The Best Air Conditioner
After spending the past four summers researching window air conditioners—including more than 20 hours testing units in a 1930s East Coast apartment with a dated electrical system—we’re sure the best model for most rooms is the Frigidaire FFRE0833Q1 ($239). This Frigidaire is as efficient and powerful as any of the best window air conditioners of its size, offers more useful features than the competition, and, at a relatively manageable 48 pounds, it’s lighter and easier to install, too.
Subtle but clever touches unique to Frigidaire—like a room-measuring thermometer built into the remote control and a sleep mode that lowers the cooling intensity overnight—make this one of the most efficient Energy Star-certified machines. Those features also help keep your rooms more comfortable than other air conditioners can. Like some other good AC units, the Frigidaire has a 24-hour timer to help you customize a simple operating schedule.
This model’s 8,000-BTU rating works best in 300 to 350 square feet of space (and there are other sizes in the same line—here’s a chart to help you choose). It’s relatively quiet from a decibel standpoint, although we did measure some other potentially annoying noise issues. The air flow control could be more precise, too; honestly, these shortcomings are minor. This was the AC we recommended last summer, and it’s still the clear pick for 2015.
If the Frigidaire sells out, the new $239 LG LW8015ER (or last year’s nearly-identical $239 LW8014ER) is a very close runner-up. Our 8,000-BTU test unit is just as efficient and capable as our top pick, and it has better air flow control. However, it’s 11 pounds heavier and not as simple to install. It’s also missing a few convenient features like a sleep mode and a temperature-sensing remote. Although it’s marginally louder than the Frigidaire, the LG emits a more even hum while it’s cooling, which some people might find easier on the ears. Otherwise, you can expect roughly the same room comfort and energy efficiency from either of our picks. Like the LG, the 15ER (and 14ER) lines have units with different BTU ratings to suit different needs. If you decide to go with LG, pick whichever model is cheaper or more convenient to buy.
A portable air conditioner is a last resort—but if you’ve got picture windows, casement windows, or just no windows where a traditional style will fit, check out the Honeywell MN10CES ($369) portable AC. It’s not too loud, it’s very easy to install, and dealing with its ventilation and condensation is a little less annoying than with some competitors. The downside is that it’s not nearly as good as a window unit at cooling a room, but neither are any of the other portables out there. We settled on the Honeywell because the user reviews are solid, it’s widely available at a fair price, and it was (at one point) the top-ranked portable at Consumer Reports. Compared to the rest of the field, cheaper portables don’t do as good a job as this one, and more expensive ones don’t cool a room any better.
Table of Contents
- Why you should trust us
- How we picked
- How we tested
- Our pick
- Long-term test notes
- Flaws but not dealbreakers
- Runner-up (last year’s model)
- What about a smart AC?
- Why not the Aros?
- What about a portable air conditioner?
- Care and maintenance
- What to look forward to
- Wrapping up
Why you should trust us
This is our fourth year picking the best window air conditioner, and our second considering portable ACs. (This is my second year on this beat, personally.) We’ve put in about 75 total hours of research, and spent more than 20 hours doing real-world testing.
This year in particular, we looked at 18 different Energy Star-qualified window air conditioners and 26 portable air conditioners. We spoke with a representative from the Environmental Protection Agency and an HVAC+R (heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration) engineer from a federal laboratory. We also tested the finalist units in the same circumstances you might have if you’re reading this story—we carried the test units up three flights of stairs, unboxed them, installed them, and operated them in a 1930s building with a dated electrical system.
What size air conditioner do I need?
First, multiply the length and width of the room to figure out the square footage. With this room size measurement, you’ll already be in the ballpark for your overall BTU requirement. If the space is exposed to a lot of direct sunlight, add 10 percent to the BTU rating. No sunlight at all? Subtract 10 percent. More than two people in the room most of the time? Tack on an additional 600 BTUs per person. And if you’re putting an AC in the kitchen, that’s an automatic 4,000 additional BTUs you’ll need to add to compensate for the heat generated by your oven.
The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers has a BTU calculator that can account for all sorts of detail like exterior walls that are exposed to sunlight, if you want to go that route. But unless you’re shopping for a central air conditioner, it’s probably overkill.
Now, you probably won’t be able to find an air conditioner with exactly the ideal BTU rating for your room. The gaps between models start at 1,000 BTU and grow wider as the ratings increase. You’ll need to approximate—but you should resist the urge to overcompensate with a bigger unit than you need. Get an air conditioner with the right-sized cooling capacity, because it’ll be much more efficient than an over- or under-powered unit—and you’ll be more comfortable. Generally one wants to get the smallest AC one can that meets peak cooling needs.
An underpowered air conditioner will run constantly, trying and failing to get the room down to the target temperature and a comfortable humidity. If you’re not comfortable, you’re really just wasting energy.
