The Best Air Conditioners (2013)

If I still lived in a part of the country where the heat and humidity were unbearable during the summertime, I’d buy a $239 Frigidaire FRA086AT7. It proved to be the best window air conditioner for cooling a smallish room out of everything we tested, thanks to its excellent balance of price, cooling power, features and relatively quiet operation.

If you’ve got a medium- to large-sized space in which you want to drive the temperature down, you should think about stepping up to a 12,000 BTU unit like the Frigidaire FRA126CT1. It’ll keep a space up to 550 square feet cool for $365.

Why am I recommending two different air conditioners to you? Well, air conditioning is a complicated technology. What I found over 20 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.

Who’s this for?

Anyone living in an area of the country where the heat and humidity is oppressive enough to lower your quality of life. And let’s be honest, that’s most of us.

Kinds of Air Conditioners

I started my research by learning about all the different kinds of air conditioners available. 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 its existing heating ducts and vents.

You could also go with a split/ductless unit: that’s an air conditioner with a compressor that sits outside of your house. The compressor sends liquid coolant under pressure through a small pipe and is then sprayed on to an evaporator inside of the house. Under less pressure, the coolant transforms into a gas. The coolant gas chills the air around it the air conditioner’s condenser coils. This cooler air is pushed it out into your home with a fan. The gaseous coolant is then transported under pressure via another pipe back to the compressor, where it is transformed back into a liquid once more. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Some apartments come with a hole built into their exterior wall for hold a sleeved wall air conditioners. In many condos and apartments, renters and owners are forbidden from installing an air conditioner that can can be seen from outside the building. 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 outside, usually through a window.)

Finally, there are models you can install into 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 inexpensively enough that they could almost be considered a hot weather impulse buy. But don’t do it: At least not until you know a few things about how to buy one the right way.

How to Find Out How Much Cooling Power You Need For Your Room

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). Normally, one 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, things work a little differently. The BTU output of a piece of AC hardware is a measurement of how much heat energy an air conditioner can remove from an area. So for example, an 8,000 BTU air conditioner can remove 8,000 BTUs of thermal energy from the area it’s installed in.

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.

This is what you do:

  1. 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.

  2. You’ll need to calculate the number of BTUs needed to cool the size of room you have. For example, when we looked to writing our air conditioner recommendations, we decided on two room sizes to match hardware to: a small 350-square-foot room and a 550-square-foot room using a handy sizing chart like the one provided by the green-minded folks at Energy Star, we were able to determine that in order to cool 350 square feet of space, we needed an 8,000 BTU air conditioner. 550 square feet? That requires 12,000 BTUs of cooling power. If you’re trying to cool a 1,200 square foot finished basement, you’ll need 21,000 BTUs. You get the idea. You’ll find similar guides to the one posted by Energy Star all over the Internet. But I like Energy Star. They’re not trying to sell you anything.

  3. Once you’ve calculated the number of BTUs you’ll need, there are 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 6,000 additional BTUs to compensate for the amount of heat generated by your stove and oven.

What Else to Look For

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

It should be quiet. 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 like a remote control, accurate temperature readings and control as well as  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 place down before you return home at the end of the day.

You should be able to choose which direction it vents cold air into your room.  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, it should be Energy Star compliant. Seriously, I shouldn’t even have to explain this. We’ve only got one planet, and it’s already royally screwed up. The very least we can do for the Earth is to try and limit our energy consumption, especially on something as relatively indulgent as air conditioning.

There Are Very Few Sources for Air Conditioner Reviews

This is the second year in a row I’ve attempted to track down an expert editorial source on air conditioners, and the second time that I’ve been disappointed by discovering that there are none. Even The Wirecutter’s testmaster Richard Baguley was stumped on who we could talk to for this piece, and he’s been involved in hardware testing and tech journalism since 1983.

The people that sell air conditioners weren’t much help either. I was surprised to find how little the people selling air conditioners at places like Walmart, Sears, and even Home Depot knew about them.

