7 Best Eco-Friendly Air Conditioners in 2021

Free stock image of an air conditioner from Canva

Air conditioners and indoor climate control have become a necessity in most locations around the world. As global temperatures rise, so does the need for eco-friendly air conditioners.

The problem is that most air conditioners are power-hungry appliances that use a lot of electricity to run. They also use coolants that are potent, man-made, greenhouse gasses.

The hotter the climate, the more we need air conditioners, and the more our air conditioners contribute to climate change through carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions. A self-perpetuating problem!

Thankfully, energy-efficient and eco-friendly air conditioners are the answer! And they’re becoming more widely available and there are loads of great options to choose from!

Today, we’re going to cover how air conditioners impact the environment, why they contribute to climate change, and what makes an air conditioner eco-friendly. We then look at seven of the best eco-friendly air conditioners to choose from.

Let’s dive right in!

How Do Air Conditioners Impact the Environment?

Air conditioners impact the environment in several ways. Like all appliances, there are some negative impacts throughout their lifecycle, from manufacture to operation to disposal.

These include things like the impact of the raw materials used (chiefly metal and plastic), the impacts of carbon and other greenhouse gases emitted during operation, the problems that arise when it is time to dispose of the unit and how to handle the waste from it.

However, the biggest environmental concern associated with air conditioners is their contribution to global warming and climate change, through carbon and greenhouse gas emissions.

Air Conditioners and Carbon Dioxide Emissions

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook 2021, the US used around 392 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity for indoor space cooling in 2020. That amounts to around 10% of the country’s total energy consumption and 16% of residential energy consumption in 2020.

The majority of the electricity used for indoor cooling is generated by burning fossil fuels, which releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and promotes global warming on a massive scale.

In addition to electricity usage and CO2 emissions, air conditioners use refrigerants (coolants) called fluorocarbons that are potent greenhouse gasses.

Air Conditioners and Fluorocarbon Emissions

Fluorocarbons are man-made greenhouse gasses and when released into the atmosphere, they can be thousands of times more damaging than carbon dioxide.

Infographic on Hydrofluorocarbons by Climate and Clean Air Coalition

In the past, most air conditioners used chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which had a severe impact on the earth’s ozone layer and CFC production in the US ceased in 1995.

The majority of air conditioners manufactured from 1995 onwards use halogenated chlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), which are less damaging. However, HCFCs are also being phased out with most production and import stopped by 2020 and the aim of complete removal by 2030.

That said, HCFCs will still be available for many years to come as they are recovered from old units and re-used in the units that are still in operation.

As HCFCs are phased out, they will be replaced by hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which do not contain chlorine and pose less of a threat to the environment. However, they still have high global warming potential (GWP) and are not an ideal solution.

Climate-friendly alternatives to HFCs include ammonia, which is a natural coolant and does not contribute to ozone depletion and global warming.

At present, HFCs are the most common coolants in air conditioners and, when managed effectively, they’re considerably less damaging than the fluorocarbons that came before them.

However, alternatives like ammonia are starting to be more popular and more widely used. Hopefully, in the future, we will be able to move away from man-made coolants completely.

Until then, let’s look at how to make the best choices we can make for the environment, with what is available to us:

7 Features of an Eco-Friendly Air Conditioner

When you’re looking for an eco-friendly air conditioner, you’re looking for one with the least environmental impact. The most effective way to do this is to reduce electricity consumption and limit the potential fluorocarbon emissions.

There are several ways to make an air conditioner more eco-friendly and reduce emissions. These include choosing energy-saving models, servicing them regularly to reduce leaks, and using the most efficient size and design for your needs.

Here are 7 things to look out for when you’re choosing an eco-friendly air conditioner:

1. Correctly Sized Air Conditioners 

Choosing an air conditioner that is the right size for your space and best suited to your climate is an important step.

If your air conditioner is too small, you will need to run it on full power, for longer periods to cool the space. If it is too big, you will be using more power than you need to achieve the same result. Both will cost you more than you need to pay in electric bills too!

