In many regions, an air conditioner is a must-have for surviving hot and muggy summers, but a good air conditioner can be quite the investment. The cheapest high-quality models run hundreds of dollars, while central air installs can range upwards of a few thousand dollars. The right pick should be able to last through the seasons, have a suitable cooling capacity, and have a comfortable (or at least tolerable) noise level.
The best air conditioner units can cool a room or an entire home quickly and efficiently, providing sweet relief from the summer heat. Read on for the best air conditioner models to stay cool all summer long.
Types of Air Conditioners
There are various types of air conditioners available—the best choice depends on budget, available space, and whether it’s a temporary or permanent fix. Some air conditioner types listed in this guide offer dual cooling and heating, which is a great option for those who need temperature control year-round. Read on to learn more about the different types of air conditioner units.
Window air conditioners are a popular pick because they’re affordable, easy to install, and relatively efficient. These compact units are designed for single- or double-hung windows, although some units can also install into sliding windows with a little modification.
A window AC is the best option for those looking for a cost-friendly, temporary option. Most window units are secured by a partially open window or a wall frame. Window models tend to be more efficient and affordable than portable units, not to mention less bulky.
Although most window units include side panels to ensure a good fit, there is potential for air loss around the unit, making them less efficient than permanent options. For example, most window AC units prohibit the window in which the unit is installed from opening or closing. This means the window can’t be used for airflow on cooler days.
Portable air conditioners tend to be bulky, expensive, and relatively inefficient, but they have one major draw: mobility. These wheeled units are easy to install and can be set up in any room with a power outlet and a suitable window or sliding door for venting.
Portable air conditioners are a well-suited pick for those who don’t want to install a permanent unit, such as infrequent AC users, renters, and those who don’t have suitable windows for a window AC unit. Most models include a venting kit for double-hung or sliding windows, but it isn’t impossible to find a solution for a sliding door or casement window.
While portable units offer mobility, portable air conditioners are still relatively heavy, weighing around 50 to 100 pounds. They’re ideal for wheeling from room to room as needed, but they take effort to carry up and down a flight of stairs. So, two-story homes may require more than one unit.
Also known as though-the-wall air conditioners, built-in AC units install through an opening in an exterior wall. Unlike window and portable units, built-in AC units are a permanent fixture that usually require professional installation. They’re ideal for those who don’t have a central cooling system (or have a room or two that don’t connect to the system) and for those looking for a permanent cooling option.
Built-in air conditioners tend to be costlier than nonpermanent options, but they are more attractive and efficient. There’s no bulky unit to store indoors or hang from a window, freeing up floor and window space, and they’re always ready to switch on at a moment’s notice. Since these units are built into the wall, they create a better airtight seal than window or portable units for more effective cooling.
Ductless mini-split air conditioners are among the most popular permanent options. These units are sleek, compact, and allow for more flexibility with placement compared to window, portable, and built-in systems.
Ductless mini-split systems feature two parts: a condenser that sits outside and one or more wall-mounted blower units which sit inside, joined by refrigeration lines. This setup requires professional installation but allows for more flexible placement, which is a huge advantage over window, portable, or built-in units. Another benefit is that they don’t require any ductwork, unlike traditional HVAC systems. Ductless mini-split systems are an efficient option, and many offer benefits like multistage air filtration.
Unlike the air conditioner types above, which are often installed in one or a handful of rooms, central air conditioning systems are designed to cool the entire home. These systems are the most efficient option for very hot climates, where full-home cooling is necessary for hot summer months.
Central systems can involve both indoor and outdoor components (like air handlers and condensers) and require an air-duct system to distribute cool air. This means they can be a significant investment, especially in homes without pre-existing ducts, and will require professional installation. Ensure there is enough space in the backyard, attic, or basement for all the components. Installation is more straightforward in homes with an existing HVAC system.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Air Conditioner
While there are several air conditioner types and models to choose from, the best air conditioners share the same features: They are efficient, reliable, and run without making too much noise. When shopping for an air conditioner, consider the size of the unit and the size of the intended room as well as the unit’s energy efficiency, installation process, and noise level.
One of the most important things to do before purchasing a unit is to ensure that there’s enough space to install it. The size of the unit will depend on the type.
