Best Small Air Conditioner – A Comprehensive Guide

air conditioningEven if your home is equipped with ceiling fans, sometimes that is not enough to beat the heat. Many people opt for an air conditioning unit, and due to the versatility of the smaller models, there are options available to suit all households. Instead of simply blowing around the hot, stale air like a fan, an AC will actually cool the air and regulate the temperature of your room. The way that they operate is similar to a refrigerator. These systems are portable and the installation is not as complicated as most AC units. Unlike central cooling systems, mini ACs are ductless and can be placed virtually anywhere.

One of the downsides to consider could be the cost to purchase one. While the price range can vary, most units fall in the $1,500-$2,000 range. Another con would be the maintenance and upkeep required. Every month, the filter must be cleaned by hand, and this could become more frequent if you have pets or if you smoke. There is not much variety when it comes to the exterior design, so if you are particular about your room aesthetic, a mini AC might not be for you.

The Best Small Air Conditioners Reviewed

1. Frigidaire FFRA0511R1 Air Conditioner 

Frigidaire FFRA0511R1Cooling Performance    

The Frigidaire has a good reputation for providing great cooling performance for those with a limited budget. There are a few key reasons for their cooling efficiency, firstly is the eco-friendly R410A refrigerant, that provides swift and powerful cooling for a modest 150 square feet, which is a significant advantage over other units in the same price range. Additionally, the design features 2-way directional louvers which allow you to control the direction of the air flow either left or right by adjusting the auger wheel located in the center. This makes for a combo that has received feedback for helping to reduce the temperature of small to medium sized spaces quickly and efficiently. 

Design & Appearance    

The Frigidaire air conditioner is a compact unit designed to provide adequate cooling for smaller rooms where you don’t want the unsightly presence of a large and bulk AC in your window. In terms of exact dimensions, the unit has height of 12″, width of 16″ with a depth of 13 3/4″.

User Interface    

Although this unit lacks the convenience and controls of a digital interface, the simple and manual knobs remain favored by many users. This unit is equipped with two mechanical style knobs clearly numbered and labelled allowing the mode and temperature settings to be altered with ease.

Frigidaire kept it simple with this unit by only including a set of basic modes. This includes a knob allowing the room temperature to be controlled with a range of 1-7, as well as a knob allowing you to alter the mode between fan or cool mode. The fan mode can be set to high or low and operates the AC unit by simply circulating the air without switching on the compressor.

2. LG LW1216ER Air Conditioner 

Cooling Performance lg lw1216er   

While the LG LW1216ER is a pricier small AC option, overall it certainly has a good reputation and in our view is probably best suited for those wanting to cool larger rooms and spaces (up to 550 square foot).

Design & Appearance    

The G LW1216ER is pretty much what you would expect from any modern AC unit, it’s a small model designed to fit on most sized windows. In comparison to cheaper models, it’s build is sturdier and the quality of the construction is clear, with a nice looking digital interface and sleek looking louvers that aren’t flimsy or easily scuffed and broken, which can be common in cheaper alternatives.

User Interface    

The digital interface on the LW1216ER is incredibly easy to use and comes equipped with a handy remote control for operation from the comfort of your armchair. The interface includes temperature control, fan speed, a timer, as well as an energy saver mode for those who want to reduce their carbon footprint and save a little money.

What to Look for In A Small AC System

One of the first things to consider is what size you will need. Each unit is rated by BTUs (British Thermal Units) per/hr. Depending upon your room size, you will need to calculate the size you will need of the appropriate system. The following is an example given for a standard room with 8-foot ceilings:

  • 8,000 BTUs will cover 200 sq. ft. (1,600 cubic feet)
  • 10,000 BTUs will cover 300 sq. ft. (2,400 cubic feet)
  • 12,000 BTUs will cover 400 sq. ft. (3,200 cubic feet)
  • 13,000 BTUs will cover 450 sq. ft. (3,600 cubic feet)
  • 14,000 BTUs will cover 500 sq. ft. (4,000 cubic feet)

Another thing to remember is that mini ACs are very powerful, and because they work so hard to cool your space, they are not going to be completely silent. If you are bothered by loud noises, consider the decibel level that you opt for. This can vary amongst different models. If energy efficiency is also a concern, each unit has an EER (energy efficiency rating) that will give you an idea of how many BTUs are used for each watt.

Will a Mini AC Require Professional Installation?

