The Best Air Conditioner
If you’re putting an air conditioner in your window this summer, it should be the Frigidaire FFRE0833Q1 ($227, Amazon, $219 without thermostat remote at Lowe’s) , or whichever version in the series fits your room. After almost 50 total hours of research and 13 additional hours of testing, we found it’s a clear winner. One of just a few affordable air conditioner lines with the latest Energy Star certification, the Frigidaires are even more efficient than the stringent new guidelines require. In fact, according to our tests, the FFRE0833Q1 was 12 percent more efficient than the runner-up and 8 pounds lighter, too. Subtle but super-clever touches—like a thermometer in the remote control and a staggered sleep mode—not only save energy, but actually make your bedroom or den more comfortable than other air conditioners can.
There's a noteworthy "smart" accessory coming out soon: The tado Cooling AC controller. Its main features are smartphone control and geofencing, just like the Quirky. The upside? The tado should work with any air conditioner that uses a remote—no need to buy all-new hardware just to 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. CNET published a great first-look article on it.
If the Frigidaire sells out, you’ll be well served by our runner-up pick, the LG LW8014ER. It too meets the new Energy Star spec at a reasonable price (around $240), but it lacks the convenient features of the remote thermometer and energy-saving “sleep mode.” It’s also not quite as efficient as our top pick. However, it’s still a good air conditioner and more efficient than most other 2014 models. The Frigidaire is just better.
What size air conditioner do I need?
The cooling power of an air conditioner is measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs). Normally, a BTU is a measurement of how much thermal energy it takes to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. But in the case of air conditioning, it’s reversed; the rating measures how much thermal energy it takes to remove from an area, and the size of the area determines how many BTU an appropriate air conditioner should use.
If your air conditioner is underpowered for a space, it’ll run constantly, hopelessly trying to get down to the target temperature. That’s a waste of energy, and your space will never be perfectly comfortable. It’s also why some window units get caked in ice and burn out their compressors much sooner than they should.
An AC unit with extra BTUs will cool your space quickly but switch itself off before the air is dehumidified, leaving behind a cold but clammy climate. Moisture is half the battle.
To avoid these problems, you need the right air conditioner for your space. It’s very easy: find the square footage of the room you want to cool, then consult this handy sizing chart from Energy Star to figure out how many BTUs your air conditioner should crank out.
For example, my living room measures about 14 feet by 10 feet. That’s 140 square feet. Energy Star says that I should use a 5,000 BTU air conditioner. Voila. All air conditioners list their BTU ratings on the box, and many will tell you how large of an area they’re designed to cool.
There are some other variables to consider, if you want to get super-accurate with your BTU rating. If the space is exposed to a lot of direct sunlight, add 10% to the number of BTU you’ll require. No sunlight? Subtract 10%. Planning on regularly having more than two people in the space at a time? Tack on an additional 600 BTUs per person. Putting your air conditioner in the kitchen? That’s an automatic 4,000 additional BTUs to compensate for the amount of heat generated by your stove and oven.
If you’re cooling multiple rooms, you’re probably better off using smaller air conditioners rather than one giant air conditioner. John, an air conditioner specialist at the Home Depot in Victoria, British Columbia told us back in 2012 that “the air just doesn’t flow properly” when one big unit tries to chill many rooms, unless there’s an open floor plan. “I mean, you can set up fans to circulate the cool air through the house, but it’s never the same. If there are people sleeping in each room, you’ll want to have multiple units,” John said.
Here’s another reason to divide the cooling responsibilities between a few small units: If you go bigger than 12,000 BTU, you’ll need a 220 V outlet, which usually means you’ll need to call an electrician. Smaller air conditioners work in any typical 120 V outlet, though it’s worth noting that you should avoid using extension cords or power strips. Air conditioners draw a lot of power—the larger ones drew over 9 amps—and, if shared with other devices, that could cause blown fuses or even fires with a poorly wired electrical system.
