Want to get climate control for your UK home or business but not sure which air conditioning system to go for? You’re not alone. Lots of people find it really tricky to know which type of air conditioning would best suit their property.

Air conditioning systems to know about

There are 4 main air conditioning systems that are commonly used in the UK. These are portable air conditioning, split unit air conditioning, multi split air conditioning and central air conditioning. Split and multi-split systems are very similar – they’re both VRF (variable refrigerant flow) systems, which means that they feature one or more indoor units that can be controlled independently to the rest of the system.

It’s vital to pick the right air conditioning system to help you keep your property comfortable and your energy bills low. So, here are the facts about each system to help you decide.

1. Portable air conditioners

Portable air conditioners are also known as standalone or mobile air conditioners. They take in ambient air and feed out cool air through a vent into your room. Excess heat is channelled out of a waste pipe.

Here are the main things you need to know about portable air conditioners:


With portable air conditioners, you can simply set them up where you need them and move them as often as you like. As long as there’s a power point to plug them in and a window or door to feed the waste pipe out of, you’re sorted.

portable air conditioner standing next to a window

Initially cheap

Portable air conditioners are the cheapest type of air conditioner to buy, with prices starting at about £200. Split system units usually start at about £500. You also won’t need to pay anyone to install them.

Expensive to run

Portable air conditioners may be relatively cheap to buy, but they’re expensive to run. This is because they’re pretty inefficient compared to split systems. If you’re looking for a long-term air conditioning solution, a portable air conditioner probably isn’t it.

Ideal for restricted buildings

If you have a listed building or there are restrictions in place to stop you installing air conditioning in your property, a portable air conditioner can be a great option. You’ll have to cope with having a window or door open to feed the waste pipe through, but it’s better than nothing.

If you want to know more about portable air conditioners, take a look at our handy article.

2. Split unit air conditioners

Split unit air conditioning systems are different to portable air conditioners because they’re split into an indoor and an outdoor unit. Here are the essentials you need to know:


The indoor and outdoor units of a split system are installed with refrigerant pipes and electrical wires connecting them. This means that you can’t move them about whenever you want to, like portable units.

wall mounted air conditioning unit


Split unit air conditioners undoubtedly have the edge when it comes to efficiency. They’re much cheaper to run than portable units, and they’re a lot better at keeping rooms cool. This is partly because portable units tend to end up leaking warm air back into rooms.

So, if you can cope with forking out a bit more for purchase and installation initially, you’ll find you’ll benefit long-term.


Split systems are also much quieter than portable units. This is because the compressor, which is the noisiest part of an air conditioning system, is housed in the outdoor unit. This means that the indoor unit can be really quiet – some models are almost silent.

Diverse design

There are lots of different types of interior unit you can use as part of a split or multi-split system. These include wall mounted, floor mounted, ceiling cassette, ceiling underslung and ducted units. This means that you can pick a unit type that suits the design an appearance of your room.

3. Multi-split air conditioners

Multi-split air conditioning systems work similarly to split unit air conditioning, and often use the same units. The difference is that they include multiple indoor units connected to one outdoor unit.

Great for large rooms

If you have a large space, like an open plan office or a large living area, a multi-split air conditioner could be for you. The units in your multi-split system will work together to cool or heat the room, and you’ll notice results much quicker.

ceiling cassette air conditioning unit

Power up to 5 indoor units

There’s a limited number of indoor units that you can connect to an outdoor unit to create a multi-split system – Toshiba recommend no more than 5, but it depends on the units. If you want more than 5 indoor units, you might need to consider multiple multi-split systems.

Our air conditioning experts can help you decide which option would be best for your property – just fill in our simple online form to get in touch.

Flexible control

Just because you have multiple indoor air conditioning units attached to one outdoor unit, doesn’t mean all the indoor units have to do the same thing. With multi-split systems, you can control each indoor unit individually, so you can get the ideal environment in every room.

Multiple options

With a multi-split, you’re not restricted to one type of interior unit. You’re free to use multiple different units according to what suits your property. This gives you a great opportunity to get air conditioning that meets your needs and looks great.

4. Central air conditioning

Central air conditioning is usually set up with one external and one internal unit – this tends to be in a loft or basement. A series of ducting and vents transports conditioned air from the internal unit round to different areas or rooms in the property.


Central air conditioning is a great choice if you want subtle climate control. You can get vents that sit flush to the wall or ceiling, meaning that they’re barely noticeable.

Central air conditioning units in a lecture room

Less flexibility

If you’re after a system that allows you to cool or heat different areas of your property at different temperatures, central air conditioning may not be for you. As the system only has one internal unit, it can only distribute air at one temperature at a time. You generally set and adjust this temperature with a thermostat.

Difficult to retrofit

Central air conditioning ducting usually takes up quite a bit of space. This is fine if you install it when a property is being built or if an existing property has high ceilings or wall space. But if you have a smaller home or commercial building, you might find that retrofitting central air conditioning isn’t possible.


Central air conditioning is often significantly more expensive to buy and install than split systems, especially if you’re retrofitting it. Although prices can vary, it’s usually only worth investing in if you want air conditioning all through your home or commercial building.

Now you know a bit more about these 4 different air conditioning system types, you should find it easier to pick the right one for you.

Still not sure? We can help. We can use our expert knowledge and experience to recommend the best air conditioning system and units for you and your property. Just fill in the simple form to get started!