Best Air Conditioning Units for the Money!
If you want to demonstrate the power of the best air conditioning units, Singapore is the place to start. This island nation is the financial powerhouse of Asia, and that's because the founding father, Lee Yew, considered air conditioning essential to prosperity. In his view, true development wasn't possible in tropical climates without air conditioning since people could only really work hard during the few cool hours in the morning.
With Lee's decision to put air conditioning everywhere was one factor in making Singapore one of the most productive nations on earth. And Lee was right: we're much less productive when things are hot and sultry. Having the best air conditioning units in your home makes it possible to keep up with life; and if you have very young or very old people living with you, air conditioning is even a serious health concern. Come with us, then, as we explore some of the best air conditioning units out there for your money.
Product Comparison Table
Air Conditioning FAQ
1. What Types of Air Conditioning Units Are There?
There are three basic types of units that you should consider.
Whole House Units
Whole house air conditioners, or central air, work by pumping forced cool air through grates into each room of the house. These units are usually part of an HVAC system that can also pump in heated air in the winter. The main part of the system is installed outside or sometimes in an attic.
This is the most expensive option; but not if you want to cool every room of a large home. If you got split units or window units for every room of a large house, you would likely spend far more in energy bills than if you used a central air unit.
Window air conditioner units are one, contained unit that sits in your window. The part sticking out vents heat while the part facing in blows cool air. Most include some kind of accordion paneling which allows you to fit them into windows of varying widths. They only work in windows that open by sliding up.
These units are by far the cheapest initial investment, however if you need more than about three for your home you won't be saving anything in ongoing energy costs. They also have the unfortunate tendency to freeze anyone standing or sitting within two feet of them while leaving the far corners of the room fairly hot.
Split units, or mini splits, work much like window air conditioners, but with a twist. There's a box mounted on the wall outside your home containing the “guts” of your unit. A couple pipes connect this unit, through a hole drilled in your wall, to the inner unit, which is mounted up on the inside wall.
The inner unit blows the cool air, and this system has some advantages over a window unit. It cools more efficiently, and it's not nearly so noisy (since the noisy bits are outside). It's also not as expensive as a central air unit and gives you finer control over the temperature of individual rooms of the house. However, these units are usually significantly more expensive than a window unit, and putting in more than two may not be cost efficient compared to a central unit.
2. What Does “BTU” Mean?
Whenever you look at air conditioners, you'll see their strength is measured in BTUs. This stands for “British Thermal Units,” and one BTU is the amount of energy and heat needed to warm a pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit.
If you get a unit with not enough BTUs for the size of room you have, it will strain to work and won't last long or cool efficiently. If you get one too large for the room you have, it will cycle on and off too often, and this will also shorten its life.
3. How Many BTUs Do I Need?
Air conditioner manufacturers will tell you how many square feet their units can cool, but remember these numbers are "ideal conditions." That means you'll achieve that amount of cooling if the unit is working at peak efficiency, the outdoor air isn't too hot, and the room is well-sealed. Since real life is rarely perfect, always revise your estimate if you know you have leaky windows, an upstairs room with full afternoon sun on it, or live in an excessively warm climate. Estimate about 10% more BTUs for rooms like this.
4. What Should the Best Air Conditioning Units Have in Common?
Whatever type of air conditioner you're looking for, here are some things you want to see in your choice:
How We Reviewed
We took a look at many of the air conditioner units out there and came up with a final list of six. There are two of each type of unit: central air, window units, and split units. We looked for units that were readily available and come at a competitive price. Then we looked at how well they cool, what features they have, and what warranty you get with each one. We also spent some time reading what buyers of these units have to say about how well they perform in order to narrow the choice to the best two in each category available.
Overall Price Range
If you're looking to buy a mini split system, expect to pay in the neighborhood of $600 to $800 per unit. If you want a window unit, prices will range from $150 to $400 per unit, depending on size and strength. Central air conditioner systems run from around $1500 to nearly $4000.
With all these units, the big factors that affect prices are size, power, and brand. More expensive units will cool larger areas of your home more efficiently. Name brands with a reputation to protect and a lot of research behind their products will cost you more.