Last year, 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 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 are 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 has 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 power threshold was for window air conditioners without having to rewire your house, as I wanted hardware that could run off of 120 volts. He confirmed what I had already discovered for myself: 120-volt units typically max out at 10,000-12,000 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. you’ll have to get an electrician to run a high voltage plug to your wall, which kind of defeats the purpose of a window AC, which is supposed to be portable—or at least removable.

That said, almost all of the units had a warning that read something like, “Do not use an extension cord or an adapter plug.” Ideally, the air conditioners should be the only thing on an individual fused circuit, because they 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 system.

What About Buying Guides?

One of the first things I did when I was looking to update this piece for 2013 was to check the Internet for any updated buying guides. Consumer Reports (subscription required), whose buying guide proved to be insanely helpful to me last year, released an updated version of their air conditioner buying guide in the June 2013 edition of the print magazine. Unfortunately, I found that the updated version of the guide contained a lot of older hardware. For example, two of the air conditioners CR recommends—the LG LW8010ER and the LG LW1210ER—were both manufactured in 2010, and are no longer  in production. Another air conditioner on the updated list, the Frigidaire FRA106CVI, was chosen as a top pick. But when I went to find out more about it, I discovered that the hardware is no longer listed on the company’s site, leading me to believe it’s most likely been discontinued.

Other buying guides, like the one published by Good Housekeeping, proved to be just as outdated and yielded no buying suggestions.  That said, even an outdated guide can provide you with a bit of insight into which brands, year after year, have turned out AC hardware that performs well. There are also tons of click bait sites out there that’ll try to convince you that every air conditioner under the sun is worth buying. Those took some time to wade through as well.

Because I didn’t have any reliable up-to-date editorial reviews to look at for this piece, it was decided, after talking it over with my editors, that we’d purchase hardware to test this year. All I had to do was figure out which pieces of hardware we should take a look at.

What We Tested

In lieu of an up-to-date buying guide from an outside reputable source to fall back on, I looked at which brands had performed well over the past few years: LG, Frigidaire, Kenmore, Samsung, Sunpentown, Friedrich, Danby, York, Maytag, Honeywell, Westinghouse, and General Electric. They were all champs that earned praise in buying guide reviews and from regular folks like you and me after buying them.

Next, I cross referenced those brands with the most popular models on sites like Sears, Walmart, Target, and Home Depot. Looking for potential candidates to test in the 8,000 BTU and 12,000 BTU capacities, I looked at over 30 models and did close to 25 hours of research before whittling the list down to four 8,000 BTU units and three 12,000 BTU units from LG, Frigidaire, Sunpentown, Friedrich, and Kenmore.

Who Did The Testing?

Remember how I said that most of us live in parts of the country where the summer heat and humidity are terrible enough that life could be made more bearable by buying an air conditioner? Well, living in British Columbia, Canada, I don’t fall into that group. The weather here’s wicked agreeable all year round. (But we’re due for a massive earthquake anytime now, so we’ll get what’s coming to us eventually.)

Richard Baguley, our testing expert, isn’t so lucky. He lives near Boston, Massachusetts. It’s cold and damp there in the wintertime and it gets stupid hot and muggy as soon as summer hits. As Richard also happens to have 20 years of hardware testing experience and was instrumental in setting up the test labs for Reviewed.com, everyone on staff agreed that he’s the perfect choice to take our air conditioners for a spin.

How We Tested

After noodling it out via email, Richard and I agreed that he’d be testing the following for each air conditioner:

  • Ease of Installation: Is it possible to install the hardware by yourself, or with two people? Is it necessary to alter your home in anyway 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.

  • 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?

  • Airflow Control: Simply put, 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?

  • Cooling Power: How quickly could each air conditioner cool down our test area in an hour’s time on high? We also looked at how well can each air conditioner maintain a room’s temperature over the space of an hour.

