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Air Conditioner Reviews

Consumers who post air conditioner reviews are concerned primarily with a unit's cooling performance. Our research found that among the best cheap air conditioners, low price is no bar to effective cooling.

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Aside from the occasional lemon, users seem more than satisfied with the performance of the budget models on our list. They do, however, gripe about noise, an irritant that seems to plague even the best picks. We also noted that consumers want units that are easy to install and expect them to last through many a long, hot summer.

Effective Cooling.

Air conditioner reviews indicate that frugal consumers are generally satisfied with the cooling prowess of budget models, regardless of size (i.e., BTUs). From smaller AC models such as the Kenmore 70051 (starting at $170) to larger products such as the LG LW1014ER (starting at $293) and Frigidaire LRA107BU1 (starting at $299), our picks are frequently praised in air conditioner reviews for their ability to cool a room quickly and keep the air nicely chilled.

But such assessments are not universal, and some users pan models others recommend. Even models extolled by most users as the best air conditioners get dinged by dissatisfied purchasers who assert that the units don't sufficiently cool the square footage they claim to be able to handle. Such disparity is on full display in comments about the Haier ESA406M (starting at $164), which failed to make our list of top picks. Some reviews posted at Walmart say it keeps smallish bedrooms cool in 90-plus-degree heat while others gripe about jumpy thermostats and woefully weak cooling.

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Consumers hoping to get more bang for their buck have found ways to maximize the effectiveness of inexpensive units. One reviewer mentions placing a fan in the doorway and another in the hall to draw the cool air from a 6,500-BTU model into other areas of the house. Quite a number of reviews note that a small window unit in a bedroom means a home's central air conditioning system doesn't have to run at night.

Quiet Operation.

The one aspect of performance that generates the most negative comments in air conditioner reviews concerns noise. Both user comments and owner's manuals caution that improper installation may cause vibration, rattling, and other annoying sounds. The design and engineering of a given model, as well as new energy-efficient technology, are partly to blame. Frigidaire and Haier actually specify common noises in their manuals, but consumers still complain about rushing air, the thwack of the fan splashing against water in the drip pan, or the thunk and click of the compressor cycling on and off. We read posts that likened the disconcerting sounds to a lawn mower and a motorboat. Some assessments of the Kenmore 70051 at Sears reveal that consumers can't get past the very loud beep the unit emits when it powers up or down or settings are changed.

But how noise is actually heard and described is notoriously subjective. For example, several air conditioner reviews of the Frigidaire LRA107BU1 say the hum is no louder than a box fan or central AC but another compares noise from the fan to a helicopter, insisting that it's nearly impossible to sleep, much less have a conversation, when the unit is on.

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Easy Installation.

Cost-conscious consumers often undertake DIY installation rather than paying a professional. Although users' experiences vary, air conditioner reviews often say installing the models we recommend is a snap and accomplished in less than 30 minutes. Note, though, that the higher the capacity, the heavier the unit; the 5,200-BTU Kenmore 70051, for example, weighs 42 pounds compared with the 62-pound, 10,000-BTU LG LW1014ER.

A word of caution: Not all windows are alike and even the clearest instructions may not suit every window frame. Cue the Haier ESA406M, according to several purchasers, who report the set-up kit is quirky and balancing the unit is a chore. So be prepared to improvise. If you're planning a DIY job, keep some plywood, two-by-fours, foam insulation, and weather stripping at the ready.

Durability.

The life expectancy of an air conditioner is about 10 years, according to the National Association of Home Builders. Most budget-priced window air conditioners come with a one-year warranty for parts and labor and up to five years for the sealed system. Durability issues crop up mainly in reviews of the cheapest models with the lowest capacities. An air conditioner review of the Kenmore 70051 reports that the unit did fine for a year but then ceased cooling effectively and on some days failed to turn on. We also read some gripes about serious water build-up in the Haier ESA406M due to a design that doesn't allow adequate drainage. Many of our top picks are new models for 2014 that meet the updated Energy Star requirements, so reviewers haven't had much chance to evaluate their durability.

by Gina Briles (Google+ Profile)

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