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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 you now see on store shelves offer a host of helpful features that bring them squarely into the 21st century. These features include programmable temperature and timer options, remote controls, and yes, a far quieter noise output.

Today’s air conditioners are portable, easy to set up, inexpensive (less costly than central air), energy-efficient, and highly refreshing.

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Air conditioners come 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.

Window air conditioner features

Fan speed

In many cases, you can control a window AC unit’s fan speed with the turn of a dial. The speed of the fan affects how quickly the cool air spreads throughout the room.

The higher the fan speed, the faster your room will cool down.

Cooling power

Window AC cooling power is typically measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs). The more cool air you desire, the more BTUs you want.

As a general rule, you should aim for 20 BTUs for each square foot of living space in a two-person home. (Add 600 BTU for each additional person.) Kitchens require about 4,000 extra BTUs to make up for heat generated from cooking.

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."

Swivel vents

The slats of an AC unit's swivel vents turn, allowing you to control the direction of the airflow.

This is particularly helpful if you have an oddly placed window and want the air to flow 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 control

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.


If you follow a predictable schedule and would like to have cool air waiting for you when you arrive home, you can program your AC unit’s timer to maximize efficiency. For example, you could program the unit to start running half an hour before you get home.


An AC unit’s air filter helps purify the air that passes through the appliance by removing dirt and debris. These machines come with replaceable or washable filters. Washable filters are a more economical choice since you can reuse them. If you live in an area that is dry, dusty, or has reduced air quality for any other reason, you may wish to consider an AC unit with a washable filter for financial reasons.

Tips for optimal AC efficiency

The average window conditioner lasts about 10 years. Like most appliances, their lifespan depends on how well you care for them.

Follow these maintenance tips for optimal air conditioner efficiency:

  • Inspect the machine’s coils. 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 do its job. 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, which are the narrow metal pieces that form the grooves in the air conditioner. A fin comb can help you straighten any bent coil fins. You run the comb over the fins to straighten them.

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Did you know?
Many air conditioner units have multiple directional vents to help evenly cool the room.

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.


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


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.


For $350 and up, you’ll find more machines with remote controls and other cool 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 and injuring someone below.

Good to know information

  • Storing your air conditioner properly when it’s not in use can help extend its life. Remove it from the window during cool seasons, and keep it in a dry place. Cover it to protect it from dust.

  • BTUs are the amount of energy required to change the temperatures by one degree. The higher the BTU rating of the air conditioner, the more powerful it is.

  • If possible, install your new air conditioning unit out of direct sunlight. A machine that is shaded from the sun works less hard and may last longer.

  • Consult your owner's manual to learn how to properly install your new window air conditioner. You don’t want precious cold air seeping out of the sides of the window.

  • If you need to find an air conditioner for your bedroom, consult owner reviews to find out which ones are the quietest.

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To take full advantage of your AC unit, turn down lights while it’s in use. Lights create more heat than you would expect!


Q. How is a window air conditioner better than central air or a freestanding air conditioner?
Whereas a central air system may cost several thousand dollars, a window AC unit only costs several hundred dollars. And because these units sit in the window, they don’t consume precious floor space.

Q. How much maintenance does a window air conditioner require?
You may need to clean and/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.

Q. Aren’t window air conditioners noisy?
Older models were certainly noisy, and some cheaper air conditioners may put out some noise. But today, manufacturers are far more conscientious about their products’ noise output.

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