Find out which units keep a room cool without a lot of racket
By Tim Barribeau
The difference between a good air conditioner and a great one isn’t just how quickly it cools a room—but also how quietly it does so. On a hot, still summer night, a quiet air conditioner may be the only thing ensuring you get a good night’s rest.
Part of finding the right air conditioner, with a tolerable noise level, is choosing one that’s right for the room size. An oversized air conditioner might sound tempting for maximum cooling in a small space, but it may also run louder than you’d like, disrupting your daily routine. A small room, like an office, may only need a small air conditioner with a cooling capacity of 5,000 to 6,500 British thermal units (Btu)—but a 500-square-foot living room might need a more powerful unit that can pump out 10,000 Btu. Be sure to figure out the square footage of the area you need to cool before you decide what to buy.
Consumer Reports uses a sound meter to test air conditioner noise levels on both high and low settings, which provides an objective volume measurement—both when the AC is at full blast trying to cool your room as quickly as possible and when it’s on a low setting, maintaining an already established temperature. But Chris Regan, who oversees CR’s air-conditioner tests, cautions that there’s more to sound levels than just the unit itself, saying “a big part of noise for an air conditioner is based on the window it is installed in.” This is due to how much an air conditioner can vibrate, and how those vibrations spread to the window—where an old, ill-fitting sash may make more vibrational noise than a new, tight-fitting one.
Regan also says that the technology underpinning air conditioners has improved in reducing the noise they make. Inverter ACs are able to more finely control the speed of the compressor, which cools the air. Rather than just “off” or “on” at full blast, it can be set to many stages in between, which use less power and make less noise.
“Over the past two years, we have seen a few more inverter models, which are claimed to be more efficient and less noisy,” Regan says. “That seems to be the case in our ratings—inverter models tend to have the best scores for noise.”
You don’t have to pay top dollar to find a quiet-running air conditioner—we’ve seen similar noise levels in models with prices that range from $280 to $980.
Once you’ve decided which air conditioner to buy, be sure you know how to install it correctly. Not every type of unit will fit into every type of window (casement windows are generally a no-go), and you may want to consider using a support bracket, especially if you live multiple stories above the ground. If you rent your living space, there are additional considerations—and if you’re not able to put in a unit where you live, a portable air conditioner may be a fallback option.
Consumer Reports has tested scores of window air conditioners across more than a dozen brands, including Friedrich, Frigidaire, LG, and Toshiba.
Below are details on five particularly quiet air conditioners that CR recommends. CR members can check out even more choices in our full air conditioner ratings. For more information on your options, aside from central air, see our air conditioner buying guide.
Quietest Window ACs for Small Rooms
100-250 square feet
Quietest Window ACs for Midsized Rooms
250-350 square feet
Quietest Window AC for a Large Room
350-550 square feet
Frigidaire Gallery GHWQ103WC1
CR’s take: The Frigidaire Gallery GHWQ103WC1 excels at cooling large spaces while keeping volume levels low, earning an Excellent rating for comfort and for noise levels on low, and a Very Good rating for noise levels on high. That means you’ll be able to cool a large living room but still be able to hold a conversation while doing so. In our member surveys, Frigidaire air conditioners received the highest rating for reliability but lag in owner satisfaction.
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