When your HVAC system goes out and the temperature continues to climb, it’s time to buy a new air conditioner. But what brand can you trust? The last thing you want is someone to peel you off the leather chair because your new unit has subpar performance when you need it most.
After reviewing pages of customer reviews and ratings from Consumer Reports, we’ve compiled a list of the AC brands you may want to avoid – and for a good reason. So, before shopping, review this list, decide what type of air conditioner you want, and whether you want a window unit or something portable.
Types of air conditioners for your home
Thankfully, we have more air conditioning options than 30 years ago. In addition to window units and central air conditioners, we now have portable units and ductless mini-splits. Here is a list of these four main types of air conditioners and how they work.
- Central air conditioning – A central unit sits outside and forces treated air through a duct system throughout the home. Most central units are used for heating and cooling and are referred to as heat pumps. Central units are expensive to retrofit in older homes without the installed ductwork.
- Ductless mini-split air conditioning – A mini-split has a compressor outside and an air handler with an evaporator that hangs high on an interior wall. These units don’t require ductwork, can be used for multiple rooms, and can heat or cool. They are more efficient than a central unit and quieter than a window unit.
- Window unit air conditioner – Window units fit in the lower half of a window, requiring support outside - you can even install it yourself. They’re great for small rooms, are relatively inexpensive, and you can buy them virtually anywhere.
- Portable air conditioner – Portable air conditioning units sit on the floor and vent out a window through a 6-inch flexible hose. They come in various sizes you can install yourself, and you can move them easily from room to room.
Read ductless vs. central air conditioner to help you decide between these two systems.
What to look for when shopping for air conditioning
When choosing a suitable air conditioning unit for your home, you’ll want to compare different features and benefits. Here is a list of the things to look for when making decisions.
Size and capacity
An air conditioner’s cooling capacity is measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs). By definition, one BTU is the amount of energy it takes to increase the temperature of one pound of liquid water by one degree Fahrenheit. The average home requires 12,000 BTUs (or 1 ton) of cooling capacity for every 1,000 square feet.
A couple of scenarios could include:
- A 2,000-square-foot home requires a 24,000 BTU (2-ton) capacity.
- An 8x10 room requires a 960 BTU capacity. Since the smallest window units are 5,000 BTUs, that would be sufficient.
Keep in mind these measurements are approximations. Additional factors like ceiling height, amount of insulation, and the regional climate contribute to the calculations that a professional HVAC installer would use to correctly size your home for air conditioning.
Except for window and portable units, a cooling unit's efficiency is rated by its “seasonal energy efficiency ratio” or SEER rating. The higher the SEER rating, the more efficient the unit. Effective January 1, 2023, the U.S. Department of Energy increased the requirements. All residential air conditioning units installed in the northern U.S. now must have a SEER rating of 14 or greater. Those installed in the south and southwest must have a SEER rating of 15 or greater. The unit needs a SEER rating of 15 or higher to receive an Energy Star qualification.
A high-efficiency, Energy Star-rated unit will consume less energy and lower electricity bills. To find an Energy Star-rated unit, check out the following links on the Energy Star website.
- Energy Star-certified central air conditioners
- Energy Star-certified mini-split air conditioners
- Energy Star-certified room air conditioners
You can purchase a basic air conditioner that’s on or off. Or, you can buy a high-end Wi-Fi-compatible smart unit with all the options like remote control access, a variable speed fan, adjustable airflow, multiple zones, thermostat control, and timer functions.
Ideally, a unit's lifespan should be longer than the warranty period. So, knowing the length of the limited warranty could give you peace of mind when choosing a suitable model. Always compare warranty terms for major appliances, and ask about extended warranty options.
Total cost: unit and installation
Don’t forget to count the installation costs when installing a mini-split system or central AC. Although installing a mini-split appears to be a DIY project, you’ll want a professional to install the refrigerant lines. When getting quotes from a professional, make sure everything is included.
Nothing beats word-of-mouth advertising. If you want to know any product's best and worst, just ask your neighbor. Or, better yet, cast a wider net by looking at online reviews. Major retailers post reviews that rate products for cost, reliability, noise level, quality, and value.
If you want to know the brands with the best reputation, ask an HVAC technician. They know which AC systems homeowners have that are the most reliable and require the fewest service calls. So, if installing a mini-split or central system, follow their recommendations.
On the other hand, when shopping for something to install yourself, you need someone who’s been there and been cool. So, we’ve combed through Consumer Reports and customer reviews to help you find the brands you may want to avoid.
Window air conditioner brands you may want to avoid
Consumer Reports survey respondents aren’t happy with their Arctic King air conditioners. In its latest surveys, customers give Arctic King a 1 out of 5 rating for Owner Satisfaction. However, Consumer Reports’ Predicted Reliability score for Arctic King is a 3 out of 5. Primarily, Arctic King units are sold by Walmart and Amazon. On those sites, customer satisfaction seems better. Of all the customer reviews, 98 percent of Walmart customers give Arctic King products a 4-star rating, and 71 percent of Amazon customers give them a 5-star rating. It’s also interesting to note that none of the three Arctic King units that Consumer Reports reviewed are currently on the market.
Ranking a tad better for Owner Satisfaction on Consumer Reports’ studies, Amana products get a 2 out of 5 rating in that category. But they get a 3 out of 5 for Predicted Reliability. However, 75 percent of customer reviews on retailer websites score Amana products an average of 4 to 5 stars. The highest ranking Amana window unit on the Consumer Reports website is the Amana AMAP061CW, which has a Good score of 54 with a 4 out of 5 for Ease of Use and Indoor Noise Low. The lowest-ranking Amana window unit is the Amana AMAP121CW, which has a Fair score of 32. While it ranked a 4 out of 5 for Ease of Use and Comfort Level, it ranked a 2 out of 5 for Noise and Owner Satisfaction.
Portable air conditioner brands you may want to avoid
Three of the five Honeywell brand portable air conditioners reviewed by Consumer Reports have a Fair or Poor rating. The Poor rating goes to Honeywell model HM4CESAWK0 with an overall rating of 18. It received a 1 out of 5 for Comfort–the thing we want most from an air conditioner. Other scores for all three Honeywell products include 3 out of 5 for Owner Satisfaction. However, 58 percent of the customer reviews for these Honeywell units from three retailers were 5-star ratings.
The other air conditioning brand that receives a Fair score on Consumer Reports is Friedrich. Two of its models (the ZHP14DB and the ZCP12DB) received overall scores of 32 and 33, respectively. Interestingly, neither model included a rating for Customer Satisfaction or Predicted Reliability. Would customer input help those scores at all? Possibly. But we couldn’t find many reviews online, despite the number of retailers listed as sellers. Of the ten reviews we found, 5 were 5-star ratings.
How to choose the right air conditioner for your home
- Follow these steps to choose the right air conditioner for your home:
- Calculate the right size unit for your space.
- Refer to the chart above that lists the pros and cons of each type.
- Look for the features you want.
- Compare the energy efficiency ratings of the ones that interest you.
- Finally, choose the best air conditioner brand you can afford.
Don’t lose your cool investing in a faulty AC unit. Keep your energy bills in hand and buy a brand you can trust.
If you want professional guidance on choosing an efficient model to recoup the highest energy savings, let us help you find a local HVAC contractor to help you with a high-quality system.