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Choosing a
cooling system

Do you dread the thought of spending another sweltering

summer of sleepless nights?
Can you no longer bear living in a hot box and are determined
to install a cooling system but don’t know where to start?
This brochure outlines various cooling options to help you choose a system
most suitable for your home.
If you are building or renovating a house, ask for our information on Energy Smart
House Design to minimise your cooling needs right from the start.

The first step

Summer comfort in your home does not Comfortable indoor temperatures during summer are in the
have to be expensive. Stop the heat range of 24°C to 27°C with less than 60% relative humidity.
getting in, and you can avoid purchasing These conditions are only part of our ‘comfort range’ or what
unnecessary cooling equipment with high we can put up with. If the humidity level is lower or a breeze
operating costs. exists, such as from a fan, we can be just as comfortable even
By paying close attention to all of the at higher temperatures.
aspects described below, you can reduce
heat entering your home by up to 90%. Important questions to ask yourself
• Insulation to ceilings (and walls and Thinking about these questions will help you determine your
floors if possible) cooling requirements.
• Draught sealing around windows, doors • Do I need to cool the whole home or just one room?
and any other gaps • How big an area do I need to cool?
• External shading to north, east and west • Do I need to lower the inside temperature or will creating
windows a cool breeze be sufficient?
• Is cooling required for short periods or all day?
• Ventilation to allow cool outside air into
the house • Will the running costs affect my choice?
• Is the purchase price the biggest consideration?
Remember, you do not have to • Will noise bother me or my neighbours?
use a lot of energy to cool the
house and be comfortable.

Being comfortable
The most appropriate type of cooling
Types of cooling
system for you depends not only on local
climatic conditions such as air temperature,
humidity and air movement, but also on
factors such as the time of day, the type of
activities you undertake, clothing you wear
and the appliances you use.
What is comfortable for one person may
not be comfortable for another.
Types of cooling systems

The following summary will help you select which system or combination of systems is right for your home.
All the systems listed can provide cooling for single rooms or the whole house.
More details on each are given in the following pages.

Fans produce a cooling effect by moving air. The air is either directed
around a room or at a person.
Fans are an attractive option for summer cooling as they are inexpensive
to purchase and operate, yet will generally provide an adequate level
of comfort.

• Lowest running costs

• Lowest purchase cost
• Move air, don’t reduce temperatures
• Portable or fixed
• Quiet operation
• Most energy efficient

Evaporative coolers
Evaporative coolers cool and filter the air. Hot outside air is drawn
through a water-moistened filter and then blown through the house.
To work effectively, windows and/or doors must be left open so this
moist air can be exhausted from the house.

• Low running costs

• Medium purchase cost
• Cool air but increase humidity
• Portable or fixed
• Require water
• Must have windows or doors open

Refrigerated air conditioners

Refrigerated air conditioners remove heat from the air inside the home
and transfer this heat outside.
For every unit of electricity they use, they provide from 2 to 3.5 units of
cooling, making them very efficient.

• Highest running costs

• Highest purchase cost
• Cool, dehumidify and
recirculate room air
• Reverse cycle models also
provide heating
• Closed system—windows and
doors must be shut
How do they work?
By moving air over your warm body, fans help evaporate the moisture from your
skin, causing a cooling effect. The higher the air movement generally the cooler you
will feel. Fans do not reduce actual room temperatures or humidity levels.

Types of fans
Portable fans
• require standard power outlet
• styles include desk, box or pedestal
• fan diameters 15 – 40 cm
• look for oscillating feature and variable speed control
Suitable for: personal cooling
Running costs: less than 1 cent per hour
Purchase cost: up to $100

Ceiling fans
• permanently wired
• can be suspended with down rod in rooms with high ceilings
• light can be included
• look for reversing function for winter use and variable
speed control
• low installation costs
• the number of blades has no effect on cooling capability
Suitable for: all rooms
Running cost: 1 cent per hour
Purchase cost: $70 – $200

Room area (m2) Fan width (sweep)
Up to 10 900 mm (36 inches)
10 – 20 1200 mm (48 inches)
15 – 30 1400 mm (56 inches)
30+ two or more fans
Note: if more than one fan is required, the spacing between
fans should be approximately three times the fan width.