What We Reviewed
The Goodman 5 ton air conditioner unit is a central air con you install outside or in an attic. It has a two-fan system designed to cool the house down faster than single fan systems. This unit will also heat your home in the winter using electricity, but you can have it adjusted to work with gas for an extra price. Goodman has been in the business for years and has an excellent reputation.
- Cooling Power
This unit puts out 120,000 BTUs of air conditioning power. If you're in need of the best air conditioning units for very large spaces, this is the biggest unit we reviewed. It should be enough for 5,000 sq ft of space.
If this unit is installed by a qualified professional, Goodman offers a 10-year warranty.
The Rheem is another Energy Star qualified unit, this time just 2.5 tons for a smaller space. This unit also offers a heating system. These are some of the quietest units around made by a well-respected brand in the air conditioning world. Rheem are known for building a durable air conditioner.
- Cooling Power
This 2.5 ton Rheem puts out 70,000 BTUs and can cool between 1,300 and 1,600 sq ft, depending on your climate and how exposed the home is to the sun.
If the unit is installed by a qualified professional, you'll get a 10-year warranty from Rheem.
- Save money all year-round with a highly efficient ductless mini split inverter+ heat pump system
- Ultra-silent and beautifully built perfect for home or light commercial use
Now we move to the mini split air conditioners, and Pioneer is one of the most popular brands. A best-seller on Amazon, this unit is quiet and powerful with a good energy rating and free tech support for life. It has a heating function, fan function, and works as a dehumidifier. It comes with a remote to make it easy to control from anywhere in the room.
- Cooling Power
This unit puts out 12,000 BTUs of power and will cool 300 sq ft very effectively. If your room isn't hit by direct sun for much of the day, it will even perform well up to 450 sq ft.
Pioneer gives a 5-year warranty on the compressor and lifetime tech support over the phone.
- Mini Split Ductless Air Conditioner and Heater - 19 SEER
- 4-in-1 Design - With air conditioning, heating, dehumidifier and fan.
Senville's design offers cooling, heating, fan, and dehumidifier options. It's very quiet, and, unlike many similar units, it can still be used on cool mode even when outside temps are as cold as 5 degrees Fahrenheit. However, be aware it doesn't come pre-charged with coolant, so you'll need to have that done before you can use it.
- Cooling Power
This unit gives you 12,000 BTUs and does a good job cooling rooms between 300 and 400 sq ft. This is one of the best air conditioning units in terms of efficiency and cooling power.
Senville offers a five-year warranty on the compressor and two years on parts.
- 5,000 BTU mini-compact air conditioner for window-mounted installation uses standard 115V electrical outlet (Window mounting kit included)
- Quickly cools a room up to 150 square feet with dehumidification up to 1.1 pints per hour
Frigidaire's window units are considered some of the best air conditioning units for smaller spaces or occasional air conditioning. This Energy Star qualified unit is very quiet, for this type of air conditioner, and provides a humidifying function, two fan speeds, and six degrees of cooling.
- Cooling Power
At 5,000 BTUs, you can expect this unit to do a good job on rooms of 150 sq ft.
The parts are covered by a two-year warranty and the sealed inner bits, like the condenser, have a five-year warranty.
This unit also has an Energy Star qualification and uses modern, non-polluting refrigerant. While it does not have a dehumidifying function, it is very efficient and well made. It is also compact enough to be easy for the average person to install. Oddly, GE doesn't offer much of a warranty on this; yet the units are known as some of the best air conditioning units of the type for durability.
- Cooling Power
This unit offers 6,000 BTUs and can cool a room of about 250 sq ft.
You get a one-year warranty from GE for this model.
Once you've made the decision about whether you want a central air, mini split, or window unit, there are still plenty of options to choose from. Here's what we liked:
Best for a Large Space
If you've got a seriously large home, especially with multiple floors, the Goodman would be our choice. It's energy efficient, powerful, and from a brand that's been in the business long enough to know what they're doing.
Best for a Small Space
If we just needed to cool a few rooms or a smaller home, the Senville is our pick. It's quiet, powerful, energy efficient, and will warm as well as cool if you need it too.
If you need to cool just one room or simply don't have a lot of money, the cheapest model we reviewed is the Frigidaire: and that's not a bad choice. It will help you keep your cool for a very reasonable price.