Small air conditioners review 2009

Reverse-cycle air conditioners are the most efficient form of electric heating, as well as being effective coolers.
 
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  • Updated:6 Mar 2009
 

01 .Introduction

Woman on lounge

Test results for 12 reverse-cycle inverter air conditioners priced from $840 to $1761

See our latest reports on small air conditioners and large air conditioners, as well as our free buying guide.

Air conditioners are usually thought of as a summer appliance, but a reverse cycle model can also be an efficient and effective way to heat your home in winter. They’re ideal for a large bedroom or small living area and compared to other electric heating options, they’re cheap to run.

Inverter air conditioners vary their heating or cooling output to match the room conditions. This is a more efficient approach than older, non-inverter models, which alternate between 100% capacity or off. The current Australian standard for air conditioners covers reverse cycle but not inverter technology, and our test method for these models is tougher than that used by manufacturers for energy star ratings.

Please note: this information was current as of March 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market. For more recent information, see our Small air conditioners review 2012.


Our testing

CHOICE tested 12 small air conditioners (five of which were previously tested models) which claimed to deliver around 3.5kW for cooling and 4kW for heating. Each unit was tested at its maximum temperature and fan setting for both heating and cooling. Our tester also looked at noise levels, airflow and how easy each unit was to use

Our test results clearly break down the merits of each unit. So whether your priority is heating, cooling, or both, we can recommend a machine that will suit your lifestyle.

CHOICE independence guaranteed

These independent ratings are only available through membership with CHOICE Online because no one test products like we do. Arm yourself with our unique and exclusive information and make your next purchase with confidence.

Brands tested

  • #Daikin FTXG35FVMAW / RXG35FVMA
  • #Daikin FTXS35EVMA / RXS35EBVMA (A)
  • #Fujitsu ASTB12LDC / AOTB12LDC
  • #Kelvinator KSV35HRA / KSV35HRA
  • #LG R12AWN NB9 / R12AWN UB9
  • #Panasonic CS-E12HKR / CU-E12HKR
  • #Samsung AQV12NSBN / AQV12NSBX
  • Carrier 42NQV035M-A / 38NYV035M-A
  • Fujitsu ASTA12LCC / AOTR12LCC
  • Mitsubishi Heavy Industries SRK35ZGA-S / SRC35ZG-S
  • Toshiba RAS-13SKV-A / RAS-13SAV-A
  • Toshiba RAS-13SKVR-A / RAS-13SAVR-A

(A) Discontinued and replaced by the FTXS35EVMA / RXS35EVMA.
# Newly-tested models

 
 

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The following models scored the best results in our test.

What to buy
Brand Price
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries SRK35ZGA-S / SRC35ZG-S $1093
LG R12AWN UB9 / R12AWN NB9 $1599
Panasonic CS-E12HKR / CU-E12HKR $1319
Fujitsu ASTA12LCC / AOTR12LCC $1499

Results table

Full results for all models are shown in the table below.

PRODUCT FEATURES SPECIFICATIONS COSTS
Brand / model (in rank order, indoor / outdoor unit) Overall score (%) Cooling efficiency score (%) Heating efficiency score (%) Airflow score (%) Ease of use score (%) Noise indoor* / outdoor Cooling Heating Number of fan speeds Fast operation Quiet operation Real time clock Fan-only mode Dimensions of indoor unit (cm, H x W x D) Yearly running cost ($) Price ($)

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries SRK35ZGA-S / SRC35ZG-S
www.mhiaa.com.au