Starting with nonpermanent options, wall units are small enough to sit in a window, while portable air conditioners are larger. Portable units usually measure 2 to 3 feet tall and a couple of feet wide.
Permanent air conditioners can have even larger components, which is part of the reason why they require professional installation. Most built-in units are smaller in size, just a bit larger than a wall unit, but when it comes to ductless mini-split and central AC systems, some units can be larger than a washing machine.
Air conditioners measure their cooling capacity by room size, which makes square footage one of the most important factors to consider when shopping. To choose an appropriate air conditioner, measure the square footage of the room you plan to cool and compare it to an air conditioner BTU rating chart. BTU (British thermal units) is used to measure cooling capacity, or how effectively an air conditioner can cool a room.
Try to find the closest BTU for your room size, and round up only when needed. Underpowered air conditioners may fail to cool the room, while overpowered options might cycle on and off too quickly.
Other factors include the area’s climate, the room’s location, and sun exposure, ceiling height, and room traffic (more people will mean a warmer room). These factors will affect how often or how long you need to run the unit. For rooms with a lot of sunlight, choose an air conditioner with a 10 percent higher BTU than recommended for the room size.
For many shoppers, energy efficiency tops the list of concerns when buying a new air conditioner. The best way to find an energy-efficient air conditioner is to pay attention to its energy ratings.
EER (Energy Efficient Rating) is a measure of the cooling capacity per watt of energy used. An EER of 9 is above average, and an EER of 12 is considered excellent. The higher the rating, the more efficient, which means lower electricity use and emissions. CEER (Combined Energy Efficiency Ratio) is a newer, similar rating system that also takes into account standby power consumption. A CEER rating of 10 or above is considered good.
The SEER rating (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) expresses how efficiently the air conditioner cools over an entire cooling season. A SEER rating over 15 is considered efficient. Again, the higher the SEER, the more efficient the air conditioner.
A unit with Energy Star certification uses less energy (up to an impressive 20 percent less) than typical air conditioners of the same type.
When it comes to setting up an air conditioner, the installation process varies depending on the unit type. Some air conditioners like window and portable models are perfectly suited for a DIY setup, while built-in, ductless mini-split, and central systems warrant a call to the professionals. Make sure to account for installation costs when budgeting for a new air conditioner.
Regardless of the air conditioner type, it’s important to make sure that the home is well suited for the installation process beforehand. For example, ensure that a window or portable air conditioner will work for your window type or that you’ve chosen an appropriate wall to mount a built-in air conditioner.
A loud air conditioning system can be disruptive and annoying, especially when running at night. These units run for hours or days at a time, which can add to the existing noise level in your home. The best air conditioners are quiet and don’t whir, clunk, or whine every time the unit switches on.
One way to measure an air conditioner’s noise level is to check the decibel rating. Most air conditioners make between 40 to 70 decibels of noise. To put it in perspective, a whisper is around 30 decibels, while a normal conversation is around 60 decibels.
Also keep in mind where the air conditioner is installed; a loud indoor ac unit will be more disruptive than a noisy outdoor unit. Some air conditioners feature a quiet mode which runs at a lower setting for quieter operation.
Air conditioners can include a wide range of convenient features. For year-round temperature control, some units double as a dehumidifier or heater to accommodate cooler weather conditions.
Some features make the air conditioner easier to control. Basic options include remote controls, programmable timers, multistep filters, and various operating modes like eco-friendly or quiet operation. Higher-tech options can include smart-home capabilities. Like many new appliances, some air conditioners come with smart-home features. These units allow consumers to use features such as voice commands, remote control, schedules, and timers from a connected smart device.
Our Top Picks
Installing an air conditioner is the best way to beat the summer heat. A good air conditioner will effectively and quietly run in the background while keeping you cool. The following air conditioners were chosen for their efficiency, durability, and reasonable noise level to keep your home comfortable in sweltering weather.1Photo: homedepot.com Check Latest Price
Keep medium to large rooms cool with this 14,000 BTU window air conditioner from LG Electronics. Made for rooms up to 800 square feet, this air conditioner has a multitude of attractive features. It’s Energy Star certified and has an excellent CEER rating of 14.7.
A dual inverter offers quiet but powerful performance, and with LG’s quiet LoDecibel feature, this unit operates as quietly as 44 decibels in sleep mode. After an easy installation setup, it’s an excellent unit for cooling down a medium-size room quickly and efficiently.
