Cheapism: Best budget air conditioners

The Northeast seemed to skip straight from winter to summer last week, as temperatures in the 80s supplanted a Memorial Day weekend snowstorm. The coming weeks only promise more warm weather throughout the country. If central air is way out of your budget, you can use a window air conditioner to create a refuge in a room of your house or cool a small apartment for less than $300.

Here are the top picks from

* The Kenmore 70051 (starting at $170) has a cooling capacity of 5,200 BTUs, or British thermal units; that’s a measure of how powerful the air conditioner is. The manufacturer recommends this unit for rooms up to 165 square feet. Consumers who have posted reviews online give this model kudos for energy efficiency. Features include an indicator light to remind you to clean the filter and a sleep mode that gradually increases the temperature overnight to save energy, then brings it back down before you wake up. (Where to buy)

The Frigidaire FRA065AT7.

* The Frigidaire FRA065AT7 (starting at $170) comes in at 6,000 BTUs, which makes it powerful enough to cool a room between 200 and 250 square feet. It comes with a sleep mode, a clean filter alert, and a restart feature that automatically restores the most recent settings after a power outage. Reviewers declare it a good value for the money. (Where to buy)

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* The LG LW8012ER (starting at $219), at 8,000 BTUs, has sufficient oomph for up to about 350 square feet. Some users report that it keeps even larger areas cool and dry. Reviewers have also found this model relatively quiet. You may encounter a more recent version of this air conditioner with the model number LW8013ER; it has the same features and should perform similarly well. (Where to buy)

* The Frigidaire LRA107BU1 (starting at $279) brings 10,000 BTUs to the table -- enough to cool up to 500 square feet -- along with all the bells and whistles: sleep mode, automatic restart, clean filter alert. User reviews are overwhelmingly positive and often mention the unit’s quality and durability. (Where to buy)

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The Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program offers tips for measuring your space and zeroing in on the right size air conditioner, accounting for variables such as sun exposure. As the site explains, an AC that’s too powerful can leave a room as uncomfortable as an AC that’s too small. All the models on this list exceed government standards for energy efficiency by at least 10 percent; the Kenmore 70051 earns the highest rating.

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These air conditioners have electronic controls and digital displays and automatically adjust to maintain a set temperature. With 24-hour timers, they can be programmed to power down after you leave for the day to save energy (and money on your utility bill) or set to kick in just before you plan to return home. All four models also include a remote control.

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Full report on cheap air conditioners