If you’ve got a small- to medium-sized room you want to keep cool this summer, you should buy an LG LW8011ER 8,000 BTU Air Conditioner. Priced at $259, it offers a great combination of features, a five-year warranty and enough power to easily cool a 225- to 350-square-foot space with some people in it.
If you’ve got a medium- to large-sized space you want to drive the temperature down in, you should think about stepping up to a 12,000 BTU unit like the LG LW1212ER 12,000 BTU Air Conditioner. It’ll keep a space up to 550 square feet cool for $319.
Why am I recommending two different air conditioners to you? Well, air conditioning is a complicated technology. What I found over 15 hours of research is that what works for one room or house may not be a good solution for another. If a fan just isn't cutting it for you, here's what you'll need to know in order to stay cool this summer.
KINDS OF AIR CONDITIONERS
I started my research by learning about all the different kinds of air conditioners that were out there. If you own a house with forced air heating, you might want to invest in a central forced-air system that will regulate your house’s temperature and humidity level through it’s existing heating ducts and vents. You could go with a split/ductless unit: That’s an air conditioner with a compressor that sits outside of your house, pumping dry, refrigerated air inside through pipes. Some apartments come with a hole built into their exterior wall for installing a sleeved wall air conditioner. In many condos and apartments, renters and owners are forbidden from installing an air conditioner that can can be seen from outside the building, and sometimes people need to cool rooms that don't have windows, such as basements. For them, a portable air conditioner is the way to go. Wheel it into the room you want to cool, plug it in and turn it on.
Finally, there are models you can install in a window. They’re by far the most popular style of air conditioner in North America, and on the whole, they're the least expensive. They're also the style of air conditioner that we're going to focus on here.
It makes sense that window air conditioners are king on this continent. They’re easy to install with just one or two people. You can take them with you when you move to a new home. You also can buy one just about anywhere. Walk into Target or Walmart, and you’ll find them at the front of the store during the summer, often priced low enough that they could almost be considered a hot-weather impulse buy.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
When you’re shopping for an air conditioner to install in your window, there are a number of things you should look for to make sure you’ll end up with a quality piece of hardware.
- How many decibels an air conditioner generates when it’s running is an import factor to consider, especially for anyone planning on installing it in their bedroom or living room. If you can’t sleep or hear your TV for the noise your air conditioner makes, you’re trading one kind of discomfort for another.
- You’ll likely want it to have digital controls, too. Going digital allows for a number of useful features, such as a remote control and an adjustable timer that turns off your air conditioner in the morning after you’ve gone to work and turns it back on in time to cool your home before you return at the end of the day.
- Airflow control’s important — especially in small spaces like a bedroom. Not being able to stop cold air from blowing on your face while you’re trying to sleep sucks.
- Finally, to save money and the environment, you’ll want your air conditioner to be Energy Star compliant.
I was surprised to find how little the people selling air conditioners at places like Walmart, Sears and even Home Depot knew about them. Specialty shops proved more knowledgeable, but a hell of a lot less friendly, than their chain store and big-box counterparts. It took me three store visits and seven phone calls before I discovered John, an employee at the Home Depot in Victoria, British Columbia, who was willing and capable of teaching me a little bit about how to cool my home. I asked John a question that I’d not been able to find a sound answer to online: whether a person who wanted to cool their home with window air conditioners would be better off with one large window air conditioner or a number of smaller units installed throughout the house.
“From experience, unless you’re cooling a large open area, you can only depend on a window unit to cool that one area,” John explained. “So one for each room would be better. The air just doesn’t flow properly. I mean, you can set up fans to circulate the cool air through the house, but it’s never the same. If there are people sleeping in each room, you’ll want to have multiple units.” When I asked John about what brands he liked, he said that he didn’t really have a preference, as “the quality varies from year to year, model to model.” He offered that Home Depot sold LG, Haier and Danby air conditioners in recent years. Most of them have come with similar feature sets, BTU ranges and warranties.
I also asked John what the threshold was for a window air conditioner that could be powered without having to rewire your house, as I wanted hardware that could run off of 120 volts to be my threshold for recommendations. He confirmed what I had already discovered for myself: 120-volt units typically max out at 10,000 to 12,000 BTUs. That’s enough to cool an area between 350 and 550 square feet. Any more BTUs than that, with rare exceptions, and you've got some electrical work in your future. You have to get an electrician to run a high-voltage plug to your AC, which kind of defeats the purpose of a window AC.
Generating 8,000 BTUs, the LG LW8011ER is perfect for cooling spaces between 225 to 350 square feet. That's roughly a 15' by 15' bedroom that sleeps two in a queen size bed and has room for a dresser and small bookshelf, or a good-sized home office.
