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As summer months bring the heat, the last thing people who are spending extra time indoors want is to feel sticky as the temperatures rise while trying to socially distance. If you're someone who doesn’t do well in the heat or your space is just in need of a serious cool-air intervention, it might be time to step up your air conditioner game with an upgrade, whether a window AC unit, a portable air conditioner or even a personal air cooler you can get online. Whichever model works for you, there are lots of options online and with them lots of features and specs. To help guide you to the right air conditioner for you, we consulted cooling experts on shopping tips for air conditioners, as well as their top recommendations.
In this article
AC unit strength: Find the sweet spot for BTUs
The cooling capacity of an air conditioner is generally measured in British thermal units (BTUs). On average, an AC unit needs about 20 BTUs per square foot of living space to keep things cool, explains Marla Mock, VP of Operations at HVAC services company Aire Serv. When you’re shopping for a new AC unit, she says one of the most important things to consider is picking the right size for your space — despite what some assume, more BTUs isn’t always better.
“If you buy an undersized air conditioner, it's likely that the equipment may fail to keep up with cooling demands on hot days — not to mention ultimately increasing your energy bill since it's working overtime to meet that demand,” she said. “But if you purchase an oversized AC unit, it'll reach that demanded temperature too quickly, which leads to a short-cycling behavior and premature breakdowns.” In addition to your home or room’s square footage, Mock moted some other other factors to keep in mind as you scroll through options for your next AC unit’s BTUs:
- Climate. Homes in hotter climates like Florida and Arizona may need a larger AC unit than homes in Illinois or Michigan.
- Number of windows. Homes or rooms with more windows heat up faster than those without.
- Internal heat gain. If you use heat-generating appliances during the day, you may need more air conditioning to counteract the heat gain.
- Occupancy. The more people who live in your home, the larger your unit should be.
How to shop for a new AC unit
After narrowing down how many BTUs you’ll want your AC to sport, there’s a wide range of AC features to consider next.
Energy-efficient AC models
Look for products that are Energy Star-rated, which are independently certified to save energy and help reduce environmental impact. The Combined Energy Efficiency Ratio (CEER) is the standard rating for window air conditioners. It’s based on the amount of energy used while the AC runs, as well as when the air conditioner is on standby.
Generally, the higher the rating, the better efficiency and “greater energy efficiency can translate into lower monthly energy costs,” says Anthony Carrino, a home improvement expert and Trane Residential ambassador.
Easily controlled and smart AC
Whether it’s Wi-Fi enabled and can be adjusted through an app on your smartphone or through a remote control, these features make it easier to change settings, says retailer Designer Appliances Vice President John Carey.
AC noise level
If the AC unit is going to be anywhere near your bedroom — or at-home workspace — having a unit that won’t keep you up all night or distracted is vital. “Many units are rated with a Nominal Sound Level – the average sound level in decibels. The higher the number, the louder the unit,” explains Carrino. “For example, 40 equals a library while 70 equals a vacuum cleaner.”
Bonus AC feature: air purifier
By investing in a unit that also offers air purification, you’ll be making a wellness-focused change, says Carrino. This technology makes the AC-and-air purifier combo a tool to also remove airborne pollutants from your home.
Best window air conditioners
If you’re looking to install a more permanent solution, check out some of these highly-regarded window AC units.
Best overall window air conditioner: Midea
1. MIDEA Easycool MAW12R1BWT Window Air Conditioner 12,000 BTU (pre-order, ships June 24)
With 12,000 BTUs of power, this AC unit can cover rooms up to 550 square feet, making it a good choice for just about any room in the house. “It's one of my top ACs to recommend because of the fact that it's three-in-on, meaning you can use it as an AC, fan and dehumidifier,” says Justin Edwards, an HVAC contractor with ContractorAdvisorly. “It's also quiet compared to other AC models and it's easy to install.”
Best affordable window air conditioner: Frigidaire
Don’t let the size or price of this compact window AC fool you. For those looking to cool a small room, this air conditioner quickly gets to work with two fan speeds as well as two-way air direction. “You can cool a room up to 150 square feet quickly and efficiently,” says Edwards. “It's quiet enough to the point where you won't have any issues going to sleep with it on.”