Choosing the right size air conditioner will allow you to be as effective and energy-efficient as possible. Asking a professional for help is going to be the most precise way to find the perfect unit for your space but, in general, here is how to size your unit:

Air conditioners use British Thermal Units (BTUs) as an indicator of their cooling capacity. A good rule of thumb is that you need 20 BTU per square foot of space that you’re trying to cool.

To find the square footage of your space, multiply the length by the width (e.g. 10 ft long x 10 ft wide = 100 square ft).

If you have adjoining spaces that aren’t separated by doors, like an open plan kitchen and dining area, you will need to measure both spaces and add them together because the air conditioner will need to cool both spaces.

However, you will also need to take into consideration the characteristics of the space and adjust accordingly.

Rooms with high ceilings and large windows and doors may need more cooling power than more compact spaces, even if the floor size is the same. So will heat-intensive rooms like kitchens and rooms that are occupied by more than two people.

Here are some handy adjustments to keep in mind:

  • Heavily shaded rooms that do not get a lot of sunlight – reduce capacity by 10%
  • Rooms that get full sun for most of the day – increase capacity by 10%
  • Rooms regularly occupied by more than two people – add 600 BTU per additional person
  • Heat generating rooms like kitchens – add 4000 BTU

Check out this short video by The Air Of Authority to see all the aspects they consider when sizing an air conditioner:

2. Energy-Efficient, Variable Speed Compressors

The compressor in your air conditioner is the component that uses the most power. Choose one that is energy-efficient because can regulate itself based on the ambient temperature.

For example, a two-stage compressor has two different modes, one for hotter days and one for cooler days. Having these two modes allows the air conditioner to be more energy efficient by working harder only on hotter days and using less power to do its job on the cooler days.

3. Easy Maintenance

Regular maintenance not only improves the efficiency of your air conditioner but also prevents and rectifies any coolant leaks.

When coolants leak from old or badly maintained air conditioner units, it evaporates into the atmosphere and, as a potent greenhouse gas, contributes to global warming.

It is recommended that you have your air conditioner serviced twice a year, in the spring and autumn to make sure that everything is working optimally and there are no cracks or leaks.

Consider this when you’re buying the unit and choose one that local technicians can service and that does not need specialized or imported parts for their regular maintenance.

4. Customized Systems

Customized systems allow you to choose the most efficient components for your specific needs. Some customized systems allow for different energy sources for heating and cooling, which allows you to be even more effective and efficient.

Customizing specific components within the unit also allows for more efficient systems, that are uniquely suited to your location, climate, and building requirements. It is worth talking to a local professional to see if they can help you here.

5. Programmable Thermostats

An air conditioner with a programmable thermostat will allow you to set specific parameters for its use. You can set specific temperatures and you can set it to automatically turn on and off at specific times.

This level of control is great because you can set it to cool the space down before you arrive home or you can set it to turn off when the temperature reaches a specific setting. Fine-tuned adjustments like these make it nice to own and even more energy-efficient.

6. User Friendly and Easy to Operate Efficiently

The most efficient air conditioner in the world won’t be that efficient if you can’t work out how to use it effectively. Look for a model that is easy to operate and easy to program.

Instructions and buttons should clear and simple. Setting it correctly should be easy. The settings should be unambiguous – look for units that show an actual temperature rather than just vague levels or settings like ‘cooler’ and ‘warmer’.

Extra features are also something to look out for –  things like remote control capability, dehumidifying, and exhaust setting for fresh air intake without cooling are great extras to have.

7. Geothermal Heat Pumps

Geothermal heat pumps are not just for heating! A geothermal heat pump allows your air conditioner to use the earth as a heat sink to absorb heat from your home. Geothermal air conditioners are generally more energy-efficient and can result in a 25% to 50% energy reduction!

7 Best Eco-Friendly Air Conditioners

Right, now that we have covered how air conditioners impact the environment and what to look for in an eco-friendly air conditioner, here are seven of the best eco-friendly air conditioners to choose from:

1. Frigidaire FFRE083ZA1 8000 BTU Window-Mounted Air Conditioner

The Frigidaire FFRE083ZA1 is a small, 19-inch window-mounted air conditioner. It is rated to cool 350 sq ft and has a cooling capacity of 8000 BTU. Additional features include remote control, airflow directional adjustment, auto on and off settings. It has a digital temperature display and the remote control allows you to program temperatures, times, and auto-adjustment settings.

