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Air Conditioners

May 12, 2008  |  Difficulty: Easy

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If you want a home to remain cool during hot weather, an air conditioner is the essential and obvious choice. However, buyers should not consider cooling capabilities alone. There are many other aspects of air conditioning to consider before purchase.

To find the appropriate unit be sure to research: unit size, air filtration capabilities, weight, noise output, energy efficiency, technology usability, and if it is environmentally safe (units can produce harmful ozone as a byproduct).

Above all else, buyers must consider size and efficiency. Air conditioners sized appropriately to your home offers peak levels of comfort. Units chosen based on these criteria also have a manageable electricity cost and minimal environmental impact.


This measurement denotes the cooling capacity of the unit. Air conditioner “size” is determined in British Thermal Units (BTUs), which describe the amount of thermal units (heat) the air conditioner can remove per hour. A typical window unit may remove 5,000 BTUs of heat per hour. A ’one-ton’ air conditioner usually has a greater cooling capacity, cooling around 12,000 BTUs per hour. Discuss appropriate size with a specialist; determining needs requires considering more than square footage of the area to be cooled.

Energy Efficiency

Usually devices that consume less wattage to function are more energy efficient. There is, however, a special standard equation used to determine the efficiency of all air conditioners. This calculation divides the amount of wattage required to power the unit into the number of BTUs per hour that the device cools. The result is an Energy Efficiency Ratio (or EER) which is noted on a yellow tag on each air conditioning unit for sale. Higher EERs represent the most efficient devices. All units below 8,000 BTUs must comply with federal standards and offer a minimum EER of 9.7%. The government also sets a minimum Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) for all central air conditioners at 10%.

Initially, higher efficiency units cost more than less efficient units. Over time, however, it is possible to recoup costs with lower monthly energy bills.  If an air conditioner has been given the Energy Star designation (which means they offer 10% more efficiency than federal requirements) they may come with substantial rebates.

Consumer Reports lists GE, Fedders, Kenmore (Sears) and Whirlpool as the leading brands in air conditioning. The highest rankings went to units with the Energy Star designation.


Costs range from $100 to upwards of $600 for room units and window air conditioners. Prices fluctuate according to size and energy efficiency rating among other factors.

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