Air Conditioner Reviews

Air Conditioner Reviews & Comparison 2018

Air Conditioner Reviews & Comparison 2018

When the dog days of summer arrive, it is time to turn up the air conditioning unit or you will be in for some long, hot, summer days, particularly if the humidity is high. With the high cost of electrical power, you might read that you should do some energy conservation projects to reduce the need for mechanical air conditioning. Some things to do would be to insulate and sealing areas that heat can enter, get rid of inefficient appliances, shade windows or paint the house or replace the roof with cooler roofing products. With that said, and you are definitely considering upgrading your home air conditioning, then consult the air conditioner reviews on the Internet to get you started. You may not only be looking for a change of your home air conditioning but you may want to improve your office or shop air conditioning as well. The online air conditioner review sites can cover most or all of your questions.

The online air conditioner reviews provide a comparison of the many types, sizes and cost of room air conditioning units and central air conditioner units. There are so many choices that you will want to visit every possible site for the expert and consumer reviews so that you can make an informed decision for such a large expense. From window air conditioner units to central air conditioner units, the experts and consumer reviews cool the air, no pun intended, and makes your decision much easier.

You will want to make sure that the air conditioning unit you choose for either your home or office will meet the energy efficiency requirements or standards set by various state and government agencies. In addition to choosing an energy efficient unit, make sure that the following features are included, such as speed of your unit, automatic features that increase efficiency, and operate quietly.

The wide range of low-end to high-end brands is a decision that you will have to live with for years, so be ready to spend an inordinate amount of time in reviewing the information and making your decision.

The online air conditioner reviews will provide most of the answers you need along with comparison tables that will be of great help to you. You should be well on your way to making the right decision for your home and hopefully with that right choice, you will save yourself some money.

Things You Need to Know About Air Conditioning

How Air Conditioners Work

To understand how air conditioners work you must first understand that they all operate on the same natural principal: evaporation is an endothermic reaction. That is, the act of evaporation absorbs the heat from the space around it. This is why sweating cools you off and how air conditioners work. It pulls away your body heat as it vaporizes and your skin dries.

A basic air conditioner unit consists of a compressor, a condenser, an evaporating unit and two fans. Consider for a moment that an air conditioner is essentially a refrigerator for your house! It contains the same fundamental parts, but instead of cooling an insulated compartment, the heat-absorbing evaporator and heat-releasing condenser parts are exposed to the ambient air inside and outside your house, respectively.

Structurally speaking, and evaporator and a condenser are identical and typically consist of a winding brass tube with a great deal of fins attached to it. The fins provide more surface area with the air which assists in the heat-exchanging cycle. Through the these tubes runs a refrigerant such as Freon mixed with a little oil which lubricates the compressor.

  1. The heat-exchanging cycle begins when the cool refrigerant vapor arrives at the compressor (1), which packs together the vapor particles converting it to a high-pressure, high-temperature vapor before it enters the condenser.
  2. As mentioned before, the metal fins help the condenser (2) release the stored heat of the vapor thereby converting it to a pressurized liquid.
  3. This liquid then travels through the narrow opening of an expansion valve (3) into the evaporator where the pressure dissipates quickly, causing the liquid to turn back into a gas.
  4. This vaporization absorbs the heat from the surrounding air, and is assisted by the metal fins which are also present on the evaporator (4).
  5. The now cool vapor then arrives back at the compressor – the cycle is complete and that’s how air conditioners work!

Two fans further help the heat-exchange process with the ambient air on both sides of the cycle by blowing over the fins on both the condenser and the evaporator. An air conditioner technically only transfers unwanted heat to another area; it does not eliminate it. In cooler months, some systems can even function as heat pumps by operating in reverse!

It is important to know how air conditioners work before making a purchse. For those who prefer videos, another explanation on how an air conditioners work can be found below.

This, of course, covers just the basics of air conditioning. Modern air conditioners apply the above principles to a broad spectrum of different types of air conditioners to match whatever suits your situation and come in a spectrum of sizes. Whether you’re looking to cool a single room or an entire house. They are loaded with many helpful Features to Look For and are held up to certain Energy Star efficiency standards so you can beat the heat and still not sweat the electric bill. Stay frosty, friends!

Air Conditioner BTU and You: The Facts

Not all air conditioners are created equal, but they are all equally judged and rated primarily by two factors: their BTU output per hour and energy efficiency rating (discussed further below). No matter the bevy of bells and whistles a manufacturer might flaunt, it is around these two factors that most buying decisions are based, so it is important for consumers to understand what they mean before they make take the proverbial plunge.

