Ground A/C Units vs. Rooftop: Which is Better?


In the desert, keeping cool is as important to survival as running water and ice cream, but space for an air conditioning unit is at a premium for many homeowners.  When you’re faced with the choice between installing an air conditioning unit on the ground or up on the roof, there are many factors to consider, from aesthetic to practical.  It’s hard to say which is better, ground A/C units or rooftop A/C units, both have their benefits and drawbacks.  You’ll need to ask yourself several hard questions before making the final decision.

What’s Normal for My Neighborhood?

Any Realtor will tell you to take a quick look around the neighborhood before you consider making a huge change to your home.  Moving the air conditioner is one of those modifications that can’t easily be undone.  You probably won’t get ostracized from the neighborhood if you move your air conditioner to the roof when the rest of the houses have theirs on the ground, but when go you go sell your home it might matter.

If the neighbors all have air conditioners mounted on the roof, you may want to consider conforming for the sake of future home sales.  After all, if your house is the only oddball, it’s possible that a buyer will decide on the house across the street simply because it’s more like the rest.  It’s not always necessary to be normal, especially if you have a good reason for moving your unit elsewhere, though.

How’s the Weather Up There?

Rooftop installed air conditioners can suffer badly in extreme climates because they’re constantly exposed to scorching heat.  Add in higher winds and the potential for blowing dirt and sand and you may find that your roof installed air conditioning unit won’t last as long as a similar unit located on the ground.  Similarly, ground installed units often get clogged with plant debris or are damaged by animals that might not be able to reach the roof.

Your local weather is going to make a huge difference to the life of your unit, wherever you choose to install it, but careful planning can extend the life of your air conditioner significantly.  If there are trees nearby or you have a place to mount a shade that protects your air conditioning unit from the sun most of the day, you’ll find it’ll work more efficiently and needs less attention than a unit left exposed.  Ground installed units are usually shaded by the house, but if yours isn’t, moving it to the shadiest spot may be worth the extra expense.

What About Care and Maintenance?

One of the biggest challenges with a rooftop installed air conditioning unit is remembering it’s there.  When it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind — and that applies to air conditioners doubly so.  If you can remember to do the yearly maintenance without looking at your air conditioner every day, rooftop mounting may be a good option for you, but if you’re one of those people that needs a reminder every so often, your unit may suffer from neglect.

It’s also much harder to reach a rooftop mounted air conditioner, so if you plan to do your own regular maintenance, you’ll need to make sure you have the right equipment to do so safely.  On the other hand, your unit is at very little risk from thrown rocks, kicked soccer balls and out of control landscaping when it’s mounted on the roof, so common calamities are easier to avoid.

Do I Have Enough Space?

Ground installed air conditioners require a great deal more space than their footprint would imply.  Because of the way they work, air conditioners need clearance on all sides to help move hot air away from the unit.  If you have a very small yard, it may be difficult to make enough room for your dream patio or landscape project and still allow plenty of clearance for the air conditioner.

Roof mounted air conditioners don’t usually have this kind of issue since there’s very little else that will be mounted on your roof.  By moving the air conditioner up and over the party, you’ll free up plenty of space while also creating a quieter outdoor environment.  You may hear the air conditioner kick on more often indoors with the unit on the roof, however.

Is My Air Conditioner Secure?

It’s horrible to have to think about security for something as vital as an air conditioner, but we live in trying times.  Air conditioner theft is no secret and it’s no joke — especially if you live near a lot of empty homes or in an neighborhood that could be better.  Thieves take advantage of these situations and make off with the copper out of air conditioning units (or the units themselves!) in the middle of the night, leaving you with nothing but bare wires and an enormous repair bill.

Rooftop units have the potential to be much more secure than ground installed air conditioners because most of these thieves are looking for an easy opportunity to grab and go.  Climbing a ladder to strip your unit bare is a bigger risk than many are prepared to manage.  A fence with a lock is a good deterrent to theft if your air conditioner unit would otherwise be best installed at ground level.

If you decide to install an air conditioner on your roof, it is a good idea to have a local roofing contractor inspect your attic to make sure that you have enough supports for the weight of your unit.

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6 thoughts on “Ground A/C Units vs. Rooftop: Which is Better?

  1. You have been pointed out several very crucial points regarding Air conditioner unit fitting. in the end, it will be yours decision to where to put it. Before you decide it. Read the above note and it surely helps you to take right decision.

  2. But you don’t really tell us the advantages and disadvantages of things like air flow and cooling load and all that. AC units mounted on the roof have to have different cooling capacities than those on the ground don’t they? Cold air flows down and all that.

  3. In todays day and age the primary reason for not wanting your AC unit on the ground is due to theft. Druggies (tweakers) target ground AC’s frequently. The AC unit may last longer on the ground if only weather and plants were variables but when you factor in theft it’s better off on the roof.

  4. Based on my experience, it’s ideal is to install your a/c on the ground level for future maintenance or repair. Many people are afraid with the heights if you just need to change your filter every quarterly. But, nothing wrong if you want your a/c as same as your neighborhood, there are many expert on Los Angeles ac repair when assistance is needed.

  5. Ground A/C units are much better, especially in Arizona. If they ever need service or develop a leak, it’s much easier to perform the repair if they are on the ground, versus at the peak of your house.

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