What to Look for When Choosing an Air Conditioner in Canada
When it comes to heatwaves in the middle of summer, one of the most effective ways to deal with one is using an air conditioner. It’s not surprising that 1 in 3 Albertans have an air conditioner in their home to help beat the heat. Not sure where to start when it comes to choosing an AC in Alberta or any other province in Canada?
Read on below to learn more about how air conditioners work, the different types of air conditioners, what to consider when buying an AC and how to pick an air conditioner that’s right for you.
How ACs work
Before we get any further, let’s explain how exactly air conditioners cool you off in the summertime. Air conditioners remove heat and moisture from your room or home via refrigeration. It then transfers the unwanted heat and humidity outside of your home.
In general, air conditioning units use a special liquid/gas called refrigerant along with a compressor, a condenser coil, and an evaporator coil to cool down your home.
Refrigerants absorb heat when they evaporate and release heat when they condense. When hot air is brought in from the room passes over the evaporator coil, the refrigerant evaporates (which means it absorbs heat). A fan distributes the now-cooled air to your room.
Next, the refrigerant is reverted to a liquid via the compressor – the compressor compresses the gas-phase refrigerant at a high pressure, which causes a release of heat which is transferred outdoors via a fan. Once the refrigerant cools, it returns to a liquid phase and can be used to absorb heat again.
Why should I buy an air conditioner?
There are a number of reasons why you should buy an air conditioner – frequent heat warnings in Alberta and Ontario mean that daytime temperatures reach around 29 degrees Celsius or higher. Going outside in such temperatures means you’ll be at higher risk for heat stroke, heat exhaustion and dehydration. Having an air conditioner would go a long way to encourage you and your family to stay inside during hot summers. Plus, your pets will thank you – our furry friends are more susceptible to heat than we are.
If you’ve had problems with humidity in your home, air conditioners might be able to help some – they remove unwanted heat along with humidity.
Lastly, air conditioning can positively impact your sleep quality. According to WebMD, the typical recommendation is to keep your bedroom between 65 – 72 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3 – 22.2 degrees Celsius) – air conditioning can help you keep your room in this recommended temperature range and prevent you from tossing and turning all night.
Types of air conditioners
Something you may not know is that there are different types of air conditioning units. When buying an air conditioner, you’ll probably want to decide on what type suits your needs the best and go from there.
- Window Air Conditioner – These units are small and compact and fit right into your window. When fall and winter roll around, you can easily take them out of your window and store it until next summer. These are the most common types of air conditioning units, as well as one of the most affordable.
- Split System (Central AC) – This type of air conditioning is used to cool your entire house, rather than just a single area. The condensation and evaporation functions of the air conditioning unit are split. Central air conditioning is an example of a split system – it’s usually combined with the furnace system so that cold air is blown throughout the ducts.
- Portable Air Conditioner – A portable air conditioner is exactly what it sounds like – these units typically come with wheels and can be moved from room to room as needed. They usually include a tube to vent heat outside.
- Mini Split Systems (Ductless) – Mini-split systems allow you to control the temperature in one or two areas in your home – they’re useful for homes without ductwork, plus they’re more energy-efficient than some other options. On the downside, they tend to be costly.
BTU Calculator: Size and air conditioner capacity (AC size calculator)
Now that you know about the different kinds of air conditioning units available, you may be wondering ‘what size AC unit do I need?’. The size of air conditioner isn’t really what you should focus on – it’s the cooling capacity (BTU) that you should look at. The cooling capacity you’ll need largely depends on how large the space you want cooled is. Below is a table that’ll give you an idea of what cooling capacity you’ll need based on room size:
|Room Size||Required Cooling Capacity (BTU)|
|100 – 250 square feet||5000 BTUs|
|150 – 250 square feet||6000 BTUs|
|250 – 300 square feet||7000 BTUs|
|300 – 350 square feet||8000 BTUs|
|350 – 400 square feet||9000 BTUs|
|400 – 450 square feet||10 000 BTUs|
|450 – 550 square feet||12 000 BTUs|
|550 – 700 square feet||14 000 BTUs|
|700 – 1000 square feet||18 000 BTUs|
|1000 – 1200 square feet||21 000 BTUs|
|1200 – 1400 square feet||23 000 BTUs|
|1400 – 1500 square feet||24 000 BTUs|
In addition to this table, here are a few other tips to help you choose an air conditioner with the right cooling capacity:
- If a room gets a lot of sunlight, you should add 10% to the cooling capacity recommended by the table above.
- If you’re going to be cooling a kitchen, choose an air conditioning unit that has at least 4000 more BTUs of cooling capacity than recommended by the table above.
- For rooms with high traffic or for rooms that regularly have more than two people, add about 600 BTUs for every extra person.
