Consumer Report's picks for Best Buys in air conditioners, plus tips on ceiling fans and how to cool your home on hot days.
Nothing seems to sell out faster than a top-rated air conditioner on a hot day. Consumer Reports recently rated air conditioners and offered tips on how to trim energy bills while still staying cool this summer, including buying advice for ceiling fans.
All 37 models in CR’s ratings did an excellent job at cooling. They also have convenient features such as digital displays, built-in timers and remote controls. Some units have touch-pad controls, and a few change the direction of the airflow automatically to disperse cool air throughout the room. But some models are noisy, and others don’t work as well during brownouts, when utilities reduce voltage to compensate for demand.
The Haier ESAD4066, $240, topped CR’s latest air-conditioner ratings among small models (5,000 to 6,000 BTU/HR). The GE ASM08LK, $260, topped the midsize category (7,000 to 8,200 BTU/HR). GE ASM12AL, $350, scored highest among large air conditioners (9,800 to 12,500 BTU/HR).
Unlike the other models CR tested, the top-rated Haier uses R-410A, a relatively new refrigerant that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says doesn’t deplete the ozone layer.
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CR Best Buys include the Frigidaire FAA067P7A (Lowe’s), $150, for small air conditioners; the Kenmore 76081, $230, and the GE ASM08LK, $260, for midsize models; and the Haier ESA3105, $240, and Frigidaire FAC107P1A (Lowe’s), $240, for large air conditioners.
How to choose
Find out whether replacing an air conditioner makes sense by using the savings calculator on the room-air-conditioners page at www.energystar.gov. Every 0.1 increase in EER translates into about a 1 percent drop in electricity use. Also keep the following in mind:
• Size it correctly. An air conditioner that’s too small won’t do a good job cooling the room. And one that’s too big cools the area so quickly that it doesn’t have time to remove enough moisture, resulting in a clammy room and extra energy costs.
• Note the noise. Models that scored excellent or very good in CR’s noise tests are so quiet that the only sound is the fan running. But air conditioners that scored fair for noise could disturb light sleepers when set on low and are distracting on high.
• Factor in the window location. Air conditioners generally do a better job blowing air in one direction than in the other. That can be a problem if the window isn’t centered on the wall. To uniformly cool a room, direct air to its center. Check whether the A/C needs to blow air to the right or to the left.
Ceiling fans help cut cooling costs
According to CR, unlike air conditioners, ceiling fans won’t lower a room’s temperature or remove humidity. But consumers can save energy and money by using ceiling fans and turning off the air conditioning or by turning up theA/C’s temperature a few degrees and letting the fan’s breeze do the rest. But remember, ceiling and portable fans cool people, not the room, so don’t leave them on when no one’s there.
CR recently tested 19 models from three of the most popular brands: Hampton Bay, Harbor Breeze and Hunter. Most were 52-inch diameter fans, the most popular size, and prices ranged from $45 to $270. CR’s experts found that spending more didn’t guarantee better performance but did get fancier finishes on the motor cover and blades.