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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.

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Buying guide for best air conditioners

You may have memories of a loud, rumbling window air conditioner that used to sit in your grandparent's kitchen window, combatting the heat generated by the oven during the summer. This beloved home appliance has improved significantly over the years. The window air conditioners, also referred to as room air conditioners, found online and on store shelves offer a host of helpful features that bring them squarely into the 21st century. These include programmable temperature and timer options, remote controls, quiet operation, and overall improved efficiency.

Window air conditioners are portable, easy to set up, inexpensive (especially compared to central air conditioner systems), and energy-efficient. Air conditioners are available in various sizes to fit all windows, so it’s important to purchase one that is the size that you’re looking for. Additionally, the size of the unit can determine the difficulty of the installation and whether another person will be needed to help. Perhaps the most important feature is the cooling efficiency of a unit and how it compares to the amount of space you need to cool.

air conditioner
Central AC or a window unit? There’s a huge difference in terms of cost. If your budget is tight or you live in a small apartment or home, a window unit and a few strategically placed fans may be all you need.

How to buy the best window air conditioner

BTU

Window AC cooling power is typically measured in British Thermal Units (BTU). Room size and BTU go hand-in-hand — large rooms require higher BTU ratings for efficient cooling. As a general rule, you should aim for 20 BTU for each square foot of living space in a two-person home, adding 600 BTU for each additional person. Kitchens require about 4,000 extra BTU to compensate for the heat generated from cooking activities. Some manufacturers will do the math for you, providing information about the square footage their products can support.

BTU specs are listed in the product description, and sometimes you can find them in the product’s in-depth specifications.

The main purpose of an air conditioner is to cool down a room. One of the most important things to look for is the BTU number, which determines the amount of energy exerted by the device. The amount of BTU necessary is dependent on the size of the room you are attempting to cool down.

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Energy efficiency ratio

Consumers tend to appreciate the most efficient setup when it comes to appliances that require a lot of electricity to run. To maximize energy efficiency and your energy savings, look for units with a high energy efficiency ratio, which is determined by considering both the BTU rating and the wattage of a unit. In addition, make note of options that are ENERGY STAR certified. This certification indicates that the appliance meets the EPA’s guidelines for energy efficiency.

Thermostat or no thermostat?

Some units have a built-in thermostat to detect the temperature of the room and adjust output according to your settings. This saves energy usage by preventing the unit from running constantly if you forget to adjust the temperature setting. In most cases, the thermostat is located behind the control panel. When you install your unit, take note of whether there are any nearby lights that may warm the front and cause the thermostat to get an inaccurate reading.

Units without thermostats are often less expensive and simply have different cooling settings. They won’t turn on or off when the room reaches a certain temperature. Rather, it’s up to you or the timer to turn the AC off.

Some]]]] units have timers in place of thermostats, which allow consumers with predictable schedules to set the AC to kick in before they return home by programming the timer. For example, you could program the unit to start running half an hour before you arrive home for the evening.

Size and ease of installation

When finding the right unit for your home, you should start by measuring the width and height of the window you plan to use. Then, look for two main dimensions when you compare products: minimum and maximum window width and window height. An improperly sized window air conditioner may mean the window seal doesn’t fit properly or that the unit can’t fit in the window at all.

Also, make note of the weight of the unit and how it is installed in the window to determine whether you will be able to install it on your own.

Which features are of greatest importance in a window air conditioner?

Fan speed

Fan speed matters because it affects how soon you begin to feel relief on a sweltering summer day. In many cases, you can control the fan speed of a window AC unit with the turn of a dial. The speed of the fan affects how quickly cool air spreads throughout the room. Most manufacturers do not provide specific measurements or figures when it comes to fan speed, but they may indicate the number of different speed settings offered.

Consider turning off the AC mode and leaving the fan on when the outside temperature exceeds the temperature in the room, allowing nature to do the cooling and potentially lowering your energy bill. Evenings, nighttime, and mornings are the best times to run just the fan.

Swivel vents

The slats of the swivel vents on an AC unit can be adjusted, allowing you to control the direction of airflow.

This is particularly helpful if you have an oddly placed window and want the air to move to the center of the room instead of one side.

They’re also nice if you want the cold air to flow directly on you — or directly away from you.

Remote controls and companion apps

Many modern air conditioners come with a remote control. Using the remote, you can adjust the settings on the air conditioner from anywhere in the room. Not all window AC units include a remote control, but if you’re in a busy work environment, have hard-to-access windows, have limited mobility, or just don’t want to get up more than you have to, a remote control can be a godsend.

Other options may have companion apps that let you adjust the temperature with your smartphone. In some cases, you can even turn the AC on or off when you’re away from home.

Air filters

An AC unit’s air filter helps purify the air that passes through the appliance by removing dirt and debris. Air filters are often replaceable or washable. Washable filters are a more economical choice since they can be used again and again. If you live in an area that is dry or dusty or has reduced air quality, consider an AC unit with a washable filter to save on time and money.

