While some people enjoy the ambient hum of appliances in the background, others find it hard to ignore. Here’s a look at five window ACs for the latter group.
The Department of Energy estimates that about 75 percent of all US households have air conditioning in some form. While many of those homes rely on central air conditioning, a method of cooling that places the unit and its parts outside of the home, millions of people rely on room air conditioners to cool specific areas of their homes.
For these users, the quietness of a unit is often one of their primary shopping factors. The white noise from appliances can range from barely noticeable – say, with a small computer – to loud and hard to ignore, in the case of dishwashers.
Room air conditioners, particularly window units, are somewhere in the middle: they usually have an estimated decibel range between 40 and 60 dbA. Because window units are both inside and outside of the home, noise may not be as much of an issue as with quiet portable air conditioners, but it is a factor nonetheless.
To learn more about AC units’ noise levels and how to choose the best option for your home, read our detailed reviews below.
Understanding Decibel Levels
Decibels are used to measure “the pressure of the sound waves traveling through the air from a source of noise,” says Explain that Stuff. “You have to think about the decibel scale very carefully, because it’s a logarithmic scale and it works in a different way to the scale on a ruler, which is a linear scale.”
Essentially, the decibel scale moves up the ladder in powers of ten, so something that’s at 50 dbA isn’t just a little louder than something at 40 dbA: it’s exponentially louder.
The sound of rustling leaves is about 20 dbA, and 30 dbA is about the same as a quiet rural area, which has all sorts of low-level, natural noises going on at once. As you move up the decibel scale, the intensity of noise level goes up significantly.
For example, a noise at 60 dbA – conversation, a larger window AC unit – is about half as loud as 70 dbA. You may think that the difference between 60 and 70 is fairly minor, but the truth is that moving from 60 to 70 dbA makes something twice as loud.
So, you can see that small differences in decibel ratings can make a big difference in the actual noise level in your home. Choosing a unit on the low end of that range can help keep white noise to a minimum, and you would generally hear a noticeable difference in a unit that operates at 50 dbA and one that operates at 60 dbA.
Another factor to consider is distance. The decibel rating of your window air conditioner may be 50, but the ultimate “intensity” of the noise will change based on the distance between the unit and the listener. A unit on the other side of a bedroom won’t appear to be as loud as one right next to your head while you’re sleeping, for example.
“You know from your own experience that distance affects the intensity of sound — if you are far away, the power is greatly diminished,” says HowStuffWorks.
For those reasons, it’s good to have an idea of where your unit will be placed in the rooms you’re looking to cool. If you know the distance between you and the unit will be longer, you may have a little more flexibility in noise level.
Small rooms with little distance to work with may require smaller, quieter units to maintain your ideal noise level. If your room or home doesn’t allow for window ACs, you can also find a small portable air conditioner that will fit the cooling needs of your space.
The Quietest Window Air Conditioners
Over the last year, we’ve reviewed more than 40 window air conditioning models to determine which offer the best noise levels while still performing well. So although we do take into consideration the overall decibel rating of a unit, we also consider how well it performs, because a quiet unit that doesn’t actually cool your room isn’t a good purchase.
We’ve also considered customer feedback and industry reviews for units. Sources like Consumer Reports, Wirecutter, Popular Mechanics and other publications each offer helpful reviews for units in general, so we considered these recommendations and suggestions while researching the best quiet models.
With that in mind, we recommend the Haier ESAQ406P as our Editor’s Choice because of its decibel rating, good reviews and inclusion in industry recommended reviews from sources like Wirecutter.
Our runner-up is the Haier ESAQ406T, which also receives good reviews, industry recognition and maintains a low decibel rating compared to similarly sized units.
Editor’s Choice: Haier ESAQ406P
The Haier ESAQ406P, a 6,050 BTU air conditioner is part of Haier’s Serenity series. The window unit has a compressor blanket to reduce noise and operates at just 43 decibels. It also comes with greater air control with its dual motor design and a cross flow fan, offering smoother, stronger airflow.
“An older Haier Serenity Series model, the ESAQ406P, is still available on the Amazon Marketplace,” says Wirecutter. “It was one of our upgrade picks for a part of summer 2016, until availability dried up. This older model uses about $3 to $5 more energy per year than the new one (based on DOE estimates) but is otherwise similar.”
Ideal for cooling rooms no larger than 250 square feet, it has a 24-hour on and off timer, auto cool, sleep mode, dehumidify mode, and energy saving mode. It also comes with a fully functional remote control, making it easy to change settings from across the room.