• Head clearance for ceiling fans should be 600 – 900 mm.
• Mount ceiling fans higher than existing light fittings to
avoid flickering shadows, or install a unit with light
• The fans should be reversible to assist with heating in
Evaporative coolers
How do they work?
Warm outside air is drawn into the unit through a series of wet filter pads.
Water is evaporated into this air stream, cooling and humidifying it. The cool
air is then blown through the house.
To work effectively it is vital that evaporative coolers have adequate ventilation
to exhaust this air outside. The area of open windows and doors to exhaust the
air should be approximately one metre square for each cubic metre of air flow
per second from the unit. E.g. a unit rated at 1.5 cubic metres per second
would require open windows or doors totalling roughly 1.5 m2 in area.
If flywire screens are fitted, this area may need to be doubled.

Where are they most suitable?

Evaporative coolers are generally more suitable for areas where humidity is low. If the outside air
is already humid then the cooling effect of the unit is limited. As a guide, the average relative
humidity for Sydney on a summer afternoon is between 60 – 70%, whilst in Orange it is 40% – 50%.
Both these areas can use evaporative coolers although they would be more effective in Orange.

The sizing guidelines for these units are based on air flow and volume of the room. The rate of air
flow or ‘delivery’ is specified as litres per second or cubic metres per hour (1 cubic metre = 1000
litres). Select a cooler rated to give enough air to fill the room or house in around 1.5 to 2 minutes.
To calculate volume, multiply your floor area by ceiling height, e.g. a 200 m2 area with 2.5 m high
ceiling = 500 cubic metres. Make sure you obtain an accurate sizing quote from your local
manufacturer or installer.

Types of evaporative coolers

Portable units • Site the unit on the side of
• require standard power outlet the house which receives the
• best positioned near an open window or external door prevailing hot winds. This
with an opening on opposite side of room avoids too much heat leaking in
• look for models with water level gauge, variable fan from the open windows and
speed and directional louvres doors that exhaust the air.
Suitable for: small rooms (up to 25 m2) • On high humidity days the
Approximate running cost: 1 – 3 cents per hour * highest fan speed should be
Approximate purchase cost: $200 – $400 used. If it is a very humid day,
turn off the water supply to the
cooler and run the fan only.
Fixed room units
• Water consumption for
• location—external wall/window
evaporative coolers depends on
• permanently wired and plumbed the natural humidity of the day.
• install towards prevailing summer winds A portable unit might use 4 litres
(see Considerations) per hour while a central system
Suitable for: open areas 30 – 50 m2 could use as much as 25 litres
Approximate running cost: 4 cents per hour * per hour.
Approximate purchase cost: $1000 – $1300 • Evaporative coolers do not work
on a thermostat. They run for as
Ducted whole house (central systems) long as you leave them on.
• roof installation • During winter ducted units on
• cool air is ducted into rooms through ceiling outlets the roof should have covers
• existing heating ductwork is generally not suitable placed over them and ceiling
• careful consideration in water restricted areas or when vents closed to stop excessive
dependent on limited water supply heat loss.
Suitable for: whole home cooling
Approximate running cost: 8 – 12 cents per hour *
Approximate Purchase cost: $2000 – $3000
* water consumption costs not included

Portable unit Ducted evaporative cooling system

Refrigerated air conditioners
How do they work?
Refrigerated air conditioners consist of an indoor and outdoor
coil. These are connected by a pipe carrying a refrigerant gas. As
warm room air is drawn over the internal coil, heat from this
air is absorbed by the refrigerant and carried to the external coil
where it is released outside. At the same time any water in the
room air condenses on the cold internal coil and is then
drained away. The resulting air blown back into the room is
now cooler, less humid and usually filtered. Some units also
provide a small amount of fresh air from outside into the room.