Tips for optimal energy efficiency and lifespan

The average window conditioner lasts about 10 years. Like most appliances, the lifespan of  your window AC unit depends on how well you care for it.

Follow these maintenance tips for optimal air conditioner efficiency:

  • Inspect the coils of the machine to increase airflow and cooling capacity. Reference the manual to confirm the location of the evaporation coils and to follow the manufacturer’s recommended steps. Vacuum the coils with a brush attachment, and take care of harder dirt with a scrub brush.
  • Clean the filter regularly. The filter must stay clean to perform its job well, and a dirty filter can slow down the machine. You can access the filter on most machines by popping out the front grille. Clean it, or replace it if it’s not washable.
  • Look for (and fix) bent coil fins. The coil fins are the narrow metal pieces that form the grooves in the air conditioner. A fin comb can help you straighten any bent coil fins by aligning the fins as you run the comb through them.
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Did you know?
Many air conditioner units have multiple directional vents to help evenly cool the room.
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Window air conditioner prices

Like a lot of appliances, air conditioner prices run the gamut. Cheaper air conditioners can cost as little as $100, whereas high-end air conditioners can cost $700 or more.

Inexpensive

In the $130 to $200 range, you'll find less-powerful units that operate at around 5,000 BTU. The machines in this price range are basic and tend to work best in smaller rooms.

Midrange

From $200 to $350, you’ll find powerful machines that typically range from 8,000 to 12,000 BTU. At the top of the range, you’ll find machines with remote control features.

Expensive

For $350 and up, you’ll find more machines with remote controls and smart features. These are powerful machines with 15,000 BTU or more. (Machines at the top of the price range can have as much as 23,000 BTU.) Some have heat functionalities, as well.

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For your safety
When installing a window air conditioner unit, always use proper tools to make sure it sits stably in the window. Otherwise, you risk it falling out smashing to pieces — or worse yet, hurting someone below.
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Good-to-know information

  • Storing your air conditioner properly when it’s not in use can help extend its life. Remove the appliance from the window during cool seasons, and keep it in a dry place. Cover it to protect it from dust.
  • If possible, install your new air conditioning unit out of direct sunlight. A machine that is shaded from the sun doesn’t have to work as hard and may last longer.
  • Consult your owner's manual to learn how to properly install your new window air conditioner. On a sweltering day when you hope to bask in the coolness of your new air conditioner, you don’t want precious cold air seeping out of the sides of the window.
  • Sound output may not matter to you in an air conditioner, but this really depends on where it will be situated. For example, if you need to find an air conditioner for your bedroom, you will probably want to consult owner reviews to find out which ones are the quietest.
  • Check local laws and ordinances before you buy a window unit. Some areas may forbid them, and other areas (particularly urban areas) may have requirements for how window units can be installed. For example, they may require the use of brackets for extra support, or you may be required to have management install the unit.
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To take full advantage of your AC unit, turn down the lights in the room while it’s in use. Lights create more heat than you would expect!

FAQ

Q. I’m debating between a window air conditioner and another home-cooling solution. How is a window air conditioner better than central air, HVAC, or a portable air conditioner?

A. One of the biggest advantages of a window air-conditioning unit is the upfront costs you can save. Whereas central air conditioning systems and HVAC systems can cost several thousand dollars, a window AC unit only costs several hundred dollars.

What’s more, because these units sit in the window, they don’t consume precious floor space. What about portable air conditioners? Although convenient because they can be moved from room to room, portable air conditioners are generally less efficient than window units.

 Ductless mini split air conditioners are much more efficient than window units, but like central air systems, they come at a higher price and are more challenging to install.

Q. I don’t have a lot of time to spend on upkeep. How much maintenance does a window air conditioner require?

A. You may need to clean or replace the air filter from time to time, but other than that, window air conditioners require little maintenance. We do advise owners to occasionally clean the evaporator and condenser coils and to straighten bent fins with a fin comb. You shouldn’t ever have to add refrigerant, however.

Q. I’m sensitive to noise. Are window air conditioners noisy?

A. Older models were certainly noisy, and some cheaper air conditioners may put out some noise. But today, manufacturers are far more conscientious about the noise output of their products. You need not purchase a window air conditioner unit without knowing what to expect in terms of noise output. Simply check the decibel output of a unit if sound is a major factor for you.

Q. Can I leave my air conditioner in place during cold months?

A. If you live in an area that sees temperatures below 60°F, you should never leave a window unit in place during the winter or even during the fall. Why? Not only can this type of exposure damage or destroy your air conditioner, but it can also let cold air into your home when that’s the last thing you want. Instead, remove your AC unit from the window, and store it in an upright position somewhere that is not susceptible to moisture or temperature changes.

 

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