If you’re looking to install a new central air conditioner or upgrade your home with central air, you must be sure that you have sufficient space to accommodate everything. Central air conditioners tend to be big and bulky, and in some situations, there may not be enough room to put the unit where you want it or simply no room at all. Today, we’re going to discuss approximately how much room you typically need for an air conditioner and also some of the options you have when there isn’t sufficient space.
AC Size and Space Requirements
Exactly how much space you need for a central AC unit or heat pump depends mostly on the size of the unit, which indicates how powerful it is. The size your AC unit needs to be to cool your home efficiently is dictated mostly by the total square footage of your home and where you live. Since the temperature on Long Island rarely gets above the mid-80s in the summer, you won’t need as large of an AC as you would if you lived where the summers are much hotter.
Central air conditioners range in size from 1.5-ton to 5-ton units. A 1.5-ton AC is usually sufficient to cool anywhere from 600 to 1,000 square feet, while a 5-ton unit can usually cool 2,500 to 3,300 square feet. Despite being much more powerful, a 5-ton AC won’t take up much more space than a 1.5-ton unit. Although the total size can vary based on the manufacturer and model, most central AC condensers measure somewhere between 30 and 40 inches wide, 28 to 35 inches deep, and 30 to 45 dimensions tall.
If space is at a premium, most manufacturers also produce so-called low-profile or compact AC condensers, which are smaller than traditional condensers. Low-profile units are typically around the same height and width as a standard condenser, but only around 15 or so inches deep so that they won’t stick out beside the house as much. This type of unit can be great for townhouses and apartments where you usually have much less space to work with.
When installing a new AC system, you’ll also need to make sure you have sufficient space inside your home for the air handler closet. The size that the air handler closet needs to be is again determined by how large the outdoor AC unit is. Depending on the size of the AC unit, the air handler closet may need to be between 30 and 45 inches wide, 32 to 45 inches deep, and 50 to 65 inches tall.
This isn’t something you’ll need to be concerned with if you already have an existing central air system and are just installing a new unit, but it is a factor you’ll need to consider if installing a central AC system in a home that only currently has central heating. You may need to increase the size of your existing air handler closet to accommodate the AC system. You’ll also need to ensure that you have at least six to 12 inches of clearance around the front, sides, and top of the air handler closet or your AC system may frequently shut off due to overheating.
Why Having Adequate Clearance Around an AC Unit Is Important
When installing an AC unit, there also needs to be sufficient clearance around all sides of the unit and above it. You should always have at least two feet of clearance between the service side of the unit where the refrigerant lines enter it and any walls. You also need at least six to 12 inches of clearance between the other sides of the unit and any walls. However, these guidelines are just the minimum clearance required, and you’re always better off if you have at least three or four feet of clearance in front of and on both sides of the unit. If there are any trees, bushes, or vegetation within four feet of your AC condenser, you’ll want to cut them back to ensure the unit has sufficient clearance.
Having adequate clearance around the unit is important for ensuring your air conditioning works properly and preventing issues such as the unit overheating. If there isn’t adequate clearance, the unit won’t have sufficient air flowing through it. Proper airflow ensures the unit can release the heat it captured from inside back into the surrounding area. If there is lots of vegetation around the condenser or it’s too close to a wall, the condenser fan won’t be able to draw as much air in and the compressor motor and fan motor may start overheating. A lack of sufficient airflow can also prevent the condenser coil from releasing as much heat. This leads to the refrigerant temperature staying higher than normal, which will reduce the effectiveness of your air conditioning so it doesn’t cool nearly as quickly.
What to Do If You Don’t Have Sufficient Space for an AC Unit
Most central AC units are installed on the side of the house, but you can also have the unit installed in your backyard if there isn’t enough room on the side of your house. If you’re upgrading your home with central AC and you don’t have enough space, you can also potentially choose to have a roof-mounted unit. In this case, you’ll usually need to have ductwork installed in your attic.
Most AC condensers are split-system units, which means the condenser coil is in the unit outside and the evaporator coil is in the air handler closet inside. Roof-mounted units are typically packaged units that contain both the condenser coil and evaporator coil. A roof-mounted unit can be a decent choice if space is limited, but they are more difficult to maintain and are only suited for single-story homes. With a roof-mounted unit, you’ll also need to make sure your roof is strong enough to support the added weight.
How Ductless Mini-Splits Can Save Space
Ductless mini-split ACs are usually the best option if space is limited. Ductless mini-splits take up far less space than a central AC system. This is partly because they don’t require ductwork and also because they use smaller air handler units in each room instead of one large central air handler. The outdoor condenser or heat pump part of the system is also fairly small and usually around the same size as a low-profile central AC condenser.
One major advantage of a mini-split AC system is that you can adjust and control the temperature in each room independently since each room has its air handler. Many mini-split systems use a heat pump instead of a traditional AC condenser, which means they can cool as well as heat. Mini-split ACs also tend to be much more energy efficient than central air conditioning. Part of the reason is that many of them have higher SEER ratings than the average central AC or heat pump. Another reason is that central air conditioning usually wastes lots of energy due to air escaping from the ducts or the cold air heating up as it travels through the ducts, which aren’t issues you need to worry about with a mini-split system.
The only real downside to a mini-split AC system is that it will be quite a bit more expensive than a new central AC unit or heat pump. In most cases, you will be spending a few thousand dollars more for a mini-split than you would for a comparable central unit. The air handler units can also be bulky and unsightly, but by recessing the units in the ceiling, we can minimize this issue.
At Cool Power LLC, we specialize in AC installation. If you need a new central AC unit, heat pump, or mini-split AC, we can help. We also offer professional AC repairs, maintenance, and a full range of heating services for customers in Ronkonkoma and the surrounding areas. Give us a call today for all of your HVAC needs.