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How to shop for the best air conditioner, according to experts

TODAY logo TODAY 8/17/2021 Lauren Levy, Shop TODAY and Kala Herh, Shop TODAY

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Across the Pacific Northwest, hundreds of thousands of people are facing stifling humidity and heat alerts as temperatures soar well above the 90 degrees Fahrenheit. If you're someone impacted by the change of weather or you just like to keep things cool, it might be time to step up your air conditioner game with an upgrade. But between window units, portable air conditioners and personal air coolers, there are a lot of features and specs to consider. You can even find ones with built-in humidifiers and air purifiers, depending on your needs. To help guide you to the right air conditioner for your space, we consulted cooling experts on shopping tips to consider for air conditioners, as well as their top recommendations.

SKIP AHEAD Window air conditioners | Portable air conditioners | Personal air conditioners

Related: Looking to update your laundry room with a new top-load washing machine? Here are some highly rated options to consider.

AC unit strength: Find the sweet spot for BTUs

The cooling capacity of an air conditioner is generally measured in British thermal units (BTUs). On average, an AC unit needs about 20 BTUs per square foot of living space to keep things cool, explained Marla Mock, VP of Operations at HVAC services company Aire Serv. When you’re shopping for a new AC unit, she said it’s important to pick the right size for your space — despite what some assume, more BTUs isn’t always better.

“If you buy an undersized air conditioner, it's likely that the equipment may fail to keep up with cooling demands on hot days — not to mention ultimately increasing your energy bill since it's working overtime to meet that demand,” she said. “But if you purchase an oversized AC unit, it'll reach that demanded temperature too quickly, which leads to a short-cycling behavior and premature breakdowns.” In addition to your home or room’s square footage, Mock moted some other factors to keep in mind as you scroll through options for your next AC unit’s BTUs:

  • Climate. Homes in hotter climates like Florida and Arizona may need a larger AC unit than homes in Illinois or Michigan.
  • Number of windows. Homes or rooms with more windows heat up faster than those with fewer windows.
  • Internal heat gain. If you use heat-generating appliances during the day, you may need more air conditioning to counteract the heat gain.
  • Occupancy. The more people who live in your home, the larger your unit should be.

How to shop for a new AC unit

After narrowing down how many BTUs you’ll want your AC to sport, there’s a wide range of AC features to consider next.

Energy-efficient AC models

Look for products that are Energy Star-rated — these are independently certified to save energy and help reduce environmental impact. The Combined Energy Efficiency Ratio (CEER) is the standard rating for window air conditioners. It’s based on the amount of energy used while the AC runs as well as when the air conditioner is on standby.

Generally, the higher the CEER rating, the better a unit’s efficiency — and “greater energy efficiency can translate into lower monthly energy costs,” said Anthony Carrino, a home improvement developer and designer.

Easily controlled and smart AC

Whether it’s Wi-Fi enabled and can be adjusted through an app on your smartphone or it comes with a remote control, many units have features that make them easier to control, said John Carey, vice president at retailer Designer Appliances.

AC noise level

If the AC unit is going to be anywhere near your bedroom or at-home workspace, having a quieter unit is vital. “Many units are rated with a Nominal Sound Level — the average sound level in decibels. The higher the number, the louder the unit,” explained Carrino. “For example, 40 equals a library while 70 equals a vacuum cleaner.”

Bonus AC feature: air purifier

By investing in a unit that also offers air purification, you’ll be making a wellness-focused change, said Carrino. An AC-and-air purifier combo can also remove airborne pollutants from your home.

Related: Ever wonder how air purifiers work? Experts weigh in on the efficacy of air purifiers and what to consider before buying one in 2021.

Best air conditioners

To help you find the best air conditioner for your space, we asked experts for their favorite models across various categories, plus highlighted a few highly rated options.

Best window air conditioners

If you’re looking to install a more permanent solution, check out some of these highly-regarded window AC units recommended by the experts we consulted.

Best overall window air conditioner: Midea

1. MIDEA Easycool MAW12R1BWT Window Air Conditioner 12,000 BTU

With 12,000 BTUs of power, this AC unit can cover rooms up to 550 square feet, making it a good choice for just about any room in the house. “It's one of my top ACs to recommend because of the fact that it's 3-in-1, meaning you can use it as an AC, fan and dehumidifier,” said Justin Edwards, an HVAC contractor with ContractorAdvisorly. “It's also quiet compared to other AC models and it's easy to install.”