83 85 84 78 80 Quieter / quieter 3.4 4.1 3 27 x 79 x20 178 1093
# LG R12AWN NB9 / R12AWN UB9
www.lge.com.au
82 87 89 70 66 Medium / medium 3.4 3.9 5 29 x 89 x 21 170 1599
# Panasonic CS-E12HKR / CU-E12HKR
www.panasonic.com.au
81 77 85 87 70 Quieter / quieter 3.4 4.5 5 28 x 80 x 19 182 1319
Fujitsu ASTA12LCC / AOTR12LCC
www.fujitsugeneral.com.au
80 89 61 86 89 Quieter / medium 3.6 5.1 3 28 x 79 x 22 196 1499
# Daikin FTXS35EVMA / RXS35EBVMA (A)
www.daikin.com.au
76 79 80 71 69 Quieter / quieter 3.4 4.1 5 29 x 80 x 20 184 1359
Carrier 42NQV035M-A / 38NYV035M-A (B)
www.carrier.com.au
75 74 78 74 70 Quieter / medium 3.3 4.4 5 28 x 79 x 21 190 1529
Toshiba RAS-13SKV-A / RAS-13SAV-A
www.toshiba-aircon.com.au
75 74 78 74 70 Quieter / medium 3.3 4.4 5 28 x 79 x 21 190 1575
# Fujitsu ASTB12LDC / AOTB12LDC
www.fujitsugeneral.com.au
74 87 62 63 80 Medium / quieter 3.5 5.5 4 29 x 79 x 23 197 1599
# Daikin FTXG35FVMAW / RXG35FVMA
www.daikin.com.au
73 75 80 62 72 Medium / quieter 3.4 4.1 5 28 x 84 x 16 187 1350
Toshiba RAS-13SKVR-A / RAS-13SAVR-A (B)
www.toshiba-aircon.com.au
73 79 66 72 68 Medium / quieter 3.4 4.3 5 28 x 79 x 21 198 1937
# Kelvinator KSV35HRA / KSV35HRA www.kelvinator.com.au 71 64 83 70 67 Quieter / medium 3.3 3.8 3 27 x 80 x 21 196 790
# Samsung AQV12NSBN / AQV12NSBX
www.samsung.com.au
71 74 81 55 60 Medium / medium 3.2 3.9 4 29 x 82 x 20 187 1199
 

 

Table notes

Scores The overall score is made up of:

  • Cooling efficiency: 40%
  • Heating efficiency: 30%
  • Airflow: 20%
  • Ease of use: 10%

Price Recommended or average retail as of February 2009, or the price we paid.
# Newly tested models.
* Lowest fan setting.

(A) Discontinued and replaced by the FTXS35EVMA / RXS35EVMA.

(B) The Carrier is technically identical to the previously tested Toshiba RAS-13SKV-A / RAS-13SAV-A, and the Toshiba RAS-13SKVR-A / RAS-13SAVR-A is technically identical to the previously tested Carrier 42NQV035H-A / 38NYV035H-A. Toshiba and Carrier air conditioners are distributed in Australia by Carrier.

Cooling efficiency is weighted more than heating efficiency because in Australia reverse-cycle air conditioners are more often used for cooling than heating. Note that the scores of some previously tested models have reduced slightly from the previous article; we’ve rescaled the scoring as some new models are more powerful and efficient.

Measured capacity Reverse-cycle air conditioners are sold with rated heating and cooling capacities – you should choose one based on the cooling and heating capacity required for your room(s). The highest capacity we measured in our test is shown in the table (see How We Test, below).

Yearly running costs We calculate how much each model costs to deliver 1000kWh of full cooling, 1000kWh of partial cooling and 2000kWh of heating per year when running at its measured maximum capacity (based on electricity costs of 17 cents/kWh). We don’t include standby costs (for power used when the air conditioner is plugged in but not operating), as based on previous tests they’re likely to be only a few dollars a year. It may still be a good idea to unplug your air conditioner (if possible) when it’s not in use for long periods of time.

How we test

The Australian standard for air conditioners does not cover the relatively new technology used in reverse-cycle, inverter air conditioners. The standard allows manufacturers to fix the compressor speed at a certain “rated” capacity, however, CHOICE believes this is unrealistic, as it doesn’t reflect the way an inverter air conditioner is used in real life – it will rarely if ever operate in such a fixed mode.

Our test method differs from the one manufacturers use for energy label testing (see below), which is why the energy efficiency on the label and our results don’t always match. All the models rated close to their cooling efficiency but when it comes to heating, the Fujitsu ASTB12LDC / AOTB12LDC was clearly worse than rated. Fujitsu told us this is due to our test method and said that in normal usage their models meet their efficiency ratings.