Eco friendly Air Conditioner by Fridgidaire -19 Inch Window Mounted Unit

Cooling Capacity: 8000 BTU

Rated Floor Area: 350 sq ft

Voltage: 115 volts

Energy Star Rated: Yes

Mounting Type: Fixed Window Mounted

Price: $369

Find it on Amazon:

2. TOSOT Chalet 12 000 BTU Window-Mounted Air Conditioner

The TOSOT Chalet 12 BTU is a medium-large-sized window-mounted air conditioner. It is Energy Star rated and designed to cool spaces up to 550 sq ft. Its sleek and minimalist design is more attractive than similar models. Features include dehumidifying and fan-only modes, and a smart thermostat that is located in the remote control, allowing you to adjust temperatures and auto-settings based on the temperature where you are in the room rather than where the unit is located. It has a digital display on the unit with the exact temperature displayed.

TOSOT Eco-friendly air conditioner - window mounted unit

 

Cooling Capacity: 12 000 BTU

Rated Floor Area: 550 sq ft

Voltage: 110 volts

Energy Star Rated: Yes

Mounting Type: Fixed Window Mounted

Price: $439

Find it on Amazon:

3. Frigidaire FGRC1044T1 Cool Connect 10 000 BTU Smart Window Air Conditioner

The Frigidaire FGRC1044T1 Cool Connect is a medium-large sized window-mounted air conditioner. It is rated to cool an area up to 450 sq ft, with a 10 000 BTU cooling capacity. As a smart air conditioner, it can also be controlled remotely via WiFi. The unit itself is attractive and looks more like a speaker than an air conditioner. Features include remote control, variable fan speed, eco-mode, and programable times and temperatures.

Fridgidaire Smart Cool Window Mounted Eco-friendly air conditioner

Cooling Capacity: 10 000 BTU

Rated Floor Area: 450 sq ft

Voltage: 150 volts

Energy Star Rated: Yes (And EER rated 12.0)

Mounting Type: Fixed Window Mounted

Price: $349

Find it on Amazon:

4. Keystone 5000 BTU Window-Mounted Air Conditioner

The Keystone 5000 BTU window-mounted air conditioner is a small air conditioner suited for cooling rooms up to 150sq ft. It is a small unit that is also quiet but effective. Features include variable fan speed, exact temperature adjustment, touch and remote control, and dehumidification mode. It also has auto modes for sleep, a timer on and off, and auto-restart.

Eco friendly Air Conditioner by Keystone - Window Mounted Unit

Cooling Capacity: 5000 BTU

Rated Floor Area: 150 sq ft

Voltage: 115 volts

Energy Star Rated: Yes

Mounting Type: Fixed Window Mounted

Price: $291

Find it on Amazon:

5. PerfectAire Slider 10 000 BTU Window Air Conditioner

The PerfectAire Slider is a fixed window-mounted air conditioner with a cooling capacity of 10 000 BTU. It is rated to cool an area of up to 450 sq ft and the unit design allows for installation on most window shapes and types. Features include three fan speeds and full directional control, remote control and digital display, and a built-in thermostat. Having the thermostat in the remote control allows you to control settings based on the temperature where you are in the room and gives you more precise control. Auto modes include auto, dry and energy-saver modes.

PerfectAire Window Mounted Eco-friendly Air Conditioner

Cooling Capacity: 10 000 BTU

Rated Floor Area: 450 sq ft

Voltage: 115 volts

Energy Star Rated: No (EER 11.1)

Mounting Type: Fixed Window Mounted

Price: $357

Find it on Amazon:

6. Whynter Elite ARC-122DS 12,000 BTU Dual Hose Portable Air Conditioner

The compact and portable Whynter Elite ARC-122DS air conditioner is rated at 12 000 BTU to cool an area of up to 400 sq ft. In addition to cooling, it is also a dehumidifier and non-cooling fan. The filters are activated carbon filters, which can be removed and washed. Features include remote control and fully digital thermostatic control, a 24-hour programmable timer, and a patented auto drain function that exhausts all condensate automatically. It uses Green R-32 coolant, which is the newest generation of coolants and more eco-friendly. It is also an energy-efficient appliance with an EER of 12.