  • Power Usage  How much power (watts per hour) 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?

Richard conducted the tests in his home over the space of a week. In order to ensure the most consistent test conditions possible, Richard regulated the humidity of his home with a humidifier. There was no need to bring a dehumidifier into the mix, as air conditioners remove the humidity from the area they’re operating in as part of their regular operation.

Test Results

Richard quickly discovered that there was very little difference in the speed at which the 8,000 BTU and 12,000 BTU air conditioners he was testing cooled our test area. For example, the LG LW1212ER (12,000 BTU) and the Kenmore 79081 (8,000 BTU) shared very similar results for temperature reduction (an average of 4.4 and 4.1 degrees Fahrenheit reduction per hour respectively). Their ability to maintain the temperature of the test area was also similarly close. This proved to be the case with all of the air conditioners we had chosen for testing. The same goes for power consumption.

What does this mean? Well, a couple of things.

First, you’re likely not going to cool your living room or bedroom down any faster by buying a piece of hardware that’s rated for a large square footage than the area you’re putting it in. Warm, humid air can only be sucked into an air conditioner and then pumped back out after passing over the hardware’s condenser coils so fast. So you may as well buy a piece of hardware that’s rated for the size of the room you’re using it in. Doing so will ensure that you’re not spending more money than you need to, and perhaps more importantly, will make sure that your air conditioner actually works the way that it was designed to. 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.

So How Did We Choose?

With Richard concluding that the statistical data we were getting from our quantitative tests on things like cooling power, temperature maintenance and power usage was too similar to make it much use in choosing which air conditioner we should recommend, we agreed that the deciding factor for what makes a winning piece of hardware would have to be culled from the qualitative observations he was making: How much of a pain in the ass it was to install and use, how loud each air conditioner was, whether it allows for decent control of airflow, the hardware’s build quality, and its price.

An Air Conditioner For a Small Room

 FRA086AT7

If you need to cool a space up to 450 square feet in size, you should buy the $239 Frigidaire FRA086AT7. Of all of the hardware I researched and that Richard tested, it proved to have the best combination of price, power, ease of use and features.

The FRA086AT7 also comes equipped with a remote which, in addition to allowing you to control the lion’s share of the air conditioner’s functions from the comfort of wherever you’ve opted to flop your carcass down, also has a built-in temperature sensor. This helps to ensure that the AC won’t turn off until the area around the remote, as opposed to around the air conditioning hardware, is as cool as you want it.

Like all of the air conditioners we tested, when matched to the correct room size, it’ll get the job done. The FRA086AT7 is an 8,000 BTU air conditioner. That’s enough cooling power to suck the heat out of spaces up to 350 square feet in size, which makes it perfect for a master bedroom or say, a den, or a small living room.

It’s easy to install. Sized at 18.2” x 21.5” x 14.8”, the FRA086AT7 is small enough to fit into most windows. It weighs 35 pounds–that’s an average weight for an air conditioner in its BTU class. That means that it can be lifted into place by one person, or if you’ve got a buddy that’s willing to give you a hand, two. Frigidaire ships the FRA086AT7 with a set of rails and plastic curtains designed to help you seal off the window that you’re installing the air conditioner in. Set up the curtain frame in the window,  drop the air conditioner into place, slide the curtains closed against the side of the air conditioner and screw them into place. That’s it. Richard found that once the FRA086AT7 was settled, it sat at a better angle than the other 8,000 BTU hardware he tested, balanced comfortably in his window frame. You’ll also like the fact that the FRA086AT7 can be plugged into a standard grounded electrical outlet. So there’s no need to modify your home in order to cool the joint down. Just bring it home, install it and enjoy.

It’s designed to be versatile. The FRA086AT7 comes with vents that can be directed in eight different directions. This ensures that you’ll be able to blast the cold air that’s pumping out to exactly where you want it, as well as point the air conditioner’s blast away from areas that you don’t.