MIDEA MAW12R1BWT 12,000 BTU Easycool AC

MIDEA MAW12R1BWT Window Air Conditioner 12000 BTU Easycool AC. Best air conditioners in 2021. (Amazon / Amazon) © Amazon MIDEA MAW12R1BWT Window Air Conditioner 12000 BTU Easycool AC. Best air conditioners in 2021. (Amazon / Amazon)

MIDEA MAW12R1BWT 12,000 BTU Easycool AC $381.87 at Amazon

Best smart window air conditioner: LG

2. LG LW8017ERSM Smart Wi-Fi Enabled Window Air Conditioner with 8,000 BTU

With a 4.3-star average from over 1,300 Amazon reviewers, this highly rated Wi-Fi enabled air conditioner can cover more than 340 square feet of space while operating at low sound levels. “This unit has excellent performance thanks to its 8,000 BTUs of cooling power,” said Carey. “But besides its coverage and cooling power, it has a three-fan cooling speed and a four-way direction, which further boosts its performance.”

LG LW8017ERSM 8,000 BTU Window Air Conditioner

LG LW8017ERSM 8,000 BTU Window Air Conditioner. Best air conditioners in 2021. ('Multiple' Murder Victims Found in Calif. Home / 'Multiple' Murder Victims Found in Calif. Home) © 'Multiple' Murder Victims Found in Calif. Home LG LW8017ERSM 8,000 BTU Window Air Conditioner. Best air conditioners in 2021. ('Multiple' Murder Victims Found in Calif. Home / 'Multiple' Murder Victims Found in Calif. Home)
  • LG LW8017ERSM 8,000 BTU Window Air Conditioner $299.99 at Target
  • LG LW8017ERSM 8,000 BTU Window Air Conditioner $289.00 at Amazon

Best affordable window air conditioner: Frigidaire

3. Frigidaire FFRA051WAE 5,000 BTU Compact Air Conditioner

Don’t let the size or price of this compact window AC fool you. For those looking to cool a small room, this air conditioner quickly gets to work with two fan speeds as well as two-way air direction. “You can cool a room up to 150 square feet quickly and efficiently,” said Edwards. “It's quiet enough to the point where you won't have any issues going to sleep with it on.” This Frigidaire air conditioner has a 4.5-star average from over 6,300 Amazon reviewers.

Frigidaire FFRA051WAE Mini-Compact Air Conditioner

Frigidaire FFRA051WAE Mini-Compact Air Conditioner ('Multiple' Murder Victims Found in Calif. Home / 'Multiple' Murder Victims Found in Calif. Home) © 'Multiple' Murder Victims Found in Calif. Home Frigidaire FFRA051WAE Mini-Compact Air Conditioner ('Multiple' Murder Victims Found in Calif. Home / 'Multiple' Murder Victims Found in Calif. Home)
  • Frigidaire FFRA051WAE Mini-Compact Air Conditioner $159.00 at Home Depot
  • Frigidaire FFRA051WAE Mini-Compact Air Conditioner $147.75 at Walmart
  • Frigidaire FFRA051WAE Mini-Compact Air Conditioner $145.00 at Amazon

Best high-end window air conditioner: Friedrich

4. Friedrich Chill Premier 6,000 BTU Smart Window Air Conditioner

This Friedrich model is a remarkable window AC unit with ultra-quiet performance, excellent CEER levels and one of the best window AC cooling performance rates in the industry, explained Carey. “Its top features include the Quiet Master Technology for low noise levels, Wi-Fi connectivity with Amazon and Google Home integration, and the expandable curtains that ensure a snug fit during installation,” he noted.

Friedrich Chill Premier 6,000 BTU Window Air Conditioner

a microwave oven: Friedrich Chill Premier 6,000 BTU Window Air Conditioner. Best air conditioners in 2021. ('Multiple' Murder Victims Found in Calif. Home / 'Multiple' Murder Victims Found in Calif. Home) © 'Multiple' Murder Victims Found in Calif. Home Friedrich Chill Premier 6,000 BTU Window Air Conditioner. Best air conditioners in 2021. ('Multiple' Murder Victims Found in Calif. Home / 'Multiple' Murder Victims Found in Calif. Home)
  • Friedrich Chill Premier 6,000 BTU Window Air Conditioner $389.00 at Sylvane
  • Friedrich Chill Premier 6,000 BTU Window Air Conditioner $279.99 at Amazon
  • Friedrich Chill Premier 6,000 BTU Window Air Conditioner $389.00 at Northern Tool + Equipment

Related: Experts explain how to choose an indoor pot to keep your plants healthy.

Best portable air conditioners

Larger portable AC units that can be easily moved from room to room — usually designed with portability and mobility in mind. Here are our experts’ top picks for portable air conditioners, plus a few highly rated options.

Best overall portable air conditioner: BLACK+DECKER

5. BLACK+DECKER BPACT08WT Portable Air Conditioner

With an adjustable fan speed that cools air down to 65 degrees Fahrenheit and an easily accessible filter for cleaning, this is Edwards’ top pick for portable AC units. “At 8,000 BTUs, it can cover most home room sizes and it's perfect if you want to keep it on while you sleep,” he said. “Its sleep mode function allows it to control the air temperature while you're asleep, keeping you comfortable — and it has a low noise level at 75 dB.”

