What Is the Difference Between Window & Through the Wall Air Conditioners?

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When temperatures are higher in summer, or in climates prone to heat, air conditioners can make the difference between comfort and misery. Without a central air-conditioning system, an individual really only has two options for air conditioners. He can install either a window air conditioner or a through-the-wall (sometimes just called wall) air conditioner. The differences between these two types of air conditioners will determine which one a person selects.


A window air conditioner is a small air conditioner designed to be placed within the boundaries of a window frame. A wall air conditioner is similar to a window air conditioner, but is not intended to be placed in a window. Wall air conditioners sit directly within a building's wall.


Window air conditioner installation usually has only three main steps. These include marking measurements, placing and screwing down the unit, and caulking along the outside of the air conditioner. Installation thus is pretty quick and painless, resulting in very little permanent change to the structure. By contrast, wall air conditioners require that a person actually cut a hole in her wall through which she can slide the unit. This can be difficult, as a person can run into problems with electrical or plumbing structures, or have to get through tough material like cement. Once the unit is in place, the installer still has to put insulation, drywall and caulk all the way around the unit. For this reason, wall unit installation usually requires some professional assistance unless a person has excellent carpentry and home improvement skills.


Because wall units are so much harder to install and result in permanent change to a structure, usually only homeowners or businesspeople who own their commercial buildings opt for them. Window units are more common in rental properties because a renter can remove the air conditioner upon the end of his lease and leave his rental property as it was when he started renting.


Wall air conditioners are designed to be permanent fixtures. Installers do not need to remove them in the winter or when they are not in use. Window air conditioners are considered temporary fixtures, and have to be stored in months when people don't run them. Window air conditioners thus are much more flexible than wall air conditioners.


Some window air conditioners can be interchanged with wall air conditioners, depending on the design. However, it typically doesn't work in the opposite direction--wall conditioners usually are too heavy and vent improperly for window installation. Unfortunately, many installers don't follow the manufacturer's installation instructions, and try to put air conditioners into a space for which they weren't truly designed. This usually voids the air conditioner warranty. Additionally, installing in the wrong location can cause problems with the operation of the unit, leaving a person sweltering when she needs the air conditioner most.


Window air conditioners by nature block some or even all of the window in which the installer places them. This reduces the amount of natural light available to the room. Wall units won't change the lighting of a room because they leave windows unobstructed.


Wanda Thibodeaux

Wanda Thibodeaux is a freelance writer and editor based in Eagan, Minn. She has been published in both print and Web publications and has written on everything from fly fishing to parenting. She currently works through her business website, Takingdictation.com, which functions globally and welcomes new clients.