A model that doesn’t meet its label claims isn’t necessarily inefficient or a poor performer, but you should be able to rely on the energy label for both cooling and heating capacity as well as energy efficiency. In our view, the current tests used by manufacturers don’t always show the whole picture.

Efficiency To determine their cooling and heating efficiency, our testers operate the air conditioners continuously at their maximum thermostat and fan settings – the results are a worst-case efficiency scenario for inverter models, as most of the time they’ll run at lower than their maximum capacity where they are more efficient. They use the test room and climate conditions in the Australian standard, measuring and rating the cooling/heating output per kW of power used. In addition, they measure each air conditioner’s cooling efficiency at 50% of the measured capacity.

Airflow The testers measure the indoor airflow (in litres per second) on each fan setting.

Ease of use They assess ease of use of the remote controls, instruction manuals and timers, as well as the ease of removing and refitting the air filters for cleaning.

Noise The testers measure the noise levels of the indoor unit with the fan on the lowest possible setting, and the outdoor unit while it is installed in our test room.

Profiles - what to buy

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries SRK35ZGA-S / SRC35ZG-S

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries SRK35ZGA-S/SRC35ZG-S Price: $1093

Good points

  • Very good cooling and heating efficiency.
  • Good airflow range.
  • Very easy to use.

Bad points

  • None to mention.

LG R12AWN UB9 / R12AWN NB9

LG R12AWN UB9/R12AWN NB9 Price: $1599

Good points

  • Very good cooling and heating efficiency.
  • Good airflow range.
  • Cheapest to run.

Bad points

  • None to mention.

Panasonic CS-E12HKR / CU-E12HKR

Panasonic CS-E12HKR/CU-E12HKR Price: $1319

Good points

  • Very good heating efficiency.
  • Good cooling efficiency.
  • Very good airflow range.
  • Easy to use.

Bad points

  • No fan-only mode.
  • The filter is difficult to replace.

Fujitsu ASTA12LCC / AOTR12LCC

Fujitsu ASTA12LCC/AOTR12LCC Price: $1499

Good points

  • The best cooling efficiency.
  • Very good airflow range.
  • Easiest to use.
  • Comparatively quiet indoors.

Bad points

  • Only scored 61% for heating efficiency (see How we test for details).

 

Profiles - the rest

Daikin FTXS35EVMA / RXS35EBVMA

Daikin FTXS35EVMA/RXS35EBVMA Price: $980

Good points

  • Very good heating efficiency.
  • Good cooling efficiency.
  • Good airflow range.
  • Easy to use.

Bad points

  • The symbols on the remote control aren’t particularly obvious, and the current time isn’t displayed when the timer is set.

Carrier 42NQV035M-A / 38NYV035M-A

Carrier 42NQV035M-A/38NYV035M-A Price: $1529

Good points

  • Good heating and cooling efficiency.
  • Good airflow range.
  • Easy to use.
  • Five fan speeds.

Bad points

  • The remote is only OK — there is no indication of the timer settings or status when unit is on or off.
  • Instructions only OK — ambiguity in timer instructions.
  • Note: the model shown is the Toshiba RAS-13SKV-A / RAS-13SAV-A, which is technically identical to the Carrier.
  • However, there are cosmetic differences between the two models.

Toshiba RAS-13SKV-A / RAS-13SKV-A

Toshiba RAS-13SKV-A/RAS-13SKV-A Price: $1575

Good points

  • Good heating and cooling efficiency.
  • Good airflow range.
  • Easy to use.
  • Five fan speeds.

Bad points

  • The remote is only OK — there is no indication of the timer settings or status when unit is on or off.
  • Instructions only OK — ambiguity in timer instructions.

Fujitsu ASTB12LDC / AOTB12LDC

Fujitsu ASTB12LDC/AOTB12LDC Price: $980

Good points

  • Very good cooling efficiency.
  • Easy to use.

Bad points

  • Only scored 62% for heating efficiency (see How we test for details).

Daikin FTXG35FVMAW / RXG35FVMA

Daikin FTXG35FVMAW/RXG35FVMA Price: $980

Good points

  • Very good heating efficiency.
  • Good cooling efficiency.

Bad points

  • The symbols on the remote control aren’t particularly obvious, and the current time isn’t displayed when the timer is set.

