- Best Overall: Frigidaire FFRA0511R1 5,000 BTU Window-Mounted Air Conditioner VERY GOODBuy on AmazonWhat We Like
- Intuitive to use
- Great value
- Short power cord
- No remote control or timer function
- Not Energy Star-certified
- Best for Large Spaces: LG LW1216ER 12,000 BTU 115-Volt Window Air Conditioner Buy on AmazonWhat We Like
- Excellent, energy-efficient cooling
- Easy to use
- Installation is time-consuming and complex
- Best for Small Spaces: Friedrich Chill CP06G10B 6,000 BTU Window Air Conditioner Buy on AmazonWhat We Like
- Lots of features
- Energy Star-rated
- Excellent performance
- Can be loud
- Best 10,000 BTU: Frigidaire 10,000 BTU 115V Window-Mounted Air Conditioner Buy on AmazonWhat We Like
- Helpful user manual
- Built-in ionizer
- Eco-mode stopping and starting annoyed some users
- Best 8,000 BTU: LG 8,000 BTU Window-Mounted Air Conditioner Buy on AmazonWhat We Like
- Special features
- Quick to install
- Great performance
- Some reviewers thought it was noisy
- Best Smart Model: Frigidaire Smart Window Air Conditioner FGRC0844S1 Buy on WalmartWhat We Like
- Wi-Fi connectivity
- Built-in ionizer
- Attractive design
- App could be better
- Can be noisy
- Best Portable: Honeywell MN10CESWW 10,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner Buy on Home DepotWhat We Like
- Built-in dehumidifier
- Easy to use
- Multiple color choices
- Digital controls too sensitive
- Requires floor space, as with all portable models
- Best Split-System: Pioneer WYS012-17 Air Conditioner Inverter+ DuctlessBuy on AmazonWhat We Like
- Cools large spaces
- Sleek design
- Complicated installation process
- Best with Dehumidifier: Costway 10,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner DehumidifierBuy on AmazonWhat We Like
- Great performance all-around
- Unattractive design
How do air conditioners work?
All types of air conditioners work in pretty much the same way. First, they extract air and filter out any dust or impurities. That air is then passed over the cooling or evaporating coil, and the coil absorbs the heat. At the same time, during this step, moisture from the air is reduced to dew on the surface of the coil, effectively decreasing the humidity level in the room. Finally, the air is pushed back out of the device, lowering the room’s overall temperature.
What types of air conditioners are there?
There are several different types of air conditioners. Window units tend to be the most popular because they’re affordable and easy to install, though some homes and apartments with unusually shaped windows may not accommodate them. Portable units are a great pick because they can be moved from room to room, but they also require more maintenance and aren’t as efficient. Built-in or split systems offer a more permanent solution but require professional installation and can be costly.
How do you clean a window air conditioner?
Check the filter of your window air conditioner each month, and clean it as needed. Also, take a look at the water pan inside the unit, and wipe it with a rag or sponge—this will help ensure proper drainage of the condensate created by the unit. It also helps prevent mold growth.
How do you install a window air conditioner?
If you have basic DIY skills and some tools you most likely can install a window air conditioner yourself—although, because some units are very heavy and cumbersome, you might want to enlist a friend to help you. For those who aren’t confident about installing an air conditioner themselves, you can ask the retailer when you’re purchasing a new one, or try a service like HomeAdvisor.
How much does an air conditioner cost?
The cost of an air conditioner varies by type and functionality—you can spend anywhere from $100 to several thousand dollars. Window models start at around $100 but can cost upward of $1,000 if you need one with advanced features and a high BTU capacity. Portable air conditioners tend to be slightly more expensive, typically costing between $200 and $500. Wall air conditioners generally cost $400 or more, and mini-split options start at around $800—plus the cost of installation. Central air systems are often desirable because they can be used for heating, as well, but you’ll likely pay several thousand dollars for the system and installation.
What are BTUs and why do they matter?
