Don’t Sweat the Heat With the Best Air Conditioners
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Summer can be one of two things: something to endure or something to enjoy. Find and install the right air conditioner and you’re a lot closer to the latter thanks to a cool, dry living space.
High heat and high humidity cause you to feel uncomfortable because they reduce your body’s ability to release heat to its surroundings, and this causes you to sweat. Your air conditioner reduces heat and humidity in the air by cooling and drying it.
Window air conditioners and portable units have their respective advantages and disadvantages, but they both work well in specific spaces. Through testing, research, and expert vetting, we’ve rounded up the best air conditioners for bedrooms, rooms with tall ceilings, and windowless spaces—and everything you need to know before you buy—so you can stay cool and dry all summer long.
Best Air Conditioners
What to Consider
You can determine how strong of an air conditioner to buy by multiplying the square footage of the room by 20—that’s roughly how many BTUs you’ll need.
Cooling capability is measured in British Thermal Units, a metric for thermal energy. The more BTUs an air conditioner can remove from a given space per unit of time, the more powerful it is. Put simply, the more space you want cooled, the higher the BTUs you’ll need.
Most air conditioners have a fan mode, which both pushes the cool air provided by the AC coil filled with refrigerant into the room, and functions as a standalone fan when the AC is off. Some units also have heater and dehumidifier functions.
Multiple fan speeds and cooling settings can help bring down the room’s temperature quickly to get your indoor comfort right where you want it. Fine-tuning features like these can reduce your electric bill, which can be an important consideration if you’re in a part of the country with long or especially hot summers.
Consider the unit’s interface as well. Some prefer simple analog controls like knobs and buttons, while others want to control an air conditioner with a remote or app on their phone.
CEER, or Combined Energy-Efficiency Ratio, is the efficiency rating that applies to window air conditioners—a higher CEER number is better. (Note: This is different from SEER, or Seasonal Energy-Efficiency Ratio, which applies to heat pumps and central AC systems.)
CEER expresses the ratio of cooling capacity to how much electricity the appliances uses to do its work. it includes the efficiency when the compressor is running and when it’s in standby mode to give an accurate picture of the unit’s efficiency.
A few air conditioners still retain the older (but still valid) EER efficiency number, and the same rule applies—a high EER is better than a low one.
Window Versus Portable
Window air conditioners are heavy, weighing anywhere from 50 to 80 pounds, so you’re best off installing it with another set of hands for help.
They block about half of the view out of the window, and must be be carefully installed to ensure they won’t fall out of the window or allow intruders to easily remove them and enter your home. A window bracket is a good way to ensure safe installation. (Pro tip: It’s best to remove the unit in the fall, clean it, and store it indoors for the longevity of your unit.)
Portable air conditioners only require that you mount the discharge hose (or hoses) to the outdoors via a window bracket. This installation is much simpler than a window unit and they block less of the view through your window, but you may have to regularly empty the condensation they produce.
Some units disperse the condensation into the discharge air stream, or it may evaporate back into the room naturally. However, for many portable units, you’ll need to empty the drain pan or route the condensation drain hose to a floor drain. You can also use a condensate pump to drain water outside via a small plastic tube.
How We Selected
To help you pick the right air conditioning unit, we gathered a broad range of these appliances and tested them by running them in a hot room while measuring the temperature of their discharge air and the temperature at various places in the room.
We also researched and vetted a few appliances that we haven’t gotten our hands on yet, keeping an eye out for innovative features, sound deadening, efficiency, and cooling capacity. Whether it mounts in a window or stays in the room, the right unit will help you stay cool and comfortable, night and day, all summer long.
The test’s biggest air conditioner was this LG, a hefty slab of an appliance that uses a multi-speed compressor to control cooling. That compressor doesn’t simply run at a constant speed then cycle on and off to cool the space. Instead, it speeds up or slows down to maintain the temperature.
This multi-speed and adaptable design isn’t widely used in window air conditioners, but it’s an effective means to keep the temperature steady and cut down energy use while reducing wear on the compressor. LG calls it a dual-inverter design.
If you’re a light sleeper, we’d recommend you consider this LW1522IVSM or the Midea air conditioner below—both have sleep modes that scale back cooling from the default setting, saving you money and reducing noise while you sleep. In all other respects, this AC is a quiet, pleasant, and effective machine, quickly ramping up to temperature and operating at a steady hum that makes it easy to forget the thing is only a few feet away.
We also commend LG as the only manufacturer to include insulated panels that you can install on either side of the air conditioner to reduce energy transfer between the indoors and the outside. Its Wi-Fi capability allows you to turn it on and off from your phone, too, so you can cool and dehumidify the space before you get home.
You have a small bedroom and you need some inexpensive cooling. This Frigidaire window air conditioner has that room covered, and at a reasonable cost, too. While we haven’t gotten our hands on this unit yet, we like that it’s a low-effort, high-efficacy air conditioner designed to get a small, hot, and stuffy space down to a comfortable temperature.
The appliance has a basic two-knob design. The top knob controls the cooling setting, while the bottom knob controls fan speed in two modes: with cooling and without cooling. Set the top knob to the desired temperature, and the appliance’s thermostat will cycle the air conditioner on and off to keep the temperature within range.
You can also set the fan speed to high or low so the output feels comfortable and doesn’t get too loud while you’re watching TV, for instance. If you want to schedule its output, you’ll need to run the FFRA051WAE with a third-party appliance timer since this basic appliance has no smart functionality to communicate with your phone or another device.
This is the quietest air conditioner we’ve tested. It’s also the only one with a unique “U” shape that allows you to shut the window in its center, better isolating the compressor (which is always on the outside of the building) from the indoor space. This design, which requires a specialized mounting bracket, makes the Midea U Smart Inverter AC unit more mechanically complex but also quieter.
