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Air conditioners

Air conditioner buying guide

Last updated: September 2015

Getting started

All the window air conditioners in our latest tests do an excellent job of cooling and come with convenient features like digital displays, built-in timers, remote controls, or touchpad controls. But some models are noisy and others struggled to cool during brownouts. Find out which size to buy for the space you need to cool.

Low prices and high efficiency make room air conditioners an inexpensive alternative to central air for cooling one or two rooms. Some 5,000- to 6,000-Btu (British thermal units) window models now cost less than $200. Our air-conditioner guide helps you choose what's right for you.

Nearly all the window units we tested meet the latest Energy Star standards, which require them to use 15 percent less energy than the minimum allowed. And all now have electrical plugs that help prevent fires by shutting down if the power cord is damaged.

Find out whether replacing your air conditioner makes sense by using the savings calculator on the Energy Star's air conditioners page. (Every 0.1 increase in the Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) translates into about a one percent drop in electricity use.) Also keep the following in mind:

Size it correctly

An air conditioner that's too small won't do a good job cooling a room. One that's too big cools so quickly that it doesn't have time to remove enough moisture, leaving you with a cold, clammy space.

Window air conditioners typically have cooling capacities ranging from 5,000 to 12,500 British thermal units (Btus). But don't buy by Btu alone. As a rule of thumb, an air conditioner needs 20 Btus for each square foot of living space but there are other considerations such as the height of your ceiling and the size of your windows and doorways. To measure your room, multiply the length of the room by the width. Energy Star recommends that you add more capacity if the unit is in a sunny window or if it will be placed in a kitchen.

Note the noise

Models that scored excellent or very good in our noise tests are so quiet that the only sound you might hear is the fan running. But air conditioners that scored fair for noise could disturb light sleepers when set on low and are distracting on high.

Factor in the window location

Air conditioners generally do a better job blowing air in one direction than in the other. That can be a problem if your window isn't centered on the wall. To uniformly cool a room, you'll need to direct air to its center, so check whether your A/C needs to blow air to the right or to the left. Some have fan arms that swivel.

Install it correctly

To get the most from your window air conditioner, install it right. Most units are intended for double-hung windows. If you have casement windows, you may want to consider a through-the-wall air conditioner. Make sure your window unit is level so it drains correctly. And move any heat-generating devices such as a TV or lamp away from the unit.

Consider convenience

Make sure you can easily access the filter for cleaning, something you'll be doing frequently to keep the unit in tip-top condition.

Check the warranty

Some air conditioners have longer warranties than others. When you're buying a new unit, check the manufacturer's website for information and then ask the retailer about the warranty for that model and brand.

If you are considering central air check out our reliability report.

Types

Most room models are designed to fit double-hung windows. Some fit casement and slider windows, and some are made for through-the-wall installation. To determine the proper size, measure the square footage of the area you want to cool by multiplying the length of the room by the width. Increase capacity for a kitchen or a room usually occupied by more than two or three people. If you are considering central air check out our reliability report.

 

Capacity ranges from 5,000 to 6,500 Btu/hr. Cool roughly 100 to 300 square feet.

 

Pros: They tend to be smallest, lightest, and least expensive.

 

Cons: They may not adequately cool a room measuring more than 300 square feet.

 

Capacity ranges from 7,000 to 8,200 Btu/hr. Cool roughly 250 to 400 square feet.

 

Pros: They can generally handle a room measuring up to 400 square feet.

 

Cons: They tend to be more expensive, and their size and weight can make them harder to install and remove for winter storage.

 

Capacities range from 9,800 to 12,500 Btu/hr. Cool roughly 350 to 650 square feet.

 

Pros: They can cool a large room up to about 650 square feet.

 

Cons: Bulk and weight make these models awkward and difficult to install. If an air conditioner is too powerful, the compressor might switch on and off repeatedly, so the unit doesn't lower the humidity sufficiently. That makes for a cold, damp room.

 

Portable air conditioners are intended for homes in which window configurations or building regulations prevent installation of window units. The portable air conditioners in our tests range from 5,000 Btu/hr to 15,500 Btu but you can't compare portable and window air conditioners by Btus alone.

 

Pros: Portables offer some cooling if you have no other choice and can be stored without much effort during the off-season.

 

Cons: As far as cooling power goes, they don't compare to window units. Plus they can weigh 50 to 80 pounds and need a lot of space—the hose is up to 7 feet long and the unit must be placed away from the wall to not restrict airflow.

Features


All the window air conditioners in our Ratings do an excellent job of cooling. They also come with convenient features like digital displays, built-in timers, and remote controls. Some units have touchpad controls, and a few change the direction of the airflow automatically to better disperse cool air throughout the room. Look for air conditioner features that affect performance and efficiency.

Ability to direct airflow

Air conditioners generally have louvers you can adjust to direct airflow vertically or horizontally. But most are better at directing air toward one side or the other. Consider your room layout, and look for a model that can direct the airflow where you need it.

Controls

Touchpads with large LED displays, large and uncrowded buttons, clear labeling, and digital temperature readouts are easier to use. Poorly designed controls are a constant annoyance. Raised buttons with different shapes let you identify functions by feel. And digital temperature readouts provide a more precise reading than the traditional "warmer" and "cooler" settings.

Efficiency aids

An air conditioner with a timer can be turned off when you're out or set to turn on just before you expect to get home. An energy-saver setting stops the fan when the compressor is off. These features save energy.

Dehumidifying mode


This feature is useful on humid but cool days in spring and fall.

Fresh-air intake or exhaust setting


It provides ventilation without cooling.

Brands

Friedrich arrow  |  Frigidaire arrow  |  GE arrow  |  Haier arrow  |  Kenmore (Sears) arrow  |  LG arrow  |  Sharp arrow

If you are considering air conditioner models that aren't included in our Ratings, you can use these profiles to compare air conditioners by brand.

Friedrich

Friedrich is a smaller, more expensive brand of window air conditioners available at PC Richards and other appliance retailers. Window air units range in price from $500 to $1,200. Friedrich makes units with Btu from 5,000 to 24,000 and units that are Energy Star certified.

Frigidaire

Frigidaire air conditioners are available in independent and regional appliance retailers, as well as at Lowe's and Best Buy. Units range in price from $100 to $500, and in Btu from 5,000 to 25,000. Frigidaire makes units that are Energy Star certified.

GE

GE is the market-share leader in window air conditioners. This brand is available at a wide variety of independent and regional appliance retailers and at Sam's Club and Wal-Mart. GE's window air units range in price from $150 to $300, and in Btu from 5,000 to 25,000. GE makes units that are Energy Star certified.

Haier

Haier is available at Wal-Mart and BJ's, and at independent appliance dealers. It makes Energy Star units. Prices range $100 to $500, and Btu from 5,000 to 24,000.

Kenmore (Sears)

Kenmore air conditioners are made by LG and are sold at Sears and Kmart, for $100 to $500. Kenmore markets units with Btu from 5,000 to 24,000 and units that are Energy Star certified.

LG

LG is a national brand available in a wide variety of independent and regional appliance retailers, as well as Home Depot and PC Richards. LG also markets lower-priced window air conditioners under the Goldstar name. Window air units range in price from $150 to $500, and in Btu from 5,000 to 25,000. The brand has units that are Energy Star certified.

Sharp

Sharp is a smaller player in the market. It is available at a wide variety of independent appliance retailers and at Costco and BJ's. Window air units range in price from $200 to $500. Sharp makes units with Btu from 5,000 to 12,000 and units that are Energy Star certified.

   

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