It’s the right time of year to think about how to stay cool this summer. There are a few options if you’re going to take the plunge and install air conditioning. Be aware that costs for each option are highly variable, and be sure to get quotes from several contractors.
If your home has forced air heating ductwork, it can be used for an air conditioning 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. You’re looking at a cost of around $3,000 to $7,000, not including repairs to ductwork.
Another option is a ductless mini-split heat pump, which has a compressor outside the home that’s connected to air handler units in as many as four rooms. Each room’s temperature can be controlled separately. Ductless mini-splits are an especially 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. Cost: approximately $3,000 to $10,000, including installation.
Window air conditioning units or 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. Neither is as efficient as the whole-house options.
Ceiling fans are one option for toughing it out without air conditioning; use a 29-36-inch fan for rooms up to 75 square feet, a 36–42-inch fan for up to 144 square feet, and a 50–54-inch fan for up to 400 square feet.
Turn off unused electrical devices and appliances, and block direct sunlight with window coverings. On cool summer evenings, let cool air in late night or early morning, then seal up the home to keep that air inside.
PAT KEEGAN and BRAD THIESSEN write on energy efficiency for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.