Which type of A/C do I need?
If you have vertical opening windows, a window unit is probably what you need. Window units are the most popular style of air conditioner in North America and generally the least expensive.
It makes sense that they’re king on this continent. They’re easy to install with just one or two people. You can take them with you when you move to a new home. You also can buy one just about anywhere. Most of these units are designed for vertically opening windows. Another type slides into a hole built into the exterior wall of an apartment—it’s really a wall sleeve, not a window, but the design is very similar. And then there are casement air conditioners, which fit into skinny, side-opening windows. Given the overwhelming popularity of the typical vertical window units, we chose to focus on them for this guide.
Finally, if you own a house with forced air heating, you might want to invest in a central forced-air system that will regulate your home’s temperature and humidity level through its existing heating ducts and vents.
How we picked
This is our third year picking air conditioners, and each time, we try to make our process more efficient. In past years, we tried to track down an expert editorial source on air conditioners to no avail. We asked salespeople for advice, and not many of those folks knew much on the topic either. Even the buying guides from editorial heavy hitters like Consumer Reports and Good Housekeeping didn’t usually do much to help. Many discontinued and out-of-stock models are mixed into their recommendations, while some of the newest models aren’t included. So instead of searching for expert and editorial leads that likely don’t exist, we jumped right into the strategy that worked best last summer: finding the best models on paper and testing them ourselves.
To start, we browsed listings at major national retailers, looking for models that are available from at least two stores. In both of the past two summers, some of our favorite A/C units have become near-impossible to find at times. In the interest of helping you find an air conditioner that you can actually buy, we limited the scope of our search to units that are (or should be) readily available.
We expected to spend hours looking for ways to whittle down the field, but it turned out to be super-simple. Of the 20 models we considered in the 8,000-BTU class, only 5 of them meet the new Energy Star criteria (our friends at Reviewed.com have a great primer on the latest Energy Star). Of that small group, one of them had been dismissed last year because it cost $90 more than our eventual pick. We dismissed another on price, too—it was a $780 window air conditioner. So we were left with three, a small enough batch to test.
The three finalists we chose are the Frigidaire FFRE08x3Q1, the LG LW8014ER, and the GE AEx08LS. (The lower-case x in the Frigidaire and GE models are wild cards; different stores sometimes carry models with slightly different SKUs, even though the machines are otherwise identical.)
Unfortunately, we were unable to track down the GE in time for testing. It’s widely available in some parts of the country but difficult to find in others. The unit closest to our testing technician and physics expert, Jim Shapiro, who lives in Boulder, Colorado, was an 80-mile round trip at the time of writing. (More on his credentials in “How we tested.”) Our associate editor Michael Zhao couldn’t find one near Portland, Oregon, either. While neither of those places are huge, they are major metropolitan areas in their respective regions, so we decided to exclude the GE based on availability issues. It can’t be the best for most people if not everyone can buy it. We learned from a GE product manager that distribution for air conditioners is regional—they concentrate most of their stock on the east coast. Buildings in that part of the country tend to be older and are therefore less likely to have central air. Demand for window units is higher. As the summer progresses, we’ll track whether the GE AEx08LS spreads westward and update accordingly. July 17 update: You can find it in stores pretty easily for a reasonable price, but it’s still $300+ online–and we don’t expect that to change for the rest of summer.
After we’d called in our finalists and began testing, Consumer Reports published test results for a handful of new 8,000-BTU models. The models on that list lined up nicely with the shortlist we had before making cuts based on price and availability. While their testing didn’t factor into any of our decisions, the similarities between our finalists makes us feel even more confident that we didn’t miss anything.
