Air Conditioner Buying Guide 2021

When the weather gets warm, thoughts look for chilling out. If central air conditioning is not possible, room air conditioning systems could be an inexpensive and energy-efficient alternative to cool one or two rooms.

If you are willing to beat the heat, you are not alone: Our Best Household Product Team found about 8 million room air conditioners were shipped for sale in 2017. A typical household spends 13% of its annual electricity bill on cooling, based on a survey. So it is necessary to select the right unit. An air conditioner that is too small will struggle to cool an area. One that is too big cools so quickly that it does not sufficient time to reduce enough moisture, leaving you with a cold, clammy space.

How We Test Room ACs

At Consumer Reports we test room air conditioning systems in the special climate-controlled area. We test three sizes of window ACs large, medium and small and adjust the size of the area to the size of the room suitable for each air conditioning system. We handle the temperature in the area around 90° F, then measure how much time it will take the AC to reduce the temperature by 15° F. Additionally gauge how well the Air conditioner holds the set temp. Because noisy air conditioning systems could be disturbing, we calculate how loud each unit is around the lowest and highest settings.

Things to Consider

Look for Energy Misers

Some new room air conditioning units include better insulating materials and clearer instructions which help make sure you get a great seal around the unit, minimizing leaks. Also before purchase consider the air conditioner that is energy efficient.

Note the Noise

Models that scored Wonderful or Good in our noise tests are so quiet that the only noise you would possibly hear is the fan running. Air conditioning systems that scored Fair for noise could disturb light sleepers when set on low and they are distracting to everyone when set on high.

Factor In the Window Location

Window air conditioning systems generally perform a better job blowing air in one direction. That is one problem if your window is not centered on the wall. To evenly cool your home, you will have to direct air to the center, so check to find out whether your AC is required to blow air to the right or the left. Some have fan arms that rotate.

Install It Correctly

To get the most from your air conditioner and heater window unit it must be appropriately installed. Most units are intended for double-hung windows. If you’ve casement windows, you really should consider purchasing a through the wall air conditioner. Ensure that your window unit is level so that it drains properly. And move any heat-generating devices such as a Television or lamp away from the unit. Choosing the right one will also reduce the air conditioner installation cost a lot.

Check Filter Location

Be sure you may easily access the filter for cleaning, something you will be doing regularly to keep the unit in tip-top condition. It also helps to reduce the air conditioner leaking water inside the problem that we faced regularly.

Consider Intelligent Cooling

Some air conditioners have gotten smarter, helping you to control and adjust them from the smartphone. You can also manage to interconnect them to other cooling units at your residence.

Watch the Warranty

Some air conditioners have longer extended warranties than others. When you are purchasing a new product, check the manufacturer’s website for more details, and ask the retailer about the warranty for the brand and model you are considering buying.

Sizing Up Your Options

Before you think about price and features of air conditioner indoor unit or outdoor, start with selecting the size of the unit you need for the space you want to cool, as well as where you will put the product. The window air conditioning systems in our tests have cooling capacities which range from 5,000 to 12,500 British thermal units (BTU).

To measure the room, multiply the length of the room with the width. But do not buy by BTU alone. We recommend that you make allowances for other considerations such as the height of your ceiling, where the product will be inserted, and the size of your windows and doorways. Besides:

  • If the room is highly shaded, decrease capacity by 10 %.
  • In the sunnier days, increase capacity by 10 %.
  • If more than 2 people regularly occupy the room, add more 600 Btu for each additional person.
  • If the system is used in the kitchen, increase capacity by 4,000 Btu.

Air Conditioner Buying Guide 2018 (1)

Which Model Is Right for You?

Some small window devices cost less than $200, which makes them a tempting proposition but if only you have to cool a tiny space. If you want to cool a large area, you will need to focus your search on devices that much better match your square footage.

Almost all of the window devices we tested to meet the latest standards, which need to have them to be at least 10 % more effective than devices without that qualification. Standout designs have a quiet operation and convenient controls, and they also work under brownout environments.

air conditioner window
Air Conditioner Window System

Window Air Conditioners

Small—Capacity ranges from 5,000 to 6,500 Btu. Cools approximately 100 to 300 sq ft. These products are the lightest, least expensive and smallest, but they can not sufficiently cool a room measuring more than 300 square feet.

