Best Cheap Air Conditioners
Published on By Gina Briles
Kenmore 70051 Review
(From $170.00 Best)
This stalwart 5,200-BTU unit is small and cheap but has a full set of features, including a timer, sleep and energy saver modes, and an indicator light that reminds the user to clean the filter.
Users posting Kenmore 70051 reviews at Sears praise this model for being easy to install and use. About the only knock against this model is the annoying beep it emits when you change the settings. According to a review on Buzzillions, the beep is so loud it scares the user's pets.
The Kenmore 70051 (starting at $170) handily qualified for Energy Star certification under the old standards, with an energy efficiency ratio of 11, and very nearly hits the new benchmark of 11.2. A user posting a Kenmore air conditioner review on Buzzillions confirms that this model uses less power than you might think for a unit of its size. Unlike other models we looked at in the 5,000 BTU range, the 5,200 BTU Kenmore 70051 offers three fan and cooling speeds, plus a sleep mode. It also comes with an energy saver mode, a 24-hour on/off timer, and a filter check. It's covered by a one-year limited warranty and a five-year limited warranty on the sealed system.
The Kenmore 70051 has the most impressive feature set we've seen for its price and size. On balance we think it's the best choice for rooms up to and even slightly larger than 150 square feet.
Frigidaire FFRE0833Q1 Review
(From $216.00 Best)
This 8,000-BTU model impresses reviewers with its cooling performance, efficiency, and vast array of features. It boasts an Energy Star label and a remote control with a built-in thermostat.
The most useful Frigidaire FFRE0833Q1 review we read comes from The Sweethome, which conducted a comparative test of this 8,000-BTU model and our other recommended air conditioner with the same cooling capacity, the LG LW8015ER. The Frigidaire FFRE0833Q1 (starting at $216, Amazon) costs more but comes with extra conveniences that add value for the money. The site's testing showed this air conditioner to be more efficient than its competitor. It's also 8 pounds lighter, which may make installation a little bit easier. This window unit can fit into an opening 23 to 36 inches wide and 14 inches high and cool an area up to 350 square feet.
Some Frigidaire FFRE0833Q1 reviews on Amazon come from Amazon Vine reviewers who have been selected to receive the product for free for the purpose of posting their feedback. Although a grain of salt may be in order, these are generally detailed reviews that acknowledge some negative aspects of the air conditioner, noise chief among them. It's been measured at between 52 and 63 decibels, depending on the setting and who's doing the measuring, a range roughly similar to human conversation.
One standout feature of the Frigidaire FFRE0833Q1 is a thermostat in the remote control. This allows the air conditioner to adjust based on the temperature across the room, making for more precise cooling than would be possible with a thermostat only in the main unit. The settings include sleep mode, energy saver mode, and a 24-hour on/off timer. The unit has electronic controls and three fan speeds, whether on fan-only or cooling mode. The louvers can direct cool air eight different ways. In the event of a power outage, the unit automatically resumes operating at its previous settings. An antibacterial filter and clean-air ionizer trap impurities and an alert reminds users to clean the filter.
The Frigidaire FFRE0833Q1 may cost a bit more at the outset than other cheap 8,000-BTU models, but it teems with useful features and promises unbeatable efficiency, saving money on electricity in the long run. This air conditioner qualifies for Energy Star certification under new standards that took effect in October 2013, with an energy-efficiency ratio of 11.3. It also comes with a full one-year warranty and a five-year guarantee for the sealed system.
GE AEM06LT Review
(From $220.00 Best)
This 6,050-BTU air conditioner is well-equipped, with energy saver and sleep modes, a 24-hour timer, and a remote control. Reviewers admire its cooling abilities even in extreme conditions.
This air conditioner is a new model for 2015 and not yet widely available at retail. However, consumer product experts have already subjected this unit to comparative testing. Their GE AEM06LT review cites high scores for comfort, noise, and performance in brownout conditions (i.e., high temperature and low voltage). A couple of 5-star reviews on the manufacturer's website marvel at how quickly a room -- or two -- reaches a comfortable temperature. The cooling capacity is 6,050 BTUs, which suits spaces up to about 250 square feet.
