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How to choose a ducted split or room air conditioner (wall hung split, wall split, high wall or window/wall type) for maximum comfort and minimum costs (reverse cycle or cooling only).

John Atkins from Sydney says 'Your info has been excellent.'

Most of AUSTRALIA can get extremely hot and very few people can get by without some form of cooling.

To install air-conditioning is a major purchase, hence it is worth making sure that your money is spent as wisely as possible. This advice applies for residential (home) room air conditioning units in Australia and New Zealand. (Either reverse cycle or cooling only). Reverse cycle air conditioners are also sometimes called heat pump air conditioners or heat pumps. For offices and other commercial air conditioning visit commercial air conditioning.

Choosing an air conditioning system (either reverse cycle or cooling only).

When choosing an air conditioning system, the following are the main criteria to consider:

Is heating required?

In some climates (eg. Darwin) heating is not required and a cooling only unit will be satisfactory. In other climates some form of heating is required and people often choose reverse cycle or heat pump air conditioning. Before deciding to rely on a heat pump as your main heater, you need to be confident that it will provide adequate heating for your climate.

Is it heating or cooling which is most important? Reverse cycle air conditioning only provides acceptable heating in mild climates. In cool climates you may be better off with gas (or another type of heating) combined with evaporative cooling. If you are considering evaporative cooling, check out whether the COOLMAX would suit your needs.

For a full discussion of the issues and specific advice to suit your needs, register for our e-guide 'How to get the right air conditioning for you, in four easy steps'.

Comfort level

The next thing you need to decide, is the level of comfort you desire and whether you are prepared to pay for it. There are a number of things you need to consider.

If cooling is most important, you need to consider whether you are in a dry or humid area. If you are in a dry area, and you just want to cool a single large room (eg family / dining / kitchen) you should again consider the COOLMAX. If you need to cool the whole house consider ducted evaporative cooling. If you are in a humid area (eg Brisbane) you are probably better off with a refrigerative cooler (either reverse cycle or cooling only).

Getting the correct size air conditioner is critical to achieving comfort. Unfortunately there is no simple way to ensure you get the right sized unit. Most readily available means of 'selecting an air conditioner' recommend the same size unit if you live in Alice Springs or Hobart. This is ludicrous. Unfortunately, if you buy from an electrical retailer, and even from some air conditioning contractors, you will generally be sold an air conditioner based on this mythical 'average Australian or New Zealander'. Your choice is to buy from a specialised contractor, or to check it out for yourself or better still do both.

There is only one air conditioning selector that I know of intended to be used by the general public, that is accurate enough to be useful. Find out how to determine the correct size air conditioner.

For a full discussion of the issues and specific advice to suit your needs, register for our free e-guide 'How to get the right air conditioning for you, in four easy steps'.

Purchase cost

A low purchase cost is of course attractive, however it may be better to air condition a smaller room with a good quality, correct size unit, than to attempt to air condition a large area with a 'cheap' unit. Alternatively, if you live in an evaporative cooling area, it may be better to install a quality evaporative cooler like the COOLMAX than a cheap refrigerative cooler.

To get an indication of costs, sign up for our free e-guide 'How to get the right air conditioning for you, in four easy steps'.

Running cost

Electricity costs are projected to rise over the longer term. Many areas like Sydney have in the past had their peak electricity demand in winter. However with increasing use and size of refrigerative coolers, this is forecast to change within the next few years, so that their electricity demand will peak in summer, like most hotter cities, for example Adelaide. Once this happens summer price loadings on electricity are likely to spread throughout Australia. This means that running an inefficient air conditioner is likely to be prohibitively expensive. (Adelaide for instance has a summer loading of around 30% on top of the base electricity price.) Thus even if current costs are not enough to influence your decision, you need to consider likely future increases.

For a full discussion of the issues and specific advice to suit your needs, register for our free e-guide 'How to get the right air conditioning for you, in four easy steps'.

Noise levels

You want to be able to listen to the TV or Hi-Fi inside, and you don't want to annoy your neighbours. You also need to consider where the outdoor unit is going to be located. As a general guide do not locate an outdoor unit near a neighbour's bedroom window. There are specific regulations which apply. Unfortunately you will need to rely on the advice of your installer as determining the appropriate location is too complex for this guide.

For a full discussion of the issues and specific advice to suit your needs, register for our free e-guide 'How to get the right air conditioning for you, in four easy steps'.

Reliability

Reliability of the system depends on both the reliability of the brand and on how well it is installed. Installation quality is particularly important for split systems and ducted systems as there is more to go wrong.

For a full discussion of the issues and specific advice to suit your needs, register for our free e-guide 'How to get the right air conditioning for you, in four easy steps'.

The contractor

There are two main ways of buying residential air conditioning. The first is to go to an air conditioning contractor and the second is to buy from an electrical retailer. For a ducted system you nearly always need the expertise of a specialist contractor. For a wall hung split I recommend a specialist contractor for the reasons listed below. If buying a traditional box type room air conditioner, an electrical retailer is likely to be satisfactory. A specialist air conditioning contractor is more likely to employ qualified refrigeration mechanics to do the installation, although the price is likely to be higher. A qualified refrigeration mechanic should completely evacuate the refrigeration lines to ensure you get the rated performance of the air conditioner and to ensure there is no free moisture, which would cause corrosion in the compressor. If the compressor fails due to poor installation, you may find yourself caught up in a warranty battle as the manufacturer's warranty does not normally cover poor installation. If you buy from an electrical retailer, they often simply give you the name of an installer, leaving it up to you to check the installer's ability.

For a full discussion of the issues and specific advice to suit your needs, register for our free e-guide 'How to get the right air conditioning for you, in four easy steps'.

The air conditioner brand

To develop a high quality air conditioner requires a considerable investment in research and development. Generally only a large, established manufacturer can support this. Most small manufacturers do not have the expertise to do the testing needed to ensure a product performs as expected. Speak with your friends who have air conditioning, or ask to see a demonstration unit operating and choose from the brands that have satisfied their owners. Generally this is the more established brands.

Location of outdoor unit

Choosing the best location for the outdoor unit can be a challenge. You will need to rely on the installers advice, however there are a number of factors that can affect it.

For a full discussion of the issues and specific advice to suit your needs, register for our free e-guide 'How to get the right air conditioning for you, in four easy steps'.

Summary

There are a large number of issues that need to be addressed when choosing an air conditioner. These include comfort level, purchase cost, running costs, noise levels, reliability, brand, location of outdoor unit and confidence in the contractor. Generally you are more likely to get satisfaction going to a specialist air conditioning contractor-look in the yellow pages under 'Air conditioning - home'. For simple step by step advice on buying an air conditioner, register now for our free e-guide 'How to get the right air conditioning for you, in four easy steps'. I also recommend you check the size.

The above tips are of a general nature, and it is up to you to ensure they apply in your case.

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