The air conditioner was designed intelligently, sitting more inside your window than most other units. This allows the vent to be placed on top and send the conditioned air upward into the room.
With most of it sitting inside, the unit protrudes just 7.5 inches from the outside window sill. And since it doesn’t stick out as much from the house, it looks better than other air conditioners. If you have an at-home job that requires a quiet environment, this window unit sounds much smoother than others and won’t disrupt you as much. It’s quieter than similar brands with the same BTU rating.
It might make a rattling noise when it’s turned on at first, but that will go away quickly instead of remaining constant as it does with other window units. Depending on the size of the room you use it in, you might have to keep it set to auto cool to reach your ideal temperature.
Runner-Up: Haier ESAQ406T
The runner-up choice on our list, the Haier ESAQ406T, is another unit from the Serenity Series. The 6,000 BTU unit also comes with a compressor blanket for sound reduction and operates at just 44 decibels on a low setting.
Like the ESAQ406P, it has a dual motor design, cross-flow fan, and comes with a remote, on/off timer, auto cool, sleep mode, dehumidify mode, and an energy saver setting.
“The Haier ESAQ406T sits in at 6,000 BTU, and Haier argues that it can cool a room up to 250 sq ft, which isn’t bad at all,” says Business Insider. “It’s also Energy Star rated, so while it may not be as energy efficient as the GE, it will still be easier on the wallet than most other air conditioners.”
Noise-wise, this unit produces about the same amount of sound as a white noise machine. But it’s quiet enough to be able to hear family members moving in the hall and doesn’t block out sounds completely.
With most other AC units, you have to turn your TV volume up to hear over the sound produced, but with this one, you likely won’t need to. Though it does produce some noise, it’s closer to what you’d expect from a fan than the rumble of a compressor. The remote is easy to use and simple.
Overall, this machine cools well, is well-made, and is quieter than most window units on the market. Though this air conditioner does cost more than units of the same BTU rating, some will find the extra cost worth sleeping through the night. Installation is easy enough but the unit is quite heavy, so ask a friend to help you put it in.
Best for Large Rooms: LG LW1216ER
As our pick for the best performing quiet AC for larger spaces, the LG LW1216ER is a 115V, 12,000 BTU unit and works for spaces 550 square feet or smaller. Great for quickly cooling your room down, it has an energy efficiency ratio of 12.1, and an on/off 24-hour timer.
“Reviewers say the unit is easy to use and among the quieter window air conditioners they’ve owned, especially on lower speeds,” says The Spruce. “Many rave about how cold it keeps larger spaces, even when the temperature is sky-high.”
The remote is stylish, fully functional, and makes using the unit more convenient. And the machine comes with an anti-corrosion, gold fin coating (LG patented) that protects it and allows it to last longer. When you order this product, the AC comes with an included installation kit, making setup quick and easy.
The unit itself is modern and attractive, with a standard window AC machine look, and fits in well with most types of décor. It’s boxy, white, and measures about 22 by 15 by 24 inches. You may want to call a strong friend (or two) to help you put this unit in as it weighs roughly 80 pounds.
The fan speed is a little slow to change, requiring 5 to 10 seconds to switch once selected. However, the speeds don’t seem to differ much from each other. Though some may see this as a con, it’s part of what makes the AC unit so quiet. If you happen to use this as an add-on to a trailer, you might have to find some sort of solution to the lack of included back-grille to protect against debris and bugs when in motion.
Best for Medium-Sized Rooms: LG LW8016ER
The quietest option on our list for medium size rooms, this LG 8,000 BTU machine works for rooms 340 square feet and smaller. Like the LW1216ER covered above, it has an energy efficiency ratio of 12.1, an on/off timer, and energy saving function. It also comes with a fully functional remote and protective anti-corrosion coating.
Even on very humid nights, this unit gets the job done and cools your room down very effectively. If you have a small house, this can be used to cool down other rooms, too, and provides good airflow. The instructions are not as straightforward as those of other brands, but installation is easy apart from that.
It has extra panels on the side to block out the hot air from outside even more. You can cut these and add them to the unit’s sides as soon as you’ve installed it. These are an addition to the existing accordion panels the unit already comes with. Instead of dropping your central AC down to cool your house, this unit works for a single area and saves you money on electricity.
It won’t rattle your window frame like some other models and even alerts you when it’s time to clean out the air filter. This is especially important for customers with pets. Some users reported that this unit wasn’t as quiet as they would have liked, but that it’s still quieter than most similar products on the market.