Where are they most suitable?

Refrigerated air conditioners are effective in any climate. They are particularly useful in humid
areas because they dehumidify the room air.

The correct sizing of an air conditioner is vital for efficient operation. Never oversize an
airconditioner. Oversizing will result in over cooling with no reduction in humidity.
Also, frequent cycling (on and off) is not efficient and adds to the wear and tear on the unit.
An undersized air conditioner will not provide adequate cooling.
Air conditioners should be sized based on their output or cooling capacity (not to be confused
with the electrical input). The output is normally expressed as kW (kilowatts).
1 kW = 1000 watts. Sizing should not be quoted in horsepower (HP), which can be inaccurate
and misleading.
As an approximate guide for sizing a room unit in Sydney, allow 100-140 watts or 0.100-0.140
kW per square metre of floor space for living areas (depending on the energy efficiency of the
Remember, have a full cooling load calculation carried out by an authorised air conditioning
installer or manufacturer before purchase.

Type of refrigerated air

Portable units
• separate indoor and outdoor unit connected by a
flexible hose through an open window or external
Portable unit door
• plug into standard power outlet
Suitable for: small rooms up to 20 m2
Approximate running costs: 6 – 8 cents per hour
(for 18 m2)
Approximate purchase cost: $800 – $3000

• requires external window or wall
• small units can use existing power outlets
Window/wall unit
• larger fascia units may require additional wiring
• outside coil should be shaded if possible
Suitable for: single room cooling up to 50 m2
Approximate running costs: 22 – 30 cents per hour
(40 m2)
Approximate purchase cost: $500 – $3500

Split system units

• separate indoor and outdoor section
• ideal where no suitable window or external wall
Split system unit location exists
• very quiet indoor operation
• the indoor unit can be located up to 15 metres away
from the outdoor unit. The indoor unit can be wall or
floor mounted Considerations
• can have multi split systems—up to five indoor units • Rooms in which the air conditioner is
running off one outdoor unit being used should be closed off so the
room air is recirculated. E.g., windows
Suitable for: one or more rooms up to 60 m2 and doors should remain shut.
For larger areas, three phase powered units will be required.
Approximate running costs: 20 – 28 cents per hour (40 m2) • If possible locate window/walls units
Approximate purchase cost: $2000 – $5000 on the south side of the house. If the
unit is exposed to full sun during the
day provide it with shade with an
awning or canopy of shade trees.
However do not restrict air flow over it.
• Set thermostats at 26 – 27°C for
summer cooling. Each degree you lower
the thermostat may increase running
costs by up to 15%.
• Look for economy settings.
Ducted system • Multi-speed fans allow you to select
high speeds for fast circulation and
Ducted systems quick cooling.
• roof or ground mounted, connected to ductwork
• Adjustable and rotating louvres also
• generally less efficient than split or window/wall units
help to direct air movement more
due to ducting losses
evenly around the room.
• systems should be zoned to cool living and sleeping
areas at different times • Directional louvres set either
• ductwork should be well insulated and sealed to prevent horizontally or upwards toward the
condensation ceiling assist in cooling.
• works best if ceiling mounted • Programmable timers allow the system
• suits pitched roof homes to be switched on or off as required.
Suitable for: whole home cooling • Systems with variable speed fans and
Approximate running costs: 40 – 60 cents per hour compressors (also called inverter drives)
(90 m2); $1 per hour (150 m2) can deliver energy savings. Conventional
Approximate purchase cost: $5000+ air conditioners operate by cycling on
and off to achieve the desired room
temperature. A system with a variable
speed compressor slows down when it
gets close to the required temperature
and then makes small adjustments to
compressor speed to keep the room at a
constant temperature. This function
can result in considerable energy savings
and can also improve comfort, as
sudden temperature changes are
less likely.