Cost: $150 to $250.

Medium—Capacity ranges from 7,000 to 8,200 Btu. Cools approximately 250 to 400 sq ft. Prices start creeping up, and their weight and size can make them more hard to install and remove for winter storage.

Cost: $200 to $400.

Large—Capacity ranges from 9,800 to 12,500 Btu. Cools between 350 and 650 sq ft. Ideal for cooling a large room, but the bulk and weight make these models awkward and very difficult to install.

Cost: $350 to $600.

air conditioner portable
Air Conditioner Portable System

Portable Air Conditioners

Portable models are designed for homes in which window configurations or building regulations eliminate the installation of window systems. The portable air conditioners in our tests range from 9,000 to 15,500 Btu. But do not compare portable and window air conditioners by that measurement alone.

Our latest air-conditioner tests discovered that portables aren’t nearly as good at cooling as manufacturers claim. Plus they’re pricey and employ more energy than similarly sized window units. And since all of the mechanics are sitting within the room, they are usually noisier than window-mounted units. And “portable” is a misnomer-their 50- to 80-pound weight could make them cumbersome and ungainly to roll across carpets or thresholds.

Cost: $300 to $700.

Split Ductless Air Conditioners

Split ductless is a smart process to add an air conditioner to a small 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 devices every year. Though we have not tested air conditioner split ductless recently, in our past tests all did a wonderful job cooling and were much less noisy indoors and out than window air conditioners. Indeed, in the low setting, they were barely audible.

Air conditioning ductless split systems are more costly than window or portable units (and professional installation is recommended) but less expensive than central air conditioner units if you’re cooling only a few rooms. However, if you’re searching to cool the majority of your home, a central air conditioning system is probably the more cost-effective choice.

Cost: $1,000 and up.

Smart Features to Help You Chill Out

All the systems in the air-conditioner ratings do a wonderful job of cooling. They even come along with suitable features, such as electronic 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 all over the room. Try to find air-conditioner features that affect efficiency and performance.

Air Conditioner Buying Guide 2018


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

Air Conditioner Buying Guide 2018

Directional Airflow Vents

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

Air Conditioner Buying Guide 2018

Efficiency Aids

An air conditioner having a timer could be switched off when you are out or set to turn on just before you want to get home. An energy-saver setting stops the fan when the compressor is off. These functions save electricity.

Air Conditioner Buying Guide 2018

Dehumidifying Mode

This function is helpful on humid but cool days in fall and spring.

air conditioner indoor unit

Fresh-Air Intake or Exhaust Setting

This selection provides ventilation without cooling.

Air Conditioner Buying Guide 2018


One common power-saving feature can be a 24-hour programmable timer, which allows you to customize your unit’s operating schedule.

air conditioner energy efficient

Remote Control

The remote control helps you to adjust the settings from wherever you are sitting. Some units have built-in temperature sensors to relay the room’s temperature (as opposed to the temps at which you have set the unit). Sometimes for remote control failure air conditioner keeps running and we have to turn off manually.



Friedrich is a smaller company of the more expensive model of window air conditioners available at regional appliance retailers. Window units range in price from $200 to $1,200. Friedrich makes units with Btu from 5,000 to 24,000.


Frigidaire air conditioners are available in regional appliance retailers and independent, and also at Best Buy and Lowe’s. Units range in price from $100 to $800, and in Btu from 5,000 to 28,000. They have a wide range of air conditioners with heat pumps typically paired with a furnace to provide heat during the cold months.


GE is the market share leader in window air conditioners. This company is available at a wide variety of independent and regional appliance retailers and Walmart, Lowe’s, Sam’s Club, and Home Depot. GE’s window air units range in price from $150 to $300, and in Btu from 5,000 to 25,000.


Haier is available at BJ’s, independent appliance dealers and Walmart. Prices range from $100 to $500, and Btu from 5,000 to 24,000.


LG is a national brand available at a wide variety of independent and regional appliance retailers, and also Home Depot. Window units range in price from $150 to $500, and in Btu from 5,000 to 14,000.



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