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Cool it! Tips for buying the right air conditioner

Confused about what kind of unit to buy? Don't sweat it — here, gadget guy Paul Hochman offers tips on how to buy the best AC for your space.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Cool it, if you can. On the Eastern Seaboard last week, and throughout much of the rest of the country, the thought of cool, dry air was more than just a dream of comfort; it was even a question of safety. Older folks, moms with young kids and anybody with a weakened pulmonary system was well-advised to seek an air-conditioned room when the “Hazy, Hot and Humid” graphics started popping up on Al Roker’s weather screen.

There can be relief in choosing the right new air conditioner. But that choice is not always as simple as it seems. Some people assume, for example, that all you have to do is measure the size of your room to pick correctly. Others assume that getting a “bigger” air conditioner cools your room better. Wrong.

Right: The correct combination of BTU, room type and AC unit style, below. And, as always, no matter what brand you buy, make sure it’s Energy Star rated (the U.S. government’s certificate of efficiency) and has an EER (Energy Efficiency Rating) of 10 or above.

BTUs for you! Window air conditioners (and even central air conditioners, for that matter) have different levels of cooling power, and are measured in something called “BTUs,” or “British Thermal Units.” Generally, the more BTUs your unit has, the more potential cooling power that unit can produce. A typical brand like Sharp, LG or GE (NBC Universal's parent company) will commonly offer window AC units in a 5,000 BTU to 20,000 BTU range.

Here’s a helpful thumbnail that matches a few typical room sizes (and types!) with two common BTU needs:

Ready to feel the breeze? Check out these great options:

Sharp’s AF-S60NX The reason I love this one is simple: While it’s not dirt cheap, it’s quiet and efficient. In fact, Sharp claims this unit is “library quiet.” I’m not sure the Library Association has actually endorsed it, but it makes amazingly little noise.

The Sharp’s compressor (which is the unit’s cooling engine) is highly insulated for sound, and among other key features, it has an electronic thermostat, so the unit will shut down when the room is cool enough, saving energy. It also has three cooling speeds, so it won’t blast you (or your stuff) across the room. It’s perfect for home offices and even comes with a remote so you can turn it off if an important call comes in. About $225;

GE’s ASM14AL For a bigger room of about 700 square feet, the GE ASM14AL is also Energy Star rated, and with 14,300 BTUs of cooling power, it’s very quiet and efficient. Best of all: In addition to a handy remote control, three cooling speeds and a precise electronic thermostat, the heavy unit has an ingenious slide-out chassis, making removal and installation much easier and safer. About $419 at online retailers including

Paul Hochman is the gear and technology editor for the TODAY Show and a Fast Company magazine contributor. He covered the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Athens and Torino, Italy, for TODAY. He was also a three-year letter winner on the Dartmouth ski team and has a black belt in karate. Paul’s blog can be found at: