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In this review:
  1. Best Cheap Air Conditioners
  2. Air Conditioner Reviews
  3. Energy Star Air Conditioners
  4. Air Conditioner Features
  5. Air Conditioner Deals
  6. Discount Air Conditioners Features Comparison Table

Cheap Air Conditioners Buying Guide

If the price of things you want (or need) is making you sweat, here's some news that might cool you off: There are plenty of cheap air conditioners on the market that are up to the challenge. For less than $300 you can buy a window air conditioner that's powerful enough to blast frigid air into small to mid-size rooms.

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Depending on the layout of your living space and its relation to the sun, you may be able to cool an even larger area with a budget model, although it may need a boost from a strategically placed fan.

For small rooms up to about 150 square feet, the best cheap air conditioners are the 5,200-BTU Kenmore 70051 (starting at $170) with its rich array of features and the Frigidaire FRA054XT7 (starting at $139), with 5,000 BTUs, cooling chops, and value price. Rooms measuring in the 200-square-foot range will get a chill on with the 6,000-BTU Frigidaire FRA065AT7 (starting at $170). Another model of the same size, the Haier ESA406M (starting at $180), is a less reliable investment, cooling some rooms effectively and others not so much and apparently dogged by a few design flaws.

Review continues below

The best low-priced air conditioners for larger rooms include two models with 8,000 BTUs -- the LG LW8012ER (starting at $219) and Frigidaire FRA086AT7 (starting at $210) -- both powerful enough for rooms of about 350 square feet and praised for their temperature-dropping performance. The 10,000-BTU Frigidaire LRA107BU1 (starting at $279) and LG LW1012ER (starting at $250) can handle about 500 square feet with relative ease.

Prices for room air conditioners start at about $100 and rise well beyond $2,000. The higher end of the market is populated mostly by built-in (and some window) models that do double duty chilling and heating large spaces. Most AC manufacturers produce a range of models designed to cool (and sometimes heat) one or two rooms. Major manufacturers of cheap air conditioners include Frigidaire, Haier, LG, Kenmore, GE, and Sharp. Carrier and Friedrich are best known for pricier and larger capacity units.

The capacity of an air conditioner indicates the size of the area it can cool effectively. The more powerful the air conditioner, the greater the coverage area and the higher the price. AC capacity is measured in BTUs, or British thermal units. A BTU is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit. The cooling capacity of budget-priced air conditioners ranges from 5,000 to 10,000 BTUs; once you hit 12,000 BTUs -- capacity that can cool 550 square feet -- prices bust through the Cheapism ceiling.

Review continues below

Before you start shopping, measure the room and the window in which you plan to install the AC. Rooms with high ceilings, direct afternoon sun exposure, and/or minimal insulation may need the oomph of a few extra BTUs. Keep in mind that it doesn't pay to buy a cheap air conditioner with excess or insufficient capacity. A unit with capacity that is too high or too low for the space will perform poorly and inefficiently. (Use this online calculator to get a better sense of how much capacity you need.)

The models we like all qualify for an Energy Star rating, sport electronic controls, and offer multiple cooling modes and fan speeds. They come with a remote and feature on/off timers, reusable filters, and louvers for directing air flow. Our research found that among the best cheap air conditioners, low price is no bar to effective cooling. 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. Users also indicate that our picks are easy to install and generally fulfill their primary responsibilities for at least several seasons.

A couple of things to keep in mind: Most cheap air conditioners are designed for double-hung windows; options are limited if you have casement or slider windows. Also, air conditioners from the same manufacturer often differ slightly in model number and features depending on the retailer. For example, the Frigidaire FRA105BU1 is a Best Buy exclusive and its near clone, the LRA107BU1, is sold at Lowe's.

by Gina Briles (Google+ Profile)

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Best Cheap Air Conditioners

Kenmore 70051
Gold Medal

Kenmore 70051

This 5,200 BTU Energy Star unit boasts an energy efficiency ratio of 11 and a price that belies its feature set, which includes three fan speeds and cooling modes, a 24-hour on/off timer, sleep mode, energy saver mode, and an indicator light that reminds users to clean the filter.

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Frigidaire FRA065AT7
Gold Medal

Frigidaire FRA065AT7

The FRA065AT7 is loaded with features, including three fan and cooling speeds, energy-save and sleep modes, a remote control, and a 24-hour timer. Its 6,000 BTUs keep smaller rooms nicely cool, although some users grumble about inadequate power and the usual noises.

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LG LW8012ER
Gold Medal

LG LW8012ER

Users praise LG's 8,000 BTU Energy Star unit for its cooling performance, although some say it could be quieter. Many applaud this air conditioner's quality and efficiency.

Read Full Review and Compare Prices »
Frigidaire LRA107BU1
Gold Medal

Frigidaire LRA107BU1

This 10,000 BTU Energy Star model comes with a full feature set to match its high cooling capacity. Its remote control includes a thermostat that can sense the temperature elsewhere in the room.

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Good Cheap Air Conditioners

Frigidaire FRA054XT7
Gold Medal

Frigidaire FRA054XT7

Despite a few reports about durability problems and fewer fan speeds and cooling modes than the comparable Kenmore model, this 5,000 BTU Energy Star unit garners praise from experts and users alike.

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Frigidaire FRA086AT7
Gold Medal

Frigidaire FRA086AT7

Even users who complain this 8,000 BTU model is too noisy are impressed with its cooling performance. It boasts an Energy Star label and a remote control with a thermostat.

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LG LW1012ER
Gold Medal

LG LW1012ER

Users applaud this 10,000 BTU model for its easy installation and rapid and effective cooling. It comes with an Energy Star label and all the standard features.

Read Full Review and Compare Prices »
 

Don't Bother

Haier ESA406M

Even with its fair share of attractive features, including a remote control with Braille text and a dehumidify function, this 6,000-BTU model disappoints. Users report patchy performance and design flaws that combine with a history of problems on similar Haier units to drain away confidence.

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