On the other hand, an overpowered air conditioner can leave a room feeling clammy. A big compressor will cool a small room quickly, then turn itself off until the temperature rises again. That sounds like an upside. But the way that window units are designed these days, any condensed moisture that hasn’t drained out of the machine will just re-evaporate into the room while the compressor is switched off. “The simple bottom line is that you don’t want to oversize it, because it’s going to cycle on and off more, and then you’re going to lose some of your humidity control,” Max Sherman, a Staff Senior Scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said.
If you’re cooling multiple rooms, you’re probably better off using a smaller air conditioner in each room rather than one big air conditioner for several rooms. A typical doorway makes it difficult for air to flow (Sherman referred to rooms as being “thermally separated”). To be fair, it’s more expensive to buy two small ACs than one large AC, and smaller units aren’t as efficient. But you get much more accurate climate control when you put a properly-sized machine in each individual room you need to cool.
How we picked
We focused on 8,000-BTU window air conditioners because that size tends to be the most popular at retail, implying that it’s the size that most people need. It’s the right cooling capacity for spaces between 300 and 350 square feet, roughly the size of a comfy living room or large master bedroom. To help readers in need of alternate sizes, we chose units that are available in other BTU capacities within the same core group of models. We don’t test every unit available, but we’re confident that our results apply to most other sizes in each lineup.
A second major criterion was Energy Star certification. AC units that meet this mark are cheaper to operate and generally have a higher build quality and better features than ones that don’t—so we dismissed any air conditioner that did not qualify for Energy Star 3.0 or 3.1 standards.1 After combing through the sortable, up-to-date list of qualifying models and eliminating models that we’d previously dismissed in the 2014 version of this guide, we were left with roughly 17 contenders.
Taking a close look at that list, we realized that at least ten (possibly eleven) models are carbon copies of each other, just sold under different names. They’re all made by Midea, a Chinese mega-OEM, and re-branded by Danby, Arctic King, Kool King, and other labels you’ve probably never heard of. We decided not to consider them for our main pick because their distribution is inconsistent and because their features aren’t on par with the best models.
Then we dismissed a few more models that cost too much, were often hard to find, had unremarkable features, or had some combination of those shortcomings.
That left us with a pair of finalists: First, the Frigidaire FFRE0833Q1, which was last year’s winner and is still a current product. Second, the LG LW8015ER, which is essentially the 2015 version of last year’s runner-up, the LG LW8014ER. (The older model is still widely available, so we considered it a de facto finalist, too.)
It might seem like the Frigidaire was a shoo-in at this point, since it beat out the nearly identical LG model last year. But we decided to test them again anyway, because we’ve since learned several ways to improve our testing methods. We wanted to base our 2015 recommendation on the best, most up-to-date information possible.
How we tested
After a few years of covering this category, we’ve learned that window air conditioners are very similar to each other. We’ve tested their performance in all the ways you’d think would be important, and found the results doesn’t really reveal much. What truly matters—and what distinguishes one air conditioner from another—are the basic usage details you discover once you actually live with it.
Energy efficiency, for example, is highly regulated and pretty much uniform from AC to AC if they have the same efficiency rating (measured in CEER). A representative from the Energy Star program at the EPA told us that “if you took two room ACs with the same CEER and tested them in a qualified lab according to [Department of Energy] test procedure, [the energy use] should come out the same.” We tried to test efficiency last year, and found that the results confirmed the EPA’s claim. Based on all this, we decided to cut this measurement from our procedure.
Likewise, climate control (cooling power and dehumidification) does not differ significantly between models with the same BTU rating.
Here are the differences that you’ll actually notice: ease of installation and removal, ease of maintenance, features (like a remote control or a timer or a sleep mode), operating noise, and basic details like how easily the vents can adjust to blow the air in different directions. So that’s what we looked at.
Most of our testing this year was a simulation of what a reader would find if they brought a particular model home. So we got our test units and took notes on the installation and user experience: How heavy is the thing? How loud is it? How many holes are you supposed to make in your window frame for screws? Is the remote useful? Are there any design quirks that might be frustrating for some owners?
Our noise test was the most rigorous part of our rubric, developed with the help of audio-visual expert and Wirecutter contributor Geoff Morrison. We connected a calibrated microphone to an iPhone 5S, fired up the SPLnFFT app, and set it to C-weighting with a slow response. First, we measured volume by averaging a handful of readings taken from various angles all about 6 feet away from each air conditioner (that’s as close as you should be sitting to it). We did that with the fan set to both low and high, with and without the compressor running. Then, with the fan on low and the compressor turned on, we measured the frequency of its noise output, looking for any isolated spikes in the upper midrange and high frequencies—the human ear is sensitive to those kinds of sounds, which can come across as irritating high-pitched whining or midrange whooshing.