Toshiba RAS-13SKVR-A / RAS-13SAVR-A

Toshiba RAS-13SKVR-A/RAS-13SAVR-A Price: $1937

Good points

  • Very good cooling efficiency.
  • Good airflow range.
  • Five fan speeds.

Bad points

  • Went into defrost cycle during our heating test and was clearly worse than rated for heating.
  • The remote is only OK — there is no indication of the timer settings or status when unit is on or off.
  • Instructions only OK — ambiguity in timer instructions.
  • Note: the model shown is the Carrier 42NQV035H-A / 38NYV035H-A, which is technically identical to the Toshiba.
  • However, there are cosmetic differences between the two models.

Kelvinator KSV35HRA / KSV35HRA

kelvinator KSV35HRA/KSV35HRA Price: $980

Good points

  • Very good heating efficiency.
  • Good airflow range.

Bad points

  • Scored only 64% for cooling efficiency due to its mediocre performance when operated at 50% capacity.

Samsung AQV12NSBN / AQV12NSBX

Samsung AQV12NSBN/AQV12NSBX Price: $980

Good points

  • Very good cooling efficiency.
  • Good cooling efficiency.

Bad points

  • Smallest airflow range.
  • Remote has no indication of airflow direction.
  • Filter is difficult to replace.
  • The indoor unit has an interval timer only rather than a clock.
  • Size matters To get the most from an air conditioner, match its cooling (and, if required, heating) capacity to your room. 
  • Energy efficiency Once you’ve worked out what capacity you need, compare the star ratings of models of similar capacity — the more stars the better. Note that star ratings are different for heating and cooling.
  • Automatic de-icing If you live in a cold area, frost may build up on the outdoor heat exchanger coils in winter if the air conditioner doesn’t have this function (all the tested ones do).
  • Noise A noisy indoor unit may interfere with your conversation — or sleep. And most local councils have noise restrictions relating to the use of air conditioners: check before you buy, especially if the outdoor unit has to be installed close to a neighbour’s house.
  • Fan speeds The fan circulates the cooled or heated air around the room. Ideally, you want a model with a wide airflow range and multiple fan speeds: from very high, to help the room cool down quickly, to very low so there’s less noise and no unpleasant draught once you have the right temperature.
  • Operating modes: Auto Automatically chooses the mode required to keep the room at the chosen temperature. Cool Pumps heat from the inside to the outside. Heat Pumps heat from the outside to the inside. Dry Dehumidifies the air (while cooling only slightly). Fan only Blows air without heating, cooling or drying. This can be useful when all you want is a cooling breeze.

Useful features

  • A timer lets you switch the air conditioner on and/or off automatically at certain times, and all the tested models have one.
  • Remote control with buttons that are well spaced.
  • Airflow control Some models have settings with reduced airflow (quiet operation) and/or extra-high airflow (fast or jet operation). A sleep mode adjusts the temperature in several steps (up when cooling, down when heating) so the air conditioner doesn’t work as hard (so more quietly) when you’re sleeping. You can program how long you want the sleep mode to operate.
  • Adjustable louvres allow the air to be distributed more evenly. Point them up for cool air and down for warm — this can be done via the remote on all the tested models. Left and right adjustability helps direct air where it’s particularly needed.
  • Restart delay This is a protective feature that prevents the air conditioners from starting up again too soon after being switched off.

05.Heating efficiency

 

Compared with other electric heating, reverse-cycle air conditioners are cheap and efficient to run. Inverter air conditioners, unlike older-style models, can vary their heating or cooling output to correspond with room conditions. This is more energy-efficient than older models, which either operate at 100% of their capacity or they’re off.

The Australian standard allows manufacturers to fix the compressor speed at a certain ‘rated’ capacity. We think this is unrealistic, as an inverter air conditioner will never operate in such a fixed mode in real life. Our test method operates the air conditioners at maximum cooling and heating settings, and therefore differs from the one used by some manufacturers for the energy label tests, which is why the energy efficiency on the label and our results don't always match.

In this test, all the models performed close to their claimed cooling efficiency. But when it comes to heating, the Toshiba RAS-13SKVR-A / RAS-13SAVR-A, and both Fujitsu models had a significantly lower efficiency than the one given on their labels.

