Best Cheap Air Conditioners
Published on By Saundra Latham
Frigidaire FFRE0533S1 Review
(From $179.00 Best)
- Energy Star-certified and cheaper to run than any other unit on our list, at an estimated average of just $37 a year.
- Light enough for one person to easily install; narrow frame fits in tighter windows.
- Has features that other small air conditioners lack, including a timer, remote, and energy-saving mode.
- Some owners complain that the energy-saver mode lets the room get a little too warm.
- At 5,000 BTUs, this model cools only about 150 square feet.
- Filter can be hard to re-insert after cleaning, reviewers say.
Takeaway: For anyone who needs a window air conditioner to cool down a small space such as a bedroom or an office, the Frigidaire FFRE0533S1 is hard to beat. It's extremely efficient and offers some nice conveniences in a category that often features more basic models.
Frigidaire FFRE0833S1 Review
(From $239.00 Best)
- Eight-way air direction control distributes cooled air evenly throughout the room instead of blasting it in one or two directions.
- Extra features include energy-saving mode, sleep mode, clean-air ionizer, and temperature-sensing remote control.
- Energy Star-certified for efficient operation.
- Evenly distributed weight and small chassis help speed installation, experts say.
- Some user reviews mention loud fan operation and occasional rattling; experts confirm it's louder than other units.
- Experts say this model tends to blow air to the right even if users direct it elsewhere.
Takeaway: As long as noise isn't a primary concern, the 8,000-BTU Frigidaire FFRE0833S1 is the best choice to effectively cool rooms up to 350 square feet for less than $300. It also offers some conveniences over similar models, including a sleep mode, a remote that can monitor the temperature anywhere in the room, and eight air-direction options compared with two or four.
LG LW1016ER Review
(From $299.00 Best)
- Receives high marks for cooling rooms quickly and quietly.
- 10,000-BTU capacity is enough for spaces up to about 450 square feet.
- Energy Star-certified for efficient operation; costs less to operate than other similar-size models.
- Reviewers say the instruction manual leaves much to be desired, leading to installation headaches.
- The remote control's range is too short, some say.
Takeaway: Efficiency and cooling power make the LG LW1016ER a solid pick for anyone who wants to drop the temperature in a larger space without spending a mint on an air conditioning unit or utility bills. Most reviewers say it's also relatively quiet, especially for its size.
GE AEL05LV Review
(From $129.00 Good)
- Users say it does a great job cooling down a small room, especially for the price.
- Dial controls allow for simple operation.
- Installation is reportedly quick and painless.
- At 5,000 BTUs, it's underpowered for any space larger than about 150 square feet.
- Lacks extra features such as timer, remote control, or energy-saver mode.
- Only two fan speeds and two-way air direction.
- Not Energy Star-certified and costlier to run than similar models.
GE AEL08LV Review
(From $239.00 Good)
- Most reviewers are happy with the performance in medium-size rooms.
- Energy Star-certified.
- Installation is quick and painless, reviewers say.
- A fair number of reviewer complaints for excessive noise; similar GE model gets poor marks for noise in expert tests.
- Energy-saver mode gets mixed reviews; some say it causes unit to cycle on and off too often.
Takeaway: The GE AEL08LV is a workhorse of an air-conditioner, with an 8,000-BTU capacity for cooling up to about 350 square feet. Consumer product experts who tested a Walmart-exclusive version (AEW08LV) give it very high marks for quick cooling. This air conditioner is also a snap to install, thanks to GE's EZ-Mount system, which allows for fast installation in most standard windows.
Frigidaire FFRA1022R1 Review
(From $269.00 Good)
- 10,000 BTUs of cooling power for spaces up to about 450 square feet.
- Eight-way air direction distributes cooled air evenly throughout the room instead of blasting it in one or two spots.
- Many reviewers find this air conditioner relatively quiet, especially for the size.
- Not Energy Star-certified, and the least energy-efficient air conditioner on our list, with estimated average operating costs of $83 a year.
- Some owners complain that energy-saver mode lets the room get a little too warm.
Takeaway: Although it isn't quite as efficient as our other picks, the Frigidaire FFRA1022R1 can cool down a larger space effectively -- some reviewers say it almost makes their space too cold. Eight-way air direction makes it easier to point the air where it's wanted.
