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How to keep your NYC apartment cool: In-window, through-wall, split unit, and other types of air conditioners

You're probably going to be spending more time at home than usual this summer, so get the right air conditioner for your NYC apartment.

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Summer 2020 is almost here and New York City is finally starting to reopen after the coronavirus shutdown, but it’s going to be a slow process. You can most likely expect to continue to be inside more than usual—all the more reason to make sure your apartment stays cool and comfortable.

To make things easier, Brick Underground has rounded-up some of the newest air conditioners on the market—plus the highest-rated, best-selling units on Amazon, Home Depot, and Lowe's. We’ve also included some smart AC options if you're a techie or have a smart home.

Read on to find the best way to keep your NYC apartment cool—from in-window and through-the-wall ACs, to split units, PTAC, and portable units. 


[Editor's Note: A previous version of this article ran in July 2019. It has been updated with new information for June 2020. Some prices may have have changed since publication.]


Window units

A window AC is probably the most common option for NYC residents—these are of course the dripping, noisy units that stick out of windows and create eyesores. Some people live in fear of having one of these units fall out of its window frame and land on them, which last happened (as far as we know) in 2018. Window brackets are a common solution to this minor threat (if you live in a regulated apartment, your landlord can't make you pay for that safety feature). 

Still, they’re great for controlled cooling and usually the most economical option, with prices starting at around $170 for a unit that claims to cool a 150-square-foot room. Before investing in one, you’ll first want to find out if your building allows them. Landmarked buildings, for instance, frown on using them on the facade (but some people do it anyway), and some older buildings prohibit them if the electrical system can't support it. 

You’ll also need to determine the type of unit that is best for your needs. Start by measuring the room where you will use it. Once you know the square footage, you’ll have a better sense of how powerful a model you’ll need (don’t forget to take ceiling height into consideration). Cooling capacities start at 5,000 BTU (British thermal units) per hour and can go up to 18,000 BTU for the typical apartment-sized cooler.

These are 115-volt units that can plug into a 120-volt outlet, which is standard for household voltage. If you purchase a stronger 230-volt unit, you’ll need to make sure your outlets can handle the extra voltage—if not, you’ll need an electrician to upgrade your wiring, whichis not an inexpensive process.

According to Energy Star, the government program that certifies consumer products that meet certain standards of energy efficiency—you’ll also want to adjust for the following circumstances:

  • If the room is heavily shaded, reduce capacity to 10 percent.

  • If the room is very sunny, increase capacity by 10 percent.

  • If more than two people regularly occupy the room, add 600 BTU for each additional person.

  • If the unit is used in a kitchen, increase capacity by 4,000 BTU.

  • Consider where you install the unit. If you are mounting an air conditioner near the corner of a room, look for a unit that can send the airflow in the right direction.

Energy Star-certified appliances are more efficient than required by government standards, especially important now since you’ll likely be in your apartment more this summer. And check the energy efficiency ratio, or EER, (which measure the BTU in proportion to the input in watts) of each model. This tells you how well the appliance will operate when the temperature outside reaches 95 degrees or more. The higher the EER rating, the more efficient the AC.

Here are a few models to consider, arranged by lowest BTU to highest.

Frigidaire FFRA051WAE, Amazon, $173

This 5,000 BTU unit is the best-selling model on Amazon, and claims to quickly cool a room of up to 150 square feet. It has a four-star rating with 283 customer reviews. Its EER is 11 and has low-power start that conserves energy and saves you money. A window mounting kit is included. 

Midea MAW08V1QWT, Amazon, $339 

This 8,000 BTU unit is Amazon’s number one new release. According to Wirecutter, initial test results indicate that it may be one of 2020’s best picks. It’s U-shape allows the compressor to be outside so your window blocks the noise, outputting as low as 42 dBA (the measure of the intensity of sound), according to the manufacturer. It’s EER is 15 and it’s Energy Star’s most-efficient air conditioner this year. It’s wifi-enabled, so you can control it from your Alexa, Google Assistant, and iOS and Android devices.

Koldfront WAC10003WCO, Amazon, $335

This 10,000 BTU unit is Amazon’s best-seller for its size with four and a half stars based on 187 customer reviews. It cools a room of up to 450 square feet and has three fan speeds. It’s Energy Star certified and has an energy saver mode. It comes with a remote control and mounting kit.

July, $349 and $399 

July is a new company founded by two New Yorkers who want to make ACs that are environmentally friendly and easier to deal with—and sell directly to consumers. A limited release is set for this summer, and you can join a waitlist (it’s almost full) for 25 percent off. July's units use 10 percent less energy than other window units, and they plant a tree for every unit sold. They send an expert to install it and will recycle your old AC unit for you. The smart AC can be controlled by app—or your voice. There are two sizes: 6,000 BTU that cools a room of up to 250 square feet and 8,000 BTU that cools a room of up to 350 square feet.

Through-the-wall units

Similar to window ACs, these units are set into an opening cut into the exterior wall, usually beneath a window, and sit in a sleeve (metal or plastic) that holds them in place.

They function like window ACs in that they are designed to cool individual rooms, but that doesn’t mean you can go ahead and buy a window AC to place through your wall. According to Wirecutter, the vents on a typical window unit aren’t positioned to breathe properly in a standard wall sleeve, and will burn out its compressor sooner than it should. Also, unless your building already permits through-wall units, good luck trying to convince them to make an exception for you.

When looking for a through-the-wall AC, the same guidelines apply as window ACs for determining what you need. One exception: With window units, you need to measure the width of your window before making a purchase; wall units require you to also measure the dimensions of the sleeve in which the air conditioner will sit. Read here for more on through-the-wall units.

