Best Air Conditioners

If you’ve got a small to medium-sized room you want to keep cool this summer, you should buy a LG LW8012ER 8000 BTU Air Conditioner.

ARCHIVED: July 25, 2013
These are our picks from last year, but we have new favorite air conditioners now.
Expand Previous Updates
May 29, 2013: We'll have a new AC pick in 2 weeks as soon as we finish testing the hardware we think looks the most promising. In the meantime, if you can't stand the heat, here's what we're testing: Frigidaire AC FRA086AT7Kenmore 79081Friedrich CP08G10LG LW8012ER, Sunpentown WA-1211SFrigidaire FRA126CT1 and the LG LW1212ER. Again, we haven't tested this hardware yet, so buy with caution. Or you know, wait for us to finish our testing.
July 24, 2012: Updated July 24, 2012:We've heard from a number of readers that with a summer heatwave in full effect, our picks for an 8,000 and a 12,000 BTU window air conditioner are sold out in many areas. So, here's some alternates: the Fridgidaire FRA086AT7  can be found at Amazon and Walmart stores nation wide for $199. At $319, the Fridgidaire FRA126CT1 makes a fine replacement for the 12,000 BTU LG, LW1212ER. It can be found at Walmart and at Amazon too. They don't offer the LW8o11ER's or the LW1212ER's awesome five-year warranty, but either one will keep you cool and happy).

Priced at $219, it offers a great combination of features, a five-year warranty and enough power to easily cool a 225 − 350 square foot space with some people in it.

If you’ve got a medium to large sized space you want to drive the temperature down in, you should think about stepping up to a 12000 BTU unit like the LG LW1212ER 12000 BTU Air Conditioner. It’ll keep a space up to 550 square feet cool for $319.

Why am I recommending two different air conditioners to you? Well, air conditioning is a complicated technology.  What I found over 15 hours of research, is that what works for one room or house may not be a good solution for another. If a fan just isn’t cutting it for you, here’s what you’ll need to know in order to stay cool this summer.

KINDS OF AIR CONDITIONERS

I started my research by learning about all the different kinds of air conditioners were out there. If you own a house with forced air heating, you might want to invest in a central forced-air system that will regulate your house’s temperature and humidity level through it’s existing heating ducts and vents.  You could go with a split/ductless unit: that’s an air conditioner with a compressor that sits outside of your house, pumping dry, refrigerated air inside through pipes. Some apartments come with a hole built into their exterior wall for installing a sleeved wall air conditioners into. In many condos and apartments, renters and owners are forbidden from installing an air conditioner that can can be seen from outside the building, and sometimes, people need to cool rooms that don’t have windows, like basements. For them, a portable air conditioner is the way to go. Wheel it into the room you want to cool, plug it in and turn it on. (Although you still have to vent them somehow.)

Finally, there are models you can install in a window. They’re by far the most popular style of air conditioner in North America and on the whole, the least expensive. They’re also the style of air conditioner that we’re going to focus on here.

It makes sense that window air conditioners are 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. Walk into Target or a Walmart, and you’ll find them at the front of the store during the summer, often priced low enough that they could almost be considered a hot weather impulse buy.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

When you’re shopping for an air conditioner to install in your window, there’s a number of things you should look for to make sure you’ll end up with a quality piece of hardware.

  • How many decibels an air conditioner generates when it’s running is an import factor to consider, especially for anyone planning on installing it in their bedroom or living room. If you can’t sleep or hear your TV for the noise your air conditioner makes, you’re trading one kind of discomfort for another.
  • You’ll likely want it to have digital controls too. Going digital allows for a number of useful features a remote control and an adjustable timer for turning your air conditioning off in the morning after you’ve gone to work and back on in time to cool your home before you return home at the end of the day.
  • Airflow control’s important—especially in small spaces like a bedroom. Not being able to stop cold air from blowing on your face while you’re trying to sleep sucks.
  • Finally, to save money and the environment, you’ll want your air conditioner to be Energy Star compliant.