Where to buy
LG LW6015ER Review
(From $179.00 Think Twice)
- Most reviewers say this 6,000-BTU unit cools down a small room very quickly.
- Energy Star-certified for efficient operation.
- Includes features absent from many other small air conditioners, such as a timer, remote, and energy-saving mode.
- Many reviewers complain of excessive noise and vibration; ho-hum marks for indoor noise in expert testing.
- Only two-way air direction.
Takeaway: While nearly all window air conditioners are subject to some noise complaints, the LG LW6015ER seems to inspire more intense criticism than others. Testing by consumer product experts confirms that it's not the quietest air conditioner, and users warn of not just noise but vibrations, too.
Choosing an Air Conditioner
If stuffy rooms are making you sweat, here's some news that might cool you off: There are plenty of highly rated and low-cost air conditioners out there. Prices for room air conditioners start around $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. But for less than $300, it's possible to 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 the living space and its relation to the sun, a cheap air conditioner can cool an even larger area. Quite a number of reviewers note that, with a small window unit in a bedroom, they don't have to pay to run central air conditioning at night.
Brands that manufacture budget-friendly air conditioners include Frigidaire, Haier, LG, Kenmore, and GE. Frigidaire is the dominant budget label, followed by LG and GE. 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. It's 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 more powerful the air conditioner, the larger the coverage area and the higher the price. The cooling capacity of cheap air conditioners ranges from 5,000 to 10,000 BTUs. At 12,000 BTUs (which can cool 550 square feet), prices bust through the Cheapism ceiling.
A careful reading of expert and consumer reviews pointed us to our top choices for frugal buyers. The best cheap air conditioner for a small room, up to 150 square feet, is the Frigidaire FFRE0533S1 (starting at $179), an ultra-efficient 5,000-BTU model. A cheaper choice with very basic mechanical controls but still solid performance is the 5,000-BTU GE AEL05LV (starting at $129).
Rooms measuring up to 350 square feet can get a chill on with the Frigidaire FFRE0833S1 (starting at $239), an 8,000-BTU model with impressive eight-way air deflection, or the 8,000-BTU GE AEL08LV (starting at $239), which has fewer features but is slightly more efficient and lauded for being easy to install.
The best low-priced air conditioner for rooms measuring up to about 450 square feet is the 10,000-BTU LG LW1016ER (starting at $299). The 10,000-BTU Frigidaire FFRA1022R1 (starting at $269) is less efficient but boasts a few more features at a lower price and quietly cools larger rooms with ease.
Most window air conditioners amass largely positive ratings online. However, reviews suggest that buyers steer clear of the LG LW6015ER (starting at $179), a 6,000-BTU air conditioner that garners more than its fair share of noise complaints, and the 5,000-BTU Haier HWF05XCR (starting at $112), which is temptingly inexpensive but reportedly prone to breakdowns.
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.
A couple of other things to keep in mind: 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. Also, most cheap air conditioners are designed for double-hung windows; options are limited if you have casement or slider windows.
Portable Air Conditioners.Portable air conditioners are an option for buyers who have windows or landlords that won't allow a window air conditioner, are worried about installation headaches, or want the option of using a single unit across multiple rooms as needed. One cheap portable air conditioner we can recommend is the 10,000-BTU Honeywell MN10CES (starting at $392). This model does double duty as a dehumidifier and is said to be fairly effective -- at least in smaller rooms and as far as portable units go. In general, users shouldn't expect the same cooling power from these types of appliances as they would get from an equivalent window unit. Portable air conditioners tend to draw frequent criticisms for being underpowered. Consumer Reports even suggests they should be a last resort, noting that they offer only marginally better performance than a fan. Keep in mind, also, that these units have an exhaust hose that still must be vented through a window.
Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
Air Conditioner Reviews: What We Considered
Air conditioners are especially susceptible to a problem that plagues appliance reviews: Once they receive a large amount of feedback, manufacturers tend to discontinue them in favor of newer models. Some manufacturers release new models every year, although the updates are relatively minor. There is less expert commentary in this category that applies to current models. The most helpful assessments come courtesy of consumers reviewing their purchases on retailer websites including Amazon, Home Depot, Lowe's, Walmart, Best Buy, Target, and AJ Madison. We also considered applicable expert feedback from Consumer Reports, Reviewed.com, Popular Mechanics, and The Sweethome.