How we tested
We shipped our finalists out to one of our testing experts, Dr. Jim Shapiro. He was integral in helping us choose a space heater a few months ago, so it seemed fitting that he’d work on air conditioners as well. Jim has a Bachelor of Science in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as a Masters of Science and a PhD in mathematical physics from the University of California, Los Angeles. He’s taught geophysics at Texas A&M University, worked in the petroleum industry as a geophysicist, ran his own software and consulting companies, and has authored a pair of books: one on the inner workings of hardware we use every day but often take for granted, and a second called In Your Head that explores just how far derivations can be taken mentally, free of paper and pencil or the aid of a computer. He may not be an HVAC specialist, but he’s a pretty smart dude.
Last year’s procedures were pretty solid, so we made only a few changes this time around. The biggest one was that we cut the cooling power test. As it turns out, an 8,000-BTU air conditioner chills the air at about the same rate as any other 8,000-BTU air conditioner. Here’s what Jim ended up testing:
Ease of installation: Is it possible to install the hardware by yourself or with two people? Is it necessary to alter your home in any way to use it? Given the fact that most people will only be installing and removing their window air conditioner once a year, we didn’t put too much truck in the results of this one, but it’s a helpful data point. Jim has side-opening windows, so he did the installation test over at his neighbor’s house.
Ease of use: Are the controls on the air conditioner and its companion remote intuitive? Are features like a sleep timer or in-remote thermometer simple to understand and use?
Air flow control: Can you direct which way the cold air produced by the hardware blows?
Ease of maintenance: Is the air conditioner’s filter easy to remove and clean? Is the drip pan easily accessible?
Power usage: How much power (watts) did each air conditioner use on high?
Noise level: How many decibels did each piece of hardware produce when running on low and high settings? Additionally, was there anything special about the quality of noise produced that might make it more intrusive?
Jim conducted the tests in his home and a neighbor’s home over the space of a week and laid out the results.
Again, you need to buy an air conditioner with the right BTU rating for the space you want to cool. Any model in this line should be great; they’re available in versions from 5,000 BTU up to 22,000 BTU. Here’s a handy chart of the right model for various areas, with links.
|E-Star Rec’d Room Size Sq. Ft.||BTU||Model #||Notes|
|100 – 150||5000||FFRE0533Q1||No remote thermostat|
|150 – 250||6000||FFRE0633Q1||No remote thermostat|
|300 – 350||8000||FFRE0833Q1|
|400 – 450||10000||FFRE1033Q1|
|450 – 550||12000||FFRE1233Q1|
One of our favorite features that set the FFRE0833Q1 apart from the competition is the bundled remote control’s built-in thermometer. This lets the unit gauge its on-off cycles based on the temperature near your couch or bed, instead of the temperature right next to the air conditioner. This means more accurate readings and better comfort. 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 FFRE0833Q1 meets the new Energy Star standards, which will save you a few iced coffees of cash over the course of a hot summer. According to our tests, it’s about 12 percent more efficient than than our other E-Star–compliant finalist, the LG LW8014ER.
|Model||Compressor Watts||High-Fan Watts||Total Watts at Full Blast|
|Frigidaire FFRE0833Q1||434 W||93 W||527 W|
|LG LW8014ER||483 W||119 W||602 W|
While the 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, the FFRE0833Q1 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 get home in the evening. Not bad.
There’s also a nifty sleep mode that gradually raises the target temperature for the first hour of its cycle, sustains that warmer temperature for 7 hours, and then drops back down when it’s time to wake up. Although some user reviewers thought this got a little too warm for comfort, Jim thought it was a useful feature that he could see himself using. You can be the judge of that, though; if you think it’s too hot, you don’t have to use it.
As with most air conditioners, the compressor turns off once the room gets to temperature, then kicks back on for a few minutes when the room warms up. In Economy mode, the FFRE0833Q1 goes a step further, shutting off not only the compressor but the fan, too. It can’t save much power, but every little bit helps, we suppose. The fan kicks back on at set intervals every 10 minutes or so, because it’s an integral part of getting accurate air temperature readings. There’s an Auto setting for the fan that starts off at full speed to move newly cool air around the room and then gradually slows the air movement down as it approaches the target temperature.