I was surprised to find how little the people selling air conditioners at places like Walmart, Sears, and even Home Depot knew about them. Specialty shops proved more knowledgeable, but a hell of a lot less friendly than their chain store and big box counterparts. It took me three store visits and seven phone calls before I discovered John, an employee at the Home Depot in Victoria, British Columbia who was willing and capable of teaching me a little bit about how to cool my home. I asked John a question that I’d not been able to find a sound answer to online: whether a person who wanted to cool their home with window air conditioners would be better off with one large window air conditioner, or a number of smaller units installed throughout the house.

“From experience, unless you’re cooling a large open area, you can only depend on a window unit it to cool that one area,” John explained. “So one for each room would be better. The air just doesn’t flow properly. I mean, you can set up fans to circulate the cool air through the house, but it’s never the same. If there’s people sleeping in each room, you’ll want to have multiple units.” When I asked John about what brands he liked, he said that he didn’t really have a preference, as “the quality varies from year to year, model to model”. He offered that Home Depot’s sold LG, Haier, and Danby air conditioners in recent years. Most of them have come with similar feature sets,  BTU ranges and similar warranties.

I also asked John about what the threshold was for window air conditioners being able to be powered without having to rewire your house, as I wanted hardware that could run off of 120 volts to be my threshold for recommendations. He confirmed what I had already discovered for myself: 120 volt units typically max out at 10000 − 12000 BTUs. That’s enough to cool an area between 350 and 550 square feet. any more BTUs than that, with rare exceptions, and you’ve got some electrical work in your future. Any more and you have to get an electrician to run a high voltage plug to your AC, which kind of defeats the purpose of a window AC.

Generating 8000 BTUs, The LG LW8012ER’s  is perfect for cooling spaces between 225 − 350 square feet. That’s about a 15′ x 15′ sized bedroom that’ll sleep two in a queen size bed and have room for a dresser and small bookshelf, or a good sized home office.

In order to install it, the window you want to put it in needs to be a minimum of 23”x 37” in size. Most windows in houses and apartments are larger than that, so you should be good to go. It weighs 63 pounds: That sounds heavy, but it’s still svelte enough to manhandle into place for most people, and lighter than many other air conditioners in the same BTU range. The LG LW8012ER’s  is a 115 volt device: just plug its six-foot long power cord into the closest electrical outlet and cool down. It’s digital controls are manipulated via touch pad and remote.  They’ll let you tinker with the air conditioner’s   12 hour timer, three fan speeds and three cooling levels. To make sure all that cold air is pushed out in the direction you want it, the LW812ER has four-way air deflectors. It’s also Energy Star Compliant, so you can rest easy in the knowledge that you’re using as little power as possible to stay cool. It’ll even start back up automatically after a power outage, ensuring that your room’s temperature is always maintained. Perhaps best of all, it has a five-year manufacturer’s parts and labor warranty—an important feature that sets the LW8011ER apart from every other air conditioner in the same BTU class and price range that I was able to locate.

There aren’t a lot of comparative editorial reviews of air conditioners available online. However, I was able to find some very positive feedback on the LG LW8011ER.

The frugal editors at Cheapism liked the LW8012ER, saying “The LG LW8011ER garners complaints about noise, but we didn’t find any air conditioner its size that doesn’t. Consumers and experts alike seem to consider this AC a smart purchase”.

Consumer Reports rated the LW8012ER a 75 out of 100. That’s great, considering their that their highest rated air conditioner only earned an 82 out of 100.

People that bought the LW8012ER liked it too. Tim Flavere bought his LW8012ER from Amazon, commenting that he “…bought it Sunday, got it Tuesday and put it in the window in less than an hour. The room is cold, there is no vibration as some others have complained and it’s not exactly whisper quiet on full speed but who would expect it to be?” Another Amazon user calling him/herself Chemdoc said “Sizing calculations said I need an 8,000 Btu unit for a 16 x 16 room. In fact, the unit will cool this poorly insulated room from 95+ degrees to 72 degrees within 2 hours.” J Jensen liked it too, and said “There might be quieter air conditioners in the world, but this was a huge improvement over the swamp cooler I had before! Even when it’s running it doesn’t seem to be too loud, but I’m sure someone in the world would complain about it. It helps de-humidify my house and keeps the rooms in my house cooler.”

