need for the space you’re trying to cool.

• Large homes will benefit more from having either a central air conditioning unit installed or alternatively a unit in each room, although the initial upfront cost can be expensive, you’ll save on cooling costs down the road. 

• You should not only look at the unit cost, but also the electricity consumption, as in the long run you might end up spending more in a few months on electricity, than you would have simply buying a better unit upfront.

• Energy consumption and running costs must be assessed; vast differences exist between a systems electrical usage - as much as 40% in many cases.

• Purchase only class B or above preferably class A+ or A++ rated units.
• Buy units with real clock timers
• Insulate your house if you are undertaking a new build to avoid energy losses.
Read up about the technology:

The Inverter technology (DC) is the latest evolution of technology concerning the electro motors of the compressors. An Inverter is used to control the speed of the compressor motor, so as to continuously regulate the temperature. The DC Inverter units have a variable-frequency drive that comprises an adjustable electrical inverter to control the speed of the electromotor, which means the compressor and the cooling / heating output. The drive converts the incoming AC current to DC and then through a modulation in an electrical inverter produces current of desired frequency. A microcontroller can sample each ambient air temperature and adjust accordingly the speed of the compressor.

The inverter air conditioning units have increased efficiency in comparison to traditional air conditioners, extended life of their parts and the sharp fluctuations in the load are eliminated. This makes the inverter AC units quieter, with lower operating cost and with less break downs. The inverter AC units might be more expensive than the constant speed air conditioners, but this is balanced by lower energy bills. The payback time is approximately two years depending on the usage.

Choose your functions:

Now you should have an idea of the type of aircon you require and you can start comparing the ‘feel-good’ aspects between the brands to pinpoint the winner. Air-conditioners can vary greatly when it comes to additional functionality. Here are some options to look out for:

• Energy -  saver switch: Normally, an air conditioner's fan runs constantly, even when the compressor is turned off. But with an energy-saving switch, the fans turn off when the thermostat turns off the compressor, saving you money.

• Humidity: most systems come with the ability to keep rooms ‘dry’ so that humidity can be reduced without a room becoming over-cool. Lowering the humidity level will decrease the growth of dust mites and mould.

• Fan only function: The fan mode is more economical, since the unit does not run with the compressor on. Without the compressor you only get the same cooling effect delivered by a regular electric fan.

• Heat: many modern AC systems not only provide the ability to cool but to heat too, ideal for winter months.
"Check filter" light: A visual reminder to clean or change the filter.

• Oscillating vents: An internal motor that automatically sweeps the unit's air flow from side to side, cooling the room more evenly.

• Remote control: This handy option lets you adjust the temp from anywhere in the room. Great for increasing the temperature/thermostat in the middle of the night when your body temperature drops.

• Sleep mode: Slightly raises the room's temperature setting at night to avoid night time chills.

• Timer: Automatically turns the unit on or off at a predetermined time when you're not there, letting a room cool down or heat up before you enter.

• Ventilation/exhaust: Lets fresh air from outside circulate into the room.

• Manufacturer's warranty: Generally ranges from one to two years for parts and labour.

This should equip you with the basic knowledge to know what type of Aircon you would require – so bring on Summer…

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