Find the right air conditioner for your space
If you’d like to cool a space, there’s a good chance you’re in the market for a new air conditioner.
There are wall, window and portable air conditioners as well as ductless split systems. Besides choosing among these, you’ll need to consider several features. Some air conditioners have customizable cooling settings, while others are equipped with dehumidifiers or quiet operation modes. There are even a couple premium options that offer heating modes.
To help you find the right air conditioner for your space, we’ve put together this buying guide. We’re also sharing some of our favorite options throughout the article.
What do I need to know before I buy an air conditioner?
Will an air conditioner cool my space?
To determine whether an air conditioner can cool your space, you’ll need to choose one that is the right size. This is referred to as cooling capacity.
It’s helpful to know the cooling capacity of air conditioning units is expressed in BTUs, or British Thermal Units. For the most part (though it’s not a hard and fast rule), the higher the BTUs, the larger the room it can cool.
To choose the right size air conditioning for your space, you’ll need to do a little math. Here’s the most straightforward approach:
- Begin by finding the square footage of your room. For a room that measures 10 feet by 15 feet, that’s 150 square feet.
- Next, multiply the square footage by 25 BTU. In this example, that’s 150 square feet times 25 BTU, which equals 3,700.
- The required cooling capacity for a 10-foot by 15-foot room, then, is 3,700 BTUs.
How do I choose the right size unit for an air conditioner?
It’s essential to choose an air conditioner as close to the equation’s product as possible. Rather than cooling continuously like the appropriately-sized unit, it will turn off and on to control the temperature. As a result, you may experience issues controlling humidity in the space.
Conversely, if you choose a severely underpowered air conditioner, it won’t be able to cool your space effectively.
How much noise do air conditioners make?
Air conditioners aren’t quiet devices. They run continuously, so you’ll either need to get used to the noise or invest in a low-noise air conditioner. Keep in mind that low-noise air conditioners generally fall into two categories. One group includes units that operate more quietly than others, even when running on the highest settings.
The other group includes air conditioners that have a quiet mode, like some Frigidaire models. Unfortunately, this mode generally operates at a much lower setting.
How much do air conditioners cost?
Air conditioners range in price from around $200-$3,500. While higher BTUs often result in a higher price, that’s not always the case. There are also premium-priced air conditioners whose advanced settings impact price more than their cooling capacity.
What types of air conditioners are there?
Window air conditioners
Window air conditioners are installed directly into a window.
Pros: These units are generally easy to install because most packages come with mounting kits. They’re also easy to remove from windows if necessary. Some window air conditioners are low-profile as well.
Cons: Window air conditioners jut out from your window by as much as eight inches. Generally speaking, they’re only compatible with some types of windows, like some single-hung windows. Given their bulky designs, they’re often considered to be eyesores.
Portable air conditioners
Portable air conditioners are freestanding units that can be moved easily from room to room.
Pros: These air conditioners give users the flexibility to customize their cooling setup. It’s common to find advanced features in these units. Installing these air conditioners is relatively user-friendly. Some units, like this Black + Decker model, have compact designs to fit your space better.
Cons: Portable air conditioners have large footprints due to their unit size and the tubing and window kit. Like window air conditioners, they’re only compatible with specific windows.
Ductless mini-split systems
Ductless mini-split systems are wall-mounted units that utilize interior and exterior components, but they don’t require ducts to move cool air.
Pros: Ductless mini-split systems don’t take up as many floor or wall spaces as window and portable air conditioners. They also offer zone cooling. These units tend to operate more quietly than other options, such as this model.
Cons: Most people will need to hire a licensed HVAC professional to install a ductless mini-split system. These units are generally the most expensive option among all air conditioners.
Through-the-wall air conditioners
As their name implies, through-the-wall air conditioners are units whose footprints are both inside and outside your home.
Pros: These air conditioners tend to have a much smaller footprint than window air conditioners. They’re generally affordable, and they won’t obstruct your view through a window. They fit precisely into your wall, which means you’ll experience fewer drafts than with window units.
Cons: Through-the-wall air conditioners require maintenance and cleaning to last. They’re also prone to attracting critters, who may break into the units to make nests. After that point, the unit becomes unsalvageable and needs to be replaced.
What features should I compare in air conditioners?
The vast majority of air conditioners come with remote controls, including affordable units like this one made by Keystone. Most air conditioners only come with one remote, so if yours is lost or breaks, you’ll need to purchase one from the manufacturer.
Cooling and fan speeds
Air conditioners are equipped with at least two cooling and fan speeds. More advanced units, like some Honeywell models, have three fan speeds. Generally speaking, air conditioners with additional cooling and fan speeds tend to be more expensive.
Many air conditioners are equipped with energy-saving modes, in which they turn off fans when the compressor is not running.
Air conditioners generally have removable filters that are easy to clean. Black + Decker Portable Air Conditioner, for example, as a convenient slide-out filter. It’s recommended to wash them on a bi-weekly basis to clear off dirt, debris and potential mold or mildew accumulation. Otherwise, when the filter is clogged, it inhibits the unit’s performance.
In addition to cooling, many air conditioners are equipped with dehumidifiers, like an affordable LG unit. This is an important feature to consider if you live in a humid area or if your home is more humid than it should.
Some air conditioners are equipped with heating modes, making them a convenient investment in year-round temperature management.
Whynter Elite Dual Hose Portable Air Conditioner is a perfect example of a dual-purpose unit, plus it offers complete thermostatic control between 61-89 degrees. Ductless mini-splits, like one by AUX, are often equipped with heating modes as well.
Smart air conditioners
You can control a few smart air conditioners on the market via apps or smart assistants.
These units, like this Wi-Fi GE model, typically offer more in the way of cooling customization. It’s common for smart air conditioners to have advanced timer settings, different cooling speeds or alerts when it’s time to service the unit or clean the filter.
Sian Babish is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.
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