Air conditioner efficiency
The energy efficiency of an air conditioning unit is determined by its energy efficiency ratio. According to Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), an air conditioner’s energy efficiency ratio (EER) is “a measure of how much cooling effect is provided by the air conditioner for each unit of electrical energy that it consumes under steady-state operation.” In other words, you calculate it by dividing the cooling output of the unit, in British thermal units per hour (BTUs), by the electrical power input, in watts, at a specific temperature. The higher the resulting number, the more efficient the air conditioning unit.
How to calculate how much energy your air conditioner uses
This isn’t as hard as it sounds – all you need to do is divide its cooling capacity (BTUs) by its EER. The resulting number is the watt-hour (Wh) per hour consumption rate. If you’re interested in learning how to calculate the energy cost of your other appliances, you can figure that out in our complete guide here.
Factors affecting your AC costs
The cost of running an air conditioner is a little more complicated than just the cost of the unit and the amount of energy needed to run it. According to Natural Resources Canada, here’s a list of other potential factors that may impact the cost of air conditioning in your home:
- The efficiency rating of the air conditioner (EER)
- The local cost of electricity
- The habits of the people in the house (e.g. whether people used window shading or how often they cook or use appliances)
- The number of people living in a house
- The geographical location of the house
- How the weather conditions change from year to year
- Air conditioner size relative to cooling load
- The thermostat setting
Useful AC features: What AC features should I look for?
Not all air conditioners are the same – you’ll want to take note of what features an air conditioner has (or doesn’t have) and how that impacts their function. Here are a few useful air conditioning features to look out for:
- Remote control – If you’re finnicky about what temperature you want your room to be set at, having a remote control will make it a lot easier to adjust the temperature of your room without having to constantly get up.
- Timer – A timer lets you turn your air conditioner on or off at a pre-set time – you’ll always be able to go back to an air-conditioned home without using too much excess energy.
- Manufacturer’s warranty – Air conditioners aren’t exactly a cheap investment – having a decent warranty can help give you peace of mind in case anything goes wrong with your unit.
- Energy-saver switch – This feature turns off your air conditioner’s fans when the compressor is turned off – not constantly having your fan running can help save you on your energy bills over the years.
- Oscillating vents – Having oscillating vents allows for your unit’s air flow to move from side to side, which helps distribute cooled air more evenly in your room.
- Ventilation/exhaust hoses – These allow for fresh air to circulate into your room
- Check filter light – This is a helpful reminder to change your filter – dirty filters don’t filter out dust and allergens as well.
Choosing an air conditioner in Canada
Beyond room size and features, there are still more things to consider when you want to set up air conditioning in your home. Ultimately, answering ‘What AC is right for me?’ also depends on your living situation as well as your budget among other things. You need to know what to look for in an AC.
As you know, air conditioning in whatever form isn’t exactly cheap – central air conditioners and ductless mini split systems more so than other types since they require extensive installation that requires professionals. Plus, central air conditioning requires your home to have a duct system, which can further add to the already large cost of installation.
If you’re renting your apartment/home or if you’re planning to move out in the near future, investing in air conditioning that requires extensive installation may not be the best use of your finances.
Portable air conditioners can be a better choice for those who can’t afford the costs associated with extensive installation or for those who won’t own their properties. They’re also convenient – you can move them to different rooms as needed so you don’t need to buy multiple units. However, they may not be a great solution for people with reduced mobility or for the elderly – for such people, window air conditioner units or other types would work better.
READ MORE: The Best Portable Air Conditioners in Canada
If you’re someone who’s conscious about the amount of energy they use, you’ll want to select an air conditioner with a high energy efficiency ratio. If you’re concerned not only about energy costs, it’s worth noting that central air conditioning costs the most, while window AC units cost the least. Portable air conditioners and ductless mini-split systems cost somewhere in between.
You’ll also want to think about the decibel rating of your air conditioner – as you can probably guess, the quieter an air conditioner is, the more expensive it usually is. There’s no point in buying an air conditioner to help you sleep better at night in the heat if it keeps you up with the amount of noise it makes.
To help you find out the amount of noise you can tolerate, here’s an infographic depicting common noises from 0 – 140 db.
If you take a look at the decibel levels of everyday sounds, you will notice that it would be nice for your ears to keep your AC noise levels below 70 decibels. The quietest ACs out there usually have a noise range of 45-75 decibels.
In the long term, you’ll probably be paying for replacement parts and replacement filters for your air conditioner. You’ll want to check the availability for the replacement parts and the cost of hiring professionals to fix your air conditioner in case anything goes wrong. In addition to replacing parts as necessary, it’s also a good idea to schedule maintenance cleanings for your air conditioner’s coils and other inner parts so that your air conditioner runs as efficiently as possible.
Make sure to budget accordingly so that a surprise problem with your air conditioning unit doesn’t hurt your wallet too much.
Other methods of space cooling
Whether you want to ease the load on your air conditioning unit or just avoid using air conditioning to cool your home, check out this article for budget-friendly tips to cool down without air conditioning.
Do you want to save on your energy costs? Easy peasy! We can help you with that. Just go to EnergyRates.ca or try the form above to compare electricity and natural gas providers in your area.