The BTU, or British Thermal Unit, is the measurement of the amount of energy it takes to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. This concept works in reverse for Air Conditioners. That is, the BTU rating on an Air conditioner refers to the number of BTUs a unit will remove from a space in one hour. Interestingly enough, this unit of measure is still used unofficially in the UK, where Celsius, the metric Kilogram and the Joule (an SI unit) are now the standard.
Determining the proper BTU output of an air conditioner for your circumstances is a critical step that has a great influence on the units ability to properly cool and dehumidify your space. Bigger usually means more BTU output per hour but does NOT necessarily mean better! Our Air Conditioner Sizing section has all the answers for you and more.

The Energy Efficiency Rating or EER that Air conditioners are judged and federally regulated by is acquired by dividing the BTU output per hour by the Watts consumed in that period. For more information regarding this, visit our Energy Star rating and EER and Federal Tax Credit Information section to learn more.

Air Conditioner Sizing

Selecting the proper air conditioner size for your space is a critical step. You want your investment to turn your space into a veritable oasis and to that end may be inclined to get the most powerful unit you can find. However, you want to avoid selecting a unit that is more suitable for a space larger than which you intend to cool.

You would be surprised to know that buying either an underpowered or overpowered unit can lead to a less-than- optimal cooling experience. While an underpowered unit may just not perform, an overpowered unit will cycle on and off too frequently and never run at its peak efficiency when cooling your space. The constant cycling on and off will also lead to improper dehumidification. Use the chart below as a rough guide to get you started:

Square Footage Recommended BTUs
Min Max Min Max
100 300 5,000 7,000
350 550 8,000 12,000
600 800 13,000 16,000
850 1,000+ 17,000 21,000+

Finding a properly sized unit should be easy as looking at the accompanying label for any air conditioner. They will tell you the average space in square feet for which it is suitable. However, there are more factors to consider before you buy:

General Air Conditioner Considerations
Is your insulation adequate, especially in your ceilings? Poor or no insulation overhead will require a unit with more BTUs. Strongly consider purchasing and installing appropriate insulation if possible.
Do you have high ceilings? (Greater than 9 feet) High ceilings mean extra volume to cool – You may require a unit with more BTUs.
Is this air conditioner going to be used to cool an active kitchen, top-floor room or a large open floorplan? These situations may require a unit with more BTUs.
What is the condition of your windows? Do you have many of them? More windows means more loss of cooling. Single pane windows will lose your cooling faster than a double-pane window
Do you keep your curtains closed during the day? If yes, you may be able to use a unit with fewer BTUs
Does your space in question face North or East? These sides of your home are generally cooler since they receive less intensive sun exposure – you may be able to use a unit with fewer BTUs
Does your space in question face South or West? These sides of your home generally warmer since they receive more intensive sun exposure – you may require a unit with more BTUs.
Are there any sources of shade from structure overhangs or trees? If yes, you may be able to use a unit with fewer BTUs
Will the unit itself fit in the window frame or space you expect it to go? Generally speaking, the more BTU output, the bigger the unit. You may have to consider a portable air conditioner in lieu of one that fits into a window.
Do You have the proper power supply voltage and outlet? Larger units may actually require a 240V outlet.
Central Air Conditioner Specific
Is your ductwork is primarily located in your walls or attic? Attic ducts are exposed to the rising heat within your house and should be properly insulated. In this case, strongly consider purchasing and installing appropriate insulation if possible.
Are your ducts sealed tightly with no noticeable leaks? You will not require a unit with more BTUs

12 Air Conditioner Features You Should Know

The amount of air conditioner features for a buyer to decipher through really shows how far the technology has come over the years.

The first air conditioner was built by Dr. John Gorrie in the 1830s when he was treating patients with yellow fever and malaria. The humble but effective machine consisted of a fan that blew air over a bucket of ice. Modern air conditioners have since evolved by leaps and bounds and include a wide array of amenities, bell and whistles that a serious buyer should look for.

Below is a summary of Air Conditioner Features you should pay attention to when buying a unit.