Here are some of the top-selling models arranged by lowest BTU to highest.

LG LT0816CER, Lowe's, $499

This 8,000 BTU model is Lowe’s best-selling through-the-wall air conditioner. It has four and a half stars based on 22 reviews. It can cool a room up to 330 square feet. Its EER is 10 and it has an energy-saving function plus three fan speeds and three cooling speeds. And it features LG’s patented Gold Fin anti-corrosion coating. It comes with a remote control, but not the required wall sleeve. 

Koldfront WTC10002WCO115V, Amazon, $459 

This 10,000 BTU model is the top seller for through-the-wall units on Amazon with four and a half stars from 101 customer reviews. It cools a room of up to 450 square feet and has an EER 10.6. It comes with a remote, but you have to buy the wall sleeve separately, which is available on Amazon for $99.

Keystone KSTAT12-1C, Home Depot, $599 

This 12,000 BTU model is Home Depot’s best seller with four stars based on 269 customer reviews. It can cool rooms up to 550 square feet and has a 10.5 EER. Money-saving features include an energy-saver mode, sleep mode, and programmable 24-hour timer. The manufacturer also claims the unit is quiet, with an output of 56.5 dBA on the lowest setting.

Ductless mini split-system ACs

You may see the phrase “split units in bedrooms” in rental listings. What this means is that each room has its own ductless mini-split AC. These are popular in Europe and Asia and are catching on in the U.S. They’re often mounted high up on a wall so they’re less of an eyesore, and are connected to an outdoor compressor. So if you want to install one in your co-op or condo, you will need to get board approval.

These are good options if you can’t install central air (more on that later). Hook-ups between the outdoor and indoor units generally require only a three-inch hole through a wall for the conduit, and multiple units can be connected to a single compressor. They’re small, relatively quiet, and can be used for cooling (or heating) individual rooms. The number you’ll need depends on the number of rooms you want to cool. You’ll also need to have the units professionally installed.

Because these units heat as well as cool, they get a SEER rating, a seasonal energy efficiency ratio, as opposed to an EER. This is determined by dividing the total electric energy input by the annual cooling output. As with an EER, the higher the rating, the more efficient the model will be. For more on the pros and cons of these systems, check out energy.gov.

Here are a few popular options by arranged by lowest BTU to highest.

Pioneer WYS009AMFI7RL, Amazon, $728

This 9,000 BTU unit is the best-selling split-system on Amazon with four stars based on 1,202 customer reviews. Its SEER is 19.5. It has air conditioning, heating, dehumidification, and ventilation. The unit comes with an installation kit and remote control. You can buy a smart controller kit separately.

MRCOOL DIY-12-HP-115B, Amazon, $1,429 

This 12,000 BTU smart unit is Amazon’s Choice for mini split-systems with four and a half stars based on 32 customer reviews. It has an SEER of 22. The model can heat or cool a room of up to 500 square feet. You can control it with Alexa, Google Assistant, and iOS and Android devices with the new SmartHVAC app. 

Packaged terminal air conditioner (PTAC)

A PTAC sits along a wall, usually beneath a window, and often combines cooling and heating functions into one unit and you have probably seen them in hotels. They look similar to an enclosed radiator with vents at the top. They usually come with a 230-volt cord, so if you are installing one, make sure your apartment is properly wired for it.

PTACs are typically installed when a building is constructed and are hooked up to its hot water system. The hot water produced by the boiler flows into the PTAC and circulates the resulting heat into the apartment. There’s a separate chamber containing coolant that produces cool air. They are vented to the outside through a cutout below the window, usually covered with a metal grill, similar to a through-wall AC.

PTAC units are a little more expensive than through-wall units, but the cost to run them is about the same. Read here for more on the pros and cons of PTAC systems.

Here are two options:

Ramsond KCD-45/Ba, Home Depot, $1,078 

This 12,000 BTU PTAC is a best seller at Home Depot. The unit comes with a window sleeve, rear grill, remote control, wall mount cradle, wired thermostatic control system, integrated control panel, and a LCDI plug. Its EER is 9.7. The manufacturer recommends using a professional for installation.


 

Amana PTH153G35AXXX, Amazon, $1,246 

At 15,000 BTU, this unit can easily cool most NYC apartment rooms. It is Amazon’s best selling unit of this size, with a four-star rating based on 12 customer reviews. Its EER is up to 12. The required wall sleeves, grills, and thermostat are sold separately. 

Portable ACs

These units should be considered a last resort if your building doesn’t let you use window units or allow through-wall installation. They aren’t as efficient as other types of units, so they don’t cool as well, they’re noisier, and they’re more expensive. Plus, they take up valuable floor space.

Should you have to go this route, Consumer Reports recommends that you install it correctly, get a fan to help move the air around, and block the sun from coming into the room where you’re using the unit.

Here are two options by cooling size:

SereneLife SLPAC10, Amazon, $399

This 10,000 BTU unit (there’s also an 8,000 BTU unit that is currently sold out) is the best-selling portable AC on Amazon with a four-and-a-half-star rating from 788 customer reviews. It claims to cool up to 350 square feet of space, and has four functions: AC, heat, fan, and dehumidifier. 

LG LP1017WSR, Lowe's, $379 

This 8,000 BTU unit has four stars based on 2,913 customer reviews (Its 10,200 BTU model is Lowes’ best selling PTAC unit). It can cool a room of up to 200 square feet and has an EER of 8.2. It comes with a remote, casters, and a window venting kit.