Selecting a solid wall that is not prone to vibrations or tremors is a must, because you will need a strong foundation for your unit. You must also make sure to keep the unit away from any heat or flammable gas. It is also suggested to install the system in a place where it will not be in direct sunlight. Depending on your level of experience with DIY home improvement, it is possible to install a mini AC on your own. If you opt to do this without help, it is essential that you have some experience with drilling and use of power tools. The installation also requires some knowledge of wiring and running the refrigeration lines. For the sake of safety and ease, it is still recommended that no matter how much experience you already have, you should hire a professionally licensed contractor to do the installation for you. This will save you time, and the professional’s knowledge will also be useful in determining the best placement of the unit itself.

How Do ACs Work?

AC units generally operate by taking outside air through one hose, and then cooling it within the unit to create the chilled air that is meant to regulate the temperature of your room. There is a second pipe where the hot exhaust air is pushed through and expelled. To break this process down technically, a refrigerant gas is utilized inside of the compressor to cool the air down. The pressurized gas travels through tubes that turn it into liquid, and then it is turned back into a gas again as the pressure is reduced rapidly. This does one of two things – it provides you with a cool breeze and it also causes the heat in the gas to rise, thus the need for a second pipe to get rid of that warm air. If you’ve ever stood behind an AC unit, you have probably noticed that it is warm. The air that is being drawn into the room is passed over the evaporative coils that have trapped this chilled air, and with the help of the fan, it is distributed around the room. As you can see, ventilation is necessary.

What Is a Ductless AC?

This style of AC is often referred to as a mini-split AC. It is comprised of a small unit that is to be mounted on your wall that blows out cool air, and an outdoor condenser that pulls air inside with refrigeration tubes that connect the two. The installation is simple, and the results are energy efficient. The final result is similar to that of a traditional central AC unit, except in this case, you do not need to install ducts into the walls. These ductless AC units are great for those who suffer from allergies. With central AC, there is often the possibility for dust and allergens to get trapped in the ducts, no matter how frequently you clean them. That risk is virtually eliminated when you decide to go for a ductless model. On the downside, they can be higher in price range than most ACs. You can expect to pay between $1,000-$5,000. Keep in mind that there is also likely going to be a cost to install your unit, unless you already know how to do this by yourself.

An Overview of The Advantages and Disadvantages of All Types of ACs

To review, here is a summarized look at all of the pros and cons of each type of AC unit:

  • Central AC

Pros: Remains out of sight and has a thermostat for optimal temperature control, can evenly cool your entire home, the air output is filtered and clean

Cons: Complicated installation that must be done by a professional, maintenance will be required, pricey

  • Ductless AC

Pros: Great on energy, can be quieter than most AC models, suitable for allergy sufferers, greater control of temperature (can be used to cool one room or multiple), simple installation

Cons: Can be costly, some larger models require higher voltage

  • Window AC

Pros: Easy to install and fits almost any window, suitable for small or large rooms

Cons: It takes up window space, can rack up your electricity bill if you leave it running all the time

  • Packaged Terminal AC (PTAC)

Pros: All in one system for heating and cooling, it is self-contained, efficient and durable

Cons: Involves ductwork, must be installed through a wall

  • Portable AC

Pros: Freestanding and usually comes on wheels for ease of movement, no installation required other than plugging into an outlet and properly venting, models can often come with a heat setting as well

Cons: Not as energy efficient, some people find them to be noisy

How Much Does a Mini AC Cost to Run?

In most households, running an AC makes up of about 50% of the electric bill. To break this down, a few calculations must be made. It is important to know the definitions of the following:

  • BTU (British Thermal Unit) – number used to measure cooling power of AC
  • Ampere – measurement used to calculate how many electrons pass through a certain point
  • Watt – one Joule of energy per second, amount of energy transferred over time
  • Volt – measure of electric potential between two points on a wire
  • Kilowatt-Hour – side of the house contains a meter displaying your usage

Calculate your amps (usually a 2-ton AC creates 15 amps, 3-ton creates 18 amps, and 4-ton creates 21 amps). Multiply this number by the voltage of your outlet. Next divide this number by 1,000 to figure out your Kilowatt-Hours. The following chart can assist you with figuring out how much you will have to pay per Kilowatt-Hour in your given location (bare in mind, this will show you the cost to run the AC as if you were running it non-stop):

How to Make the Most of Your AC

For the most efficient and effective AC unit, always remember to keep it clean and stay on top of the routine maintenance. Your AC was likely an investment, so always treat it as such. If the temperature is easily controlled by opening a window, opt for this instead of blasting your AC 24/7. This will save you money and keep your unit working well. Try to set the temp around 75-degrees and avoid adjusting it frequently. This will provide you with a comfortable room temperature without wearing out your unit. Finally, try to go for an AC that is Energy Star rated, because this means that it will be as energy efficient as possible.