BLACK+DECKER BPACT08WT Portable Air Conditioner

a close up of a refrigerator: BLACK+DECKER BPACT08WT Portable Air Conditioner. Best air conditioners in 2021. ('Multiple' Murder Victims Found in Calif. Home / 'Multiple' Murder Victims Found in Calif. Home) © 'Multiple' Murder Victims Found in Calif. Home BLACK+DECKER BPACT08WT Portable Air Conditioner. Best air conditioners in 2021. ('Multiple' Murder Victims Found in Calif. Home / 'Multiple' Murder Victims Found in Calif. Home)

BLACK+DECKER BPACT08WT Portable Air Conditioner $418.28 at Grainger

Best high-end portable air conditioner: Ukoke

6. Ukoke USPC01W Smart Wi-Fi Portable Air Conditioner

The Ukoke USPC01W is as high-tech as it gets, said Edwards. Apart from just being an AC unit, you can also use it as a dehumidifier, fan and heater. “You can set up your Alexa to control it or use Ukoke's own mobile app — and at 12,000 BTU cooling capacity, it can cool rooms up to 400 square feet,” he said. “I recommend this AC to those looking for convenience, the latest AC technology and who aren't too bothered with the price.” Additionally, it has a 4.2-star average rating from over 150 Amazon reviewers.

Ukoke USPC01W Portable Air Conditioner

a close up of a device: Ukoke USPC01W Portable Air Conditioner. Best air conditioners in 2021. (Walmart / Walmart) © Walmart Ukoke USPC01W Portable Air Conditioner. Best air conditioners in 2021. (Walmart / Walmart)
  • Ukoke USPC01W Portable Air Conditioner $370.00 at Walmart
  • Ukoke USPC01W Portable Air Conditioner $370.00 at Amazon
  • Ukoke USPC01W Portable Air Conditioner $370.00 at UKOKE Technology

Best smart portable air conditioner: Frigidaire

7. Frigidaire Gallery 13,000 BTU Cool Connect Portable Air Conditioner

With a smart AC unit, you can start cooling down your room from anywhere — this one is Wi-Fi-enabled and can be controlled with the Frigidaire app. It also offers the ability to create custom schedules and hands-free temperature changes. The air conditioner also dehumidifies and cleans the air through a washable filter.

Frigidaire Gallery 13,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner

a close up of a device: Frigidaire Gallery 13,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner. Best air conditioners in 2021. Frigidaire Gallery 13,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner. Best air conditioners in 2021.
  • Frigidaire Gallery 13,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner $529.99 at Home Depot
  • Frigidaire Gallery 13,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner $529.00 at Abt
  • Frigidaire Gallery 13,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner $579.00 at AJ Madison

Best personal air conditioners

These AC units might be small, but don’t underestimate their ability to keep your personal space cool. Below, we highlighted Edwards’ favorite personal AC, plus highlighted a top-rated option from Dyson.

Best overall personal air conditioner: Evapolar

8. Evapolar evaCHILL Personal

This sleek personal air conditioner has a minimalist design while packing a powerful punch that quietly cools with a working time of up to 9 hours. “It's a good choice if you want to use it in a work environment to cool your office desk or when you just want to lay down and relax on your bed,” said Edwards. “It's lightweight, and it's easy to set up and use, making it convenient for everyone.”

Evapolar evaCHILL Personal Air Conditioner

a projector screen: Evapolar evaCHILL Personal Air Conditioner (Amazon / Amazon) © Amazon Evapolar evaCHILL Personal Air Conditioner (Amazon / Amazon)
  • Evapolar evaCHILL Personal Air Conditioner $99.00 at Amazon
  • Evapolar evaCHILL Personal Air Conditioner $99.00 at Home Depot

Best high-end personal air cooler: Dyson

9. Dyson Pure Cool Link DP01 Purifying Desk Fan

Unlike the standard personal air conditioner, this fan doesn’t just keep you cool. Made with a HEPA filter, this adjustable fan from Dyson captures 99.97 percent of bacteria and pet dander. It also works with both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant and can be controlled through your smartphone with the Dyson Link app, giving you real time air quality updates.

Dyson Pure Cool Link DP01 Purifying Desk Fan

shape: Dyson Pure Cool Link DP01 Purifying Desk Fan ('Multiple' Murder Victims Found in Calif. Home / 'Multiple' Murder Victims Found in Calif. Home) © 'Multiple' Murder Victims Found in Calif. Home Dyson Pure Cool Link DP01 Purifying Desk Fan ('Multiple' Murder Victims Found in Calif. Home / 'Multiple' Murder Victims Found in Calif. Home)
  • Dyson Pure Cool Link DP01 Purifying Desk Fan $299.99 at Dyson
  • Dyson Pure Cool Link DP01 Purifying Desk Fan $450.00 at Walmart
  • Dyson Pure Cool Link DP01 Purifying Desk Fan $399.99 at Amazon

Related: We consulted interior design experts on how to make the most out of a cramped space, as well as where to save and when to splurge.

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