New air conditioners are smarter, quieter, cooler.
To many of us, the window-mounted air conditioner is indispensable. Without it, summer would be unbearably long, turning a home office, bedroom, or kitchen into a sauna. It’s a good thing that today’s window air conditioners help keep you cool with comfort-inducing features like a sleep setting, multiple fan speeds, and auto-cool that adjusts the appliance’s output without you having to touch it.
And there’s never been a better time to shop for these appliances. There are something like 7.5 million to 8.5 million small air conditioners sold in any given year (some are portable air conditioners and other forms of appliances, such as evaporative coolers) according to statista.com and US Department of Energy. All those sales have resulted in a bidding war with manufacturers climbing over each other for your appliance dollar. End result: more appliance for the money.
Below is a test of five air conditioners, followed by reviews of non-tested appliances that look promising. Keep scrolling for an explainer on how to select an air conditioner with enough cooling capacity to get the job done, along with tips on how to care for the appliance.
How We Selected These Air Conditioners
We surveyed the market and quizzed manufacturers, along the way looking for key features that point to better construction quality, energy efficiency, noise reduction, convenience, and ease of maintenance.
How We Test
We test run each appliance in a 1,200-cubic-foot space with a high ceiling. To look at an air conditioner’s output, we use an infrared thermometer to measure the unit’s effect on its surroundings, such as walls and nearby objects. Next, we measure how far the appliance’s cooling breeze can be felt. In air conditioning, this is known as throw (i.e. how far the appliance “throws” the cold air). Of the five appliances we tested, all of them (even the least expensive) can be felt as far away as 10 feet; the sweet spot is mostly in the zone of six to eight feet.
We look for how easy the appliance’s controls are to use (they should be so simple and intuitive that you don’t need the owner’s manual). Trying to be as impartial as we can, we get a sense of how comfortable the appliance makes us feel. We don’t rig up a test chamber and let the appliance run while looking at some gauges. We run each air conditioner in a hot and stuffy space and join the appliance in there, taking notes and monitoring its temperature, how much noise it makes, and rattles, if any. It’s not as unpleasant as testing lawn mowers at the height of summer, but it’s no picnic either. When we’re done, we have a sense of the appliance’s benefits and capabilities.
It’s good news that the five appliances we tested deliver effective cooling; that’s true from the smallest to the largest. What they don’t all deliver is quietness and ease of mounting. Anyone who has ever installed a big window-mounted air conditioner is familiar with the trade-off. Big appliances bring big cooling, but they’re a handful to install, especially on the slippery surface of a vinyl window.