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You’re getting warmer: How to choose the right air conditioner

Weather experts are suggesting that much of the U.S. could see higher-than-average temperatures this summer. It’s easy to forget what a heat wave feels like until it happens. However, you’re already behind the cooling curve if you wait until temperatures approach triple digits to shop for an air conditioner. Plan now, before portable and room air conditioners fly off the shelves and you’re left overheated and longing for autumn’s cool relief.

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You’ll find many models and brands on the shelves of appliance retailers. Choosing the right one involves more than just looking at price and power.

You’ll need to know a bit about the area you’re trying to cool. This is important. Buy too strong of a unit for the room size and you’ll use more power than you need. Take home a unit that doesn’t have enough capacity, and you may end up sweating (and, perhaps, swearing) while you use too much energy as your unit runs continuously but never quite cools the room.

Are you in the market for a portable air conditioner or room air conditioner? After you learn some of the differences, it’s time to get to work to figure out how much cooling capacity you’ll need your new air conditioner to deliver:

Check your measurements: Your first step is to figure out how much cooling power you need by determining the square footage of your room. Measure your window as well and take the measurements with you when you shop. Both portable and room air conditioners need to be connected to a window, and it’s important to make sure it will fit before you bring your new AC unit home. Finally, if you’re buying a portable air conditioner, it will take up floor space. Consider whether the physical size of the unit is appropriate for the room.

Choose your capacity: Air conditioner capacity is measured in BTU (British thermal units). Check the unit labeling as you shop. You’ll likely see a chart with BTU and the appropriate room size for cooling. Choose a size appropriate for the room or rooms you’ll be cooling.  If you are placing the unit in a kitchen, sunny room, or room with high ceilings, you may need to size up.  Some manufacturers may also have capacity information available on its website.

Speaking of capacity: If you’ve purchased a portable air conditioner before, you might notice that this year’s capacities seem lower than you remember. The difference is due to a new test procedure developed by the Department of Energy. The procedure takes different factors into account and generates a lower number to indicate capacity. However, the actual capacity has not changed—the difference is simply due to the different test procedure.

Frigid features: Smart technology is being incorporated into portable air conditioners. Some units can be turned on or off via smartphone or tablet, so you can come home to a cooler space on a hot summer day. Others offer a “follow-me” function that measures the temperature both at the location of the unit and of the remote control. If you’re sitting across the room from the unit and holding the remote control, the unit will take the temperature in the remote into account and adjust its output based on both temperatures. Other features you might find are programmable timers and alerts that tell you when the AC filter needs to be changed.

What’s your plan for staying cool this summer?

Buying a portable electric heater? Here’s how to make the best choice

black electric heater on laminate floor in the room

They warm up your chilly office and keep your house guests comfortable all night long. Portable electric heaters give you more control over your own comfort and let you bring heat to where you need it during the cold winter months.

Like any appliance, portable electric heaters come in a variety of models and sizes, with different features. We’ve put together a guide to make it easy for you to buy your next portable heater so you can stay warm while you wait for the snow and frost to give way to spring flowers.

Heaters are classified based on how they generate heat. Your choice will depend on your heating needs:

  • Panel heaters could be wall-mounted or freestanding, and may include fans.
  • Radiant heaters generate warmth by heating oil within the unit, though the oil doesn’t need to be refilled.
  • Fan heaters distribute heat from an element using a fan.
  • Ceramic heaters use a ceramic heating element and may also use a fan to spread heat.
  • Infrared heaters generate heat from a surface within the heater. The heat is emitted in the form of infrared energy.

What you need to consider

There are a vast number of portable electric heaters on the market. Sorting through them all could take until summer. By then, you won’t need a heater anymore. Knowing how you’ll use the heater will help you narrow your choices. Here are three questions to consider:

Will you be using the heater for temporary personal heat or to keep a room steadily warm? The size and type of heater, and the size of the space you’re trying to heat, will be factors.

Do you need instant heat, or can the heat be generated gradually? Keeping your feet warm under your desk at work for a few hours will call for a different solution than making sure guests stay warm overnight in a chilly bedroom.

What’s your noise tolerance? Any heater with a fan will generate some level of sound. An in-store demonstration will help you decide what’s appropriate.

Heater features
Personal electric heaters offer a number of features for operation, safety and heat distribution. They might include:

  • A thermostat to keep the heat at a steady temperature. Some models offer a digital setting.
  • Oscillation to distribute heat
  • Adjustable fan speeds
  • Some types of heaters may employ additional safety features, including automatic shutoff if the heater tips over, cool-touch housing, child locks, or motion sensors that automatically turn the heater off if anything gets too close.

More on portable heater safety

There are a number of steps you should take to heat your home safely, regardless of the style of heater you choose:

  • Purchase a heater that is safety certified. This means it has been tested by a recognized safety-certification organization. Look for a safety certification mark on the packaging or the heater.
  • Don’t leave your heater unattended and always unplug it when it isn’t being used.
  • Don’t use your heater with a power strip or extension cord. Fire can result if either overheats or if the wiring in the extension cord cannot handle the wattage of the heater.
  • Placing anything on top of the cord, including furniture, could damage the cord. String cords out on top of area rugs and carpeting. Never use a heater with a damaged cord.
  • Combustible materials, including furniture, pillows, bedding, papers clothes and curtains, should be kept at least three feet away from the front of the heater and away from the sides and rear of the heater. Don’t block the heater’s air intake or outlet.
  • Keep flammable materials, such as gas and paint, away from the heater.
  • Don’t use heaters in wet or damp areas unless they’re designed for bathrooms or outdoor use. Heaters not designed for this may be damaged by moisture.
  • Periodically check the plug and outlet for a secure fit. The outlet may need to be replaced if the plug does not fit snugly or if the plug becomes very hot. Consult with a qualified electrician to replace the outlet.
  • Don’t plug any other electrical device into the same outlet or the circuit as the heater. It could result in overheating.
  • Keep children away from heaters and do not place one in a child’s room without supervision.
  • Heaters should be put on a flat, level surface. Only use a heater on table tops when specified by the manufacturer. Do not place the heater on furniture. It could fall, resulting in damaged or dislodged parts.

Have a warm, cozy winter. You’ll be looking for air conditioners before you know it. (And if you want to get an early start on AC shopping, we have you covered.)