If you’re keeping track, you might notice that we got different results in our new volume test than we did last year. Part of that, we think, is because we are now using better equipment and following clearer procedures. Another factor could be variance between each unit of a given AC model, though that seems less likely. In any case, the numbers you see in this guide are based on the data that we gathered in spring 2015.
For the second year running, the Frigidaire 33Q1 series (specifically, the 8,000-BTU model FFRE0833Q1) is the best window air conditioner for most people. It’s quieter, it’s lighter, and it’s easier to install than its competition—mostly because it weighs less, but also because you don’t need as many screws to keep all the parts in place. Some additional features also give it an edge: A temperature sensor on the remote control tells the AC how hot it is in the room, a 24-hour programmable timer helps you customize its schedule, and a sleep mode lets it gradually reduce its output overnight to save energy and keep your room from getting too cold. It’s as efficient as anything else out there, and you can find it just about anywhere that sells appliances.
Installing the 33Q1 is straightforward—and easier on all counts than our runner-up, the LG LW8015ER. The only tool you absolutely need for the 33Q1 is a Philips-head screwdriver. All the necessary screws, clips, and insulation are included in the box. You use four screws to attach a bracket rail to the top, then slide the plastic insulating accordion curtains into grooves along the sides of the machine. It took me about 30 minutes, working solo, from the time I opened the box until it was mounted in a window and ready to work.
The FFRE0833Q1 weighs about 48 pounds with the curtains attached. That’s on the lighter side for an 8,000-BTU window unit. I was able to hoist it from the floor into the window frame alone, no problem at all. I’m 6’2”, 28 years old, medium build, in decent shape with no nagging injuries or chronic pain, so you can use those stats to set your expectations accordingly. But it’s probably a good idea to have a buddy around, especially if you’re installing a bigger version of the 33Q1—the 12,000-BTU variant, for example, weighs a whopping 72 pounds.
Once the 33Q1 was in the window, I clipped the curtains to the window frame using a pair of metal hooks that came with the AC. The installation guide recommended that I lock the window and AC in place with screws, but that would’ve involved drilling 5 holes into the frame. I decided to skip that step—the AC felt totally secure in the window without those extra fasteners, so no drilling was necessary in my case. With larger versions of the 33Q1, you may need to install some exterior supports—not included—to keep the AC safely in place, so that’ll add a few minutes to your installation time. Regardless, check your local laws to make sure your window unit is legally installed.
Finally, I stuffed all the gaps with foam insulation. Frigidaire includes plenty of it with the 33Q1, and even after I stuffed the small gaps around the edges, there was still some left over. Extra foam insulation isn’t the single most important feature a window AC unit must have, but it’s a nice touch.
During our tests, we found this unit to be marginally less noisy overall than its closest competitor. At the lowest fan speed, with the compressor turned on, the 33Q1 registered 60 decibels, a comfortable level that roughly matches the volume of a conversation at an office or restaurant. With the fan at the highest setting, we recorded 66 dB, which is considered a “moderate” volume. The LG is marginally louder at both operating speeds, at 62 dB and 67 dB respectively. Despite the Frigidaire’s low decibel levels, however, we did find another possible problem with its noise—an upper-midrange whine that we’ll talk more about below.
One of the cool features that really sets the 33Q1 series apart from its competitors is a remote control with a built-in thermometer. This lets the 33Q1 take the temperature where you’re sitting, rather than wherever the unit is installed. Basically, it means the unit is aware of the temperature of the room you’re in and is responding accordingly, which means you’ll be more comfortable more of the time. While we found this feature in past Frigidaire models, it’s not available in any other affordable units we’ve seen, including the LG and GE finalists.
Like all of the air conditioners that we considered testing, the 33Q1 meets the latest Energy Star (blue badge) standards. According to Energy Guide (the yellow sticker), the 8,000-BTU version will cost about $64 to operate annually. That figure is going to vary for each owner, but compared to other air conditioners, the 33Q1 is at the lowest end of Energy Guide’s projected costs—you’ll save enough cash for a few iced coffees over the course of a hot summer.
While the 33Q1’s power draw is already relatively low, Frigidaire also tossed in some energy-saving modes to save a few watt-hours here and there. Like most air conditioners, it has a 24-hour on/off timer. It’s a one-shot clock, meaning that you can’t set a weekly schedule or program usage patterns ahead of time. But as you head out for work in the morning, you can tell it to start pre-chilling your living room 15 minutes before you plan to get home in the evening. Not bad.
There’s also a nifty sleep mode that’s unique to Frigidaire’s products (it’s not found on our LG pick). This setting gradually raises the target temperature by 4 degrees Fahrenheit over the course of an hour, sustains that warmer temperature for 7 hours, and then drops back down—right around the time you’re due to wake up. Although some user reviewers thought this made their rooms a little too warm for comfort, others thought that it was a useful feature. You can be the judge of that, though; if you think it’s too hot, you don’t have to use it.