Air Conditioner Features
BTU Output This is an air conditioner’s cooling capacity. Selecting the proper BTU output for your space is critical to an air conditioner’s performance.
Our Air Conditioner Sizing section will help guide you to an appropriate fit for your needs.
Energy Star Rating Qualified air conditioners are at least 10% more energy efficient than the minimum federal government standards.
Check out our Energy Star rating and EER section to learn more.
Variable Speed Fan Adjustable fans help control noise levels and system efficiencies. Look for an air conditioner that has at least 3 settings.
An infinitely adjustable fan can provide even more user functionality and make the air conditioner even more energy star compliant. Click here to read more
about Quiet Air Conditioners.
Programmable Thermostat and Automatic Timer Being able to set an air conditioner to run automatically will help it function at its peak efficiencies
and setting a timer for it to operate only when you are home are big money-savers in the long run.
Electronic Controls and Digital Display Gives you greater precision in finding your comfort zone within a 1 degree range.
Dehumidifier Functionality Some air conditioners with dehumidifier capabilities can provide prolonged comfort during the late Spring and early Fall months
when keeping your home cool is not as necessary.
Quiet Mode The noise level of an air conditioner is once of the largest factors consumers consider before buying. Units with this
setting operate at a relative whisper and provide more comfort than just cooling.
Visit our Maintenance and Tips section to learn more on how to quiet a loud air conditioner.
Remote Control Typically units with electronic controls will include a remote. Great for air conditioners placed in larger rooms.
Adjustable or Oscillating Louvers These can help distribute the air evenly throughout the room. Note that almost all window air conditioners are better
at directing air to one side than the other. Keep this in mind when considering the placement of the unit in your home before you make your purchase.
Filters and Air Purifiers Do not bother with units that have filters that are hard to remove and clean. Look for washable filters instead of replaceable
ones when possible. Some air conditioners can act as air purifiers and have ionic cleaning mechanisms. Ionizing the air can boost the performance
of your filter
(provided it’s clean) and help in air purification. If you have an air conditioner that uses this air purifier technology,
electrons are being released which attach to impurities in the air and create ions.
These enlarged particles are then caught in a filter, attach to the ionizer plating, or
settle onto the floor and surfaces of your home to be vacuumed up or dusted later. To learn more about air purifiers, please check out our section
entirely devoted to this technology.
Chassis Type There are fixed and slide-out chassis for window air conditioners. Fixed chasses are the most popular and are typically
lighter and are installed and removed seasonally.
A slide-out chassis is usually found on units that operate
through a wall sleeve.
This allows the owner to perform maintenance or replacement of their window air conditioner more easily.
Heat Pump Mode Some Air conditioners can be run in reverse, effectively converting it into a heat pump. To learn more on how this happens,
visit our section on How Air Conditioners Work.
Warranty If a manufacturer does not stand behind their product, you should not buy it.
Look for units that have AT LEAST a 1 year warranty including parts an labor.

Air Conditioner Type

Portable Air Conditioners

If you have casement windows, building restrictions or other limitations preventing you from installing a window air conditioner, you may want to consider buying a portable air conditioner. The biggest benefit of owning a portable air conditioner is the ability to move it from room to room.

Portable Air Conditioners are typically very easy to install, and while they do require a window to exhaust the hot and humid air generated during their use, most units come with a bracket adaptor that will quickly get the vent in place.

Since you are probably looking at portable air conditioners since they are, well, portable, make sure you buy one that is easy to move around and has casters or wheels. These air conditioners can weigh up to 100 lb so it is important that you can move them around with ease.

When shopping for a unit, note that portable air conditioners are different from air coolers. An air cooler (also called a swamp cooler) cools the surrounding area with water soaked pads that absorb heat.

Below is a list of portable air conditioners we recommend. There are a lot of portable air conditioners on the market, and many of them underperform when compared to the claims made by the manufacturer. The list below includes products that have been tested positively and come with the recommendation of consumers like you!
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Window Air Conditioners

Window Air Conditioners are arguably the most affordable way to cool a room. Over the years, this type of air conditioner has become more energy efficient, quieter, and tends to keep a lower profile than it once did.
If you are looking to cool one room or a small area, and you have access to a window capable of holding a window cooling unit, you should definitely consider buying this type of air conditioner.

Before shopping, make sure you measure the window that will hold the unit to make sure the air conditioner you purchase will fit. As discussed in Air Conditioner Sizing, you will need to measure the room you plan to cool as well. Doing these two measurements is crucial in finding the right window air conditioner.

If you find out that the cooling unit will not fit in the desired window of your home, you can always consider getting a portable air conditioner.

