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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?