Also important is that the 33Q1 is easy to find. The 8,000-BTU version is currently available from several major big box and internet retailers. At the time of writing, Target, Walmart, Home Depot, and Amazon have the best price of all the major retailers, tied at $239. It’s also available at Lowe’s (though without the temperature sensing remote—the model number ends with L3Q1 rather than 33Q1), Best Buy, and tons of other regional and internet retailers. This isn’t the case with all air conditioners—GE, for instance, told us last year that they concentrate their window AC stock on the East Coast because the buildings are older and less likely to already have central air.
The 33Q1 is covered by a one-year full warranty, plus a five-year warranty on the sealed system, which includes the evaporator and compressor. Frigidaire (part of Electrolux) seems to be in good shape as a company and has a strong reputation, so in the event you need to contact customer service, you shouldn’t run into any trouble.
Owners tend to like the 33Q1. We tallied up user ratings from Amazon and Google Shopping for a few variants in the series (rated for 6,000, 8,000, and 12,000 BTU), and the average score came out to about 4.12 out of 5 stars based on 268 reviews. That’s a slightly better score than the LG 14ER (which we’re using as a proxy for the newer 15ER, which has barely any reviews yet).
As we mentioned earlier, you’ll get the best results when you buy an air conditioner with the right BTU rating for the space you want to cool. We specifically tested the 8,000-BTU variant, though others are available from 5,000 BTU up to 22,000 BTU. A few things to note: The 5,000-BTU variant has a different interface than the others and gets very loud on humid days, so you might be better off stepping up to the 6,000-BTU version. But otherwise, you should be safe buying the version that’s right for your space. Here’s a handy chart with links.
|E-Star Recommended Room Size In Square Ft.||BTU||Model #||Notes|
|100 – 150||5000||FFRE0533Q1||No remote thermostat; no sleep mode; gets very loud in humidity.|
|150 – 250||6000||FFRE0633Q1||Conventional remote, without temp sensing|
|300 – 350||8000||FFRE0833Q1|
|400 – 450||10000||FFRE1033Q1|
|450 – 550||12000||FFRE1233Q1|
Long-term test notes
After two months with the FFRE0833Q1 in my bedroom window, it’s performing about as well as I could hope for. I’ve noticed a few quirks, including some that readers have pointed out in our comments section, too.
The thermostat in the remote control is not accurate—it seems to read the temperature a good 4 or 5 degrees Fahrenheit above the actual temperature of the room. For example, if you want to cool the room to 72 F with the remote sensor feature, you should set the remote to about 76 or 77 F. If you set the remote to 72 F, the AC will work to get the room super-cold—and probably run endlessly. You can get used to the discrepancy if you want to, or you can just ignore the feature altogether and rely on the thermostat on the AC itself.
Sleep mode is not for everyone. The idea is that when you’re counting sheep, you won’t notice that the temperature rises a few degrees. The problem is that (in my experience at least) it does not usually make for a comfortable sleeping environment. The thermostat setting rises by 4 degrees over the course of your first hour asleep, enough of a difference so that the both the compressor and the fan almost always shut off in the middle of the night. That can have two unintended consequences: First, if ambient temperature stays cool enough that the AC doesn’t have to cool the room anymore, the fan won’t turn back on either, and the room can get pretty stuffy. Second, if the AC does need to re-cool the room at some point, the “clunk” of the compressor cycling on and off is loud enough to wake some people up.
Personally, I’ve given up on trying to use sleep mode. On cooler nights, I turn off the AC altogether and just leave the fan running to keep the room from getting stuffy. Opening a window could work, too—your call. On hotter nights, I just leave the AC on “cool,” and set it to a temp I know it won’t reach, so the compressor isn’t clunking on and off all night (in my drafty old apartment, warm outdoor air leaks in constantly, so that’s about 70 F). Your mileage may vary on all counts.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
The biggest problem with the Frigidaire 33Q1 is the biggest problem with every room air conditioner: It’s loud. They’re all loud. And they’re getting louder! According to this Energy Star memo (page 2), manufacturers claim that it’s a side effect of stricter efficiency standards.
We mentioned that the 33Q1 runs quieter than some of its competitors, but there’s more to sound than volume, and the 33Q1 can make a few noises that some people might find tough to ignore. The 8,000 BTU model 33Q1 whines when the compressor is running, which showed up on our frequency chart as a spike around 3 kHz. Blended with the other frequencies coming from the AC, it sounds like a pack of cicadas off in the distance. After a few minutes, it faded from our consciousness, and stopped altogether when the compressor turned off.
We’re not sure this is a problem with every unit. We tested a different unit of the 33Q1 in 2014 and don’t recall a similar whine. Only one user review that we found that mentions it as a specific issue. We don’t think it’s a dealbreaker, but if you consider yourself very sensitive to sustained, high-pitched sounds, you might want to consider the LG 15ER instead. The LG is louder, but we measured a more even frequency response.