Best Budget Option: LG LW6017R
If you’re looking to save some money, the best budget option on our list is the LG LW6017R. This 6,000 BTU air conditioner works for rooms 260 square feet and smaller and comes with an energy saving function and on/off timer.
In addition, it has 3 fan speeds and 3 cooling speeds to choose from. Like the other LG models mentioned, it has the LG patented anti-corrosion protection, full-function remote, and an installation kit included.
“A good air conditioner can help make those hot summers much more bearable,” says Business Insider. “The LG LW6017R Air Conditioner is the best window AC you can buy, with its three cooling speeds and built-in dehumidifier.”
The 2016 version of this model was one of Consumer Reports top recommended units, and the newest model maintains many of those same features and quiet performance.
Many users will appreciate that the vent on this unit is pointing upward instead of out toward the room, more efficiently cooling the room without blowing air on you as you sleep. Since being directly exposed to forced air isn’t particularly healthy, this is preferable.
The installation is quite painless, even for those who are not the “handy types.” It weighs just about 40 pounds so depending on your strength, you might be able to do it alone or might require some help.
When you install this unit, getting it into the window should be quick. It can be installed and removed within minutes without permanent holes or fasteners in the frame or window jambs. This is great if you plan to take it with you when you move.
But during the installation process, keep in mind that the adhesive strip that comes with it for the window frame is very sticky. Be careful not to get it on your hands. If you do, it will wash off with soap and water, though. This strip will help the seal stay in place.
This machine is easy to operate, and you can set the timer to stop and start at the correct times during the morning and night. As long as you use this unit in the right size space, it will cool your room down very well and keep you comfortable in the heat of summer.
How to Get a Quiet Cooling Experience
For most users, the perfect air conditioner is as quiet as possible. You generally sleep a lot better in a cooled down room, with a unit that makes just enough noise to cover city and traffic noises. This list will give you some ideas for achieving almost no noise at all from your unit.
Get the Correct Sized Unit
An AC unit that is meant for a larger space than the room you have it in will irritate you as it constantly turns on and off, making noise. You shouldn’t hear every single time the fan stops or turns on. A unit that isn’t large enough for the room it’s cooling will create a wheezing noise as it struggles to keep up with the volume of the space.
Put It in a Shaded Area
Even if you get the highest quality AC unit, it’s not going to function at its best in the full sunlight. Try, instead, to put the unit in a shaded window. If this isn’t possible, put an awning over it to create shade and help the machine function at optimal capacity.
Always Properly Install the Machine
If your unit isn’t mounted tightly enough in your window frame or is installed on an unstable ledge or frame, it’s going to buzz, hum, and rattle loudly. Before you go through the trouble of installing your unit, make sure the frame is firm enough to support it.
Add putty or caulk to the edges if necessary and tighten all of the window’s fastenings to create a seal that is airtight to fully support the machine.
Check the Moving Parts
Before putting the unit in, make sure its mechanical parts are all in working order. Look at the fan blades inside the machine’s front face to ensure they’re straight. If they aren’t, they could rub against the unit’s faceplate and make a very irritating noise.
You should also look at the unit’s fan attachment to make sure everything’s in order. Add some WD-40 or another type of lubricating spray to the rotating plate so it runs smoothly.
Look at the Insulation
Most unit cabinets come with insulation in the faceplate and walls to deaden noise. If this insulation is torn, worn out, or missing altogether, it must be replaced with material that is resistant to moisture. This insulation should be packed tightly into the walls and faceplate to reduce noise from the moving parts of the AC unit. If you aren’t sure how to do this, have an experienced friend or professional help you.
If the faceplate on your machine comes with a large open grid, you can reduce the air intake quite a bit by adding some insulation. This can stop excessive vibration and annoying noise. While you’re at it, check that the housing and faceplate on the unit fit together well, connecting smoothly without any air gaps.
Keep the Filter Clean
Most units will come with a filter screen near or inside the faceplate. Take this off and clean it once a week during the hot season when you’re using your machine a lot. Many modern machines will let you know when it’s time to change the filter.
Check the Power Cord
If your cord is frayed, twisted, or worn down, it won’t supply the machine with enough power. This problem can lead to vibrating noises and intermittent stops when the unit restarts. Replace your cord or hire someone to do so if you notice these issues.
With the correct installation, proper maintenance and care, your unit should give you years of quiet and cool air in the space you install it in. If you’re unsure about any of the steps involved with installing or using it, don’t hesitate to hire a professional to help.