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Cooling Systems

Two-thirds of all U.S. households use air conditioners to cool their home. Properly maintaining your cooling system and choosing high-efficiency equipment can help you save energy, improve the comfort of your home, and contribute to a cleaner environment.

Air Conditioning Options

There are three primary types of cooling systems sold today—heat pumps, central air conditioners, and room air conditioners. When buying or replacing your cooling system, look for ENERGY STAR® certified cooling products, as they are more energy efficient than other models. In addition, the below rating types help identify which option or model will be the most energy efficient. The higher the rating, the more efficient the system will be.

  • Heat Pumps—Coefficient of Performance (COP), Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER), and Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF)
  • Central Air Conditioners—Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER)
  • Room Air Conditioners—Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER)

See if your equipment meets ENERGY STAR® rating standardsLink opens in new window - close new window to return to this page.. To search for the most efficient equipment on the market, visit the CEE Directory of Efficient EquipmentLink opens in new window - close new window to return to this page..

If purchasing a heat pump, you may be eligible to receive a tax credit and/or financial incentive. Visit NYSERDA’s Air Source Heat Pump and Ground Source Heat Pump program pages to learn more. Your utility may also offer additional incentives and reduced electric rates.

Performance and life expectancy of these cooling systems are dependent upon installation, location, fuel, maintenance, and occupant behavior.

Air Source Heat Pump Ground Source Heat Pumps Central Air Conditioners Room Air Conditioners
Central Systems (Ducted) Ductless Mini-Split Systems
Overview Central systems connect to a single indoor unit (often a furnace), pushing air through a series of ducts, which gets exhausted through vents throughout a home. Central systems rely on an outdoor compressor/condenser. Ductless mini-split systems consist of an outdoor compressor or condenser unit that connects to an indoor unit to distribute AC or heat throughout a home. Ground source heat pumps, also referred to as geothermal heat pumps, extract heat from the ground during cold weather via an underground pipe system, which is then distributed throughout your home. During warmer months, the process is reversed to provide cooling. A conventional central air conditioner circulates cool air through a home using a system of ducts and registers. A conventional room air conditioner provides spot cooling and can be either a window unit or a portable air conditioner.
Life Expectancy ~ 15 years ~ 15 years ~ 25 years ~ 15 years ~ 10–15 years
Most Common Fuel Source Options Electricity Electricity Electricity Electricity Electricity
Benefits
  • Can have a lower price point than ductless mini-splits (excluding ductwork installation)
  • Cool a home two to four times as efficiently as conventional cooling systems, reducing utility bills
  • Allow for control over an entire home’s temperature from a single thermostat
  • Cool a home two to four times as efficiently as conventional cooling systems, reducing utility bills
  • Allow for customization and control of the temperature of each room in a home
  • Require no existing ductwork
  • Less invasive and expensive than installing ducting required for central systems
  • Small in size, providing design flexibility in home placement
  • Require minimal maintenance
  • Act as one system to cool, heat, and supply hot water (if equipped with a desuperheater) for your home
  • Provide more consistent, steady output and performance than air source heat pumps
  • You can immediately save 20 to 50 percent on cooling costs when switching from conventional cooling systems
  • Requires minimal maintenance
  • Produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to a cleaner environment
  • Provide even cooling throughout a home and control humidity
  • Use less energy than window air conditioners, resulting in lower utility bills
  • Quieter and more convenient to operate than room air conditioners
  • Less expensive to purchase and operate than central air conditioners and heat pumps
  • Less expensive to install than central air conditioners and heat pumps, and do not require professional installation
Considerations
  • If ductwork in a home is not present, ductwork would need to be installed
  • Can have a higher price point and installation costs than central heat pumps and conventional cooling systems
  • Depending on location and model, fans and compressors in the heat pump may be noisy
  • Can have the highest price point relative to other cooling systems
  • Homeowner must have sufficient space on property for installation
  • Can have a higher price point than room air conditioners
  • Can be expensive to install, unless a home already has ducted central heating
  • Require more maintenance than room air conditioners
  • Less energy efficient than heat pumps and central air conditioners
  • Cool only the room in which the unit is located
  • Have fewer air filtration capabilities than central air conditioning
  • Require proper sizing to ensure efficiency
  • Louder to operate than central air conditioners
  • Can result in significant air leakage if installed improperly or if they shift over time
Operations and Maintenance
  • Routinely replace or clean your air filters to lower your central heat pump’s energy consumption
  • Check your heat pump’s evaporator coil every year and clean it as necessary
  • Have a qualified contractor service the central heat pump once a year
  • Clean or change filters once a month during peak usage times
  • Have a qualified contractor service the heat pump at least once a year
  • Clean or change filters once a month during peak usage times
  • Have a qualified contractor service the heat pump at least once a year
  • Routinely replace or clean your air filters to lower your air conditioner’s energy consumption
  • Check your air conditioner’s evaporator coil every year and clean it as necessary
  • Have a qualified contractor service the central air conditioner once a year
  • Routinely replace or clean your air filters to lower your air conditioner’s energy consumption
  • Check your air conditioner’s evaporator coil every year and clean it as necessary
  • If using a window unit air conditioner, inspect the window seals to keep cool air from escaping
  • To prevent energy loss as winter approaches, remove the unit or insulate it from the outside with a tight-fitting cover

For more information and guidance on what option is best for your home, view the Department of Energy Cooling InfographicLink opens in new window - close new window to return to this page.. To learn more about properly maintaining your equipment and/or determine whether it’s time to replace your air conditioner, visit the ENERGY STAR® Guide to Energy-Efficient Heating and CoolingLink opens in new window - close new window to return to this page..

Explore NYSERDA’s list of qualified heating and cooling contractors to install or service an air conditioner for your home or property.