Above all else, buyers are looking for air conditioners that effectively cool whatever space they've been assigned. There are concerns about noise, an irritant that plagues even the best room air conditioners. Consumers also want units that are simple to install and have some extra features that make them easy to use. Other considerations include efficiency and durability. Some air conditioners cater to allergy sufferers by including an ionizer, which claims to help clear the air of irritants like pollen. But we turned up little consumer commentary on their effectiveness, so this feature did not factor into our choices.
Cooling Performance.Our research found that among cheap air conditioners, low price is no bar to effective cooling. The occasional lemon aside, users seem more than satisfied with the performance of the budget models on our list. Some reviewers even say the air conditioners cool spaces much larger than expected, especially with an assist from well-placed fans. For instance, one user writing on Amazon says his 8,000-BTU Frigidaire FFRE0833S1 keeps a five-room apartment comfortable with the addition of a box fan. Another review, on HomeDepot.com, claims that two 5,000-BTU GE AEL05LV air conditioners manage to keep an entire 1,450-square-foot home cool with the help of a couple of ceiling fans. In general, though, buyers are likely to be happiest if they follow the sizing guidelines.
Quiet Operation.No window air conditioner is immune to complaints about noise. Some reviews and owner's manuals caution that improper installation may cause vibration, rattling, and other annoying sounds. However, the design and engineering of a given model, as well as new energy-efficient technology, are also partly to blame. Some manufacturers specify common noises in their manuals, but consumers still complain about rushing air, the thwack of a fan splashing against water in the drip pan, or the thunk and click of the compressor cycling on and off.
Of course, whether a particular air conditioner is "noisy" is notoriously subjective. That said, one model consumers might want to avoid due to excessive noise complaints is the LG LW6015ER, described by some reviewers as too loud to tolerate. One review on Amazon even cautions buyers to pick up some earplugs. Another complains of excessive vibration and likens the sound to "the lowest note of a contrabassoon." The slightly larger Frigidaire FFRE0833S1 also frequently gets panned in reviews on BestBuy.com for being noisy, although not to the degree that the LG does.
If noise concerns are truly paramount, consider the Frigidaire Gallery Quiet Temp FGRQ08L3T1 (starting at $299). This Lowe's exclusive gets good feedback from experts and consumers as one of the quietest models out there, suggesting it would be a solid pick for the bedroom of a light sleeper. The Sweethome reports that it was at least 6 decibels quieter than other standard window units when tested on high. Unfortunately it's costly compared with the other 8,000-BTU air conditioners we recommend. The cheaper Frigidaire FFRA1022R1 also gets mostly positive reviews for noise and, with 10,000 BTUs, offers more cooling power for the buck than the FGRQ08L3T1.
Those willing to make an extra outlay for an extra-quiet AC might find the slightly pricier 8,000-BTU Friedrich Chill CP08G10B (starting at $369) a worthwhile splurge. A former favorite with The Sweethome, this high-quality European unit is known for delivering low-noise cooling. On top of that, it offers the option of being installed through the wall if window installation is a no-go. (Just keep in mind, through-the-wall air conditioners are generally considered "permanent" fixtures that require hiring a professional to cut an accurate-size hole through the exterior wall and avoid interfering with electrical wiring or plumbing fixtures.)
Ease of Installation.Cost-conscious consumers often undertake DIY installation rather than pay a professional. Although users' experiences vary, reviews often say it's easy to install the models on our list in less than 30 minutes. Note that the higher the capacity, the heavier the unit. For example, the 10,000-BTU LG LW1016ER, our favorite higher-capacity window air conditioner, weighs in at 74 pounds. Compare that with the 5,000-BTU Frigidaire FFRE0533S1, which weighs just 42 pounds. Although many reviewers say they managed to install a bigger unit just fine on their own, a second set of hands might ease the process.
Reviews indicate a few other ways manufacturers can ensure smooth installation. One feature buyers appreciate is a slide-out chassis, which lets them install the frame for the AC before sliding it inside. Two models we researched, the LG LW1016ER and Friedrich Chill CP08G10B, have this feature. Experts with The Sweethome appreciate that they can just slide in the side curtains for the Frigidaire FFRE0833S1 instead of screwing them on, saving a few more minutes of labor. The GE AEL08LV and GEAEL05LV are easy for do-it-yourselfers to handle largely because of GE's EZ Mount system, which includes flexible panels that extend to fit a variety of windows.
