Play it cool when you’re shopping for A/C units

Consumer Reports’ latest tests of 39 room air conditioners found that you don’t have to spend a lot to cool down as the mercury climbs. Thirteen top performers start at just $150.
CR’s findings include:
Big values for small spaces. Lower prices help make small-room air conditioners the hottest sellers. The small category includes units with a cooling capacity of 5,000 to 6,500 Btu/hr. They cool roughly 100 to 300 square feet and weigh 41 to 70 pounds. All six that CR recommends kept working when the voltage was dropped to mimic brownout conditions.
At $150, the Kenmore 70051, $150, is a CR Best Buy. LG’s compact LW5011 might seem like a bargain at $50 less. But that light (37.5-pound) model was also a lightweight in the brownout test, stopping when voltage dropped and requiring close to full power to restart. It did not make CR’s list of picks. Another CR Best Buy in the small category is the Frigidaire LRA074AT7, $165.
— Midsized style at a price. In the midsized category (7,000 to 8,200 Btu/hr., cooling roughly 250 to 400 square feet and weighing 53 to 75 pounds), the Friedrich Kuhl SS08M10, $800, could be the only air conditioner that matches the drapes, since it comes in seven colors, including pink diamond and cobalt blue. Superb cooling, relatively quiet running, and a high energy-efficiency ratio are part of that investment. Two lower-priced picks: the Sharp AF-S85RX (Costco), $180, and the LG LW8010ER, $200, both CR Best Buys, which cooled comparably and almost as efficiently with a bit more noise.
— Large models for less. In the large category (9,800 to 12,500 Btu/hr. category, cooling roughly 350 to 650 square feet and weighing 64 to 92 pounds), the top-scoring LG LW1210ER, $320, and the LG LW1010ER, $285, cost less than some small models and deliver more cooling for the money.
What shoppers need to know
— More isn’t necessarily better. An air conditioner that’s too powerful for its space will cool quickly without removing enough humidity.
— Check the airflow. Most units are better at directing air to the left or right. Determine which way the air will blow (facing the unit) from where the air conditioner is mounted.
— Look for convenient controls. All of CR’s top picks have a remote control and digital temperature readouts instead of vague settings labeled “cold” and “coldest.”
— Cash in on energy savings. The 14 Recommended models all meet federal Energy Star standards and typically usually have an energy-saver mode.
Rating refrigerators
CR tested more than 150 refrigerators, so you’d think they would all start looking the same. But testers found big differences in performance, style, and efficiency, including many models that could spoil your expectations, not to mention the food in your fridge.
Here’s what you need to know to shop wisely:
— Freshness claims are on the rise. Viking promises its Plasmacluster Ion Air Purifier “eliminates airborne bacteria and mold spores, removes odors, and enhances food preservation.” Such freshness claims are hard to measure. But the best refrigerators maintain a consistent temperature of 37 degrees F in the main compartment, 32 degrees F in the meat compartment, and 0 degrees F in the freezer.
— Efficiency moves past Energy Star. Saving energy is another selling point; some refrigerators exceed federal efficiency standards by 30 percent. Energy Star-qualified models must be at least 20 percent more efficient. The newly tested Whirlpool Gold GB2FHDXW, $1,200, is part of the 30 percent club, and its excellent efficiency helped make it CR’s top-rated bottom-freezer. The Frigidaire Gallery FGUB2642L, $1,600, also delivers top energy savings in a French-door model.
— Four-doors aren’t just for cars. Four-door refrigerators resemble popular French-door models but have an extra drawer between the double-door refrigerator and single-drawer bottom freezer. They are among the fastest-growing configurations. The Samsung RF4287HA, $2,600, has the highest overall score, thanks to its excellent temperature performance and quiet operation.

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