Here’s another noise issue: in very humid climates, the 33Q1 might start to sound like a small fountain. That’s the fan sloshing through a puddle of condensed water, and it’s built that way on purpose. Special tips on the fan blades sling the water onto the condenser to cool it off and help it run more efficiently. The noise gets louder as the humidity increases, because as more water condenses inside the machine the fan spins through a deeper puddle.
However, this sound isn’t limited to just the 33Q1—in fact, it’s the side effect of a clever design that pretty much all of the most efficient air conditioners today use. The LG LW14ER and LW15ER make the same noise, and we’ve read reviews for all of these air conditioners that complain the noise is too distracting to have in an office or bedroom.
Next, the air stream on the 33Q1 has very limited adjustability, as it only really blows air in three directions: forward, left, and (barely) up. It won’t really blow down or to the right. The problem is with the deflectors inside the vents. Rather than the “fin” deflectors you’d find in most small climate control systems (like your car or, y’know, almost any other air conditioners), the 33Q1 uses discs that only rotate on one axis. Most owners don’t seem to mind, but some user reviewers write that they can’t figure out how to stop it from blowing cold air at them while they’re sleeping. It is a really stupid design—if you’ve owned another Frigidaire unit recently, you may already be familiar with it. We hope you can find at least one configuration that keeps the air flow approximately where you want it.
There are a couple of other quirks with the 33Q1. The remote has a lot of buttons, which might be off-putting. The ionizing air purifier is probably pointless.
In Consumer Reports’ updated air conditioner ratings, the FFRE0833Q1 falls into the “Very Good” range of scores. But it has one of the lower scores in its testing group at 70, while the top-rated model (the GE AEM08LT) scores an 80. Some of their criteria seem only marginally relevant, like the brownout score, which will only matter if your city routinely experiences summer brownouts or blackouts. Other marks are subjective, like the ease of use score—we simply disagree with their assessment there, and that’s fine. Without more specifics on their testing procedure, scoring criteria, and how they weigh each result as part of the whole score, it’s hard to know exactly why our ratings are so different. But it is worth noting that CR has a different take than we do.
One flaw is a general criticism of window AC units: There’s no vent that opens to the outside. While that actually makes it better at cooling a room, it means you’ll need to open a different window (preferably every day) if you want to get fresh air into the house.
One last note: Compared to most items you might order through the internet, air conditioners are more prone to break during shipping if they aren’t handled correctly. Compressors are finicky like that. It’s still a very low chance that you’ll get a dud if you buy your AC online and have it shipped via UPS or FedEx. But we wanted to let you know that in our experience, this is one of those categories where buying online increases your chance of receiving a busted unit.
Our runner-up is as efficient and powerful as our main pick, with better control of air flow and a sound quality you may prefer—but it’s heavier, tougher to install, and not as full-featured.
The new LG LWxx15ER group is another great line of air conditioners. If you can’t find our pick or if you find an LG unit at a cheaper price, go for it. The specific model we tested was the $239 LG LW8015ER. This is the line’s 8,000-BTU unit, and it’s just as efficient and powerful as the same-sized Frigidaire 33Q1. Plus, LG’s design has better control over its air flow, and its compressor doesn’t give off a high-frequency whine (although it is a bit louder overall).
All the comparisons we’re making here also apply to last year’s $239 LW8014ER, which can be easier to find (for now at least). As far as we can tell, the 15ER is the same machine with a new name that meets the new DOE standards. Both LG units should be widely available this summer, and if you see either for a cheaper price than the Frigidaire, go for it.
The runner-up (last year’s model)
The same unit with a different model number, this is the one to get if it’s cheaper or easier to find than the 2015 LG, or our first pick, the Frigidaire.
First, the good: The LWxx15ER is Energy Star qualified and as efficient as any window AC you’ll find. The yellow Energy Guide sticker that comes on the front of the machine predicts that the 8,000-BTU variant will cost $63 to run per year, which is actually $1 cheaper than their estimate for the Frigidaire 33Q1—but both are at the low end of the Energy Guide spectrum, and with typical use, the difference is probably a wash.
The LG 15ER can direct its air flow in eight directions—more like the mostly accurate vent controls in a car than the half-baked vent controls in the Frigidaire 33Q1. If you have to put the AC right next to your bed or couch, this is an advantage in favor of the 15ER. But if your AC is at 6 feet away, it probably won’t make a dramatic difference for most people.
In terms of noise, we think that the LG 15ER is slightly less comfortable to sit near than the Frigidaire 33Q1, running about 2 dB louder at its lowest setting, even with the compressor off. The LG doesn’t, however, have the same high-frequency compressor whine as the Frigidaire. So on the whole, we think that the LG will fatigue your ears a bit faster—but that’d be over the course of hours, with the machine running constantly. User reviews have noted that the 14ER makes the same “fountain” noise as other high-efficiency ACs; while the LG has a removable plug that can help the baseplate drain faster, it still doesn’t cure the noise in very humid climates.