Installation is straightforward. It took our assistant, a 6-foot, 4-inch high school senior, about 45 minutes to mount the FFRE0833Q1 into a window—pretty typical for a first-time installation, maybe a couple minutes longer than the LG that we tested. Most of the time was spent measuring where to screw the brackets into the windowpane and then actually screwing in the brackets and associated hardware.
Noise levels are acceptable, about the volume of a conversation in an environment like an office or restaurant. We measured 59 decibels at the lowest setting and 63 at the highest. That’s quite typical of an energy-efficient window unit.
The vents can aim air in eight directions, which is about as good as it gets. It’s always nice to be able to blow cold air right at your face when you need it and then move the breeze in a different direction when you’re tired of the frigid blast. Turning the vents all the way in either direction really cut down on the air coming straight out. Think of these like the heater/AC vents in a car: they more or less direct the air where you want it, but it’s far from perfect.
Also important is the fact that the FFRE0833Q1 is easy to find (unlike the GE we eliminated). It’s currently available at Lowe’s, Amazon, Walmart, and Best Buy. Last year’s model is still available at Home Depot, so we’d expect to see the new one pop up there when the old stock diminishes. At the time of writing, Lowe’s has the best price by far, at $219. The SKU on this model is actually FFRE08L3Q1 (the extra L stands for Lowe’s, natch), and it has two slight differences: there’s no ionizing filter (not a big deal) and it comes with a regular remote, not the remote with a built-in thermometer. If you want the fancier remote, get the FFRE0833Q1 at Amazon.
A 1-year full warranty is standard, as is a 5-year warranty on the sealed system (which basically covers all the important parts around the compressor). Frigidaire seems to be in good shape as a company and has a strong reputation, so you shouldn’t have to worry too much about getting a lemon or support vanishing.
Since this is a brand-new air conditioner, there aren’t many reviews yet. Consumer Reports published one, which we’ll get to momentarily. But for user reviews, the sample size is too small—5 reviews at Amazon—to draw any conclusions.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Generally speaking, window air conditioners have some inherent irksome traits that have held for decades. They’re all relatively loud, something that almost every internet reviewer seems to forget when they offer their impressions of a new model. There’s also no elegant way to install a window air conditioner. You’ll need to drill a hole, install a tiny, bent piece of metal to prop up the back of the unit, and shut the window onto the air conditioner and leave it there for the entire summer—otherwise, it’ll probably fall out. This is the reality of window air conditioners, and this Frigidaire is no different.
On particularly humid days, newer air conditioners including this Frigidaire might start to make a noise like a cat slurping milk from a saucer, or a pump in a fish tank. It’s the sound of the fan sloshing through a pool of condensed water. Special tips on the fan blades pick up the condensed water and sling it onto the condenser, cooling it off and helping the unit to run much more efficiently. It’s a clever design, and helps keep energy usage in check. (Initially, we were concerned that the condensed water it would just evaporate back into the room, effectively offsetting any dehumidification. But we checked with Frigidaire, and the unit is designed so that all of the condensed water—in the puddle and on the compressor—is designed to evaporate or drain to the outdoor-facing side of the machine.)
Otherwise, there are a handful of small quirks particular to the FFRE0833Q1. The remote has a lot of buttons, too many for some folks’ taste. The ionizing air purifier is probably pointless. No vents open to the outside, so it’s recirculation-only. That’s actually better for cooling a room off, though if you want to get some “fresh” air, you’ll need to open another window. And the window bracket isn’t pre-installed, so you’ll need to screw it into the top of the unit on your own, which adds about 3 minutes to the installation process.
In Consumer Reports’ updated air conditioner ratings, the FFRE0833Q1 earned an overall rating of 70. It’s the lowest score among the current test group, which includes 6 models. The top-rated model is our other finalist, the LG LW8014ER, earning an overall score of 79. All of the air conditioners in CR’s test group fall into the Very Good range of scoring.
