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What are the best room air conditioners?

Test engineer Chris Regan moves a window air conditioner into Consumer Reports' testing chamber. (Photo by John Walsh, Consumer Reports)

If your home doesn’t have central air conditioning or if you have some warmer rooms that just don’t get cool enough, a window unit or portable air conditioner might do the trick.

Consumer Reports just tested dozens of air conditioners and says that while not much has changed in how they’re installed, a newer A/C with a U-shaped design allows you to open and close your window without a heavy A/C falling out the window. But installation is a little different from a traditional window A/C.

“It still does need a special bracket to be installed first once you do that you can slide the ac into place in your window and the window closes down into this U-shaped groove,” said Consumer Reports testing expert Chris Regan.

Just note that you might not be able to fit the window and the actual screen.

And now the important question: Can it cool a room? Testers crank up the air temperature in this chamber to 90-degrees Fahrenheit, then measure how long it takes a window A/C to cool the room by 10 degrees.

“Most of the window air conditioners do a pretty decent job when it comes to cooling a room. The best can do it quickly and quietly,” said Regan.

And that’s where Regan says two of the U-shaped units from Midea stood out, earning top scores for cooling and noise in Consumer Reports’ tests.

  • To cool mid-sized rooms about 250 to 400 square feet: The Midea U-shaped MAW08V1QWT for about $360 (7,000-8,500 BTU/HR)
  • To cool larger spaces from 350 to 650 square feet: The Midea MAW12V1QWT U-shaped unit for about $470 (9,800-12,500 BTU/HR)
  • To cool small areas under 300 square feet: The LG LW6019ER for about $280 (5,000-6,500 BTU/HR)

If your space can’t accommodate a window A/C, Consumer Reports also tests portable air conditioners. These typically cost more and don’t perform as well as window units.

To help you choose one that’s the right size for your space, look at the “BTU/HR” provided by the Department of Energy on the box. Consumer Reports says this is often more realistic than the manufacturer’s BTU/HR range.

You can also watch this Consumer Reports video with more information on portable A/Cs and advice on how to make them work for you.