Not everyone likes it though. Some users who posted reviews to Amazon complained that the LW8012ER was just too loud. As it churns out 53 decibels when it’s operating, that’s a valid complaint. However, every  other window air conditioner I looked at was almost as loud, if not louder. There were also complaints that the air conditioner switched on and off every three minutes, and had difficulty cooling the room it was installed in. I feel for the people having this issue, but, as I’ll explain later in this piece, the problem likely stems from the air conditioner being over powered for the space it’s been installed in. You can’t fault the hardware for a mistake like that.

If noise is a deal breaker for you, you might want to look at the  Friedrich Kuhl  SS08M10. It pumps out 7900 BTUs of cooling power, and thanks to its vibration-isolating design and steel inner walls, it’s whisper quiet compared to units like the LW8012ER which cranks out about  55 – 60 decibels while operating. It also features, a 7-day programmable thermostat, 24 hour timer, and patented ‘Comfortwatch’ technology that samples the air to maintain a more constant temperatures than a simple thermostat can manage. It looks sharp to too, but it’ll set you back $916. That’s way too much to spend on hardware that most of us only need for a months of the year, especially when something that sells for a quarter of the price will do the job just as well.

With one of the worst heat waves in recent memory in currently in full swing, finding the LW8012ER has proven difficult for some. Available from Amazon as well as online and in-store at Walmart, the Fridgidaire FRA086AT7 doesn’t come with the LG LW8012ER’s five-year warranty, but at $199, it’s a decent alternative to the LG. An 8,000 BTU unit, the FRA086AT7 offers automatic restart, a remote control, low voltage start up, is Energy Star certified, has eight way air flow control and an easy to clean antibacterial mesh filter.

The Sharp AF-S85RX is an 8000 BTU unit that you can find at Home Depot for $242. It has a feature set that rivals the LW8012ER’s and the price is in the same ball park too. When running indoors, it produces 53 decibels of noise—one decibel less than the LW8011ER. However, it’s warranty only covers parts and labor for one year compared to the five-year all-in warranty offered by LG.

General Electric’s AEW18DQ is rated to cool the same amount of space as the LW8o12ER, but it only costs $219.  However, a lot of owners have complained online about the amount of noise the unit makes. I checked GE’s website and Home Depot for the unit’s decibel rating and found that neither listed it. Whether it’s louder or quieter than the Lw8012ER is a mystery.

A MORE POWERFUL AC FOR A LARGER ROOM

The LG LW1212ER perfect for cooling mid-sized to larger rooms.

Like I mentioned at the start of this story, I’ve got a recommendation for anyone looking to cool a mid-sized to large sized room too: The LG LW1212ER. It’s the LW8012ER 12000 BTU-packing big brother. It’ll cost you $319 at Home Depot. It’s perfect for cooling spaces between 350 and 550 square feet, making it a good choice for anyone that wants to air condition a modestly sized living room that routinely plays host to four or five people (we’ll talk about why the number of people in a space is important in a bit).

Like the LW8012ER, the LW1212ER can be plugged into most existing wall sockets, has four-way air flow control, three cooling and fan levels, a remote, can restart automatically after a power outage and rocks both digital controls and a 12 hour timer. Most important of all, it comes with the same 5 year parts and service warranty as the 8000 BTU LW8011ER  does, and it only costs $60 more. If matching the size of the space to the BTU output of your air conditioner wasn’t important, I’d pick the LW1212ER as my overall champion, but air conditioning tech just doesn’t work that way, so here we are. Aside from their BTU output, there are a few minor differences between the LW8011ER and the LW1212ER. For starter, the 12000 BTU weighs 21 pounds more than its 8000 BTU sibling. It’ll also take up a few more inches in your window:23 5/8″ x 15″ x 22 1/6″ to be exact.