Features and Ease of Use.Buyers don't expect many bells and whistles on inexpensive air conditioners, but they do appreciate any extras that help make cooling rooms easier. Nice-to-have features include a digital display and thermostat that maintains a precise temperature. Manufacturers still make a few air conditioners with mechanical controls, which cost less but provide less functionality. One such model is the GE AEL05LV, with an old-school dial control, two fan modes, and nothing in the way of additional features. Given the low price, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Reviews at Home Depot indicate that many users like the simplicity.
This GE AEL05LV is also the only model among our picks that lacks a 24-hour timer, which lets frugal consumers avoid wasting energy by waiting to cool their space until right before they come home. Buyers looking for even more control over a window air conditioner may want to consider the Frigidaire Gallery Cool Connect FGRC0844S1 (starting at $297), an 8,000-BTU air conditioner that connects to a home Wi-Fi network for remote operation with a smartphone or tablet. Although this model is pricier than others its size, it allows detailed custom scheduling that is worth the premium to many users who have posted reviews on HomeDepot.com.
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. Again, the bare-bones GE AEL05LV is the only air conditioner we recommend that lacks this feature. Remote functions vary by model; in addition to a power button, options may include time delay, fan speed, and 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. One model on our list, the 8,000-BTU Frigidaire FFRE0833S1, includes this feature (although testers at The Sweethome question the efficacy).
The best inexpensive air conditioners feature three fan speeds (low, medium, and high), but two speeds are common on smaller units such as the 5,000-BTU Frigidaire FFRE0533S1. Reviewers note that there's a tradeoff with fan speeds: A higher speed cools a larger area, but a lower speed produces less noise.
In addition to cooling and fan-only modes, all the best cheap air conditioners include an energy-saver mode, in which the compressor cycles on intermittently, only as needed. Most reviewers appreciate this feature, but some note that it allows a room to become too warm; this is a common complaint with the Frigidaire FFRA1022R1. Less common is a sleep mode, in which the temperature rises automatically and incrementally, and then holds steady until morning. All our recommended Frigidaire units, with the exception of the 5,000-BTU FFRE0533S1, have this feature.
Energy Efficiency.All air conditioners these days incorporate energy-efficient technology. Those with an Energy Star label use at least 10 percent less than comparable models. Only three window ACs we researched -- the 10,000-BTU Frigidaire FFRA1022R1, the 5,000-BTU GE AEL05LV, and the 5,000-BTU Haier HWF05XCR -- lack Energy Star certification. It's worth noting, however, that the efficiency of any given window air conditioner also depends on factors such as capacity, how much it's used, and whether it's exposed to a lot of sun. EnergyStar.gov warns that an air conditioner that's too big won't be as efficient, because it will cool the space before it can remove the humidity, leaving the air feeling clammy.
While the Energy Star label offers reassurance, another number to note is the energy efficiency ratio, or EER, which takes into account the air conditioner's capacity and the amount of electrical power it requires. The higher the EER, the more efficient the unit. The Energy Star-certified LG LW1016ER has an EER of 12.1, while the non-Energy Star Frigidaire FFRA1022R1 has a 10.9 EER, the lowest among the air conditioners we researched. The units are the same size, but Uncle Sam estimates that running the less efficient one costs, on average, about $9 more a year. The Frigidaire FFRE0533S1 has the highest EER of any air conditioner on our list, at 12.2. This 5,000-BTU model costs only about $37 a year to run, according to government estimates.
Energy Star-certified units also must provide 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. There is no filter-life indicator on the stripped-down GE AEL05LV. Users must remember to clean the filter at least every 30 days, as the owner's manual instructs.
Durability.According to most experts, the average life expectancy of an air conditioner is about 10 years -- with proper maintenance. 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. For the most part, all but a handful of users seem satisfied that their air conditioners are working as they should. Longevity issues crop up mainly in reviews of the cheapest models with the lowest capacities. For instance, the Haier HWF05XCR, a basic 5,000-BTU model readily available at big-box stores, draws more complaints about durability than usual, even compared with models of a similar size and price. Many reviews on Target.com say it simply stops blowing cold air after just a short time.
