That's exactly what Suzanne Naggy did. Naggy, 27, who recently moved to New York City, found herself needing to buy an air conditioner to help survive the Big Apple's notoriously steamy summers. "Everywhere else I've lived had already had them installed," she explains, adding that the refreshing blast of cool air was a necessity because "it's hot as hell." Naggy, a first-time air-conditioner buyer, had no real idea of what to buy and admits to only doing just a little research online. "I ended up buying one from a friend for $40," Naggy says, though it doesn't really work all that well in her apartment. "It doesn't cool the entire apartment; it just circulates the air."
Here's what an expert has to say about choosing the right AC unit to beat the heat and not make the same mistake as Naggy:
1. Calculate how many BTUs you need
Abby Buford, a member of the public relations team at Lowe's, warns that despite the temptation to just swing by the local hardware store and pick up whatever air conditioning unit is on sale, it actually takes a bit of planning and foresight to find the right air conditioner. She explains that the most important thing to consider when buying an air conditioner is to figure out the square footage of the room in which you plan to install the unit.
First, multiply the room's width by the room's length. Then use a chart from Energy Star to figure out the amount of British thermal units (BTUs) needed. Be sure to view the special notes about the number of windows, sunlight, and if the unit is to be used in a kitchen -- all of which affect the amount of BTUs needed. "BTUs are important because selecting the proper size is a critical component of the units performance," Buford explains.
2. Buy the unit with the listed amount of BTUs you need. No more, no less.
After determining the amount of BTUs you'll need, you can then pick out your air conditioner. The box should display its BTU output along with listing its other features, such as fan speeds, remotes, programs, etc. And just because a unit has larger BTU output than you need doesn't mean you'll reap the rewards of a cooler room. "An air conditioning unit that's too large will cycle on and off too frequently, using too much energy and causing unnecessary wear on the electrical components," says Buford. You'll also end up paying for a bigger unit not only at the store's cash register but also farther down the road, when you receive your first shockingly large electricity bill.
3. Buy an energy efficient air conditioner. Even if it costs more, you'll save money in the long run.
"The amount of money is generally based on the size of the unit," explains Buford, explaining that the bigger the AC unit, the more it will cost. "And the size will also determine the amount of money spent on utilities." It's advised to stick with an air conditioner that has met government restrictions as an energy efficient appliance and has been labeled with the Energy Star logo. "The majority of units are Energy Star, which can cost slightly more than a non-Energy Star unit," says Buford. But you'll more than likely make up the difference in price with your electric bill.
4. Read the instructions and don't forget to keep up on maintenance.
Before you install the unit, Buford recommends thoroughly reading the installation guide, as well as checking to make sure the window can hold it and that nothing blocks the airflow. She also suggests that you check the unit's filter regularly -- "A dirty filter can decrease the efficiency of the AC unit."
Following these tips and advice will hopefully find you basking in the cool, refreshing chill of your new air conditioner and help you enjoy your summer while at home. Naggy will have to go through the whole process of buying an air conditioner again next summer to get one that suits her needs best, but she's optimistic. "At least next time I'll know what to do," she says.