Cheapism: Top air conditioners under $300

In a year when a frigid winter long overstayed its welcome and ice lingered on Lake Superior into June, many Americans may be inclined to save some money and forgo air conditioning. Yet it’s only a matter of time before the mercury creeps into truly uncomfortable territory. Farmers’ Almanac predicts that most of the country will be sweltering by July. Consumers can stay cool with a window air conditioner for less than $300 — still a bargain compared with central air.

Here are the top picks from

The Kenmore 70051 (starting at $170) is a tried-and-true model equipped with 5,200 BTUs, or British thermal units, of cooling power. That’s enough for up to 165 square feet, according to the manufacturer. Users appreciate features often confined to more expensive models, such as a sleep mode that gradually turns down the AC during the night to save energy and keep sleepers from waking up shivering. (Where to buy

The GE AEM06LS starts at $190.

The GE AEM06LS (starting at $190) packs 6,050 BTUs of cooling power, enough to cover about 250 square feet. Experts who have tested the unit deem its performance particularly excellent when the temperature reaches well into the triple digits, stretching the power grid to its limit. Big-box chains carry versions of this GE air conditioner with slightly different model numbers and features but generally lower prices. Members of Sam’s Club can pick up the AEH06LS, for instance, for just $160. (Where to buy

The Frigidaire FFRE0833Q1 (starting at $268) has a cooling capacity of 8,000 BTUs and is rated for up to 350 square feet. Reviewers vouch for its cooling performance and cite its energy efficiency. This unit is positively loaded with features, perhaps most notably a remote control with a built-in thermostat. This allows the air conditioner to monitor the temperature anywhere in the room and maintain a more accurate and comfortable level. (Where to buy

The LG LW1014ER (starting at $293) is the most powerful of the bunch. At 10,000 BTUs, it can cool an area up to 450 square feet. It sports few frills but comes from a line of highly rated air conditioners, including the 8,000-BTU LW8014ER (starting at $239). It’s also more efficient than most any other unit this size under $300. (Where to buy

All four air conditioners have electronic controls with digital temperature readouts, three fan speeds, and an energy saver mode that cycles off the fan to conserve energy when the compressor is off. They also have remote controls and 24-hour timers for setting the AC to turn off automatically when you leave for the day (lest you forget) or power up to cool the place down in time for your return.

These air conditioners are among the most energy efficient on the market. Three are Energy Star qualified, which means they use at least 15 percent less electricity than a conventional room air conditioner. The Environmental Protection Agency recently raised the bar for certification and the Kenmore 70051 comes up just shy of the new standard.

Most of the air conditioners featured here come in different sizes (with model numbers and prices to match). This guide can help you figure out how many BTUs you need, based on the size of your space but also variables such as sun exposure. Note that it doesn’t pay to go smaller or larger. A smaller unit may be cheaper but have to work harder to lower the temperature, sacrificing efficiency. A larger one may cool too quickly and shut off before it’s had a chance to dehumidify the air, leaving the space feeling clammy.

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