I’d like to share some editorial comments for the LG LW1212ER with you, but there are even fewer professional reviews are available for air conditioners in the 10000 − 120000 BTU range than there were for 8000 BTU units. That said, I can provide you with a few customer testimonials. A Home Depot shopper from Arkansas named Skaggs reported that the LG LW1212ER provided “Instant COLD air!!! After about 4 hours it easily cooled 500 sq. After about 8 hours….FREEZING! Had to turn it down!”

Another shopper Home Depot with the handle of Goose Guy wrote “Though I have not seen an energy bill since installing this unit, I have seen a marked difference in the run time vs the older unit I had. Much quieter, less vibration & the remote control is a great feature. I’m getting 2000 more BTU rating for basically the same amperage.”

Despite it’s ability to rapidly cool down a large area, a few people that invested in the LW1212ER had some valid complaints, the most prominent of which concerning the air conditioner’s lousy installation instructions. The complaint of the air conditioner making too much noise—an issue that haunts most window mounted air conditioners—was mentioned multiple times as well in a number of online customer reviews.

For $10 more, the Fridgidaire FRA126CT1 is a fine alternative to the LW1212ER.  It’s offered online at Amazon (but they’re selling faster than poop through a goose) for $330, as well as online and in-store at Walmart for $339. Like the LW1212ER, the FRA126CT1 is a 12,0000 BTU air conditioner. It offers eight-way air direction controls, a remote control and clean air ionizer and a built in 24 hour on/off timer. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with LG’s five year warranty.

For about $55 less, you can pick up a Haier ESA410K from Walmart. It’s a 10000 BTU unit that’ll cool you off a little slower than the 120000 BTU LG, but can still get the job done without being underpowered. It weighs 19 pounds less than the LW1212ER does. That said, the Haier only offers two-way air flow control, and a one-year warranty, so we’d pass on it.

LG makes a 12000 BTU unit too—the LW1012ER. For $292, you’ll get the same feature set as seen in the other LG air conditioners. However, for reasons only known to LG, the LW1012ER only comes with a one-year parts and service warranty. For that reason alone, I’d say it’s worth avoiding.

HOW TO FIND OUT HOW MUCH COOLING POWER YOU NEED FOR YOUR ROOM

I know that there’ll be a lot of people reading this story that aren’t served by either of the air conditioners I’ve recommended here. Maybe your place is too large for them. Maybe it’s too small. In either case, I’ve got you covered.

Let me tell you how to shop for an air conditioner that’ll suit your needs, no matter what size of an area you need to cool.

The cooling power of an air conditioner is measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs). In order for an air conditioner to run the way it’s designed to, you’ve got to match the number of BTUs to the square footage of the area you want it to cool. If your air conditioner’s underpowered for the space you’ve installed it in, it’ll be forced to work constantly in order to cool the air around it. This can lead to the hardware becoming caked in ice, or worse burning out its compressor in short order.

If your air conditioner cranks out too many BTUs for the area it’s designed for it’ll switch off before the entire space is cooled. This is because the thermometer inside of the air conditioner measures the temperature of the air being drawn past it in order to decide when to cool the room. An AC unit that pushed out a huge amount of BTUs in a small area will cool the area around it before the cool air has time to distribute itself evenly, and then switch off without cooling the rest of the room down. You don’t want that either. To avoid these problems, you need to approximately match the number of BTUs an air conditioner can produce to the square footage of the area you want to cool. All air conditioners list their BTU rating on the box. Many will tell you how large of an area they’re designed to cool. If you’re unsure of your home’s measurements, measure the size of the room you want to install AC in and convert it to square feet.

Once that’s done, you can turn to any of the handy online BTU-to-square footage guides available on the Internet to get come up with a figure. I like the one offered by the appliance mongers at AJ Madison:

Image courtesy of AJ Madison

Once you’ve calculated the number of BTUs you’ll need, there’s other variables to factor in as well. If the space is exposed to a lot of direct sunlight, add 10% to the number of BTUs 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 6000 additional BTUs to compensate for the amount of heat generated by your stove and oven.