If you have casement windows, you should not consider a standard window air conditioner, as they will not fit. Casement Window Air Conditioners are an option available on the market today that you should have a look at.

The marketplace is filled with window air conditioners, so you should be able to choose one easily that fits your room and at the same time has a high Energy Star Rating. Newer products should have electronic controls that you can program and manage through a remote control.
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Central Air Conditioners

Central Air Conditioners are essentially split system air conditioners accompanied by ductwork. This means that the noisier compressor and heat–shedding condenser components are installed outside and connected by refrigeration lines to the evaporator and blower unit installed inside. This, in turn, is connected to a system of insulated ductwork which distributes the cool air produced by the evaporator.

The standard warranty you should look for should have a 10–year warranty for the compressor and a 5 year warranty on the rest of the unit. A contractor will generally do this type of installation for you, as it will likely require a permit. The Department of Energy recommends that you ensure your contractor is bonded to ensure the performance promised, insured against liability, and certified by one of the two national programs (Air Conditioning Contractors of America or North American Technical Excellence).

Central air conditioner power is measured in tons of cooling. One ton of refrigeration is equal to 12,000 BTUs and is the amount of heat energy required to melt on ton of ice at 32°F in 24 hours. Units generally range between 1 ton and 5 tons of cooling capacity. The greater the capacity, the greater the cost. Remember that this type of unit may also function as a heat pump. If you are looking for this functionality and live in an area with mild winters, this may prove to be a great way to take care of all your comfort needs.

Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratings (SEER) for Central Air Conditioners may have be as low as 13 and as high as 23! Be aware these higher–efficiency systems can be as much as $2,500 more expensive than their lower–efficiency counterparts, though they cost significantly less to operate and will pay for their upfront premiums and more over time. They may also be eligible for a tax credit if you live in the United States. These higher efficiencies are achieved by utilizing by larger heat–exchange surfaces dual (also known as 2–stage) compressors. In a dual compressor setup, a smaller compressor runs most of the time and usually exclusively on milder days. On hotter days, a second compressor switched on to help carry the load. This means that a single, more powerful compressor is not being cycled on and off constantly. As mentioned in our BTU sizing section, longer cooling cycles offer less noisy and more efficient operation as well as better humidity reduction.

It is worth mentioning that there are predominantly two types of compressors available in central air conditioners: scroll and reciprocating. A reciprocating compressor operates in very much the same fashion as a piston in a car. A scroll compressor is a bit more complex and uses one fixed scroll opposed to one oscillating scroll to trap refrigerant vapor in the spaces of the outermost portions. The oscillation of the system conveys these vapor–filled cavities to the ever–smaller center of the scroll where they reach the desired compression before exiting the system. A good video to help visualize this can be found here. The general assumption is that the scroll compressors are somewhat quieter and more mechanically resilient and thereby requiring less maintenance while the reciprocating compressors are much cheaper for manufacturers to produce and consumers to purchase. The RSES (Refrigeration Service Engineers Society) journal recently did a study comparing the efficiencies of each system and concluded that while both are quite good, reciprocating compressors are slightly more efficient in systems with 1 to 3 tons of cooling while scroll compressors are more efficient where 3.5 to 5 tons of cooling is required. At the end of the day, you need not trouble yourself with this both methodologies have excellent quality and reliability ratings that will often outlast their warranties for years to come.

Newer central air conditioners also use more efficient Puron (R–410A) refrigerant instead of ozone depleting Freon (R–22) which is being phased out. Buyers should at the very least look for a unit that utilizes Puron, as maintenance costs for Freon-driven units will certainly rise over time as it becomes more scarce.

Buyers should keep in mind the location where a unit is to be installed when making a purchase, as obstructed airflow can reduce efficiency. Vibration dampening compressor covers and rubber fittings can reduce system noise when in full operation. Central Air Conditioners should also have some sort of rust–proofing in the base pan and body panels. If a unit does not have full body panelling, look for heavy–duty wire guards and insulation to protect the exterior unit against the elements and incidental impacts with gardening equipment, garbage men or rogue sporting equipment.

If you are doing a replacement, you need to make sure your contractor does not simply look at your existing central air conditioner unit and sell you another with the same BTU output. These types of units have become much more efficient over the years, as has insulation for walls, windows and ceilings. Make sure the contractor does a Manual J calculation that takes all these factors into consideration to determine the appropriate capacity or you could end up with an oversized system. You may not need as many BTUs as you did in the past! By the same token, a Manual D calculation should be done by the contractor to ensure properly sized ductwork and efficient layout design. Perfect-Home-Hvac-Design.com provides a thorough discussion of the importance of Manual J and Manual D calculations when planning an air conditioning installation for your home.