Remote

It’s smart and environmentally friendly. Like all of the air conditioners we considered testing, the FRA086AT7 is Energy Star compliant. In addition to the energy saving features required to earn its Energy Star rating, the air conditioner comes equipped with a sleep timer that, when activated, increases the temperature in room by two degrees after 30 minutes. The FRA086AT7 then maintains this temperature for the next seven hours. The rationale behind this: if you’re sleeping, you won’t notice it being a little warmer. You also get a 24-hour on/off timer, so it’s easy to set the air conditioner up to begin cooling your home just before you return from work. (If you come home from work at the same time every day.)

Perhaps most importantly, it’s easy to find. Last year, I made the mistake of suggesting a piece of hardware that worked well, was reasonably priced, and came with a great warranty. Unfortunately, you couldn’t find one for old love or money in store or online by the time August rolled around. Not this time: The Frigidaire FRA086AT7 is available online from Amazon, in-store and online from Walmart and Target, online at Best Buy, and can also be found at many independent heating and retailers like AJ Madison. What’s more, the Frigidaire brand has been around for close to 100 years. At the time this was written, I wasn’t able to find any indication online that the company’s supply chain or future were in jeopardy.

Like I said earlier, not a lot of people go through the trouble to review these things, and many the editorial reviews of air conditioning hardware I was able to find were terribly out of date. So I can’t provide you with much in the way of references for the FRA086AT7. I can tell you that the FRA086AT7 was given a rating of 72 out of 100 by Consumer Reports (based on the their review of identical hardware sold under a different model number as a Lowe’s exclusive). That’s not bad, considering the top scoring air conditioner in their latest test scored a 78. It’s important to note, however, that the Consumer Reports roundup included a whole lot of discontinued hardware, so I’m not sure if I’d put much truck in their results this year.

On the other hand, the best reason I can provide you with to buy this air conditioner to cool down areas in your home up to 350 square feet in size is that Richard tested it, compared it to the other hardware we chose to include in our roundup, and found it to be the best. Over the past three decades, Richard’s experience, technical skill and good judgment have been relied on and trusted by The Wirecutter, The Sweethome, Reviewed.com, WasherDryerInfo.com and PC World. When someone with such a rich technical background and the trust of so many well-reputed companies tells me that a piece of hardware is a winner—and can explain why—I’m inclined to believe him.

An Amazon reviewer by the name of “Steve” awarded the Frigidaire FRA086AT7 five stars, saying  “We really like that it is Energy Star (compare it to the cheaper 8,000BTU non-energy star unit and you realize that it makes up the difference in price in a couple of years and it actually saves you money in the long term). It’s not loud as window units go. We also really like the remote thermostat function where you can set the AC unit to cool the room to a certain temp as measured by the thermostat.”

A Walmart “verified purchaser” using the handle “supertuner“ also gave the FRA086AT7 top marks and said it was a “great product great quality and good price! It cools very well and the remote is a real plus. I would highly recommend this product.”

But It’s Not Perfect

While the FRA086AT7 proved to be the best piece of hardware we could find for a cooling a small room, Richard did take issue with a few of the air conditioner’s quirks.

For starters, while it’s most certainly not the loudest air conditioner out there, it also wasn’t all that quiet, either. Richard found that when the air conditioner was running at maximum capacity, it produced 69 decibels of sound. In an email, he told me that “There is a lot of chug-chug-chug noises when the compressor starts, which is definitely distracting (a constant noise can be ignored, a changing one not so much). There is a lot of slosh-slosh noise when you start up or change fan speed, due to the water in the tray and the fan re-settling.” But you’ll find that most air conditioners will make a similar amount of noise. Of the hardware tested for this pieces, all of the air conditioners–in both the 8,000 and 12,000 BTU range–produced between 61 and 70 decibels of operating noise. So it’s not the worst, but it’s not the best either.