Above all else, the best advice I can give you if you’re buying an air conditioner is to be patient.  I know it’s getting hot out there, but take the time to determine your needs and shop accordingly—you’ll be happier, and very likely a whole lot cooler in the end.

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Sources

  1. LG LW8011ER 8000 BTU Air Conditioner at Amazon
  2. LG LW8011ER 8000 BTU Air Conditioner at LG
  3. Editorial Staff, LG LW8011ER Review, Cheapism.com, June 10, 2011
    "Users praise this Energy Star unit for its cooling performance, although some say it could be quieter. It's backed by a five-year in-home warranty on parts and labor".
  4. Ed Kick, LG 8000, Amazon, June 26, 2011
    "Now on my second season and runs very well. Temps over 100 everyday now an this unit cycles on an off as needed. No fan noise as other reviewer had stated. They can be damaged in shipping but mine worked better than expected out of the box. Easy install an this unit replaced a GE that only lasted 3 seasons. Highly recommend an the energy star rating is just a big plus".
  5. John Burrows, Works Great- A Great Bargin, Amazon, May 26, 2012
    "We are in the middle of a hot and humid weekend and this unit will turn a 400 sq. ft. room into a meat locker if you set it to 60 degrees. It is 94 outside and 65 inside. This on the f2 setting which is medium. I have had the unit almost a year and it saves $$ big time over the 16 year old Kenmore it replaced. Installation is pretty much the same as other window units. I love the timer since the unit is on the second floor and I can set it to turn on automatically an hour or two before bedtime".
  6. Morgan Smith, Keep Cool in the Summer!, Amazon, October 16, 2011
    "I bought this from one of the home improvement stores this past spring in preparation for summer and it's been a life saver. I could have gotten away with slightly fewer BTU's, but this particular AC called to me after comparing it to the rest. I have this unit placed in a window literally a foot away from my head and it hasn't disturbed a moment of sleep, but allowed countless hours of it in comfortable, cool air".
  7. WTK, Good A/C, Amazon, August 24, 2011
    "Bought this unit because our old 5000 BTU wasn't able to keep up with the blistering heat we have had this summer. LG 8000 BTU has proven up to the task, cooling not just our pretty large bedroom, but also the stairs and hallway".
  • Ken Kozak

    I’m looking for a standing air conditioner, as It’s for a basement and I can’t mount it in a window. Any recommendations?

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      I will forward this along. If you ever have any suggestions, you can always send them to notes at thesweethome dot com

      • Ken Kozak

        Thanks Tony!

        • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

          You are most welcome!

  • http://www.sparksmonroe.com/heating.php Air conditioning installation

    Good post, This post clears myview about Air Conditioning Installation Rochester NY.

  • Madeline

    I’m looking for a 9 1/2 inch in height window unit. The rental i moved into recently has small windows. My units do not fit at all. The windows in the bedrooms open 10 inches… Oh what a conundrum…. Any suggestions please?

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      I don’t believe we recommend any ‘vertical’ models – and here is our updated guide

      http://thesweethome.com/reviews/the-best-air-conditioners/

      • Madeline

        Thanks. But I wasn’t contemplating on verticals… I was more interested in finding out about the slimline models? Any thoughts? My windows are REALLY small… Only two out of 2,400 square feet of living space can fit a ‘small’ 5,000 BTU unit… -_-

        • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

          Well we added options for portable units. Would this help?

  • blackbirdwhistling

    Would you guys be able to review the Aros from Quirky? (https://www.quirky.com/shop/752#.) Most air conditioners are so hideous, the design-minded amongst us are desperate for better options!

    • Michael Zhao

      We are working on getting a unit, but based on the information we have from other sources, it’s probably not going to be our top pick. We already talk about it in this guide though. Please read it if you’re looking to learn more.

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      Thanks!

  • Marco

    What are my options if I have a 40″ wide window? Despite your not so great review of the Quirky Aros and the fact that I don’t need an 8000 btu conditioner, I’m considering it because it’s one of the only air conditioners I’ve found that will accomodate such a wide window…