The amount of heat an air conditioner can remove from a room is measured in BTUs, or British Thermal Units—larger rooms require a unit with a higher BTU. Energy Star recommends units around 6,000 BTU for rooms up to 250 square feet; 8,000 BTU units up to 350 square feet; 10,000 BTU units up to 450 square feet; and 12,000 BTU units up to 550 square feet.
The Ultimate Air Conditioner Buying Guide
If you live in a place where the weather gets unbearably warm, chances are you rely on an air conditioner to keep your home cool and comfortable—the Department of Energy states that 75 percent of American homes have some type of air conditioning.
Although there are a few common styles of air conditioners, they all work in essentially the same way: first, they pull in hot air and filter out any dust, dirt, or other impurities. That air is then passed over the cooling or evaporating coil, and the coil absorbs the heat. Simultaneously, moisture from the air is reduced to dew on the surface of the coil, effectively decreasing the humidity level in the room. The colder air is then pushed back out of the device, which helps to lower the room’s overall temperature.
There are many factors to consider when buying an air conditioner. First, you’ll need to pick what style works for your home and needs—whether that’s a window unit, portable model, or another option. You’ll also need to consider cooling capacity, as well as your room size and budget; depending on what you choose, you can spend anywhere from $100 to several thousand dollars on a cooling system.
Read on for all the need-to-know details about what to look for when you buy an air conditioner.
There are several important factors you’ll want to think about to ensure you get the best air conditioner for your needs.
One of the first things you’ll want to consider is the style of air conditioner that works best for you. There are several options available, and they vary widely in terms of cost, capability, and installation requirements.
Two of the most common options for occasional users are portable and window air conditioners. Both of these options are fairly inexpensive and can be easily installed without professional help. However, the downside of these options is that they’re typically only powerful enough to cool one room at a time, which means you’ll need multiple units if you want air conditioning throughout your home.
Another option is a through-the-wall or built-in air conditioner, which is a permanent style. These styles are installed into a “sleeve” in an exterior wall of your home—ideal if your room doesn’t have an acceptable window. However, as you may have guessed, this style of air conditioner requires more complex initial installation, as you’ll need professional help to cut an appropriate-sized hole in the wall.
For more comprehensive air conditioning, you may want to consider a ductless mini-split system. This style of air conditioner has gained popularity lately, as it’s a good permanent alternative for homes without central HVAC. As its name implies, there are no ducts required, and these units are typically more powerful than window units. However, mini-split systems are also fairly expensive and complex to install.
Finally, there are central air systems, which require ductwork throughout your home. These are the most expensive and complicated to install and, as such, are typically most common on new construction.
If you’re going with a window or wall unit, measure the height and width of the opening to ensure you pick a compatible unit. It’s also beneficial to consider the weight of the unit, as this will determine whether you’ll need help moving and installing it.
Room Size and Location
Next, you’ll want to consider where you plan to put the air conditioner and how much square footage it needs to cool. The amount of heat an air conditioner can remove from a room is measured in BTUs, or British Thermal Units—larger rooms require a unit with a higher BTU.
Here’s a general breakdown of the recommended room size and BTU:
- 100-300 square feet: 5,000-7,000 BTU per hour
- 300-450 square feet: 8,000-10,000 BTU
- 450-550 square feet: 10,000-12,000 BTU
- 550-700 square feet: 13,000-14,000 BTU
- 700-1,000 square feet: 18,000 BTU
- 1,000+ square feet: 20,000 BTU and up
You’ll also want to consider the location of the room as you decide what BTU is best. For instance, a room that has several large windows and gets direct sunlight for several hours a day will likely be hotter and therefore need a more powerful air conditioner. In this situation, experts recommend increasing the BTU by at least 10 percent. Similarly, if your air conditioner will be in the kitchen—and, as a result, will have to combat heat from the stove—you’ll want to bump up the capacity by about 4,000 BTU.
One major concern many people have with air conditioning is that it uses a lot of electricity. The Department of Energy says 6 percent of all electricity in the country is used to power air conditioners, costing users a total of $29 billion each year.
