Window vs Wall Air Conditioners – What’s Best, & Why?

Researched & Written by Craig

If you’re looking for an efficient, effective air conditioner that doesn’t require a complete remodel, then you’re probably stuck between a window or a wall air conditioner.

Which one will be best for me?

Both types are great at cooling a single room and carry heat direction outdoors, keeping your home cool without needing to install an entire HVAC unit.

However, which one works better? Long story short, wall air conditioners are more efficient and less obtrusive. However, they are much more difficult to install and they are essentially permanent, because installing a wall AC involves cutting a hole for the unit. The best AC unit for you depends on what you need.

Looking to purchase the best air conditioner available? Check out our guides to the quietest portable air conditioners and quietest window air conditioners to see the best models of each.

Pros & Cons of Portable & Window Air Conditioners

A window air conditioner is a single unit with all of its components enclosed inside.

If you just want a brief guide for the pros and cons of each type of air conditioner, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s an overview of the best and worst parts of wall air conditioners and window units. If you want more detail, the sections following will give you more information.

Pros Cons
Window Air Conditioners
Easy to Install - Window air conditioners don’t require any holes to be cut in your walls, just an available window. Looks Bad/Blocks Window - There's no option but to have a big chunk of your window view (and light) blocked by the air conditioner.
Reasonably Mobile - Can be moved from window to window as long as you can carry 50 lbs. Needs Permission - If you don't own your property, you may be at the mercy of the landlord/building owner regarding if you can install one or not.
Lower Price Tag - Compared to the installation price of a wall unit, window ACs are cheap. Less Efficient - Cold air is prone to escaping out the window and being wasted.
Wall Air Conditioners
More Efficient - No poorly-insulated window for cold air to escape through. Not Easy to Move - Cutting a hole in your wall is permanent!
More Attractive - Doesn’t block a window, giving you more light and fresh air. Effort to Install - Again, cutting a hole in your wall is permanent!
More Permanent - Wall units can stay put all year long. Expensive - The installation process can cost a decent amount of money, especially when combined with the unit itself.

Comparing Portable vs Window Air Conditioners

If you really want to decide between two appliance options, you should consider the ways in which they’re different. Below, I’ve compared and contrasted the most important aspects of these two styles of air conditioners. Pay the most attention to the aspects that matter to you! Those are the points that will help you make the decision.

Noise

In general, window air conditioners are going to be slightly noisier than wall air conditioners. A lot of the noise from an air conditioner comes from the fans blowing cool air into your home and hot air out.

Window air conditioners have less insulation available to them than wall air conditioners. That means that you can hear the fans on the inside and the outside. You may also hear rattling from the window that just isn’t possible in a wall unit.

Efficiency

Wall air conditioners are simply more efficient than window air conditioners, on average. Now, there are exceptions on the high end of window units and at the low end of wall units, but in general this is going to be true. Watt for watt, wall air conditioners can cool more space than window air conditioners.

This is due to how the units are installed. Because window units are placed in a window, they’re at a natural disadvantage. Windows are one of the most poorly insulated parts of the house. Because window air conditioners are designed to be easily removed and stored, there is only so much insulation that’s involved in the installation process.

Meanwhile, wall units have the benefit of being installed in an actual wall. Since these units are permanent, they often are surrounded by heavy-duty weatherproofing and insulation. This helps them keep cool air inside where it belongs and minimizes the amount of work they need to do.

The end result is that wall air conditioners are more efficient, per watt or BTU, than window air conditioners. You will need a more powerful window unit to cool the same amount of space.

Price

When you compare prices, it’s clear that wall units are more expensive than window units. There are two reasons for this:

  • Wall units have to be able to stand up to the weather year-round.
  • Wall units involve some installation costs.

Furthermore, because wall units are permanent, you’re much more likely to find high-powered options than you are with window units. This makes the price discrepancy even more obvious.

Portability

The biggest difference between a wall unit and a window unit is portability. While window units do take a little effort to install or remove, it’s much simpler to move a window air conditioner than a wall air conditioner. Window units absolutely win out when it comes to portability. After all, they don’t require that you cut a hole in your wall if you want to move them!

Some good uses for the mobility of a window air conditioner are:

  • Bringing your AC with you during a move.
  • Taking the AC out during the winter to get more light.
  • Testing different rooms to see which benefit most from air conditioning.

Looks

Let’s face it: most window air conditioners are not the most attractive appliances. Even the sleekest, newest model still takes up a window that could otherwise be letting in light. Putting a great big blocky appliance in your window isn’t attractive.

In fact, some HOAs even ban the use of window units outright!

Meanwhile, wall ACs can be placed on any exterior wall in a place that’s unobtrusive. You get to keep your view without having to sweat. While wall ACs do take up some wall space, you can put them somewhere that doesn’t get in the way.

Installation Difficulty

Window and wall AC units have a very different level of installation difficulty. Installing a window air conditioner isn’t necessarily easy, but it’s a one-person job and doesn’t require drilling holes or cutting your home.

On the other hand, wall air conditioners require a little more commitment. These units require that you cut a hole in your home’s exterior wall to give them a place to rest and vent heat. Having a wall AC unit installed almost certainly requires that you get some expert help unless you’re completely confident in your ability to cut drywall and avoid studs.

Furthermore, if you live in a rented home, you are unlikely to be allowed to install a wall AC unit. That kind of permanent change is almost certainly a violation of your lease.

Conclusions

In basic function, both of these types of air conditioners work very similarly. The main differences come from how they’re installed. They both absorb hot air from inside your house and blow it outdoors, while blowing cool, dry air into your home.

That said, the differences from how they’re installed really do make all thhome.howstuffworks.com/ac.htme difference. After judging each aspect of wall vs. window air conditioners, here’s when to choose one type over the other.

When to Choose a Wall Air Conditioner

Wall air conditioners are more elegant and clean looking.

 

If you own your own place, then a wall air conditioner might be the right choice for you. These units are permanent, after all. That’s both their biggest advantage and their biggest drawback.

If you want to install an air conditioner once and then not think about it again, a wall air conditioner might be the perfect choice. The installation cost isn’t low, but then you never need to install it again, and you’re guaranteed to have cool summers for as long as you own your home.

Wall units are also quieter and less obtrusive. A good wall air conditioner won’t remind you of its existence with rattling or fan noises. As long as you’re willing to commit to a permanent hole in your wall for the unit, they’re a great choice.

When to Choose a Window Air Conditioner

If you’re not so much a fan of permanency, then a window air conditioner has plenty of advantages. They’re designed to be removed after installation, so you don’t have to worry about leaving them behind if you move. Plus, if you’re a renter, then a window unit might be your main option.

Window units are a little noisier than wall units, but they make up for it in affordability. There’s no installation cost for a window air conditioner unless you really want a professional installation. While you will lose a window to the AC, you also have the peace of mind knowing that you can always take the unit back out.

Basically, if you don’t own your property or if you don’t want to commit to cutting a hole in a wall, a window AC unit is the air conditioner for you.

Final Verdict

In short, it’s a toss-up between wall air conditioners and window air conditioners. They both cool relatively efficiently, but their installation makes all the difference.

If you’re planning on staying put for a few years and you have permission, wall air conditioners are the clear choice. On the other hand, if you’re renting or would rather not go through the trouble of handling power tools, then a window unit is right for you.

It’s all about where you are in life. If you have the time and the money, the wall unit is the best option. However, if you have any doubts, then a window unit is more versatile. It might be a little noisier and slightly less efficient, but you’re at much less risk of renovator’s remorse.