This window air conditioner also includes convenient adjustable settings like four cooling speeds, a 24-hour timer, and four-way air deflection. Plus, it features LG ThinQ smart compatibility, so you can control the air conditioner from anywhere using a smartphone or with Amazon Alexa and Google Home.
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A high-quality air conditioner doesn’t need to come at a luxury price tag, as proven by this compact window unit from Midea. This small 5,000 BTU air conditioner suits rooms up to 150 square feet, making it ideal for keeping a small bedroom or office cool. Its mini size makes it very easy to install; mounting hardware is included, and there are minimal modifications required to the window frame, also making it an excellent option for renters.
Once installed, it has a reasonably efficient CEER rating of 11, so it won’t put a huge dent in utility bills. Ongoing maintenance is also simple with this unit. It includes a reusable, washable filter, which means minimal maintenance costs. It operates at around 50 decibels, so it won’t be too loud either.
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This U-shaped window air conditioner from Midea boasts many of the best features of a window AC unit, without some of the major drawbacks. With a rating of 10,000 BTU, it’s suitable for rooms from 350 to 550 square feet. Its CEER rating of 15 and Energy Star certification mean this unit is also an efficient pick.
The clever U-shaped design allows you to open your window for fresh air, even when the air conditioner is installed, offering more flexibility than other window AC options. Most of the unit sits outside, which cuts back drastically on noise, allowing this unit to run as quietly as 42 decibels. To top it all off, this air conditioner is smart-home enabled and can be controlled using the Midea Air app, Google Home, and Amazon Alexa. It’s a top contender for the best window air conditioner.
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Looking for a more permanent solution than a window or portable air conditioner? This built-in 14,000 BTU air conditioner from Keystone has your needs covered. Designed for rooms up to 700 square feet, it has excellent cooling capacity for simple climate control. At 55 decibels and with a 9.5 EER rating, this AC unit is a reasonably quiet and efficient choice.
Both the unit and the included remote control feature temperature sensors for climate monitoring, which makes it easy to monitor and control temperature even from the other side of the room. In energy saver mode, these sensors trigger the AC to turn the compressor off when it reaches the set temperature. Other energy-saving features include a sleep mode and a programmable 24-hour timer. A front-access filter keeps this unit easy to maintain.
This unit requires a special 230-volt/20 amp electrical outlet and will not work with a standard 115-volt outlet.
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This 14,000 BTU portable unit from Whynter is a mobile and powerful pick to cool down rooms up to 500 square feet. It features three operating modes (cool, fan, or dehumidify) to keep indoor air comfortable.
A dual-hose design allows for a separate intake and exhaust hose, increasing airflow and efficiency to provide quick cooling. Convenience features include a simple setup, a 24-hour programmable timer, and a filter system with a pre-filter and activated carbon filter.
Maintaining this AC unit is easy: Auto draining technology helps drain condensation automatically and a washable pre-filter is easy to clean to keep the air fresh. Running at around 56 decibels, this air conditioner is reasonably quiet for a portable unit.
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Small rooms can quickly become sweltering on a hot summer day. To reverse sweaty climate conditions, consider this portable air conditioner from Black & Decker. This 5,000 BTU wheeled unit is suitable for rooms up to 150 square feet. The compact design and included window vent kit make it an excellent pick for small bedrooms, offices, dorm rooms, and even RVs and campers, cooling rooms down to as low as 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
For even more flexibility, this air conditioner also includes a fan and dehumidifier mode for muggy days that call for more airflow. Plus, a bucket-less, self-evaporating design keeps your small room crisp and dry, without the need for a drain or emptying a bucket.
Weighing just over 50 pounds and with carrying handles and caster wheels, this air conditioner is an excellent portable option. It has an 8.42 EER and is the loudest option on this list, running at 75 decibels, but it’s still a good pick for its compact and portable design at a very reasonable price point.
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Large rooms can be difficult to cool without a central air conditioning system. To cool an extra-large room or open floor plan, consider this 24,000 BTU air conditioner from Whirlpool. This window air conditioner is simple to install, providing powerful cooling to large spaces without the need for pricey permanent installation.