Richard noted that while the air conditioner was easy to operate, he did have difficulty working out the button control scheme on the FRA086AT7’s console at first. But this was more due to his unfamiliarity with the hardware than anything else. He figured it out. And while the sleep timer with its step-up temperature setting is a great idea for conserving power while you’re out like a light, the size of the temperature increase and the amount of time the sleep time runs for cannot be adjusted. But I say that if you’re not cool with that, you can always turn to the hardware’s 24 hour on/off timer instead.

The Competition

In addition to the FRA086AT7, we also ordered three other air conditioners that would be suitable for cooling a small room: the LG LW8012ER, a Kenmore 79081, and the Friedrich CP08G10.

Let’s get this out of the way: The $219 LG LW8012ER was dead on arrival. It refused to even turn on, taking it out of the running before the race had even started. I was bummed to hear that this was the case, as the LW8012ER was the updated version of my pick for last year’s winner for Best Air Conditioner. I awarded the LW8010ER the position in 2012, due to its low price, feature set and its insane five year warranty. Unfortunately, not long after the piece was posted, the terms of the warranty were changed to just a single year’s coverage. Given the build quality issues we had with LW8012ER and its 12,000 BTU sibling—we’ll get to that in a minute—I can’t help but wonder if build quality in LG’s air conditioners is a chronic issue.

The Kenmore 79081 is pretty good, but lacks some of the controllability of the Frigidaire. Like the Frigidaire, the 79081 costs $239. But Richard feels that there’s an excellent reason for this: As near as he can tell, the internal components of both air conditioners are nearly identical. However, the Kenmore’s digital controls and remote offered fewer features than the Frigidaire does. It has the same strange count-up sleep timer as our Frigidaire pick, but no temperature sensing remote. Where the Frigidaire is a solid pick, the Kenmore is merely adequate. Strange, considering it is almost certainly built by Frigidaire.

There’s also the Friedrich CP08G10. Richard found that this was a quieter machine than the Frigidaire was, and with its flip-out control panel, also looked better than the Frigidaire did. But it’s only a 7,800 BTU machine and it costs over $100 more than our main pick does. Additionally, it couldn’t match the FRA086AT7 in the area of airflow control. Less power, less airflow control and it costs over $100 more? No thank you.

And then there were these guys that didn’t make the cut:

  • The $229 Sunpentown SPT WA-8011S looks only has 12 reviews on Amazon. That’s not enough to pass judgment on it, but the comments I found concerning its plastic mounting sleeve made me steer away from it.

  • The SoleusAir SG-WAC-08-ESE-C costs too much for what you get.

  • The $229 Frigidaire FRA082AT7 doesn’t have digital controls, but costs as much as ones that do.

  • The Keystone KSTAW08A costs, $230–almost as much as the FRA086AT7. It’s similarly equipped too. But Frigidaire has a 100 year reputation for quality, so it wasn’t worth calling in.

  • The Haier ESA408K costs $265, doesn’t have an in-remote thermometer, and a questionable supply chain.

  • Oh look: a Hanover HANAW08A! It costs $219—which is nice—but it only got a single three-star review—which isn’t. (Also, anyone ever hear of Hanover?)

  • The Sharp AF-Q80RX costs $400. No thanks.

  • Again with the expensive Sharp hardware. $305 for an 8,000 BTU air conditioner that only offers four-way airflow control? No thanks.

  • This $190 RCA sounds like a steal, but one of the only reviews I could find for it complained of lousy cold air output.

  • The 8,000 BTU Friedrich EP08G11 can also produce heat, making it worth leaving in your window all year long. But it costs $500. I can’t get behind that.

  • The $250 PerfectAire PAC8000 hasn’t been bought or reviewed by anyone on Amazon, and I can’t see any reason why it’d be worth $20 more than our Frigidaire pick.