If you are retrofitting a new central air conditioning system into an existing structure, there are many possible architectural obstacles that may need to be considered. For example, if your home has a lot of masonry, this may prevent ductwork from being routed through the walls and could increase the total installed cost of the system. One option available to consumers in this situation is to purchase a mini–split ductless air conditioning system. These systems are similar to a central air system in that the compressor and the condenser are installed outside, but this single unit will service the needs of several single–room evaporators installed through–the–wall inside. These systems generally rare to find in the United States and while cheaper than a central air unit to purchase, can be expensive to install and require more maintenance due to the increased number of components.

Central Air Conditioners offer good operating efficiency and low–noise but at a high installed cost even in the most ideal situations. Each system has its upsides, downsides, capabilities and restrictions and it may be worthwhile to weigh the value of an alternative system such as a high capacity window or portable air conditioning units and see what is most cost appropriate for your circumstances.

Wall Air Conditioners

Interested in Wall Air Conditioners? Aesthetically similar to a window air conditioner, a through the wall air conditioner are installed in a wall of your home. This can be a great thing if you do not want to sacrifice a window view for an air conditioner.
Windowless Air Conditioners feature a slide out chassis and require an air conditioner sleeve, which is a metal device that keep the unit in your wall. The sleeve is necessary because it helps support the air conditioner and removes stress on the wall due to the weight of the unit. A wall will normally be unable to hold a wall air conditioner without a sleeve.

Sleeves are usually manufactured with one brand of wall air conditioner in mind, so we recommend buying the two together. If this is not possible, or you already have a sleeve installed in your wall, make to measure the sleeve carefully, and buy a unit that the sleeve can accommodate.

Sleeve Stuffers can also be included with your air conditioner purchase, which help fit units in different sized sleeves.

Professional help will be required if you need to have a hole made in your wall for the unit. If your wall already has a hole and sleeve, you’ll just need to find a windowless air conditioner that can fit the opening and should be able to install it yourself.

If you are creating a hole in your wall for a Windowless Air Conditioner, make sure the opening is near a wall socket or coordinate for installation for a new receptacle. You will also want to check if there is a lintel, which is a horizontal structural beam, installed in the top of the wall opening. This will help maintain the structural integrity of the wall and hold the weight of the wall above the opening.

It is important to note that Portable Air Conditioners are also called Windowless Air Conditioners from time to time. Portable units are not installed through walls or in windows, but the buyer must realize that most portable air conditioners do have vents that need to be strung out a window.

Air conditioner buying advice

All the air conditioners in our latest tests do an excellent job of cooling and come with such convenient features as a digital display, a built-in timer, a remote control, or touchpad controls. But some models are noisy and others struggled to cool during brownouts. Find out which to buy for your home.


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Getting started – Air conditioner guide

Low prices and high efficiency make room air conditioners an inexpensive alternative to central air for cooling one or two rooms. Many 5,000- to 6,000-Btu units now cost less than $150. Our air-conditioner guide will help you choose what’s right for you.

All the models we tested meet the 9.7 Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) now required for small and medium-sized models below 8,000 British thermal units (Btu) per hour, and the 9.8 EER required for larger, 8,000- to 13,999-Btu models. Most also meet or exceed the 10.7 EER needed to qualify for the yellow Energy Star label. Many new air conditioners are also quieter, lighter, and smaller. And all now have electrical plugs that help prevent fires by shutting down if the power cord is damaged.

Find out whether replacing your air conditioner makes sense by using the savings calculator on the room air conditioners page at www.energystar.gov. (Every 0.1 increase in EER translates into about a 1 percent drop in electricity use.) Also keep the following in mind:

Size it correctly

An air conditioner that’s too small won’t do a good job cooling a room. One that’s too big cools the area so quickly that it doesn’t have time to remove enough moisture, so it leaves you with a clammy room and extra energy costs.

Note the noise

Models that scored excellent or very good in our noise tests are so quiet that the only sound you might hear is the fan running. But air conditioners that scored fair for noise could disturb light sleepers when set on low and are distracting on high.