The low noise is also helped by the fact that, like the LG, this is an inverter compressor air conditioner. The compressor speed changes to suit demand, rather than simply turning on and off. What’s more, this Midea is the only AC we tested with auto louvers—they automatically move vertically to better distribute air in the space.
Between that and its large BTUs, this window air conditioner brings indoor temperatures down in a hurry. We also like the fact that its air filter is angled, providing far easier access to the filter panel, which tips out to about 45 degrees.
No one is buying an AC for the looks, but this sleek unit from Windmill may open your eyes to how nice it can be to have one that cools as good as it looks. It comes equipped with the features you'd expect from its modern design—Wi-Fi and smart home-enabled, easy to install, voice command built-in—while having a decent 11.6 CEER rating and minimal noise.
It shoots air up and out at a 45-degree angle which you may prefer if you have a bed that faces your windows and don’t like having the cold air blasted directly towards you, and the angled direction also helps with better air circulation.
The Wi-Fi capability allows you to set your temperature before arriving home so you can walk into a comfortable space or leave it on eco-mode while you’re away. There are three different cool settings and three fan speeds, all of which can be easily controlled from the app.
We haven’t tested this Haier yet, but it has the reputation of being one of the quietest window air conditioners on the market. But the clincher was when a family member who’s a notoriously light sleeper decided to purchase an AC recently, this is the one he selected. He was so thrilled with it, he called us up to rave about it.
As far as he’s concerned, of the many air conditioners he’s owned over the years, the ESAQ406T is the quietest. Among its noise-canceling features is an internal compressor blanket that dampens vibration and sound. From what he told us, when the compressor is running, the AC is slightly louder than a refrigerator. Its Energy-Efficiency Rating of 12.2 can help reduce the spike in your electric bill that normally comes with running an AC all summer.
Among the most promising air conditioners we haven’t tested is this appliance from LG, a 6,000-BTU window unit designed to quickly cool large spaces.
Some of its many features include an energy-saver mode, a 24-hour on/off timer, a full-function remote control, three cooling settings, three fan speeds, and an auto reset that turns the unit back on once power is restored after electricity is interrupted by an outage.
And when indoor air humidity is high, this air conditioner has powerful dehumidifying ability—it can remove up to 2.2 pints of moisture per hour, meaning you’ll feel cooler even without having to use lower temperature settings. That’s a fact of heating and cooling. Dry air that is comparatively warmer feels more comfortable than cooler air that is more moist.
LG’s portable air conditioner is a powerful appliance. We set the temperature and fan speed and, before we could even return to our notes, it was blowing ice cold air. And the automatic movement of the discharge louvers ensured even temperature distribution at the target. Also, it held its temperature well; that’s important for your comfort.
Given those features and the appliance’s large BTU number, the LP1419IVSM is well suited for large apartments or office areas that might need extra cooling capacity due to hot-running digital equipment. In terms of maintenance, the LG is very easygoing. Two grills cover its twin air filters, and neither requires tools for removal. The top grill is particularly well designed and easy to lift off.
This Black & Decker portable air conditioner is best suited to small-room cooling, perhaps even supplementing a central-air system in a tall condominium or townhouse that has an uncomfortably warm upstairs room.
We liked its air distribution. You manually set the output louver vertical direction to adjust the appliance’s throw (HVAC lingo for how far the air conditioner pushes the air), but behind those louvers is an oscillating louver that moves automatically left to right. The result is smooth, clean, cold air softly delivered over a broad area.
For additional four-season versatility, the appliance also functions as a heat pump and a dehumidifier, for when the emphasis is neither on cooling nor heating but removing moisture vapor from the air.
The portable AC’s maintenance looks pretty easy to us. The owner’s manual says that you’ll need to drain condensate only under extreme conditions. We concur, as we found no condensate in our test.
Grill removal was not as simple as the other portable air conditioners, but it’s still pretty good. The top grill comes out without you needing a tool; the side grill is held by two thread-forming screws for plastic. The third filter slides out. Three filters, two screws. That’s a pretty good score in our book.
We haven’t tested this AC yet, but our colleagues at Good Housekeeping highly recommend it. The Whynter’s amperage and BTU capacity position it firmly in the heavy-duty cooling category (and the heavy category; this portable air conditioner weighs 80 pounds).
It’s a dual-hose (intake and exhaust) model, which, theoretically, should reduce the amount of condensate that it collects, since it’s supposed to be removed in the exhaust air stream. A similar model (ARC-14SH) also operates in heat pump/heater mode.
If you’ve got a larger space to cool, and especially to dehumidify, this (untested) portable air conditioner from Haier is worth a look. Its BTU rating is impressive for an appliance of this size and weight.
But even more impressive is its rated moisture removal—90 pints per day—owing to a separate dehumidification setting. The manufacturer says that, in most cases, the QPCA11YBMW evaporates the condensation into the exhaust air, so you don’t have to empty the condensate tray. Note that it specifies under “most conditions.” Our advice would be to plan on emptying the pan if conditions are really soggy.
Big cooling needs requires a big air conditioner. And with the ability to cool up to 600 square feet, this big appliance, which we haven’t tested yet, should have you covered. It can cool in Auto mode (the thermostat runs the cooling cycle), or you can manually adjust the settings, either by hand or with the remote.
It can also operate just the fan or in dehumidification mode to dry out a damp area like a basement or to help bring down the clammy feeling in a room on a rainy day. We like its LED, which lights up to alert you that its washable air filter needs cleaning.
As to its portability, we haven’t tried rolling it around, but it does have two large recessed handles—something many other portable air conditioners noticeably lack. When you have to move an appliance that weighs 72 pounds, handles can make a big difference.
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