An Air Conditioner for a Larger Room

Also Great
For areas between 350 and 550 square feet in size, we suggest the Frigidaire FRA126CT1. It has all of features of the Frigidaire FRA086AT7, but in a more powerful package.
*This price has changed. Shop wisely.
 If you have a space between 350 and 450 square feet to cool, then you’ll need at least 12,000 BTUs of cooling power. For this, we recommend the FRA086AT7′s big brother, the $365 Frigidaire FRA126CT1. It’s available from Walmart and Amazon. Out of the three 12,000 BTU air conditioners we tested, it proved to have the best balance of features, power and price.

Armed with an identical feature set as the less powerful 8,000 BTU Frigidaire FRA08AT7, the FRA126CT1 is a great pick for anyone with a large living room to cool. Remember that temperature sensing remote that the FRA08AT7 comes with? Well, the FRA126CT1 has that going for it, too. And because of the fact that the FRA126CT1 is designed for use in larger areas, the air conditioner is able to take full advantage of the feature. Set the remote at the opposite end of the room you’re cooling and you won’t have to worry about your air conditioner shutting down before it’s cooled the whole area down.

Big Room Competition

There’s also $319 LG LW1212ER air conditioner, but don’t. It’s a 12,000 BTU unit that costs $46 less than the FRA126CT1. The LW1212ER installs in two pieces, a design decision made, no doubt, to mitigate the air conditioner’s 50+ pound weight. According to Richard, it’s an idea that doesn’t work. Even in two pieces, the LW1212ER is a pain in the ass to install. Richard’s chief installation complaint for this one is that the rails on the LW1212ER’s case—which are designed to mate with a base—requires that you put a few screws into untapped metal. That’s not cool. Additionally, you don’t get a temperature sensing remote with the LG like you do with the Frigidaire FRA126CT1.

It’s also worth mentioning that the LG didn’t feel nearly as well constructed as the Frigidaire does. You could argue that you won’t be moving your air conditioner in and out of a window more than once a year, so build quality doesn’t matter that much. But I’d have to disagree. One or two years of shifting the hardware in and out of your window might not do it any harm, but in the long run, a cheaply made piece of gear will end up showing more wear and tear than something made from sturdier components. If you’re paying over $300 for something already, I’d argue that it’s worth paying the extra $46 to get something that’ll last, especially if that cash also gets you a few extra features to boot.

Richard also looked at the $316 Sunpentown WA-1211S. He felt it was a little too loud, and made a lot of compressor noise at startup. Additionally, due to its weight (58 pounds!) and design, he worried that if the air conditioner wasn’t restrained and properly balanced, it could easily slip out of a window. That’s a troubling thought for anyone installing the WA-1211S in a ground floor window, and a cataclysmic one for anyone thinking about jamming it in the window of their sixth-floor flat. Additionally, we didn’t feel that it could match the Frigidaire’s eight-direction airflow control. It’s also worth mentioning that Richard found the Sunpentown’s console and remote to be somewhat confusing, with too many lights and not enough direction for his liking.

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. Steve, Good Deal!, Amazon.com, April 18, 2012
    We really like that it is Energy Star (compare it to the cheaper 8,000BTU non-energy star unitand you realize that it makes up the difference in price in a couple of years and it actually saves you money in the long term). It's not loud as window units go. We also really like the remote thermostat function where you can set the AC unit to cool the room to a certain temp as measured by the thermostat. So if you're sitting on the couch with the remote it will cool the room until it is 68 degrees at the couch and not 68 degrees at the AC unit (which obviously cools down faster). These days I only buy Frigidaire. I still use another Frigidaire 8,000BTU one that I bought 8 years ago which is still working really well and I have a 12,000BTU that I bought more recently and is also stellar.
  2. S. Adams, Frigidaire 8000 BTU, Amazon.com, July 29, 2011
    Bought this unit as a supplemental window unit for a room that we can never keep cool enough with the house unit, and it has worked fantastic. Easy to install. Much lighter than older models. Controls are simple to use, even in dark or low light. On high the unit of course has some fan noise, but it is not to loud for normal conversations. As the compressor cycles on and off the noise barely increases. No rust on the exterior of unit yet, and we are in very humid environment. The condensation drain works well also and I have seen no water standing on inside of unit, which can make them smell musty. Would buy this unit or brand again.
  3. supertuner, Plug and Cool, Walmart.com, May 5, 2013
    As advertised and listed. Great product great quality and good price! It cools very well and the remote is a real plus. I would highly recommend this product.
  • Wanago Bob

