5 Cheap Alternatives to Central Air Conditioning

These units can keep your home cool and well-ventilated without breaking your budget.
Roberta PescowNov 12, 2020

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Central air conditioning may be the gold standard for cooling, but . A new unit and installation costs can easily run north of $5,000. But you don’t have to sweat it out if central air isn’t in your home improvement budget. Here are five more affordable alternatives.

Cost: About $200 to $1,000 per unit.

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Available in a wide range of sizes and cooling capacities, window air conditioners are a popular option that’s especially affordable for smaller rooms and homes. Most units sit horizontally to fit standard double-hung windows, which can slide open and closed. However you’ll also find models with a vertical orientation designed for casement windows, or windows that open outward like doors. Window air conditioners offer excellent cooling, but only if each unit has the proper BTUs, or British thermal units, for your space.

For those who don’t want to sacrifice outdoor views or sunlight, these units can also be permanently installed through an outside wall by Newer model air conditioners don’t release harmful hydrofluorocarbons (provided they’re working properly), so the primary environmental concerns are electrical consumption and proper disposal.

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Cost: About $300 to $1,500 per unit.

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To avoid the need for multiple units, or if your windows won’t accommodate air conditioners, consider a portable model. These units wheel easily from room to room, and come with basic adapter kits that allow hot air to vent through a window, fireplace or exterior wall opening.

Portable air conditioners have a reputation for not being very energy efficient, but there are actually plenty of models with very eco-friendly energy consumption ratings. As with window air conditioners, be sure to choose a unit with the proper BTUs for your space.

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Cost: From $70 (small and portable) to $1,000 (whole house unit).

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If you live in a dry climate, evaporative air coolers (also known as swamp coolers) may provide a good cooling option. Prices generally range from $70 for small, portable units to $1,000 for units large enough to cool a whole house. Some models require installation, which can add to the cost.

Evaporative coolers pull in hot dry air and then add moisture, which may reduce the indoor temperature by more than 10 degrees. These units are typically more energy-efficient than air conditioners. Unfortunately, however, they do use a great deal of water. Generally, swamp coolers are most effective in areas with low humidity levels.

Cost: About $5 to $300.

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Since the dawn of history, people have understood that moving air provides cooling relief. Electric fans still use that timeless principle to make homes feel more comfortable when the thermostat rises, whether you choose a floor, desktop, ceiling or window model. While they’re clearly not as effective as air conditioners, fans instantly make a hot room more comfortable.

Cost: About $250 to $2,000 per unit; installation is an additional cost.

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If you just use your attic for storage you may be missing out on a powerful cooling asset. An attic-mounted whole house fan can force hot, stuffy air out of your home as it pulls in cooler air through open windows. Though these fans don’t cool houses as much as air conditioning can, they’re more energy-efficient, inexpensive to use, and improve ventilation — perfect for airing out your house on a cool evening after a hot day.

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