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 5 million room air conditioners were shipped for sale in 2019. The typical 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 will struggle to cool 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
Look for Energy Misers
New Energy Star room air conditioners come with better insulating materials and clearer instructions that help ensure you get a good seal around the unit, minimizing leaks.
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 to see whether your AC 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 buying a through-the-wall air conditioner. Make sure your window unit is level so that 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.
Consider Intelligent Cooling
Some air conditioners have gotten smarter, allowing you to control and adjust them from your smartphone. You may even be able to interconnect them to other cooling units in your home.
Watch the Warranty
Some air conditioners have longer warranties than others. When you’re buying a new unit, check the manufacturer’s website for information, and ask the retailer about the warranty for the brand and model you’re considering buying.
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. The window air conditioners in our tests have cooling capacities ranging from 5,000 to 12,500 British thermal units (Btu).
To measure your room, multiply the length of the room by the width. But don’t buy by Btu alone. Energy Star recommends that you make allowances for other considerations—such as the height of your ceiling, where the unit will be placed, and the size of your windows and doorways. In addition:
• 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.
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.