In order to install it, the window you want to put it in needs to be a minimum of 23" by 37" in size. Most windows in houses and apartments are larger than that, so you should be good to go. It weighs 63 pounds: That sounds heavy, but it’s still svelte enough to manhandle into place for most people, and it's lighter than many other air conditioners in the same BTU range. The LG LW8011ER is a 115-volt device: Just plug its six-foot-long power cord into the closest electrical outlet and let it cool you down. Its digital controls are manipulated via touch pad and remote. They’ll let you tinker with the air conditioner’s 12-hour timer, three fan speeds and three cooling levels. To make sure all that cold air is pushed out in the direction you want it, the LW8011ER has four-way air deflectors. It’s also Energy Star compliant, so you can rest easy in the knowledge that you’re using as little power as possible to stay cool. It'll even start back up automatically after a power outage, ensuring that your room's temperature is always maintained. Perhaps best of all, it has a five-year manufacturer’s warranty on parts and labor — an important feature that sets the LW8011ER apart from every other air conditioner that I was able to locate in the same BTU class and price range.
There aren’t a lot of comparative editorial reviews of air conditioners available online. However, I was able to find some very positive feedback on the LG LW8011ER.
The frugal editors at Cheapism liked the LW8011ER, saying “The LG LW8011ER garners complaints about noise, but we didn't find any air conditioner its size that doesn't. Consumers and experts alike seem to consider this AC a smart purchase.”
Consumer Reports rated the LW8011ER a 75 out of 100. That’s great, considering their that their highest-rated air conditioner only earned an 82 out of 100.
People that bought the LW8011ER liked it, too. Tim Flavere bought his LW8011ER from Amazon, commenting that he “bought it Sunday, got it Tuesday and put it in the window in less than an hour. The room is cold, there is no vibration as some others have complained, and it's not exactly whisper quiet on full speed, but who would expect it to be?” Another Amazon user calling him/herself Chemdoc said, “sizing calculations said I need an 8,000 Btu unit for a 16 x 16 room. In fact, the unit will cool this poorly insulated room from 95+ degrees to 72 degrees within 2 hours.” J Jensen liked it, too, and said, “There might be quieter air conditioners in the world, but this was a huge improvement over the swamp cooler I had before! Even when it's running, it doesn't seem to be too loud, but I'm sure someone in the world would complain about it. It helps de-humidify my house and keeps the rooms in my house cooler.”
Not everyone likes it though. Some users who posted reviews to Amazon complained that the LW8011ER was just too loud. As it churns out 53 decibels when it’s operating, that’s a valid complaint. However, every other window air conditioner I looked at was almost as loud, if not louder. There were also complaints that the air conditioner switched on and off every three minutes and that it had difficulty cooling the room it was installed in. I feel for the people having this issue, but, as I’ll explain later in this piece, the problem likely stems from the air conditioner being over powered for the space it’s been installed in. You can’t fault the hardware for a mistake like that.
If noise is a deal breaker for you, you might want to look at the Friedrich Kuhl SS08M10. It pumps out 7,900 BTUs of cooling power, and thanks to its vibration-isolating design and steel inner walls, it’s whisper quiet compared to units like the LW8011ER, which cranks out about 55 to 60 decibels while operating. It also features, a 7-day programmable thermostat, 24-hour timer and patented "Comfortwatch" technology that samples the air to maintain a more constant temperature than a simple thermostat can manage. It looks sharp too, but it’ll set you back $916. That’s way too much to spend on hardware that most of us only need for a few months of the year, especially when something that sells for a quarter of the price will do the job just as well.
The Sharp AFS80RX is an 8,000 BTU unit that you can find at Home Depot for $242. It has a feature set that rivals the LW8011ER’s, and the price is in the same ball park, too. When running indoors, it produces 53 decibels of noise — one decibel less than the LW8011ER. However, its warranty only covers parts and labor for one year compared to the five-year all-in warranty offered by LG.
General Electric’s AEW18DQ is rated to cool the same amount of space as the LW8o11ER, but it only costs $219. However, a lot of owners have complained online about the amount of noise the unit makes. I checked GE’s and Home Depot's Web sites for the unit’s decibel rating and found that neither listed it. Whether it's louder or quieter than the LW8011ER is a mystery.
