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What is a smart air conditioner — and where to buy them

smart air conditioner

If you're working from home, chances are your electric bill is on the rise, and it's only going to go up this summer. A smart air conditioner can help you control costs by knowing when you're home and when you're not, and more precisely monitoring and changing the temperature to fit your comfort. 

Those who live in apartments or older houses without central air conditioning need to use in-window, in-wall or split AC units to keep their homes cool when temperatures rise. In recent years, companies have added smarts to these systems; you can control these units using your smartphone, and they can also connect to other smart home systems. So, for example, you could program your smart home system to turn on the air conditioner, lower your shades and turn on your lights at a particular time or when the temperature inside gets too hot.

What is a smart air conditioner?

At its most basic, a smart air conditioner allows you to monitor and control the device using your smartphone or tablet. So, while you're in your home, you don't need to reach for the remote to adjust the temperature. If you're away, you can use your smartphone to make sure the system is off or turn it on to keep your pets cool on a particularly hot day.

More than that, though, a smart conditioner should also be able to connect with other smart home systems. Most smart ACs can work with either Alexa or Google Assistant, meaning you can control these air conditioners by voice, provided you have a smart speaker. However, you should also be able to set up a scenario in which, for example, the air conditioner will turn on along with your lights when you arrive home.

But how do you choose a smart air conditioner that will suit your needs? Our guide will help you pick the best one for your home.

How much does a smart air conditioner cost?

Because they're relatively new smart air conditioners are a bit more expensive. For example, a smart Frigidaire 8,000 BTU AC costs $329 on Amazon, whereas a nonsmart 10,000 BTU Frigidaire model costs about $30 less. Still, the price difference is becoming narrower. That being said, it's not such a huge difference that you should toss out a perfectly good air conditioner just to get one that has some smarts. 

LG LW1517IVSM (Credit: LG)

LG Dual Inverter Smart Air Conditioner (Image credit: LG SmartThinQ (Credit: LG))

LG Dual Inverter Smart Wi-Fi Air Conditioner

BTUs: 9,500, 14,000, 18,000, 22,000 | Room size: 450, 800, 1,000, 1,300 square feet | Energy Efficiency Ratio: 14.7 | Works with: Alexa, Google Assistant

When you have to cool a large area—say, several rooms on a single floor—then you should consider LG's Dual Inverter smart air conditioners. These models range in size from a 9,500-BTU model (good for 450 square feet) up to a massive 22,000 BTU model, good for 1,300 square feet.  

All models use what LG calls a dual-inverter compressor, which continually adjusts its speed, rather than turning on and off like a traditional compressor. LG says this technology should provide energy savings of up to 25% and make the device quieter than most air conditioners. This model comes with a remote control, works with Alexa and Google Assistant, and can be controlled via the LG SmartThinQ app. In our LG SmartThinQ window air conditioner review, we were pleased with its performance, but noted that LG’s app needed work.

Frigidaire Gallery Cool Connect (Credit: Frigidaire)

Frigidaire Gallery Cool Connect (Image credit: Frigidaire Cool Connect FGRC064WA1 (Credit: Frigidaire))

BTUs: 6,000, 8,000, 10,000, 12,000 | Room size: 250 - 550 square feet | Energy Efficiency Ratio: 12.2 | Works with: Alexa, Google Assistant

Frigidaire's line of Gallery Cool Connect Smart Room Air Conditioners includes 6,000, 8,000, 10,000, and 12,000-BTU models, and are designed to cool rooms from 250 square feet up to 550 square feet for the largest model. The 10,000- and 12,000-BTU models have an especially sleek design, with a metal mesh grille and LEDs to show you the current temperature.

These air conditioners work with Alexa and Google Assistant (you can also control the appliance via Frigidaire's smartphone app). They have a three-speed fan and an antibacterial mesh filter, and it comes with a remote control. It also has an auto-shut-off feature to save you energy. Other features include a scheduling assistant and a sleep mode.

smart air conditioner

GE Smart Window Air Conditioner (Image credit: GE)

GE Smart Air Conditioner

Best for medium-size rooms

BTUs: 8,000, 10,000, 12,000, 14,000 | Room size: 350, 450, 550, 700 | Energy Efficiency Ratio: 12.1 | Works with: Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple HomeKit

Starting with the smallest 8,000-BTU unit, GE's smart air conditioners are meant for more modestly sized rooms, which makes them best for apartments. While not as sleek-looking as those models from LG and Frigidaire, GE's models are reasonably priced, and work with HomeKit.

These smart air conditioners are also compatible with Alexa, Google Assistant, and IFTTT, making them one of the most connected there is. In addition, they come with a remote, have a three-speed cooling fan and can be controlled via GE's Appliances app (Android and iOS).