Factor in the window location

Air conditioners generally do a better job blowing air in one direction than in the other. That can be a problem if your window isn’t centered on the wall. To uniformly cool a room, you’ll need to direct air to its center, so check whether your A/C needs to blow air to the right or to the left.


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Types of air conditioners

Most room models are designed to fit double-hung windows. Some fit casement and slider windows, and some are made for through-the-wall installation. To determine the proper size, measure the square footage of the area you want to cool. Add extra capacity for a kitchen or a room usually occupied by more than two or three people. The climate, room construction, and direction the unit will dictate the type of air conditioner you need.

Small air conditioners

Capacity ranges from 5,000 to 6,000 Btu/hr. Cool roughly 100 to 300 square feet.

Pros:They tend to be smallest, lightest, and least expensive.
Cons:They may not adequately cool a room measuring more than 300 square feet.

Midsized air conditioners

Midsized air conditioner Capacity ranges from 7,000 to 8,200 Btu/hr. Cool roughly 250 to 550 square feet.

Pros:They can generally handle a room measuring up to 550 square feet.
Cons:They tend to be more expensive, and their size and weight can make them harder to install and remove.

Large air conditioners

Capacities range from 9,800 to 12,500 Btu/hr. Cool roughly 350 to 650 square feet.

Pros:They can cool a large room or two smaller rooms up to about 950 square feet.
Cons:Bulk and weight make these models awkward and difficult to install. If an air conditioner is too powerful, the compressor might switch on and off repeatedly, so the unit doesn’t lower the humidity sufficiently. That makes for a cold, damp room.


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Air conditioner features

All the air conditioners in our Ratings do an excellent job of cooling. They also have such convenient features as digital displays, built-in timers, and remote controls. Some units have touchpad controls, and a few change the direction of the airflow automatically to better disperse cool air throughout the room. Look for air conditioner features that affect performance and efficiency.

  • Ability to detect airflow
  • Controls
  • Efficiency aids
  • Dehumidifying mode
  • Fresh-air intake or exhaust setting

Ability to detect airflow

Air conditioners generally have louvers you can adjust to direct airflow vertically or horizontally. But most are better at directing air toward one side or the other. Consider your room layout, and look for a model that can direct the airflow where you need it.

Controls

We prefer touchpads with large LED displays, large and uncrowded buttons, clear labeling, and digital temperature readouts. Poorly designed controls are a constant annoyance. Raised buttons with different shapes let you identify functions by feel. And digital temperature readouts provide a more precise reading than the traditional “warmer” and “cooler” settings.

Efficiency aids

An air conditioner with a timer can be turned off when you’re out and set to turn on just before you expect to get home. An energy-saver setting stops the fan when the compressor is off. These features save energy.

Dehumidifying mode

A few models can dehumidify without cooling. This feature is useful on humid but cool days in spring and fall.

Fresh-air intake or exhaust setting

It provides ventilation without cooling.


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Air conditioner brands

  • Friedrich
  • Frigidaire
  • GE
  • Haier
  • Kenmore
  • Kenmore (Sears)
  • LG
  • Sharp

Friedrich

Friedrich is a smaller, more expensive brand of window air conditioners available at PC Richards and other appliance retailers. Window air units range in price from $500 to $1,200. Friedrich makes units with Btu from 5,000 to 24,000 and units that are Energy Star certified.

Frigidaire

Frigidaire air conditioners are available in independent and regional appliance retailers, as well as at Lowe’s and Best Buy. Units range in price from $100 to $500, and in Btu from 5,000 to 25,000. Frigidaire makes units that are Energy Star certified.

GE

GE is the market-share leader in window air conditioners. This brand is available at a wide variety of independent and regional appliance retailers and at Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart. GE’s window air units range in price from $150 to $300, and in Btu from 5,000 to 25,000. GE makes units that are Energy Star certified.

Haier

Haier is available at Wal-Mart and BJ’s, and at independent appliance dealers. Haier also markets window air conditioners under the Amana name. It makes Energy Star units. Prices range $100 to $500, and Btu from 5,000 to 24,000.

Kenmore

Kenmore air conditioners are made by LG and are sold at Sears and Kmart, for $100 to $500. Kenmore markets units with Btu from 5,000 to 24,000 and units that are Energy Star certified.

Kenmore (Sears)

Kenmore air conditioners are made by LG and are sold at Sears and Kmart, for $100 to $500. Kenmore markets units with Btu from 5,000 to 24,000 and units that are Energy Star certified.