With that in mind, you may want to take energy efficiency into account when shopping for a new air conditioner. Start by looking at the EER, or energy efficiency rating—the higher the number, the more efficient the air conditioner is. Each one-point increase on the EER scale represents a 10 percent increase in energy efficiency. So, for example, a unit with an EER rating of 12 is 20 percent more efficient than one with a rating of 10. While units with a high EER may initially be more expensive, they’ll likely save you money in the long run on energy costs, especially if you regularly use your air conditioner.
Another way to choose a more efficient appliance is to look for the Energy Star label. This certification is only given to products that are at least 10 percent more energy efficient than federal government requirements.
If you plan to use your air conditioner in your bedroom or living room, you may be concerned with how much noise it produces. The noise level of appliances is typically measured in decibels, but since we don’t use this measurement in our daily lives, most people don’t know what “40 decibels” sound like. This can make it tricky to pick the best option for your needs.
In general, a standard air conditioner operates between 40 and 60 decibels. For reference, TVs usually operate at around 60 decibels, and normal talking falls between 40 and 60 decibels. So if you buy an air conditioner that operates at 60 decibels, it may interfere with your conversations or TV show. The quietest air conditioners out there operate at around 35 to 40 decibels, and their noise level is compared to that of a desk fan.
Once you’ve decided on the major style and specifications of your air conditioner, you may want to consider what extra features are available. For instance, some units come with remote controls or programmable timers, making it easier to achieve your ideal temperature. Other options have efficiency aids, which help you minimize energy consumption. The best features to look for really depend on your personal priorities.
The different types of air conditioners come with their own benefits and downsides. Here are some important considerations to take into account for each style.
Window air conditioners are a popular option in spaces you only need to cool for one season, as they can be installed and removed fairly easily. Many people also like that these units don’t take up any floor space—however, you do need to ensure that there’s a compatible electrical outlet nearby, as many manufacturers recommend you don’t plug their air conditioners into an extension cord.
There are a few considerations unique to window air conditioners. For one, you’ll need to determine what style of window it’ll be installed in—standard, sliding, or casement—and find a unit that’s compatible. Further, you’ll have to decide if you want a slide-out or fixed chassis (the frame that surrounds that unit). Models with a slide-out chassis can also be installed as through-the-wall units, and they’re also a bit easier to clean and maintain. Finally, you’ll need to purchase a compatible window bracket, as this will ensure your air conditioner stays safely in place and that there aren’t any gaps around it.
If you’re handy, you can install a window unit yourself, though it might be a good idea to enlist another person to help you as some units are very heavy.
Window air conditioners start at around $100 for small, no-frills units, but they can cost upward of $1,000 if you need a model with advanced features and a high BTU capacity.
Portable air conditioners are even more versatile than window units, as they can be moved from room to room. This style is typically mounted on wheels to allow for easier transport, though they do take up some floor space in the room where they’re operating.
Some portable air conditioners require a vent hose to route hot air out of your home, which typically requires a nearby window or vent. If this seems inconvenient or isn’t possible in your home, you’ll want to look into an evaporative system, which uses water (that you must supply) to cool the air. This type of portable air conditioner works best in locations that have dry heat, as they tend to add moisture to the air.
Portable air conditioners are often slightly more expensive than window units, typically costing between $200 and $500.
Through-the-wall or wall air conditioning units are quite similar to window models, except that they’re installed into an exterior wall in your home. This type of air conditioner is a great option if you want a permanent fixture in a room that doesn’t have windows—or if you just want to keep your windows unencumbered! However, as you can probably imagine, they’re more complex to install, typically requiring the help of a professional to ensure you don’t accidentally hit pipes or wires.
One of the main considerations to make when choosing a through-the-wall air conditioner is whether you want to use a traditional “sleeve” to house the unit or if you prefer to get a model with a slide-out chassis. Air conditioners with a slide-out chassis are sold as one piece and can often be used as window units as well, so this might give you a bit of added versatility—although, if you choose to use yours as a through-the-wall air conditioner, you’ll have to buy a traditional sleeve separately.