Midea U Inverter Window Air Conditioner

Midea U Inverter Window Air Conditioner (Image credit: Midea)

Midea U Inverter Window Air Conditioner

BTUs: 8,000, 10,000, 12,000 | Room size: 350, 450, 550 | Energy Efficiency Ratio: 15 | Works with: Alexa, Google Assistant

The Midea U Inverter Window Air Conditioner gets its name from its unique "U" shape. That's right, there's a large slot in the middle of this smart air conditioner, which allows you to slide your window up and down. Not only does this feature let you open your window to allow fresh air in, but when your window is closed, it provides a much more effective barrier, so your air conditioner doesn't have to work as hard to keep your room cool. 

Because of this design, the company also claims that the Midea U is quieter and more efficient than similar window air conditioners. The Midea U can be controlled from a smartphone app, or with Alexa or Google Assistant. It comes in three models:  8,000 BTUs, 10,000 BTUs, and 12,000 BTUs.

How do I make my dumb air conditioner smart?

If you already have an air conditioner and want to control it remotely, you can choose from several smart air conditioner controllers, which have built-in thermostats and will send commands to your air conditioner via infrared signals. Most of these devices cost around $100 and are good options if you're buying a smaller air conditioner.

Sensibo Sky

Sensibo Sky (Image credit: Sensibo)

Sensibo Sky

BTUs: n/a | Room size: n/a | Energy Efficiency Ratio: n/a | Works with: Alexa, Google Assistant

If you already have a working air conditioner, there's no reason to go out and spend hundreds of dollars to get a smart model. The Sensibo Sky is a clever device, as it can send commands via infrared to turn your air conditioner on and off; you can control the Sensibo Sky from an app on your smartphone, and set timers and rules for when the air conditioner should run. 

In our Sensibo Sky review, we liked that it has a geofencing feature; it can sense when you're getting near home, and start up the air conditioner to cool things down for when you arrive. Conversely, it can automatically shut off your A/C when you leave the house. The one thing we wish it had, though, was a display on the device itself.

Cielo Breez Plus

Cielo Breez Plus (Image credit: Cielo)

Cielo Breez Plus

BTUs: n/a | Room size: n/a | Energy Efficiency Ratio: n/a | Works with: Alexa, Google Assistant

The Cielo Breez Plus is another good option for making your air conditioner smart. The Breez Plus also sends signals via infrared to your A/C unit, and can be controlled from a smartphone app, or with Alexa or Google Assistant.

One thing we also like about the Cielo Breez Plus is that it has not just a large display, but controls on the device itself to let you adjust the temperature, so you don't have to pull out your smartphone to make it cooler. You can also control the A/C's fan speed, set temperature range locks, and see your energy usage history.

Cielo also makes the Cielo Breez Eco ($68), which lacks a display or physical controls other than an on/off button.

What size air conditioner should you get?

Air conditioner "sizes" are determined by their BTU cooling capacity. You want a unit that's just powerful enough to cool your room or area. If you get an air conditioner that’s too large, it’ll chill the room before it’s able to remove the humidity, leaving you cold and clammy.

Room Size (square feet)
BTUs
100 to 1505,000
150 to 2506,000
250 to 3007,000
300 to 3508,000
350 to 4009,000
400 to 45010,000
450 to 55012,000
550 to 70014,000
700 to 1,00018,000
1,000 to 1,20020,000
1,200 to 1,40023,000
1,400 to 1,50024,000
1,500 to 2,00030,000
2,000 to 2,50034,000

The chart above from Energy Star shows how many BTUs you need in terms of room size; the organization also has a handy calculator on its site for calculating your room size.

Energy Star also lists other guidelines for determining the proper size for an air conditioner in your room. For example, if the room gets a lot of sun, you should increase the capacity of your choice of air conditioner by 10 percent; if the room is heavily shaded, decrease the capacity by 10 percent.

You also want to look for units with a high energy-to-efficiency ratio (EER) — that is, the amount of energy needed to cool a room. The higher the EER, the better. You should be able to find this information in the product listing or the packaging. You also want a unit with a good Energy Star rating, another indicator of energy efficiency.

Air conditioner types

Apart from central AC systems — which you would control using a smart thermostat such as the Ecobee SmartThermostat — there are four types of air conditioners from which you can choose. Each has its benefits and trade-offs.

Portable air conditioners: These units are each about the size of a small suitcase and have large exhaust tubes that you must stick out a window. They're the easiest to install, but they are by far the least efficient type of air conditioner.

In-window air conditioners: Perhaps the most common type, these air conditioners simply slide into an open window. After portable units, they're the easiest to install, but they will block the lower part of your window and prevent you from opening that window. Also, you have to block the gaps on either side of the air conditioner to prevent hot air from entering and cold air from escaping.

In-wall air conditioners: Very similar to in-window units, these get inserted through an opening in your wall. They're generally more expensive than in-window units and may require professional installation — especially if you need to cut a hole in a wall of your house — but they won't take up valuable window space, and they allow less air leakage.

Ductless air conditioners: Also known as split air conditioners, these have an indoor section connected to an outdoor unit by a small pipe. While they're the most efficient of the different types listed here, they're also the most expensive to install; you'll need a professional. And the appearance of the indoor section can be polarizing.