While Consumer Reports ranks air conditioners on price and reliability, there isn’t one “best buy” for all situations. For example, when it comes to central air conditioning systems, any of the top brand names will do. The differences come in with warranties, maintenance and repair1.
Even energy efficiency isn’t the deciding factor for everyone. SEER ratings start at 13 for new equipment and go up to 17 for extremely high efficiency units. For areas of the country where the air conditioning will get high usage, there is a savings here. For those in more seasonally fluctuating climates, this isn’t as much of a selling point. The equipment doesn’t run much of the year. What is “best” for one area isn’t for another2.
This is also played out in how central AC systems are purchased, installed and serviced. In a real sense, you are partnering with the company that will keep your system running. The caveat in the profession is, “The best central air system is the one that is properly maintained.”3
Because the installed costs are in the multiple thousands for a central air system, the best bet is to check with several local companies which offer different brands. Compare prices, warrantees and recommendations from each contractor4. Then spend some time on the Internet reading about the brands you are considering.
Small – 5,000 to 7,000 BTU
Friedrich scores highest here, both in price and quality. Since noise is a real consideration in window units, two models stand out:
Friedrich CP06F10 – at $269.00, this 6,000 BTU window unit is quiet and reliable5 – 80% rating from Consumer Reports.
Frigidaire 6500 – a steal at Lowes6, this unit runs around $160 and drops lower in the off season.
Medium – 8,000 to 10,000 BTU
Friedrich comes in at a higher price but with tons of features7. The CP08P10 is a 7,800 BTU unit that runs about $350 with an Energy Star rating.
Kenmore has a no frills entry that was rated highly – at $230.00, the Kenmore 76081 is a 7,800 BTU unit that only suffers from not being as quiet as the competition (but much cheaper)8.
LG Electronics scores highly (75 out of 100)9 with its LW1010ER. This 10,000 BTU window unit prices out at about $350 and can be found at Home Depot10.
Large – 12,000+ BTU
Both LG and Frigidaire made the top ranks.
Frigidaire FRA156MT1 (15,100 BTU) is available from Walmart for $490.0011.
LG Electronics, model LW1811ER is an 18,000 BTU window unit that sells for about $500.00 online (free shipping)12.
In some categories, there is very close competition between manufacturers. Generally, GE, Kenmore, Frigidaire, LG and Friedrich all made quality products. The trade off is between price and features. The ranking here is primarily for basic machines with low prices. At the higher price end (more features) comes Sharp and GE13.
SEER and Energy Star ratings were not a primary consideration either. Because window air conditioners (except for the very large models) do not offer much of an energy savings opportunity over their lifespan in most areas of the U.S. If you are going to use the unit in a high-demand, continuous use mode, then energy efficiency may make a difference.