Best smart window air conditioner: LG
3. LG LW8017ERSM Smart Wi-Fi Enabled Window Air Conditioner with 8,000 BTU (limited availability)
The Wi-Fi enabled LW8017ERSM can cover more than 340 square feet of space while operating at sound levels as low as 52dB. “This unit has excellent performance thanks to its 8,000 BTUs cooling power,” says Carey. “But besides its coverage and cooling power, it has a three-fan cooling speed and a four-way direction, which further boosts its performance.”
Best high-end window air conditioner: Friedrich
The Friedrich CCW06B10A is a remarkable window AC unit with ultra-quiet performance, excellent CEER levels, and one of the best window AC cooling performance rates in the industry, explains Carey. “Its top features include the Quiet Master Technology for low noise levels, Wi-Fi connectivity with Amazon and Google Home integration, and the expandable curtains that ensure a snug fit during installation,” he noted.
Best portable air conditioners
These are our top picks for larger AC units that can be easily moved from room to room, usually designed with portability and mobility in mind.
Best overall portable air conditioner: BLACK+DECKER
With an adjustable fan speed that cools air down to 65 degrees Fahrenheit and an easily accessible filter for cleaning, this is Edwards’ top pick for portable AC units. “At 8,000 BTUs, it can cover most home room sizes and it's perfect if you want to keep it on while you sleep,” he says. “Its sleep mode function allows it to control the air temperature while you're asleep, keeping you comfortable — and it has a low noise level at 75 dB.”
Best affordable portable air conditioners: Honeywell
Look to this evaporative air cooler for a a more affordable and portable option for cooling a small-to-medium space. The compact system has an ice compartment for colder air, a water tank that’s easy to access for refills to keep up that cool breeze and a shut-off timer for saving energy.
Best smart portable air conditioner: Frigidaire
With a smart AC unit, you can start cooling down your room from anywhere — the Frigidaire app helps you connect to this Wi-Fi-enabled portable air conditioner. But this unit isn’t just about the convenience it offers with the ability to create custom schedules and hands-free temperature changes: It also dehumidifies and cleans the air with a washable filter.
Best high-end portable air conditioner: Ukoke
The Ukoke USPC01W is as high-tech as it gets,says Edwards. Apart from just being an AC unit, you can also use it as a dehumidifier, fan and heater. “You can set up your Alexa to control it or use Ukoke's own mobile app — and at 12,000 BTU cooling capacity, it can cool rooms up to 400 square feet,” he said. “I recommend this AC to those looking for convenience, the latest AC technology and who aren't too bothered with the price.”
Best personal air conditioners
These AC units might be small but don’t underestimate their ability to keep your personal space cool on sweltering days — from workstation to reading nook and otherwise.
Best overall personal air conditioner: Evapolar
This sleek personal air conditioner has a minimalist design and yet packs a powerful punch that quietly cools with a working time of up to nine hours. “It's a good choice if you want to use it in a work environment to cool your office desk or when you just want to lay down and relax on your bed,” says Edwards. “It's lightweight, and it's easy to set up and use, making it convenient for everyone.”
Best affordable personal air conditioner: Ontel
If you’re looking for a simple cooling option that is less of a hefty investment, this mini air conditioner gets the job done. The Arctic Air Ultra is a personal space cooler that also humidifies and purifies through a water filter. Weighing in at less than two pounds, this small AC unit is easy to move and gives off minimal noise during nighttime cooling.
Best smart personal air conditioner: Evapolar
Keep comfortable during hotter days while also purifying and humidifying with this 3-in-1 unit that cleans while it cools up to 33 square feet. This personal air conditioner has a touchscreen panel and is Wi-Fi compatible — it works with smart home assistants for hands-free control.
Best high-end personal air cooler: Dyson
Unlike the standard personal air conditioner, this Dyson product doesn’t just keep you cool while you work or binge on Netflix. The Dyson Pure Cool is a Wi-Fi-enabled purifying fan that removes allergens through a HEPA filter. It also works with both Alexa and Google for easier control — it also works with your smartphone through the Dyson Link app, giving you real-time air quality updates.
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