We don’t know CR’s exact testing criteria or how they weigh each test in the overall score. Some of their tests are interesting, like brownout performance, which “gauges the unit’s ability to run and restart during extreme heat and low voltage.” That information could prevent some short-term inconveniences three or four times per summer. On the other hand, CR doesn’t consider the cost of operation. As we learned, even Energy Star-approved appliances draw different amounts of power. That’s a figure that matters all summer. We also disagree with CR’s assessment that the LG is easier to use than the Frigidaire—the LG has fewer buttons on its remote and is marginally quicker to install, while the Frigidaire has a handful of extra features. That’s a toss-up.
The CR ratings are a helpful point of data, but without more specifics on their testing procedure, scoring criteria, and weighting, we don’t put too much stock in their rankings.
If you can’t find the Frigidaire, the LG LW8014ER is a solid backup. It isn’t our top pick, because it’s larger, heavier, and less energy-efficient than the Frigidaire. It can be a little bit more expensive depending on where you’re shopping.
Minor differences aside, the LG is still one of the only name-brand, Energy Star-compliant, reasonably-priced, widely-available window air conditioners out there, so it’s an easy choice as our runner-up. Like the Frigidaire, it’s also part of a whole line of units with various BTU ratings, all of which we’d expect to perform similarly. For whatever it’s worth, it’s the highest-rated unit in Consumer Reports’ latest update, though it falls in the same “very good” range as any other model.
Why not the Aros?
The Quirky + GE Aros ($280) is the most exciting new window air conditioner in decades. It’s billed as a “smart” AC, in that a companion app turns an iOS or Android phone into an energy monitor and remote control—even when you’re away from home. When it works right, it should help save owners a few bucks over the course of a summer, and keep their homes more comfortable.
It’s a great idea, and obviously the way of the future. The story behind it is cute, too. But the Aros is a first-generation model, and Quirky needs to work out a few kinks before it becomes the kind of machine that people should consider hanging in their windows for the next 10 summers.
The first wave of user reviews of the Aros were sub-par, so we never seriously considered this machine for our top pick. But since there’s a lot of interest in it, and we’re positive there will be copycat models coming in the future, we figured it’d be worth our time to get familiar with the Aros. We got a loan unit from Quirky so that we could add some hands-on impressions.
Since we first published in early June, the average Amazon user score has not improved at all, holding steady at 3.2 stars out of 5 based on 173 ratings—more than double the number of reviews since we last checked (and that’s a ton of ratings by the standards of window air conditioners). On Quirky’s own website, the Aros scores 3.5 out of 5 stars, from 26 reviews.
Owners think that this thing is wicked loud. Sweethome contributor Peter Ha was an early adopter and told us that he found himself turning up his TV to hear over the Aros, even though the AC is a good 20 feet from where he sits. Quirky then released some professional studio recordings and decibel measurements that compare the Aros to a handful of other name-brand 8,000 BTU window air conditioners showing Aros is right in the middle of the pack, in the high-50, low-60 decibel range.
After living with it for a few weeks, it does seem pretty loud to us. We measured 64 decibels from 6 feet away, while the fan is on its lowest setting. That’s a little bit on the high side, but not unreasonable. It seems like the mid-rangey “whoosh” competes with speaking voices—the pitch and timbre are the main culprits, not so much the volume.
The LED indicators on the front panel are another sore spot for some reviewers—they’re really, really bright. A few owners note that it’s tough to sleep in the same room as the Aros because of the lights alone (much less the noise). While the first batch of Aros units don’t offer any control over the LED, Quirky told us that they’ve released a firmware fix—but a service technician will need to come manually flash it into the unit. Or, if they can’t send somebody out, they’ll accept exchanges. On our review unit, the lights only switch on for a few seconds at a time, and only when we’ve turned the machine on or adjusted the temperature. Depending on when you buy your unit, this may no longer be an issue.
