Handy Guide: Room air conditioners
By Jura Koncius,
The hum and rattle of room air conditioners has come early to Washington this year. Last month was the warmest March on record for the contiguous United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It’s hard to imagine life without air conditioning in most parts of the country. About 87 percent of American homes have some sort of air conditioning, according to a recent survey by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. In the Northeast, 58 percent of homes use window or wall air-conditioning units, the survey found. Now is an important point in the season to check your units to see what shape they’re in. Replacing an old model with a more-efficient one could mean savings in energy usage and costs. Room air conditioners are quieter than even five years ago. Although standard window units still dominate the room air-conditioning market, portable models are growing in popularity because they can be easily rolled from room to room. They are also appropriate for buildings that don’t allow units to stick outside a window, because they vent through only a small hose. A bit of style news: Window units, traditionally available only in boring beige, can be part of your color scheme. Sleek Kuhl models by Friedrich have interchangeable front panels ($49 each) available in six colors, including pink and cobalt blue.
WHAT’S NEW Sleep mode. Program the unit to raise temperatures after you fall asleep and cool back down toward morning. Wireless controls. Friedrich is introducing a wireless control in their Kuhl series that can be operated from smartphones, tablets or computers. Heaters. More units have built-in heaters to be used in winter for supplemental warmth. OPERATING TIPS Clean filters. Do it about once a month, or as indicated. Don’t restrict air flow. Keep curtains and furniture away from units. Consider the sun. If possible, install in a window without direct sunlight. Store properly. If you remove your unit for winter, store it upright and keep it covered.
LOW, MIDDLE, HIGH We asked J.J. Klinkert, a Sears home appliance buyer, to choose three room air conditioners from the selection at Sears. Frigidaire 5,000 BTU window air conditioner Small model good for single rooms, up to 150 square feet. Lightweight at 35 pounds, easily installed by one person. Simple mechanical dial controls vs. electronic controls. EER (energy efficiency ratio) rating 9.7. Model FRA052XT7. $109.99. Kenmore 5,200 BTU window air conditioner Temperature-sensing remote. Energy Star rated. 24-hour on/off timer with sleep mode. Weighs 42 pounds, allowing for one person to install. EER rating 11.0. Model 70051. $159.99. Soleus Air 8,000 BTU portable air conditioner Includes dehumidifier and fan. Easy to move from room to room on casters. Comes with small window insert for exhaust hose to vent outside. 24-hour on/off timer with sleep mode. Remote control. Washable filter. EER rating 8.6. Model SB-PAC-08E. $299.99.
SHOP SMART 1. Measure your room and buy the proper size for your space. Units are measured by BTUs, British thermal units. A small unit would be 5,000 to 6,000 BTUs and would serve a room 150 to 200 square feet, probably a single room or studio apartment. A medium unit would be 10,000 to 15,000 BTUs and cool a room 500 to 900 square feet. That would cool several adjoining rooms. A large unit would be 18,000 to 25,000 BTUs and serve a space 1,100 to 1,600 square feet, and might be enough power for an entire floor. 2. Decide whether you want a window unit or portable model. Portables roll around on casters. They have a hose that has to be vented outside through a pop-in window insert provided by the manufacturer. They are popular with renters. If you are installing a window unit, consider the dimensions of your opening before you go shopping. 3. Check out the EER (energy efficiency ratio) number on the unit. The numbers usually fall between 8 and 11. The higher the better. DID YOU KNOW? 8 Average life span in years of a room air conditioner. 3 Benefits OF an Energy Star-rated unit Uses 10 percent less energy than conventional models. Cost savings of more than $60 over the lifetime of the unit. Often includes a timer for better temperature control. 90 Percentage of new-construction homes in the United States that are being built with central air. Sources: Sears; U.S. Department of Energy; U.S. Energy Information Administration CHECK OUT MORE HANDY GUIDES: Fans | Vacuums | Dishwashers | Dehumidifiers | Refrigerators | Toasters | Blenders |Irons | Washers and dryers | Microwaves | Ranges | Televisions | Matresses | Paint