Owners can adjust the GE AEM06LT (starting at $220, Amazon) using four-way louvers and electronic controls with a choice of three fan speeds, either in cooling mode or fan-only. There's also a remote control, a 24-hour on/off timer, and an energy saver mode that cycles the unit off when a set temperature is reached, saving electricity. This Energy Star-certified air conditioner meets the most recent government standards with an energy-efficiency ratio, or EER, of 11.2 and a combined energy-efficiency ratio, or CEER, of 11. The unit weighs 46 pounds and fits in a window with an opening between 22.5 and 38 inches wide and at least 13.5 inches high. It comes with a one-year warranty on parts and labor.
Expect this air conditioner to take on slightly different model numbers depending on where it's sold (e.g., the previous version, model No. AEM06LS, was identified as AEH06LS at Sam's Club, AEL06LS at Home Depot, and AEZ06LS at Walmart). Such models may have different features, so take a close look at the specs, but the prices may be up to $50 lower.
LG LW1015ER Review
(From $269.00 Best)
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.
The LG LW1015ER is too new to have generated any online reviews, but the 2014 model, the LG LW1014ER, maintains a high rating on the Home Depot website, and previous generations have been equally well received. The LW1015ER (starting at $269, Amazon) features only minor changes, which inspires confidence that its functionality and cooling performance will live up to top-rated older models.
With a 10,000-BTU cooling capacity, the LG LW1015ER should be able to handle an area up to about 450 square feet. That's why a user posting a review of a previous model at Home Depot was amazed to find that it quietly and effectively cooled 900 square feet. Another user says a 10,000-BTU LG air conditioner made a hot kitchen feel like a freezer and cooled the living room as well. The 2014 LG LW1014ER received similarly positive consumer feedback. One reviewer gave it credit for cooling an entire floor of his home, although he didn't specify the square footage.
LG LW1014ER reviews mention easy installation, relatively quiet operation, and convenient features. We don't anticipate that the LW1015ER will differ in these areas, as the units are nearly identical. The LW1015ER earns an Energy Star label with an impressive energy-efficiency ratio of 11.3 and a CEER of 11.2. It features an energy-saver function, automatic restart after a power outage, a remote control, and a programmable 24-hour timer. This air conditioner comes with a one-year warranty on parts and labor.
The bottom line: The LG LW1015ER matches or exceeds the features of its predecessors and promises to measure up to their highly rated performance, as well.
Frigidaire FFRE0533Q1 Review
(From $172.00 Good)
This 5,000-BTU air conditioner lacks some conveniences of our top pick this size and costs a bit more up front but is more efficient, qualifying for Energy Star certification.
This 2014 model hasn't garnered a ton of online feedback, but existing Frigidaire FFRE0533Q1 reviews are favorable. In a hands-on test, consumer product experts give this 5,000-BTU air conditioner high marks for quickly and accurately cooling a room to a set temperature without making too much noise, on either the high or the low setting. They especially commend its performance under conditions of extreme heat and low voltage. The unit automatically restores the most recent settings following a power outage.
Most Frigidaire FFRE0533Q1 reviews on Amazon come from customers who have received this relatively new product for free through the Amazon Vine program. These reviewers may be swayed by the fact that the cool air is coming gratis, but many of their comments are highly specific and helpful. A couple convey a high regard for the quality and durability of Frigidaire-brand products in general.
The Frigidaire FFRE0533Q1 (starting at $172, Amazon) is rated for up to 150 square feet and seems to be well-suited to a bedroom. One reviewer marvels at how well it cools a second-floor room with cathedral ceilings. Another reports that it effortlessly handles a 200-square-foot space that houses a large, heat-generating computer.
This air conditioner is Energy Star certified under new standards established by the Environmental Protection Agency. Its energy efficiency ratio of 11.2 translates to a lower electric bill than a conventional air conditioner would generate. This unit has electronic controls for setting a precise temperature, as well as a remote control for adjusting the AC from across the room or without getting out of bed. There are two fan speeds, four-way air direction, and features including a 24-hour timer, antibacterial filter, and clean filter alert. The window unit fits into a space 23 to 36 inches wide and 13 inches high. User reviewers have found the installation easy and instructions clear.
The Frigidaire FFRE0533Q1 comes with a full one-year warranty and a five-year warranty on the sealed system. It carries a higher price tag than the winner in our 5,000-BTU bracket, the Kenmore 70051, which is more adjustable and includes a sleep mode. Still, the Frigidaire FFRE0533Q1 meets the most recent standard for Energy Star qualification and should save a bit of money in the long run.