One easy way to avoid a headache may be to buy a model that's available in a bricks-and-mortar store. Consumers who purchase window ACs online often report that they arrive with dents or bent or broken parts sustained during shipping.
Additional Products We Considered
Frigidaire Gallery Cool Connect FGRC0844S1 Review
(From $297.00 )
- A streamlined modern look and sleek LED controls make this air conditioner a great pick for buyers who prefer something with more aesthetic appeal.
- Wi-Fi-enabled controls allow an extra layer of convenience, letting users operate the unit remotely.
- Boasts extra features including sleep mode, eco mode, custom scheduling, clean-air ionizer, and remote control.
- Energy Star-certified for efficiency.
- Extra features and better design boost price compared with other 8,000-BTU units.
- Some buyers and experts report problems with Wi-Fi connection.
- Integration with other smart-home platforms is limited to Amazon's Alexa and Google Assistant.
Takeaway: Air conditioners don't typically inspire descriptors such as "classy," "elegant," or "smart," but the Frigidaire FGRC0844S1 bucks that trend with its sleek design and smart-home connectivity. Buyers laud the convenience of controlling the unit with their phones, making it easy to create a custom schedule compatible with busy lives.
Frigidaire Gallery Quiet Temp FGRQ08L3T1 Review
(From $299.00 )
- Experts and owners say this air conditioner is ultra-quiet, making it a good pick for bedrooms or other rooms where too much noise would be distracting.
- Energy Star-certified for efficient operation.
- Extra features include energy-saving mode, sleep mode, and remote control.
- More expensive than other air conditioners with the same 8,000-BTU cooling power.
- Fairly basic functioning allows air to be directed only two ways.
Takeaway: Buyers willing to pay a premium for a quieter air conditioner should take a look at the Frigidaire FGRQ083LT1, which many reviewers say is silent enough even for the bedroom of a light sleeper. Just know that a little cooling power might be sacrificed along with those extra bucks.
Friedrich Chill CP08G10B Review
(From $369.00 )
- Option to install the unit through a wall rather than take up valuable window space.
- Praised by experts and consumers for low noise level; good for bedrooms.
- Energy Star-certified for efficient operation.
- Extra features include remote control, "air sweep" swing louvers that help distribute cooled air evenly, and anti-intrusion technology that helps prevent the unit or side panels from being kicked in.
- Much pricier than other 8,000-BTU air conditioners.
- Heavier, more cumbersome design may make DIY installation difficult, experts caution.
Takeaway: Buyers willing to pay a premium for a quiet, versatile air conditioner should take a look at the Friedrich Chill CP08G10B. The ability to install this unit through the wall if necessary is attractive for consumers looking to limit light blockage or cool a room that may not have windows at all. This is also an energy-efficient choice that won't put too much stress on utility bills.
Honeywell MN10CES Review
(From $392.00 )
- Portable air conditioner doesn't block light from windows; offers an alternative when a window unit isn't an option.
- Also functions as a dehumidifier.
- Installation requires little special know-how.
- Reviewers say this 10,000-BTU unit isn't nearly as powerful as window air conditioners with similar cooling capacity.
- Experts give it mixed reviews for noise compared with other portable air conditioners.
- Exhaust hose must still be vented through window, limiting where the air conditioner can be placed.
Takeaway: Sometimes installing a window air conditioner just isn't the cards. That's when a portable air conditioner like the Honeywell MN10CES comes in handy. This model is one of the best values out there, and owners say it does a good job of cooling a small room -- just don't expect the power of a window unit.
Haier HWF05XCR Review
(From $112.00 )
- Most buyers say this 5,000-BTU air conditioner does a solid job of cooling down small rooms.
- Easy to install; dial controls are simple to use.
- Several reviewers express durability concerns, saying the unit blew cold air for only a short period before stopping.
- Lacks any extra features such as a timer, remote control, or energy-saver mode; only two fan speeds and two-way air direction.
- No Energy Star certification, and costlier to run than similar models.
- At 5,000 BTUs, it is underpowered for any space larger than about 150 square feet.
Takeaway: The Haier HWF05XCR is a basic air conditioner designed to appeal to frugal consumers who don't want to spend a penny more than necessary to cool their space. Unfortunately, some buyers say you get what you pay for here, warning that the unit stops functioning properly in fairly short order.