LG

LG is a national brand available in a wide variety of independent and regional appliance retailers, as well as Home Depot and PC Richards. LG also markets lower-priced window air conditioners under the Goldstar name. Window air units range in price from $150 to $500, and in Btu from 5,000 to 25,000. The brand has units that are Energy Star certified.

Sharp

Sharp is a smaller player in the market. It is available at a wide variety of independent appliance retailers and at Costco and BJ’s. Window air units range in price from $200 to $500. Sharp makes units with Btu from 5,000 to 12,000 and units that are Energy Star certified.


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Central air conditioning

What’s the best way to ensure that the central air-conditioning system you choose is installed properly, and will provide the most efficient and reliable cooling for your home?

The pointers below can help you to find the right hardware and the right technician to install your system, whether you’re replacing an older air conditioner or installing one for the first time. The information comes from our experts.

And while there’s no one money-saving strategy that will work for everyone all the time, there are simple steps that you can take, as we show in Keeping costs down. In some cases, you may be able to cut back on air-conditioner use considerably without seriously inconveniencing your family.

Learn

Design

In a “split system,” the typical design, refrigerant circulates between an indoor coil and a matching outdoor condenser with compressor. The refrigerant cools the air, dehumidifying it in the process; a blower circulates air through ducts throughout the house. A variation is the “heat pump,” a type of system that functions as heater and cooler. When used as an air conditioner, a heat pump discharges heat from the house either into the air or deep into the ground. In the winter, a heat pump extracts heat from the ground or the air to warm the house.

Efficiency

This describes how much cooling the unit delivers for each watt of electricity. Efficiency is expressed as the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating, or SEER. At present, a SEER of 10 denotes a low-efficiency unit; medium efficiency is 11 to 14; high efficiency is above 14. New federal regulations that took effect in 2006 set the minimum SEER for a central air conditioner at 13.

Size

A synonym for the air conditioner’s cooling capacity, size is measured in British thermal units per hour (Btu/hr.) or in “tons.” One ton of cooling equals 12,000 Btu/hr.

Ask around

Seek referrals from neighbors, family, or business associates. It’s wise to get price quotes from at least three contractors.

Get the right contractor

Finding a trustworthy contractor to install and service an air-conditioning system matters the most. Here’s how to choose:

Check the background

Contractors who bid on your installation should show you proof of bonding and insurance, plus any required contractor’s licenses. Check with your local Better Business Bureau and consumer affairs office for complaint records. It’s a plus if technicians are certified by a trade organization, such as North American Technician Excellence or HVAC Excellence, to service residential heating and cooling equipment. These and other similar programs assess the technician’s knowledge of specific types of equipment and its proper service methods. We believe that a contractor who has made the effort to get certified and has practiced this trade and learned from several years of service and installation experience, will be a better service provider.

Get specifics

Contractors who bid on your job should calculate required cooling capacity by using a recognized method like the Air Conditioning Contractors of America’s Residential Load Calculation Manual, also called Manual J. An additional reference for assessing ductwork needs is Manual D. The calculations produce a detailed room-by-room analysis of cooling needs. Ask for a printout of all calculations and assumptions, including ductwork design. Be leery of a contractor who bases estimates merely on house size or vague rules of thumb.

Expect maintenance

A service plan that combines regular inspections with discounts on repairs and a labor warranty is worth negotiating into the overall price. Prices for such service vary widely.

At a minimum, regular inspections should include these steps:

  • Check for and repair refrigerant leaks.
  • Detect and correct duct leaks.
  • Inspect and tighten the electrical connections, checking for damage.
  • Clean the coils, drain pan, and drainage system.
  • Vacuum the blower compartment.
  • Replace filter monthly or as recommended by the manufacturer.
Choose the right unit

If you’re replacing an old central-air system, you can expect to pay around $3,000 for the equipment. If you need ductwork installed because you’re starting completely from scratch or are upgrading a forced-air heating system, expect to pay $6,000 or more. Improving the system’s air-filtration capabilities is also easiest to do as part of a general upgrade.

Brand plays some role in the selection.

Here are other factors that may affect reliability:

  • Matching new equipment with old. If you replace only the condenser, you have a “field-matched” system that can be less efficient than advertised and that may require more repairs because of undetected incompatibilities between the two.
  • Damper-zoned cooling. A large or multistory house is often divided into several heating and cooling zones to improve temperature control. However, this type of system is complex and has many more moving parts and controls and so may require more repairs.

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