LG LW8015ER Review
(From $239.00 Good)
Users praise LG's 8,000-BTU model for its cooling performance, quality, and efficiency. It's Energy Star qualified and boasts features such as auto restart after a power failure.
The 8,000-BTU LG LW8015ER (starting at $239, Amazon), a 2015 model, is still trickling onto retail shelves. However, its indistinguishable predecessors (which differ in little more than model number) leave a legacy of positive feedback. LG LW8014ER reviews on the Home Depot website remark on the ease of installing the 2014 version, the variety of settings, and the stylish appearance. In a review of an older model on the manufacturer's website, one user reports that the unit put a 12,000-BTU air conditioner to shame. The manufacturer recommends this AC for spaces up to 340 square feet. At 8,000 BTUs, the LG LW8015ER is powerful enough that gripes about noise do pop up in reviews, but we found that to be true with any air conditioner this size.
A couple of consumers mention in reviews that they've owned similar LG units for five years and counting, and other reviewers comment on the high quality of the construction. The LG LW8015ER is an Energy Star-qualified unit with an energy-efficiency ratio of 11.3 and a CEER of 11.2. It features auto restart after power outages, energy-saver mode, and a 24-hour timer. Users can remotely control the temperature, timer, and fan speed. One disappointment is the lack of a sleep mode on this air conditioner.
The LG LW8015ER is backed by a one-year warranty on parts and labor. Despite a scarcity of reviews for the current model, LG's 8,000-BTU air conditioner remains a smart purchase.
RCA RACE8001 Review
(From $229.00 Think Twice)
This 8,000-BTU model has its fair share of attractive features, but it's not Energy Star qualified. Users report that excessive noise and an inability to control airflow leave them cold.
RCA RACE8001 reviews are mixed. Most users seem satisfied with the cooling performance of this 8,000-BTU window air conditioner, but others complain that it's difficult to control. In a review on Amazon, a customer laments that adjusting the louvers doesn't change the direction of the airflow. Reviews on the Walmart website paint a picture of an air conditioner that emits only freezing air at full blast; there's little distinction among the fan speeds and no way to reduce the noise. Although complaints about noise are common, an unusually high percentage of reviewers (about a third) mention that the RCA RACE8001 is loud.
The RCA RACE8001 (starting at $229, Amazon) has three fan speeds and modes. It also features a sleep function, which gradually ups the temperature during the night, and auto restart, which restores the most recent settings after the power goes off. This air conditioner has an energy-efficiency ratio of just 10.8 and lacks an energy saver mode, both of which prevent it from qualifying for Energy Star certification.
Despite a largely unchallenged ability to cool down a room up to about 350 square feet, the RCA RACE8001 has little else to recommend it to budget buyers. It lacks crucial features such as an energy saver function, it's not nearly efficient enough to meet Energy Star requirements, and many users find the noise level off-putting. With so many good cheap options available, this lackluster unit doesn't make our cut.
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 highly rated cheap air conditioners out there. 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 models that do double duty chilling and heating large spaces. For less than $300 you can buy a window air conditioner that's powerful enough to blast frigid air into a small or mid-size room. 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.
Cheap Air Conditioner Buying Guide
Most AC manufacturers produce a range of models designed to cool (and sometimes heat) one or two rooms. Major producers 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 per hour. (A BTU is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 pound of water 1 degree Fahrenheit.) The cooling capacity of budget-priced air conditioners ranges from 5,000 to 10,000 BTUs. At 12,000 BTUs -- capacity that can cool 550 square feet -- prices bust through the Cheapism ceiling.
For a few years now, the best cheap air conditioner for a small room (up to 165 square feet) has been the 5,200-BTU Kenmore 70051 (starting at $170). The newer Frigidaire FFRE0533Q1 (starting at $172) is more efficient, although a little less powerful, at 5,000 BTUs, and not quite as well-equipped. Rooms measuring up to 300-square-feet can get a chill on with the 6,050-BTU GE AEM06LT (starting at $220).
The best low-priced air conditioners for larger rooms include two 8,000-BTU models: the Frigidaire FFRE0833Q1 (starting at $216) and LG LW8015ER (starting at $239), both powerful enough for rooms of about 350 square feet. The 10,000-BTU LG LW1015ER (starting at $269) can handle 450 square feet or more with relative ease.
