With some of the warmest months on record, folks took to calling 2012 the year without a winter. But we're certainly going to have a summer. Three-quarters of the nation will experience temperatures that are higher than normal from June through August, according to the federal Climate Prediction Center. To help you beat the heat, Consumer Reports has new Ratings of window air conditioners. We also have the results of our central air reliability survey in which readers told us which systems worked for them, as well as energy-saving tips so you can run your A/C without running up your utility bill.
So far this year, we've experienced the fourth warmest January and February, the hottest March and the third warmest April. Expect more of the same, says the Climate Prediction Center, especially if you live in places below a line that stretches roughly from the mid-Atlantic states west to southern Idaho.
Now that you've been forewarned, it's a good time to check whatever cooling system you typically rely on. If you have an older window unit or central A/C system that needs replacing, you can realize big energy savings by getting a new, more energy-efficient model that meets Energy Star standards. You can save even more by taking performance and reliability into account. Our survey of 40,000 readers who installed central air within a recent five-year period revealed that Amana, Goodman and York logged the most repairs.
All of the window air conditioners we tested in our labs were excellent at cooling. What separated the best from the rest was quietness, convenient controls and the ability to keep working in brownout conditions. You can get a lot of cooling for as little as $150, the cost of the Kenmore 70051, which we recommend. Trade up in size and price and you can buy the sleek Friedrich Kuhl, $800, which is efficient, quiet and comes with panels that match your decor.
There are ways to save on hot summer days. Using a ceiling fan as part of your cooling strategy is one way. Instead of setting the air conditioner at 74 degrees F to 76 degrees F, raise the temperature to 78 degrees F and let the fans do the rest. Each degree you lower the thermostat increases cooling costs by 2 percent. And don't waste money cooling an empty house. Program your thermostat or time your window unit to come on just before you get home.
—Mary H.J. Farrell