A MORE POWERFUL AC FOR A LARGER ROOM
As I mentioned at the start of this story, I’ve also got a recommendation for anyone looking to cool a mid- to large-sized room: The LG LW1212ER can be plugged in to most existing wall sockets, has four-way air flow control, three cooling and fan levels, and a remote. Also, it can restart automatically after a power outage and rocks both digital controls and a 12-hour timer. Most important of all, it comes with the same five-year parts and service warranty as the LW8011ER does, and it only costs $60 more. If matching the size of the space to the BTU output of your air conditioner wasn’t important, I’d pick the LW1212ER as my overall champion, but air conditioning tech just doesn’t work that way, so here we are. Aside from their BTU output, there are a few minor differences between the LW8011ER and the LW1212ER. To start, the 12,000 BTU weighs 21 pounds more than its 8,000 BTU sibling. It also takes up a few more inches in your window: 23 5/8" x 15" x 22 1/6", to be exact.
I’d like to share some editorial comments for the LG LW1212ER with you, but there are even fewer professional reviews available for air conditioners in the 10,000 to 12,0000 BTU range than there were for 8,000 BTU units. That said, I can provide you with a few customer testimonials. A Home Depot shopper from Arkansas named Skaggs reported that the LG LW1212ER provided “Instant COLD air!!! After about 4 hours it easily cooled 500 sq. feet. After about 8 hours … FREEZING! Had to turn it down!”
Another shopper Home Depot with the handle of Goose Guy wrote, “Though I have not seen an energy bill since installing this unit, I have seen a marked difference in the run time vs. the older unit I had. Much quieter, less vibration & the remote control is a great feature. I'm getting 2,000 more BTU for basically the same amperage.”
Despite its ability to rapidly cool down a large area, a few people that invested in the LW1212ER had some valid complaints, the most prominent of which concerned the air conditioner’s lousy installation instructions. The complaint that the air conditioner makes too much noise — an issue that haunts most window-mounted air conditioners — was mentioned multiple times in online customer reviews.
For about $55 less, you can pick up a Haier ESA410K from Walmart. It’s a 10,000 BTU unit that’ll cool you off a little more slowly than the 12,000 BTU LG, but it can still get the job done without being underpowered. It weighs 19 pounds less than the LW1212ER does, too. That said, the Haier only offers two-way air flow control and a one-year warranty, so we'd pass on it.
LG makes a 10,000 BTU unit, too — the LW1012ER. For $279, you’ll get the same feature set as seen in the other LG air conditioners. However, for reasons only known to LG, the LW1012ER only comes with a one-year parts and service warranty. For that reason alone, I’d say it’s worth avoiding.
HOW TO FIND OUT HOW MUCH COOLING POWER YOU NEED FOR YOUR ROOM
I know that there will be a lot of people reading this story who aren’t well-served by the air conditioners I’ve recommended here. Maybe your place is too large for them. Maybe it’s too small. In either case, I’ve got you covered.
Let me tell you how to shop for an air conditioner that’ll suit your needs, no matter what size of an area you need to cool.
The cooling power of an air conditioner is measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs). In order for an air conditioner to run the way it’s designed to, you’ve got to match the number of BTUs to the square footage of the area you want it to cool. If your air conditioner is underpowered for the space you’ve installed it in, it’ll be forced to work constantly in order to cool the air around it. This can lead to the hardware becoming caked in ice or, worse, its compressor burning out in short order.
If your air conditioner cranks out too many BTUs for the area it’s designed for, it’ll switch off before the entire space is cooled. This is because the thermometer inside of the air conditioner measures the temperature of the air being drawn past it in order to decide when to cool the room. An AC unit that pushes out a huge amount of BTUs in a small area will cool the area around it before the cool air has had time to distribute itself evenly, and then it will switch off without cooling the rest of the room. You don’t want that either. To avoid these problems, you need to approximately match the number of BTUs an air conditioner can produce to the square footage of the area you want to cool. All air conditioners list their BTU rating on the box. Many will tell you how large of an area they’re designed to cool.
If you’re unsure of your home’s measurements, measure the size of the room you want to install the AC in and convert it to square feet. Once that’s done, you can turn to any of the handy online BTU-to-square-footage guides available on the Internet to get come up with a figure. I like the one offered by the appliance mongers at AJ Madison:
Once you’ve calculated the number of BTUs you’ll need, there are other variables to factor in. If the space is exposed to a lot of direct sunlight, add 10% to the number of BTUs you’ll require. No sunlight? Subtract 10%. Planning on regularly having more than two people in the space at a time? Tack on an additional 600 BTUs per person. Putting your air conditioner in the kitchen? That’s an automatic 6,000 additional BTUs to compensate for the amount of heat generated by your stove and oven.
Above all else, the best advice I can give you if you’re buying an air conditioner is to be patient. I know it’s getting hot out there, but take the time to determine your needs and shop accordingly — you’ll be happier, and very likely a whole lot cooler, in the end.