Despite its robust cooling capability, this unit is Energy Star certified and has an EER rating of 10.4, so you can cool big spaces without the big energy bill. Features like an Eco mode, Sleep mode, 24-hour timer, and washable air filter help keep bills and maintenance costs down. Eight-way air louvers direct the air where you need it for effective cooling.
Running at 67 decibels, this air conditioner is reasonably quiet for its size. To power its cooling system, this unit requires a 230V outlet and will not operate on a standard 115V household outlet.
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Cool the air while maintaining the zen atmosphere indoors with this ultra-quiet air conditioner from Haier. Ideal for bedrooms, living rooms, and other living spaces, this 6,000 BTU window unit operates at just 44 decibels on low. Its noise level is comparable to a quiet library, so you can relax or sleep even while the air conditioner is running.
This unit has four modes to suit a variety of needs, including a cooling mode, energy saver mode, fan-only settings, and dehumidify mode. With an EER rating of 12.2, this air conditioner efficiently keeps the climate comfortable in rooms up to 250 square feet. An included remote makes it simple to control, and a 24-hour programmable timer allows you to set the AC to turn on only when you need it.
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With a combined air conditioner and heater unit, you’ll be treated to year-round temperature control for the price of one unit. This portable air conditioner from Black & Decker features an air condition, heating, fan, and dehumidifying mode to get you through stifling summers and chilly winters. The 10,000 BTU unit is ideal for rooms up to 450 square feet.
With a cooling temperature as low as 61 degrees Fahrenheit and a heating temperature up to 88 degrees Fahrenheit, this compact wheeled model is an ideal unit to keep bedrooms, offices, and living rooms comfortable. Running at just 58 decibels on the highest setting, it’s a reasonably quiet option for your living space.
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This window air conditioner from GE is another efficient and quiet choice for small- to medium-size rooms. It’s important to find an air conditioner rated as close to your room size as possible. With an 8,100 BTU rating for rooms up to 350 square feet, this air conditioner covers cooling in those in-between size rooms. It’s also Energy Star certified and has an 11.4 CEER rating for those who are energy conscious.
A built-in dehumidifier removes humidity from the room while cooling to make the air feel less stuffy. This unit is also smart-home compatible; all the controls (including three cooling settings and three fan speeds) can be monitored, scheduled, and controlled remotely via a smartphone app or voice controlled with popular Bluetooth-enabled voice assistants like Amazon Alexa, Apple Home, and Google Assistant. To top it all off, it runs ultra quietly, registering only 43 decibels.
An impressive efficiency rating, quiet operation, and smart features make the LG Electronics Window Air Conditioner an excellent window air conditioner for large rooms in most homes. For a more affordable option suited for smaller rooms, the MIDEA EasyCool Window Air Conditioner features a compact size that is incredibly easy to install.
How We Chose the Best Air Conditioners
When it comes to shopping for air conditioners, it can feel like there’s an overwhelming array of options to choose from. We took a few key features into consideration to narrow down our picks: cooling power, efficiency, and noise level—all of which are measurable. We also considered size and design, since no homeowner wants an eyesore of an appliance.
We chose the top air conditioners in this guide based on extensive product research, including sourcing information from hands-on product reviews from reputable sources. The well-known brands on this list have years of product design and testing under their belts. Quite simply, they’ve created a reputation based on building effective air conditioners.
Still considering the best air conditioner type and model for your home? Read on to find answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the best air conditioners, as well as some maintenance tips for your new unit.
To clean an air conditioner, start by unplugging the unit and removing the outer case. Use a vacuum to remove any dust inside the unit and wipe down safe components with a mixture of water and mild dish detergent. Make sure to clean or replace the filter as recommended by the manufacturer.
You should not need to refill the freon in an AC unit; if your AC seems to be running low, there might be a leak that needs fixing.
The best type of AC for your home depends on several factors, including whether you want a nonpermanent or permanent option, whether you want to cool a room or the entire home, how often you will use the AC, and your budget.
BTU stands for British Thermal Units and is a measurement of thermal energy. When it comes to air conditioners, the BTU rating indicates how much energy is used to remove heat from the air, or how quickly the air conditioner can cool a room.
The SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) rating measures cooling efficiency; a higher SEER rating means a more efficient air conditioner. It is measured by calculating the cooling output divided by the energy used over an average cooling season.
A good air conditioner unit should last 15 to 20 years with proper maintenance.