Is Smaller Always Better? Five Reasons Not To Fall Into This Trap With Air Conditioning

Is Smaller Always Better? Five Reasons Not To Fall Into This Trap With Air ConditioningSan Antonio, Texas --- Smaller is better. Right? Well, sometimes. Certainly this has been the case with cellular telephone technology, computers and a host of other electronic gizmos. But why work so hard to make things smaller?

There are obvious benefits to the consumer like portability but there are also benefits to manufacturers who continually strive to take cost out of their products. Use a little less of everything and it costs less to build each widget. Profits magically go up even if sales are flat. But sometimes this strategy backfires.

Take room air conditioners, for example. Manufacturers have been making them smaller and smaller, which may make them a little easier to install depending on who you ask. But creating a smaller box means everything inside the box must also become smaller. Why should you care? Below are the top five reasons why smaller isnít always better when it comes to staying cool and comfortable in the summertime.


Larger air conditioners can hold bigger parts. While this may sound a little silly, the size of one part in particular is very important to the effectiveness and efficiency of an air conditioner: evaporator coils.

Evaporator coils work like a sponge to absorb the heat and humidity from warm air that is drawn into an air conditioner. Once the heat and humidity are removed from the air, the air conditioner blows cold, comfortable air into the room.

Larger (both wide and tall) evaporator coils are more effective at cooling air and reducing humidity because more air can be cooled at one time. Larger air conditioners can hold larger evaporator coils with more surface area. The end result is faster, more efficient cooling.

Smaller air conditioners have evaporator coils that are deep rather than broad. This makes them less efficient. Manufacturers who design air conditioners with deeper, narrower coils lose efficiency.

Picture a very tall layer cake. The first row of coils is the top layer and the last
row would be the bottom layer. The top layer works more efficiently because
there is more heat and humidity to remove when hot air first comes into contact with the coil. The last layer in the cake is less effective or efficient because it has less work to do. The first layers have already removed quite a bit of the heat and humidity.

Without getting incredibly technical, this happens because air gets cooler as it passes over each respective coil. The difference between the air temperature and the temperature of a particular coil is determined by how far back the coil is from the point the air enters the entire coil structure (whether it is the top layer, a middle layer or the bottom layer of the cake).

Less efficient air conditioners use more electricity to do the same amount of work. The harder an air conditioner has to work to cool the air, the more electricity it will use. The more electricity it uses, the less efficient it is.

Because smaller evaporator coils are usually deeper, less hot air can be treated in the first layers of our cake. Additionally, the air that reaches the back or bottom layers does not have much heat or humidity left to remove so the coils are working hard and achieving very little. And, they are still using the same amount of electricity as the coils that did more of the work. Itís like not getting any calorie burning effects from the last 15 minutes of your workout.

Having a larger, wider face coil area makes air conditioners more effective and efficient because there is more coil area working hard to remove heat in the beginning. All this means is that your air conditioner will not need to work as hard or use as much energy to do the same amount of work which is better for the environment.

Higher energy consumption costs you money on your utility bill. If you are using more energy to cool a room because your air conditioner is less efficient, it will cost you more money to operate. Over time this can really add up.

The U.S. Department of Energy has instituted the Energy Star? program to promote the use of products that use less energy. For an air conditioner to be designated as an Energy Star? model, the unit must have substantially higher EERs than the federally designated minimum.

Some manufacturers like Friedrich Air Conditioning Company have a wider selection of Energy Star? labeled units. Friedrich has 21 models ranging in size from 5400 BTUs to 24500 BTUs.

Buying an Energy Star? model guarantees that you are getting the most efficient unit manufactured, one that uses the least amount of watts to operate. For example, the Friedrich SS10J10AR is an Energy Star? model that produces 10,200 BTU/h of cooling with an 11.4 EER. This model uses about 20% less electricity than a 10,000 BTU/h air conditioner with a 9.7 EER, which could lower a utility bill by about $25-$40 per year.

Airflow in smaller units can also be a problem. The smaller an air conditioner, the less air can pass through it at one time ?affecting airflow and your comfort level. A larger unit can blow more air into a room with less noise. When manufacturers make the air conditioning units smaller, the only real alternative to improve airflow is to compensate with a larger, louder motor. The key word here is louder.

With size playing such an important role in the effectiveness and efficiency of air conditioning units, why would anyone trade down to a smaller sized box? Manufacturers are willing to make this trade because there is so much pressure to bring down costs to compete with foreign-made products.
Thankfully, there are a few manufacturers that are bucking this trend. According to Steve Balser, room air product manager for Friedrich Air Conditioning Co., ďFriedrich Air Conditioning has not gone along with the size reduction trend. Our customers know we make the highest quality room air conditioning product on the market and they expect durability and energy efficiency. We have made a commitment to build the best air conditioner available and believe that customers value high quality and long-term energy efficiency more than size. I suppose you could say we have taken the opposite approach, even increasing the thickness of fins on some larger models to offer more longevity, durability and enhanced performance.?