By Kara Reinhardt
If you’re on a tight budget, sweating out the summer with no air conditioning may sound like a good way to save money. But a sizzling June brought record highs to more than 40 U.S. locales, and a heat wave is gripping much of the nation. So if you feel your willpower starting to melt, here’s how to find an air conditioner for less.
Let’s start with the basics. The first thing to note in an air conditioner is its cooling capacity, which is measured in BTU, or British thermal units. The size of your space determines how much cooling capacity you need. Budget air conditioners range from 5,000 BTU, which can handle about 150 square feet, to 12,000 BTU, enough to cover about 550 square feet. Naturally, air conditioners with higher capacities have higher price tags. But beware of buying less (or more) than you need; you’ll pay the price in performance and efficiency. This government chart can help you determine the right size for you.
Another thing to look for is an Energy Star label, which signals that an air conditioner is at least 10 percent more efficient than the minimum standard set by the federal government. While an Energy Star model can cost more than a conventional air conditioner, the savings on utilities should make up any difference. Buying an Energy Star appliance can also qualify you for a rebate, sales tax exemption, or tax credit. Check the Energy Star website for offers in your area.
Even low-cost air conditioners come with plenty of features, such as electronic controls and a remote control. A timer lets you set the air conditioner to turn off in case you forget or turn on before you expect to be home so the place is cool when you arrive. An energy saver mode strategically cycles the fan on and off, using the compressor only when necessary. Sleep mode gradually increases the temperature a few degrees while you sleep, conserving energy and keeping you from waking up cold in the middle of the night.
Below are Cheapism’s top picks in a variety of sizes:
- The 5,200 BTU Kenmore 70051 (starting at $150) has all the features of a bigger, more expensive air conditioner. It comes with an Energy Star label, three fan speeds and cooling modes, a remote control, a 24-hour timer, energy saver mode, sleep mode, and an indicator light to alert you when the filter needs cleaning. According to reviews, it’s easy to use and install. (Where to buy)
- With 6,500 BTU, the Frigidaire LRA074AT7 (starting at $159) is big enough to cool up to 250 square feet. This Lowe’s model comes with a five-year in-home warranty and a full set of features that impresses users posting reviews. (Where to buy)
- The LG LW8011ER (starting at $199) features an Energy Star label, three fan speeds and cooling modes, a remote control, a five-year in-home warranty, and a 12-hour timer. At 8,000 BTU, it has the cooling capacity for up to about 350 square feet. All that power generates a few complaints in reviews about noise, but overall consumers are pleased with this model’s performance. (Where to buy)
- The Frigidaire FRA106BU1 (starting at $237) boasts a cooling capacity of 10,000 BTU, enough to handle about 500 square feet. The remote control is equipped with a thermostat to monitor the temperature elsewhere in the room and adjust the AC accordingly. In reviews, users praise the air conditioner’s high quality and durability. (Where to buy)
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