The most obvious disadvantage to the LG 15ER is installation. The top bracket rail comes pre-attached—and then every other step is at least a little bit more labor intensive than the Frigidaire 33Q1. You’ll need to screw the insulating curtains into the sides of the air conditioner. That’s 8 screws, all at odd angles. It takes time; you’ll definitely fumble with them. The 8015ER also weighs 59 pounds, 11 pounds more than the 33Q1, so it’s more cumbersome (and if you’re on the second floor or higher, more treacherous) to lift into place. Remember to lift from the knees.
Partly because of that extra weight, and partly because it’s a few inches deeper, the LG needs more exterior support. You’ll need to attach two support shims into the outer part of your window frame, and they need to be spaced out evenly—more measuring, more screwing, more hole-poking, more work overall. The 15ER even comes with less foam insulation than the 33Q1, so there’s less room for error and for filling little coverage gaps. And when it’s time to pack the AC away for the fall and winter, the 15ER’s 19.5 x 19 x 12.5-inch body takes up more space in your closet than the Frigidaire’s 18.5 x 16.5 x 12 dimensions.
We’ll put it this way: Installing an appliance is never fun. But mounting the Frigidaire 33Q1 in your window feels more like a regular chore and less like the full-on construction project you face with the LG 15ER.
Another downside (at least in our eyes) to the 15ER is that it’s missing a couple of useful features and settings that make the Frigidaire great. The LG remote doesn’t have a built-in thermometer, the temperature detection happens on the unit itself. If you sit far enough away from the unit, it might not be keeping the temperature in your armchair as cool as you like. The LG also has no sleep setting, so over the course of a summer, you’ll probably use a few extra dollars’ worth of energy compared to the Frigidaire if you’re in the habit of running the AC overnight.
For what it’s worth, Consumer Reports likes the LG 14ER more than the Frigidaire 33Q1. The LG scores a 79, good enough for second place in the category (top score is 80). As we mentioned above, we’re not sure what to make of CR’s scores because they reveal so little information about their procedure, and some of their findings contradict our test results. Owners seem to like the LG 14ER, with an average score across a few size variants and ratings outlets of 4.04 based on 389 reviews—that’s a slightly lower rating than the Frigidaire 33Q1.
What about a smart AC?
Frigidaire released a new AC mid-summer on the sly, and it has smart features. The Cool Connect FFRC0833R1 adds on Wi-Fi connectivity, but otherwise is, as far as we’ve been able to figure out, the same air conditioner as our main pick. An app lets you control the unit from across the room or across the country—anywhere with an Internet connection. The obvious use cases are turning it on during your commute home from work, or shutting it off after you’ve left for the day. It also lets you set a weekly cooling schedule, which is not something you can do through its actual, physical interface.
We’ll give this a tentative thumbs-up for now—tentative because we want to make sure the app stays reliable over time. There aren’t many reviews out yet, and we haven’t had the chance to try one. But at least one Amazon reviewer noted that the app control worked well for her. As for pricing, most days, this model is only about $35 more expensive than the “dumb” FFRE0833Q1. We’ve seen it on sale for as cheap as $250, which is a totally reasonable price—though most Sweethome staff members said that they wouldn’t spend more than that on it, at least not until there are more reviews.
Whether or not we’re sure whether you’ll find the smart Frigidaire worthwhile, it can’t be worse than the Quirky Aros, right? At the right price, it’s worth a shot if you’re interested in the app-control capabilities.
In fact, you might not even need a new smart AC to get the benefits of connectivity, thanks to a noteworthy “smart” accessory that came out earlier this summer: The tado Cooling AC controller. Its main features are smartphone control and geofencing, just like the Quirky Aros. The upside? The tado should work with any air conditioner that uses a remote—no need to buy all-new hardware when you can make your old AC less dumb. Wall-mount it within remote range of your AC (window, portable, whatever works with a remote), and it will respond to commands from a smartphone app and relay those commands to the unit via IR (just like its own remote).
Not many reviews are available yet, since it just came out in June 2015. But the few early reports are encouraging. And for what it’s worth, the company behind it made a similar and successful accessory for heating systems a few years ago, so that bodes well. We haven’t tested it ourselves, and probably won’t get a chance to do so before the summer is out. It certainly looks promising and will be watching for more feedback. That said, it’s $199, which ain’t cheap, and tado is having trouble keeping it in stock so far. A victim of its own success? Hopefully by next summer, we’ll know more.
What about a portable air conditioner?
Portable air conditioners don’t work very well. Compared to even the cheapest window unit, portables take much longer to cool a room. They cost more to begin with, you’ll spend more on energy, and you won’t be as comfortable for as long. But some people don’t have the right kind of windows to hold a window AC, so a portable AC is the only practical choice.
If that’s the case, the $369 Honeywell MN10CES is a safe bet. Our hands-on testing confirmed what we were finding in editorial and user reviews: It’s convenient to move around, the noise is tolerable, cooling performance is adequate, and dealing with its ventilation and condensation is relatively hassle-free.
At the time we were doing our research, the Honeywell was one of the few portables that didn’t totally flunk Consumer Reports’ climate control tests. They’ve recently updated their rankings, and the Honeywell now falls into the middle of the pack, though the score holds up pretty well. The top-rated model costs $600 and earns a 55 overall, while the Honeywell costs at least $200 less and earns a 48. It has a solid user rating, averaging 4.1 stars out of 5 based on 536 reviews, aggregated at Google Shopping.
Living with the Honeywell isn’t bad. Its single-hose design is easy to install and remove from a window in just a few minutes. Smooth casters make it easy to move from room to room. It’s a little bit louder than our window units, averaging around 62 dB on the lowest fan setting and producing no distracting noises that we noticed. Moisture can evaporate through the hose, so unlike some other portables, you won’t have to empty a catch-tray every few days. The price is reasonable for a portable, too. Cheaper models get poor performance scores, while higher-end models don’t seem to be any better at cooling a room. It’s available at plenty of retailers, too. If you need a portable AC right now, don’t hesitate to pick this up.
Why did we rely on Consumer Reports’ scores for portables if we’re so skeptical of their scores for window ACs? Portables aren’t regulated as closely as window units (they aren’t nearly as popular), so they can have wildly different cooling capacities even if they have the same BTU rating. For example, any 10,000-BTU window unit will cool 400 to 450 sq. ft. But one 10,000-BTU portable might cool 400 sq. ft., while another only covers 300 sq. ft. Basically, we felt like we couldn’t take any climate control claims at face value. We also don’t have the labs or equipment to test those claims ourselves. Consumer Reports is the only organization that tests portables like this, which makes them a valuable source of information.
The important thing to remember about portable air conditioners is that they’re fighting an uphill battle. All room air conditioners work by drawing warm air out of the room, absorbing heat (and moisture), and then blowing the cooler, drier air back into the room. Window units are relatively efficient because they radiate heat out through the part of the machine that’s hanging outside. Portable units, on the other hand, sit entirely indoors, so they have to re-radiate much of that heat back into the room they’re supposed to be chilling. It’s two steps forward and one step back. Yeah, the exhaust hose (which is not insulated) blows some of the heat out through the window. But the whole process takes a lot more energy—and a lot more time—to get a room comfortable than a window unit.
Portable air conditioners are so inefficient that Energy Star hasn’t even bothered to create a category for them until now. For all the energy they use, even a capable machine will struggle to get a hot room down to the threshold for comfort (about 78 degrees, as Consumer Reports measures it). There are portables that use two hoses, which should, in theory, be more effective and efficient, but that doesn’t matter much in practice—a product rep from DeLonghi even admitted to us that the second hose barely makes a difference.
We had hoped to get the chance to check out the LG LP1215GXR and Whynter ARC-12SD as possible alternatives to our pick, the Honeywell—since our original round of research, Consumer Reports updated their rankings and both of these models earned slightly better scores than the Honeywell. Unfortunately, we realized that we just don’t have the testing capabilities to really add anything to the conversation. We still think that the Honeywell is a strong pick because it’s cheaper than other portables with good ratings.
Care and maintenance
It’s pretty easy to keep a window air conditioner working properly. For starters, make sure that it’s installed properly—that is, leaning from your window at the correct angle so that any condensed, collected water can drain out of the machine. Every installation guide has this info.
Every air conditioner has a filter to block dust from getting into the important parts of the system. It’s sort of like the lint filter on a clothes dryer. It usually slides out from the front of the unit. You should clean this every month to keep air flowing properly. Most modern units (including both the models we tested) will have a light to remind you to do this after every 250 hours of use.
At the end of every cooling season, you should drain the AC by tilting the outer grill downward for about 20 seconds. Otherwise mildew can start to grow in in any leftover moisture, and your AC is going to stink the next time you use it.
Speaking of seasonality, you should really remove all of your window air conditioners before heating season begins. The gaps around the AC will leak heat, so it’s best to just shut your windows. If you’re simply not going to do that, at least cover the top of the AC with a piece of plywood. It helps stop debris from getting into the system.
What to look forward to
We expect more smart air conditioners to come out in the next few years. Even though the Aros was a huge disappointment, we spotted a clone made by Midea on display at a tradeshow in spring 2015. We haven’t seen it in the wild yet, but it can’t be long now.
And of course, air conditioners will continue to get more efficient. New Energy Star standards (Version 4.0) take effect in October 2015. The minimum efficiency requirement is getting even stricter, and there will be new requirements for installation and insulation materials—those plastic accordion curtains might be going away.