Relatively few inexpensive air conditioners earn less than 4 stars out of 5 on retail and review sites. Consumer Reports gives only two units a rating of less than 70 out of 100, and both are priced out of the Cheapism range. However, frugal shoppers may want to think twice about one 8,000-BTU model, the RCA RACE8001 (starting at $229). The unit falls far short of current efficiency standards and gets more than its share of gripes about noise, although this is a common air conditioner complaint.
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. It doesn't pay to buy a cheap air conditioner with excess or insufficient capacity, experts say. A unit that doesn't match the space will perform poorly and inefficiently. (Use this online calculator to get a better sense of how much capacity you need.)
A couple of other 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. Be sure to check the specs carefully before buying one of these alternatives.
Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
What We Looked For
Energy Star Certification.All air conditioners these days incorporate energy-efficient technology. Those with an Energy Star label use at least 15 percent less energy than a benchmark set by the federal government for a conventional air conditioner of their size and design.
The critical number to note is the energy efficiency ratio, or EER, which takes into account the air conditioner's capacity (measured in BTUs per hour) and the amount of electrical power it requires. Energy use drops 1 percent for each 0.1 increase in EER, so the higher the EER, the more efficient the unit. The minimum required for Energy Star qualification is 11.2 for most low-capacity air conditioners and 11.3 for units with 8,000 BTUs or higher. For models certified on or after June 1, 2014, there's a different measure: combined energy efficiency ratio, or CEER, which is generally a bit lower and takes into account power consumption when the appliance is off or in standby mode. Most of our top picks proudly display an Energy Star. The one exception, the Kenmore 70051, exceeded the requirements before stricter standards were adopted in 2013 and remains an extremely popular choice. Although it's not as efficient as more recent models, it's a small unit that draws relatively little power to begin with.
A couple of additional features found on all our top picks (including the Kenmore) are required for Energy Star certification. One is an energy saver setting. In this mode, the fan shuts down with the compressor and periodically restarts to check the temperature until the compressor is needed again. (Some consumers opt not to use it due to the noise associated with the constant on/off cycling.) Another requirement is a visual reminder to check, clean, or replace the air filter. This generally takes the form of an LED light labeled "filter reset" or "clean filter." An AC can't operate efficiently if the air filter is clogged with dust, dirt, and soot, so the filter must be rinsed or vacuumed and reinserted periodically.
The Energy Star label has some impact on price, but in general consumers can find an Energy Star-qualified air conditioner for about the same price as an equivalent, less efficient unit. An Energy Star air conditioner saves money on utilities; exactly how much depends on factors such as the capacity, how much it's used, its position relative to the sun, and the local price of electricity. The government alleges that consumers save an average of $85 dollars over the life of a qualified air conditioner, which should more than make up for a higher upfront cost.
Electronic and Remote Controls.The electronic guts of today's air conditioners support money-saving and user-friendly features, including digital displays, remote controls, and thermostats that maintain precise temperatures. Manufacturers still make a few models with mechanical controls, which cost less but provide less functionality. The slightly higher prices don't seem to faze consumers, who appreciate the versatility of electronic controls, according to online reviews. Thermostats, for example, take the guesswork out of temperature regulation -- the unit can be set to a specific temperature instead of the meaningless number or level stamped on a mechanical dial.
But don't expect perfection with electronic controls on cheaper models. One thing users find annoying is the loud beep many models emit when the temperature setting is changed. One review of a Frigidaire AC asserts the beep is loud enough to wake napping children.
A remote control is increasingly standard issue and often hailed in consumer reviews as a big plus. Users like being able to adjust the AC at night without getting out of bed or while lounging on the couch on the other side of the room. Remote functions vary by model; in addition to a power button, options may include time delay, fan speed, and/or cooling mode. Some remotes are even equipped with a thermostat that can sense the temperature in another part of the room and signal the AC to adjust accordingly. A review by The Sweethome identifies that as one of the best things about the Frigidaire FFRE0833Q1, the site's pick for best air conditioner. The same feature shows up on the Frigidaire LRA107BU1 (starting at $299), a 10,000-BTU model from Lowe's that dropped off our list this year because it doesn't meet the latest Energy Star criteria.
Multiple Fan Speeds and Cooling Modes. The best inexpensive ACs feature three fan speeds (low, medium, and high). Reviewers note that there's a tradeoff: A higher speed cools a larger area and a lower speed produces less noise. On the cheapest air conditioners, such as the Frigidaire FFRE0533Q1, two speeds are the norm. The Kenmore 70051 offers three fan speeds for about the same price, depending on vendor.