Installation is totally typical for a window AC—that is, there are some misprints in the instructions, and you’ll mess up once or twice. The unit weighs more than 60 pounds, about 12 pounds heavier than the Frigidaire we recommend, so you’ll need a bit more manpower than usual to lift the thing into the window, and to hold it in place while you fit the foam strips.
Some of the design choices look sleek, but are a functional disadvantage. The flat, cloth curtains look more sophisticated than the plastic accordion flaps that most ACs use, but they leave visible gaps along the side of the unit—that’s how warm air gets in.
The software, though, has the potential to be a real upside for the interface and your energy bill. With very little effort, Quirky has shown that all air conditioners should have some kind of app control, and it doesn’t need to be a premium feature.
But there are tons of bugs, as if the software never went through proper beta testing. The execution is flawed, and as much as we want to like this thing, we just can’t recommend it.
The air conditioner and app seem to be out of sync at least half the time for us, and we have to hard-quit the app to get them back on the same page. Sometimes it forgets its last-used temp and fan-speed settings. Ry Crist at CNET couldn’t get Smart Away to work at all during his review period. For us, it worked every time—to a fault: Whenever we left the geofence (to grab a burrito, for instance), the Aros always turned on when came back, even if the AC had been off all day up to that point. The geofence range can’t be adjusted, either.
We tried the Smart Schedule feature for a week or so, but the behavior was so erratic that we just turned it off out of frustration. It’s supposed to learn your usage patterns, then run itself, sort of like the Nest thermostat. But our unit mainly turned on at full blast during unpredictable, sometimes inappropriate times of day. We asked Quirky about it, and they said our experience is “untypical,” and explained that “the Smart Schedule looks for temperature setting patterns. So if you always turn to 74 at 4pm every day, it will learn that, but it can also get deeper than that.” It monitors the local weather reports and can measure how you adjust the thermostat in relation to the outdoor temperature. “It has the potential to get really smart, and figure out your patterns, and is ever adapting.” The question is, will anybody have the patience to deal with that learning curve?
Quirky did nail a few important details. For starters, it’s super-easy to set up—the whole process took about 4 minutes. Using a phone or tablet as a remote works well (as long as you own one) because you’re much less likely to lose it than a standalone clicker. I hit the on-button from the highway to pre-cool my apartment after a particularly sweaty weekend camping. That alone made it feel like a worthwhile feature. The geo-fencing capability will save energy on its own. Just being reminded how much money you’ve spent on air conditioning in a day should help change behavior for the better.
Even without the smart features, it’s a very efficient air conditioner. The Energy Efficiency Rating is 10.9, better than the 11.3 that this year’s other leading ACs manage to pull off (including the Frigidaire we recommend). Combined with the app control, the Aros should end up using less energy than most A/Cs. It’s not Energy Star-certified, but according to Quirky, that’s only because they submitted their application too late to get it approved before AC season began.
But that little detail sums up the problems with the Aros—it was rushed. Quirky says that they only spent 29 days developing this thing, which explains all the glitches. It’s a good first attempt, but it still costs more, weighs more, and has way more bugs than our top two picks, the Frigidaire and LG models. Hold off to see what comes next.
If you absolutely can’t wait to start experimenting with a connected air conditioner, try adding the $59 Belkin WeMo Insight Switch to the AC you already have. It’s an outlet adapter with wireless connectivity and a smartphone app that mimics some of the Aros’s best functions—mainly, turning the air conditioner on and off through your phone from anywhere, and monitoring energy usage. Ry at CNET pointed out a hidden upside to us: once the summer is over, you can use it with another appliance like a space heater.
What about a portable air conditioner?