Looking even further ahead, the industry will have to make some changes to keep up with ever-stricter efficiency regulations—new refrigerants and larger evaporators, for example. Designers have just about bumped up against what’s possible with the current industry-standard refrigerant (R410A), without making the machines uncomfortably loud. Other suitable refrigerants are already available; they’re just expensive. But that’ll change in time.
We mentioned earlier that 10 or 11 of the window air conditioners we found are close copies of each other. After some poking around, we discovered that they’re all made by a Chinese OEM called Midea (you probably already have some other product in your home that was made by them). Depending on which “brand” you get, these Midea ACs can be $10 cheaper than the top Frigidaire and LG models, and they’re even Energy Star certified. We’d hoped to test one, but weren’t able to track down a unit before publishing this guide.
That said, we doubt that any of these—we found the Danby DAC080EUB2x, Arcticaire AAC080EUB2, Arctic King WWK+08CR5, Arctic King MWDCK-08CRN1-BK3, Comfort-Aire RADS-81M, Coolworks MWDCK-08CRN1-BK3, Perfect Aire 3PAC8000, SPT WA-8022S, UBERHAUS 15625000, and the Haier ESA4082 on the Energy Star certification list—would’ve been our main pick. (The ones without links here appear on the Energy Star list but aren’t currently showing up anywhere online.) Compared to the Frigidaire, Midea design is heavier and not as full-featured—there’s no remote temperature sensing, and these have a smaller control panel. And then there’s an availability issue. You can go to five big retailers and find these units sold under five different names. Why should you have to remember all those names? Also, sometimes the prices are jacked up as high as $280—definitely not worth it when there’s a better, cheaper, name-brand model out there.
We also dismissed the GE AEx08LT. A variant is the top-rated unit in Consumer Reports’ latest rankings, though as we’ve mentioned a few times, we’re not totally sold on their evaluations. It’s missing a few of the Frigidaire’s features, and in the past few years, we’ve noticed that GE air conditioners aren’t always widely available until later in the summer, a strike against the product in our opinion. A product manager from the company told us last year that at the beginning of the summer they tend to concentrate their stock on the East Coast, because the buildings are usually older and less likely to have central air systems. A new window AC tends to be the kind of thing you decide to buy in the middle of a heat wave, so if you have to wait a few days for the thing to be shipped across the country, that sort of defeats the purpose.
The Energy Star list of qualified air conditioners includes the Kenmore Elite 76083—but so far, we haven’t been able to find any other evidence that this product exists. It would be a Sears-only model, but searches for the model number internally and externally on Sears’ site come up empty. There’s a chance that it’s just the Frigidaire with a different name on it, but we can’t be sure, so we’ll pass for now.
Friedrich has a reputation as a top-quality air conditioning brand, and the Friedrich Kühl line is excellent: super quiet, super efficient, all the great stuff. It also costs $1,000 for the 8,000-BTU version. Whoa now… Even the Chill, their “budget” model, costs $500, and many user reviews complain about excess noise. And, as you’d expect from the regulations, it’s not any better at cooling a room than a $230 AC of the same rating. No thanks.
As for portables, we dismissed models from Keystone, Danby, Frigidaire, NewAir, Haier, LG, Kenmore, Whynter, Avallon, DeLonghi, Sunpentown / SPT, Idylis, Midea / Kool King, RCA, Whirlpool, Tripp Lite, and Koldfront. Most of these we dismissed for high prices or poor availability, while others had low user scores (or in a few cases, negative editorial reviews).
The Quirky + GE Aros was the most exciting new window air conditioner in decades when it first appeared, billed as a “smart” AC with a companion app that turned an iOS or Android phone into an energy monitor and remote control. Unfortunately, while the idea was great, the execution was poor (we had a long list of hardware and software problems that needed fixing after I lived with the a/c for three months), and Quirky ended up declaring bankruptcy in September 2015. It’s obviously the way of the future, but what Quirky came up with was not there yet.
Wrapping it up
Your best bet for a window air conditioner is the Frigidaire FFRE0833Q1 or whichever model in the 33Q1 series has the proper BTU rating for your space. If it goes out of stock or the price jumps, the LG LW8015ER and LG LW8014ER are great backup options. And if you can’t use a window unit and absolutely need a portable, check out the Honeywell MN10CES. Stay cool; save cash.
Staff Senior Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Phone and Email Interview, April 2015,
Energy Star Program, Environmental Protection Agency, Email Interview, April 2015,
Window air conditioner rankings, Consumer Reports, May 2015
Are portable air conditioner claims a lot of hot air?, Consumer Reports, June 2014
Room Air Conditioners Specification Version 4.0, Energy Star / Environmental Protection Agency, May 2015
Quirky's air conditioner is smart cooling at a smart price, CNET, May 2014,
Category Director, Home Comfort, DeLonghi Group, In-person interview, March 2015,
Originally published: May 21, 2015