Whynter Elite ARC-122DS Portable Eco-friendly Air Conditioner

Cooling Capacity: 12 000 BTU

Rated Floor Area: 400 sq ft

Voltage: 115 volts

Energy Star Rated: No (EER 12)

Mounting Type: Portable

Price: $422

Find it on Amazon:

7. LG Energy Star 12 000 BTU Window-Mounted Air Conditioner with Wi-Fi Control

The medium-sized LG Energy Star 12 000 BTU window-mounted air conditioner is rated to cool an area of up to 550 sq ft. It has full WiFi control capability, so you can use your smartphone to control it remotely (voice control with Google Assistant and Alexa). It has a very low noise level, making it ideal for bedrooms or workspaces. Features include remote control, multiple fan speeds, energy saver mode, programmable on/off timer, and auto-restart for power outages.

LG's eco friendly air conditioner

Cooling Capacity: 12 000 BTU

Rated Floor Area: 400 sq ft

Voltage: 115 volts

Energy Star Rated: No (EER 12)

Mounting Type: Portable

Price: $422

Find it on Amazon:

Final Thoughts & Our Two Top Picks

In conclusion, there are many great options for energy-efficient and eco-friendly air conditioners to choose from. Finding the best option comes down to your needs, the size of your space and finding an air conditioner that is energy efficient and easy to maintain.

The options we included above are all Energy Star rated or have good energy efficiency ratio (EER) scores. We also included a variety of brands and sizes so that there is something good for most residential or small commercial spaces.

They’re all great options but two stood out as being particularly good eco-friendly air conditioners:

Top Pick #1: Frigidaire FGRC1044T1 Cool Connect 10 000 BTU Smart Window Air Conditioner

We love that the Frigidaire Cool Connect is a smart air conditioner that can be programmed and controlled remotely, via WiFi. It is highly energy-efficient and beautifully designed with a sleek and modern exterior. The many different control settings make it easy to use as effectively and economically as possible – protecting your pocket as well as the environment!

Top Pick #2: Whynter Elite ARC-122DS 12,000 BTU Dual Hose Portable Air Conditioner

We love that the Whynter Elite Portable Air Conditioner is completely portable, without losing any of the cooling capacity of a wall or window-mounted model. It is also energy-efficient, programmable, remote-controlled, and acts as a fan and a dehumidifier, which gives you a lot of flexibility in how and when you use it. What’s not to love?!

References and Useful Resources

ASHRAE: Ammonia as a Refrigerant

Columbia University (NYC) – Climate School: How Exactly Does Carbon Dioxide Cause Global Warming?

Climate and Clean Air Coalition: Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)

Dandelion:  Geothermal Cooling: Everything You Need To Know

Consumer Reports: How to Properly Size a Window Air Conditioner

Energy Saver: Air Conditioning

Energy Star – USA: Energy Star International Partners

Energy Star: Room Air Conditioners – Overview, Specifications and Buying Guide

Which? – UK: What does the new energy label mean for you and your home?

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an eco-friendly air conditioner?

An eco-friendly air conditioner is one that is highly energy efficient and that can be operated with the least risk of coolant (hydrofluorocarbon) leaks. Read the full article for more info on what makes an air conditioner eco-friendly.

How do air conditioners impact the environment?

The biggest impact that air conditioners have on the environment is their contribution to climate change and global warming. Air conditioners use a lot of electricity, which results in high carbon dioxide emissions. They also use coolants called fluorocarbons that are potent greenhouse gasses when they leak into the atmosphere. Read the full article for more info in how air conditioners impact the environment.

What are the characteristics of an eco-friendly air conditioner?

Eco-friendly air conditioners are:
- The right size for your needs
- Energy-efficient, with variable speed compressors
- Easily maintained
- Are customizable systems
- Have programmable thermostats
- Are user-friendly
- Use geothermal heat pumps and other eco-alternatives
Read the full article for more detail on each of these characteristics.

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