    I just bought the Kenmore 79081 and it does have a timer on it. It also has a sleep feature that increase the set temperature by 2 degrees after 30 minutes and 2 more degrees after another 30 minutes than returns to the original set point after 7 more hours. Having a temperature sensing remote would have been a nice feature.

    • http://TheSweethome.com Joel Johnson

      You’re right. After confirming that with Richard, we’ve updated the Kenmore’s section.

    • brian lam

      thanks, fixed

  • SpirituallyInsane

    I can vouch for this unit. I’ve used a 10k BTU version for two years in a very poorly insulated 100 year old home. The features on it are all excellent. Aiming the remote to allow remote sensing to work can be a little dodgy, and the plastic film over the buttons does wear out over time.

    The sleep and energy saver features allowed me to maintain the temperature in my living space at a higher but reasonable level, and have it at a desired temperature when I get home.

    As a companion to this unit if you’re planning to use the energy saver feature, I would recommend a small fan to circulate the air in the room, because it only runs for a very short time to sample the air, so in poorly insulated or poorly circulated rooms, it can create a temperature difference, cold by the A/C unit, but warm everywhere else.

  • http://www.jwardell.com/ jwardell

    I just purchased the LG unit a few weeks ago, partly because of your past recommendation. I was neck and neck with the Fridgidaire, but the LG is more energy efficient/uses less power than the fridgidaire (at least at the 10kBTU level that I was buying), and had many reviews of being quieter. I *DID* see several reports of LGs arriving noisey or dead thanks to motor or fan supports broken in shipping or loose screws; I bought a factory serviced unit which not only saves money but to me means a human has given it a once-over on the inside and increasing my chances of getting a good unit. It is the quietest air conditioner I ever owned (and is in my bedroom) and works great so far.

  • floatingbones

    An indoor dehumidifier plus a couple of fans may well be a viable alternative. Knocking 20-30 points off of the relative humidity is often all that’s needed. Dehumidifiers consume far less energy than air conditioners. If you empty the water reservoir manually, installation is trivial.

  • Guest

    Is there any plan on reviewing portable units?

  • xc

    Bought a 12K BTU Frigidaire for this summer. Overall it performed well … we had it in a space larger than it technically was rated for (it was in our dining room, which is open to the kitchen on one side and the living room on the other), but it still made things comfortable enough. Anything larger would’ve possibly tripped the only outlet that was within reasonable distance, which as renters we didn’t want to deal with electrical work. One thing that helped in the larger space was a floor fan set up to help circulate cold air into the living room.

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      Glad it worked out well for you. And glad to see you found your way over here from Giz :)

  • Vitor Nagata

    any plan on reviewing a split unit?

  • Vivek Singh

    Great blog relating air conditioner. Air conditioners are one of the most important home appliances. We must share this post.

  • Smythe258

    Those prices are actually not too bad looking. http://www.aircon-johannesburg.co.za

  • http://www.bestportableairconditionerratings.com/ Chris

    If you do make a portable write up, we would love the chance to be included in it.

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      In what way do you mean?

      • http://www.bestportableairconditionerratings.com/ Chris

        opinions on units and a link swap if possible?

        • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

          You mean you want to be notified when we update? Or you want to be involved in the research process?

          • http://www.bestportableairconditionerratings.com/ Chris

            Yes, involved in the research process.

          • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

            We really don’t do that. We have our researchers/experts test things and then publish our findings.