When the weather heats up, thoughts turn to chilling out. If central air conditioning isn’t an option, room air conditioners can be an inexpensive and energy-efficient alternative for cooling one or two rooms.
If you’re ready to beat the heat, you aren’t alone: More than 6.5 million air conditioner window units are sold each year. The average household spends 13 percent of its annual utility bill on cooling, according to Energy Star. So it’s important to choose the right unit. 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.
Things To Consider
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. Air conditioners that scored fair for noise could disturb light sleepers when set on low, and are distracting to all when set on high.
Factor in the Window Location
Window air conditioners generally do a better job blowing air in one direction. 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 it must be properly installed. 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.
Check Filter Location
Make sure you can easily access the filter for cleaning, something you’ll be doing frequently to keep the unit in tip-top condition.
Some air conditioners have gotten smarter, allowing you to control and adjust them from your smartphone. You can often interconnect them to other cooling units in your home.
Watch the Warranty
Some air conditioners have longer warranties. When you’re buying a new unit, check the manufacturer’s website for information and ask the retailer about the warranty for that model and brand.
Sizing Up Your Options
Before you consider price and features, start by determining the size of unit you need for the space you want to cool, as well as where you’ll place the unit. Window air conditioners have cooling capacities ranging from 5,000 to 12,500 British thermal units (Btu).
As a rule, an air conditioner needs 20 Btu for each square foot of living space. To measure your room, multiply the length of the room by the width. But don’t buy by Btu alone. Energy Star recommends you make allowance for other considerations—such as the height of your ceiling, where the unit will be placed, and the size of your windows and doorways.
• If the room is heavily shaded, reduce capacity by 10 percent.
• If the room is extra sunny, increase capacity by 10 percent.
• If more than two people regularly occupy the room, add 600 Btu for each additional person.
• If the unit is used in a kitchen, increase capacity by 4,000 Btu.
Get more Consumer Reports information on how to beat the heat here.
Which Model is Right for You?
Some small window units cost less than $200, which makes them a tempting proposition—but only if you need to cool a very small space. If you need to cool a larger area, you’ll want to focus your search on units that better match your square footage.
Nearly all the window units we tested meet the latest Energy Star standards, which require them to use 15 percent less energy than units without that certification. Standout models had quiet operation, convenient controls, and worked under brownout conditions. Check our Air Conditioner Ratings to see to how they stacked up.
Small—Capacity ranges from 5,000 to 6,500 Btu/hr. Cools roughly 100 to 300 square feet. These units are the smallest, lightest, and least expensive, but they can’t adequately cool a room measuring more than 300 square feet.
Medium—Capacity ranges from 7,000 to 8,200 Btu/hr. Cools roughly 250 to 400 square feet. Prices start creeping up, and their size and weight can make them harder to install and remove for winter storage.
Large—Capacity ranges from 9,800 to 12,500 Btu/hr. Cools between 350-650 square feet. Best for cooling a large room, but the bulk and weight make these models awkward and difficult to install.
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 to 15,500 Btu. But don’t compare portable and window air conditioners by that measurement alone.
Our latest tests found that portables aren’t as good at cooling as manufacturers claim. Plus, they’re pricey and use more energy than similarly sized window units. They tend to be noisier than window-mounted units. And while technically “portable,” their 50- to 80-pound weight can make them cumbersome and ungainly to roll across carpets or thresholds.
Split Ductless ACs
Split ductless is a smart way to add air conditioning to a limited number of rooms without having to open up walls to install ductwork—as you would with a central-air system—or install and remove multiple window units each year. In our past tests, all did an excellent job cooling and were much quieter indoors and out than window air conditioners. Indeed, on the low setting they were barely audible.
Split ductless is more expensive than window or portable units (and professional installation is recommended), but is less expensive than central air if you are cooling only a few rooms. However, if you are looking to cool the majority of your home, a central-air-conditioning system is probably the more cost-effective choice.
Cost: $1000 and up.
Smart Features to Help You Chill Out
All the units in our Air Conditioner 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.
- / 7