Look for energy rating labels

The energy efficiency of air conditioners sold in NSW
is reflected in a compulsory energy star rating
labelling scheme for units up to 7.5 kW cooling
capacity. (Most ducted systems are not rated.)
The more stars shown on the label the more efficient
the unit. The label also gives an estimate of the
annual electricity consumption. Check the energy
rating label on air conditioners in retail showrooms
or contact the ESIC for a current brochure listing the
High-efficiency units may cost more but can easily
pay for themselves over a few years through lower
running costs.
What else should I consider?
Heating and cooling Inside the home
Evaporative coolers tend
Reverse cycle air conditioners to give a higher inside
(or heat pumps) noise than refrigerated air
conditioners, especially at
A reverse cycle air conditioner provides both
high fan speeds.
efficient heating and cooling. As they are only
Refrigerated room units
marginally more expensive to purchase than
are noisier than split
cooling only units, they should be considered
systems. Ducted or split
when looking for an air conditioner.
systems tend to be the
Using existing central heating quietest due to the
remoteness of the
ductwork operating components.
An effective cooling system needs much greater air
flow than a heating system and therefore requires
larger ductwork. It is generally not possible to use
your existing ductwork unless the duct was
initially sized to take both heating and cooling. Controls
If ductwork is compatible, a cooling unit can be A thermostat is a major energy saving device
included in the system. Registers or outlets are and should be a part of your refrigerated air
best positioned at ceiling level for effective and conditioning system.
efficient cooling.
A thermostat lets you maintain a particular
Resistance heating temperature in the room and the unit will cycle
Some air conditioners also provide heating on and off as necessary to achieve this
through an electric resistance element. This is temperature. This can save up to 40% of your
a more expensive heating option than using a running costs.
reverse cycle unit and you should think carefully
before choosing this heating option. Maintenance
Both air conditioners and evaporative coolers
Noise should be regularly maintained. Each year at both
the start and end of the cooling season you should
Outside the home check the filter pads and clean or replace them if
An air conditioner can be a noisy and annoying necessary. If your area is particularly dusty you
appliance, particularly if you are installing the may need to clean them more frequently.
system close to neighbours. There are laws to stop Because refrigerated units recirculate the air they
noisy air conditioners from being used. Most air filter, it is very important to keep filters clean to
conditioners sold in Australia now have a noise reduce dust circulation and maintain air flow.
(dB) rating label on them. The best approach is to
buy the quietest unit for your needs and have it For evaporative coolers, removal of blockages will
installed as far away as possible from your ensure increased saturation of the filter pads and
neighbours, or in a well-shielded position. greater operating efficiency. Check evaporative
Contact the Environmental Protection Authority units regularly, especially if any water has been
or your local council for guidelines on acceptable sitting idle in the unit for any length of time.
noise limits. Remove any dust that has built up over the fan
and the condenser coils at the back of the unit.
During winter, if your system is not going to be
used for heating, protect any external equipment
with a weatherproof cover.
Always follow any specific directions provided
by the manufacturers for maintenance of the

The Energy Smart Information Centre is a free advisory service provided by the NSW
Government. Energy experts can provide information on a wide range of topics
including Energy Smart design for new homes and renovations, appliance selection,
solar and wind power systems, choosing heating and cooling systems, insulation,
lighting and water saving devices.

Energy Smart Information Centre

Sustainable Energy Development Authority
Level 6, 45 Clarence Street, Sydney
PO Box N442, Grosvenor Place, NSW 1220
Telephone 1300 138 638, or (02) 9249 6125
Facsimile (02) 9290 3483
Email esic@seda.nsw.gov.au
The information printed in this brochure was derived from various sources and was believed to be correct when published. Printed on 100% Australian made recycled paper. March 2002.