Wall air conditioners are on the more expensive side, generally costing $400 or more—plus the price of installation.
Mini-split air conditioning systems are a bit more complicated than other styles, as they’re made up of two main parts: an outdoor compressor/condenser and an indoor unit. Unlike central HVAC systems, mini-splits don’t require any ductwork. Instead, they only need a small hole in the exterior wall where cords and a condensation drain can exit.
Many mini-split systems can provide both heating and cooling for your home, and they’re a popular permanent option for older homes or those where duct installation isn’t feasible. Their ductless design also helps increase energy efficiency, as a significant amount of energy is lost pushing air through ductwork. Another key benefit is that each unit can be controlled individually, so if you install a few throughout your home, you can set different rooms to different temperatures.
As you may have guessed, mini-split air conditioners are fairly expensive, starting at around $800 plus the cost of installation. However, this may be a worthwhile investment if you live in a warm climate and need to cool your home several months out of the year.
If you’re building a new home or replacing your existing central air system, you may be in the market for a split system or central air conditioning unit. These models are the most expensive, as they’re designed to cool your whole home, and they require a ductwork system throughout the house so they can distribute cool air.
Central air systems are often desirable because they can be used for heating, as well, but you’ll likely pay several thousand dollars for the system, not to mention the cost of installation.
If you’re concerned about the electricity your air conditioner will use, you may want to look for a model that’s Energy Star-certified. These units have to meet specific efficiency requirements regulated by the U.S. Department of Energy, and in general, they’re at least 10 percent more efficient than mandated by government standards. While many may have a higher upfront cost, you’ll save money on energy in the long run.
If you’re all about the convenience of smart appliances, you’ll be glad to hear that there are many great Wi-Fi-enabled air conditioners available. These units connect to the internet and your smartphone, allowing you to control them remotely. Additionally, many have features that help to minimize energy consumption while maintaining a comfortable temperature. Some may also be able to integrate with other smart home devices, such as an Amazon Echo or Nest Learning Thermostat. Today’s smart air conditioners start at around $500.
There are a handful of reputable air conditioner brands that you’ll likely encounter as you shop.
A well-respected household brand, Frigidaire offers a variety of air conditioners, including window, portable, and smart models. As with many of its appliances, Frigidaire air conditioners are affordable and highly rated by users.
GE is another trusted appliance brand, and they offer a large number of window and through-the-wall air conditioners that can be found at most big-box retail stores.
If you’re partial to LG electronics, you’ll be happy to find this well-known brand offers a wide selection of air conditioners, including window, through-the-wall, portable, and smart models.
If you’re looking for an energy-efficient air conditioner, make sure to check out Amana, which manufacturers window, through-the-wall, and central air conditioning systems. Many of this brand’s products have an EER rating of 12 or more.
While a smaller brand, Friedrich still offers a comprehensive line of air conditioners, including window, wall, mini-split, and portable models. While these products are often on the expensive side, they tend to be energy-efficient and offer a variety of advanced features, including Wi-Fi connectivity.
Primarily known as a Japanese auto manufacturer, Mitsubishi also offers a highly-regarded line of mini-split system air conditioners, many of which have smart capabilities.
If you’re searching for a central air conditioning system to cool your whole house, you’ll likely come across Goodman, which sells several popular models. These units are known for their durability, and some even offer lifetime warranties.
Most air conditioners come with a manufacturer’s warranty, so you don’t need to worry about purchasing one separately. These warranties can cover anywhere from one to 15 years, but 10 years is fairly standard.
In general, air conditioner warranties are limited, meaning they only cover issues related to manufacturing defects. You’ll need to register the product after purchase and keep up with the recommended maintenance schedule to ensure your warranty remains valid, and if you ever need to repair the unit, be sure to use parts approved by the manufacturer. Failure to do so may void your future coverage.