If you have the option to use a regular window air conditioner, do it. Portables are a crappy substitute. They cost more and cool less per BTU. For example, an 8,000 BTU window unit cools up to 350 square feet, but an 8,000 BTU portable only cools 200 square feet. Since the whole machine sits indoors, portables are louder. Condensation can’t drain or evaporate outside, so you’ll need to empty the drip tank by hand. And not a single model meets current Energy Star requirements—not even close. Boo. Some of you have no choice but to get a portable air conditioner, and you have our sympathies. For the rest of us, avoid these things.
It’s easy to find. It’s affordable, at least by the iffy standards of portable units. It comes in sizes from 8,000 to 14,000 BTU, which is a broader range than most lines offer. From what we can tell based on spec sheet, it’s relatively efficient. It comes with helpful features like a remote control and a 24-hour timer. And while it hasn’t been out very long, there are already plenty of solid user ratings—an average of 4.2 stars from 54 reviews at Home Depot. Older versions were well-liked, too.
The only obvious downside is that it’s a single-hose (exhaust-only) unit. In theory, dual-hose portables are better because they work more like window units: Indoor air is for cooling the room, outdoor air is for cooling the compressor. Single-hose units use indoor air for everything, so they burn energy to cool indoor air, and then end up blowing a bunch of it out through the hose.
That said, we doubt there’s much practical difference. Yeah, a dual-hose AC might save a little bit of energy. But portables are so wasteful that the savings amount to a drop in the bucket. The real issue is that the hoses are poorly insulated. Plus, there just aren’t many dual-hose models out there anymore, and they cost extra.
For now, the LG is a safe bet. Keep in mind that a portable needs more BTU per square foot than a window unit. The 8,000 BTU model cools about 200 sq. ft., the 10,000 covers 300, 12,000 does 400, and 14,000 does 500, according to this Home Depot chart.
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. 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.
For bonus points, you might want to clean the catch tray at the end of every summer, especially if you live in a very humid climate. Mildew can grow in the tray (as it could in any stagnant water), and your air conditioner might develop an unpleasant musty scent. In the spring, wipe away any dust that might’ve gathered in the catch tray while it was in storage. If soggy dust gets picked up by the slinger fan, it can clog up the system and block air flow.
What to look forward to
There’s an especially noteworthy “smart” accessory coming out soon: The tado Cooling AC controller. Its main features are smartphone control and geofencing, just like the Quirky. The upside? The tado should work with any air conditioner that uses a remote—no need to buy all-new hardware just to 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. CNET published a great first-look article on it.
We’d previously mentioned that we dismissed the GE AEM08LS (also known as the AEN08LS and AEH08LS) because it isn’t widely available. Consumer Reports rated it, and the score is right in the wheelhouse of the other models. The most significant downside is the noise at the highest setting, according to CR. If it becomes more widely available, we’ll take another look at it.
We also looked at two models from the Friedrich brand. These are high-end, well-made air conditioners, but they are also heavy and fairly expensive. The lower-end Chill costs $340, which isn’t outlandish. But aside from moderately lower noise levels, it doesn’t have any clear edge over our top pick. Then there’s the fancy Kuhl model, which is super efficient, super quiet, and super expensive, at $786. That’s out of most folks’ price range.
We briefly considered 15 other models that were available at at least one big box store, but dismissed them all outright, because they are not Energy Star certified. C’mon guys! The offenders: GE AEx08LQ, Whirlpool ACQ088GPX, Danby DAC8011E, Frigidaire FRA082AT7, Frigidaire LRA087AT7, Arctic King WWK-08CRN1-BJ8, Hanover HANAW08A, Hanover HANAW08A, LG LW8012ER, LG LW8012ERJ, RCA RACE8001, Sunpentown WA-8011S, and Kenmore 79081.
Wrapping it up
Your best bet for a window air conditioner is the Frigidaire FFRE0833Q1 or whichever model in its series has the proper BTU rating for your space. Stay cool; save cash.
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Air Conditioners , Consumer Reports
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Great idea, Cool design, needs some tinkering, Amazon (review), May 7th, 2014,