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Air Conditioner Types Explained

Australians have been using air conditioning to cool themselves since the 1950s, embracing the power of the refrigeration cycle to defeat our summer temperatures. The first air conditioners were chunky window units that rumbled and rattled, but thankfully, the technology has come a long way, with a variety of modern air conditioner types that are smaller, more efficient, and quieter.

In this article, we’ll explore the various air conditioners types that are available to Australian consumers.

Wall-mounted split system air conditioner

Wall-mounted split systems are the most common type of air conditioner in Australia1. They are the rectangular-shaped wall-mounted units that you’re used to seeing, which typically cool smaller spaces such as bedrooms, living rooms, and small shops. Split systems have two main units—the wall-mounted indoor unit that blows conditioned air, and an outdoor unit that expels “waste” air.

Split systems are one of the cheaper types of fitted air conditioners, and tend to be easier to install. However, some people find them unattractive, preferring the discreteness of ducted air conditioners (more on these below). They can also be on the noisy side, especially when made by a less reputable manufacturer.

Multi head split system air conditioner

Multi-head (or multi-split) split systems are just split systems with multiple indoor units. These are also incredibly common, as many homes have multiple areas that they want to cool. Each unit can be controlled independently, able to be turned on and off, as well as unique temperatures being set. This can help to save on electricity bills.

Reverse cycle split system

Reverse cycle split systems allow both cooling and heating. The “reverse cycle” refers to the refrigeration cycle being reversed, to produce hot air instead of cool. Most modern, high-quality split system air conditioners made by Daikin, Panasonic, and Mitsubishi have a reverse cycle feature.

Ducted split system air conditioner

Ducted split system air conditioners are popular for larger homes and commercial buildings, with more space to cool. As with split systems, they usually have an indoor unit and an outdoor unit, but also include a series of ducts that circulate air through the system, and vents that deliver the air into the living/working space.

Ducted air conditioners typically have designated zones, which can be controlled independently to save electricity. Ducted air conditioners can also be incredibly quiet, with the indoor unit hidden inside the roof cavity, and the outdoor unit discreetly placed outside.

Because of the excellent features of ducted air conditioners, they are highly desirable, and can even increase the value of your home.

Window wall air conditioner

Window wall air conditioners are much less common, but you can still find them. They’re a compact single unit that sits on a window sill, and include both the condenser and evaporator coils (which are usually in separate units), allowing them to produce cool air for the space, and expel waste air outside. 

Window wall air conditioners aren’t as powerful as other air conditioning types, so can only provide cooling for smaller spaces. But their lower capacity does allow you to plug them directly into your house mains, without the need for professional electrical work.

These types of air conditioners are notorious for being noisy.

Cassette air conditioner

Cassette air conditioners are also rare these days, mostly found in commercial buildings such as offices. They work in the same way as wall-mounted split systems, with conditioned air being delivered directly from the indoor unit, and expelled from an outdoor unit. But the indoor unit is mounted in the ceiling instead of the wall, sitting flush without protruding downwards. These air conditioners are usually installed when there isn’t any wall space available for a split system, but plenty of ceiling space.

Portable air conditioners

Portable air conditioners are single units on wheels, which plug directly into the mains. They’re much less efficient than other types of air conditioner, are noisy, and can produce negative air pressure issues. They include a short duct that expels warm air, and can only work in a room with a window, where the duct must be placed.

Portable air conditioning units are one of the cheapest types of air conditioner, but come with many more problems than other fitted types.


A dehumidifier isn’t an air conditioner, but it does condition air to create a more pleasant environment, so we thought it worth including. 

Dehumidifiers work by extracting moist air and feeding it through refrigerated coils to produce condensation. This removes the moisture from the air, which is then blown back into the living space. These machines can typically reduce humidity levels to between 30 to 50%, making things much more comfortable. Condensation is collected in a storage tank in the dehumidifier, which must be regularly emptied.


  1. Chris Barnes, How to buy the best air conditioner for your home | CHOICE, Choice
  2. Kathryn Watson, 2020, Dehumidifier Benefits, Side Effects, and When and How to Use Them, Healthline