In addition to cooling and fan-only mode, all our top picks include an energy saver mode (see above). Less common is a sleep mode, in which the temperature rises automatically and incrementally and holds steady until morning. Users of the Kenmore 70051 say they appreciate the money and energy savings from this setting, which keeps them from waking up cold during the night. The Frigidaire FFRE0833Q1 also boasts this function.
24-Hour Timer.Another practical feature is an automatic on/off timer. With this money-saving convenience, frugal consumers can return to a cool home after being gone all day or not worry about forgetting to turn off the air conditioner when leaving. All the models on our list give users a 24-hour window. Several users of the Frigidaire models lament that you can't set the unit to turn on or off more than once in a 24-hour period and must reset it each day.
Adjustable Louvers.All the window air conditioners we researched have louvers that can be adjusted vertically and/or horizontally to focus the airflow. On some models, however, adjusting the louvers seems to have little effect, and some favor one side over the other. The RCA RACE8001 has three-way air deflection, compared with four- or eight-way adjustment on our top picks, and one reviewer warns against buying this model if you need to direct the air to the left.
Air Conditioner Reviews
In addition to expert sources such as Consumer Reports and The Sweethome, both of which conduct comparison testing, we pored over customer reviews on retail sites such as Amazon, Home Depot, Lowe's, Sears, and Walmart, as well as manufacturer websites. 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. 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. Consumers also 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 to larger units such as the LG LW1015ER, our picks are frequently praised for their ability to cool a room quickly and keep the air nicely chilled. But such assessments are not universal, and some users pan air conditioners others recommend. Even models extolled by most users get dinged by dissatisfied purchasers who assert that the units don't sufficiently cool the square footage they claim to be able to handle.
Consumers hoping to get more bang for their buck have found ways to maximize the effectiveness of inexpensive AC units. One reviewer mentions placing a fan in the doorway and another in the hall to draw the cool air into other areas of the house. Quite a number of reviews note that with a small window unit in a bedroom, they don't have to pay to run central air conditioning at night.
Quiet Operation.The aspect of performance that generates the most negative comments is noise. Reviews 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 come from consumers who 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, in reviews on the Walmart website, one user says the RCA RACE8001 is quieter than the older unit it replaced, but others complain of metallic vibrations and a disruptive noise level even on the lowest fan speed.
Easy Installation.Cost-conscious consumers often undertake DIY installation rather than pay a professional. Although users' experiences vary, reviews often say that installing the models we recommend is easily accomplished in less than 30 minutes. Note, though, that the higher the capacity, the heavier the unit; for example, the 10,000-BTU LG LW1015ER weighs in at 65 pounds, more than 20 pounds heavier than the 5,200-BTU Kenmore 70051.
A word of caution: Not all windows are alike and even the clearest instructions may not suit every window frame. Cue the RCA RACE8001: A few buyers report the side panels are tricky to assemble and setup is a chore. Our top picks are not exempt from similar complaints, 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. Longevity issues crop up mainly in reviews of the cheapest models with the lowest capacities. Some of our top picks are fresh-off-the-assembly-line 2015 models, but reviews of previous models give some indication of their durability.
Additional Products We Considered
Frigidaire LRA107BU1 Review
(From $299.00 )
In Frigidaire LRA107BU1 reviews at Lowe's, users praise the unit's high quality and durability. The cooling power of an equivalent 10,000 BTU model, the Frigidaire FRA106BU1, impresses consumers posting reviews on Newegg. One user marvels that this AC can cool a 500-square-foot room without even using the highest fan speed. Consumers posting reviews on Amazon like the clean air ionizer (one of them has allergies) and full-function remote control. The remote even includes a thermostat that reads the temperature in other parts of the room so the AC can adjust accordingly.
In addition to those special features, the Frigidaire LRA107BU1 (starting at $299) boasts a clean filter alert, low-voltage restart, a 24-hour timer, sleep mode, and energy saver mode. It qualifies for an Energy Star label with an EER of 10.8. It's backed by a two-year full in-home warranty and a five-year warranty on the sealed system.
With that impressive feature set and almost all positive reviews, the Frigidaire LRA107BU1 earns our vote for rooms measuring about 500 square feet.