That doesn’t mean they're inefficient or poor performers — most of the tested models provide more than three kW of cooling or heating for each kW of electricity they use. The issue is that you should be able to rely on the energy label that reverse-cycle air conditioners must display to tell you their cooling and heating capacity and how energy-efficient they are. It’s an essential tool for you to compare models, but in CHOICE’s view the current tests manufacturers can put their models through don’t always show the whole picture.

Things to consider before you buy

  • Do you need an air conditioner? Before you spend big on an air con, try to make your home more energy-efficient — for example, by installing ceiling insulation, providing shading for windows, and draughtproofing windows and doors. At best, this will mean you can get by without an air conditioner for cooling (perhaps ceiling fans will do the job — we’re planning to bring you test results for those later this year). At worst, it means you can make do with a smaller model and run it less often.
  • Which type? Portable models, which are generally for cooling only, can be moved from room to room, and from house to house. But they’re usually only suitable to cool relatively small areas. CHOICE will be testing some portable models later this year. Window/wall units are comparatively cheap to buy, but generally not as efficient as and noisier than split systems, which consist of an outdoor unit that sits outside your home and contains all the noisy bits needed to condition the air, and — connected by a hose — an indoor unit (or several) that’s installed on a wall and blows the conditioned air into your room.
  • Efficiency: This tells you how many kilowatts (kW) of cooling or heating an air conditioner provides per kW of electricity it uses. The more efficient it is, the lower the running costs and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Airflow: The air conditioner’s fan circulates the cooled or heated air around the room. Ideally, you want a model with a wide airflow range (and multiple fan speeds): from very high to help the room cool down or heat up quickly, to very low so there’s less noise and no unpleasant draught once you have the right temperature — especially if you’re using the air conditioner in your bedroom.
  • Noise: A noisy indoor unit may interfere with your conversation, radio, TV — or sleep. And most local councils have noise restrictions relating to the use of air conditioners: check before you buy, especially if the outdoor unit has to be installed close to your neighbour.

06.Air conditioner types

 

Air conditioners

  • Some portable models are little more than personal coolers. Others can cool a small room (up to about 20 square metres). Portable units can be plugged into a normal power point. Expect to pay around $500 to $2000.
  • A wall/window model is usually installed in a window or external wall, and can cool rooms and open-plan areas of up to 50 square metres. While smaller units can be plugged into a normal power point, larger ones may require additional wiring. Prices range from about $500 to $3500.
  • A split-system air conditioner consists of a compressor unit that's installed outside, and one or more indoor air outlets. They're usually used to cool one or more rooms, or an open-plan area, of up to 60 square metres. They cost around $1000 to $5000.
  • A ducted system is usually installed in the roof or outside on the ground, and ducted to air outlets throughout the house. Costs start from $5000.
  • Inverter technology: With conventional air conditioners, the compressor is either on (working to 100% capacity) or off. Inverters can vary the compressor speed and maintain the set temperature within a narrow range. Manufacturers claim inverter models are more efficient and reduce running costs.
  • Cooling-only or reverse cycle: Reverse-cycle models only cost a bit more than cooling-only models, but you can also use them for heating in winter. While the purchase and installation costs can be high, reverse-cycle air conditioners are among the cheapest forms of heating to run. They cause less carbon dioxide to be produced in power plants burning fossil fuel than other kinds of electric heater.

Evaporative coolers

If you live in a hot and dry climate, an evaporative cooler can be a cheaper alternative to an air conditioner. Evaporative air coolers draw the hot air over a water reservoir. The water evaporates, absorbing heat from the air. The cooler, moist air is then blown into the room. Evaporative coolers are generally more suitable for areas with low humidity. The more humid the outside air, the lower the cooling effect you can expect .

07.Heating and cooling tips

 

Whether or not you have an air conditioner, these tips will help you keep warm this winter and cool next summer (and if you do have one, it won’t have to work as hard).

General

  • The first step’s insulating your ceilings (and walls if possible).
  • Draughtproof your home.
  • Sensible clothing: Put on an extra jumper in winter rather than heat your home to a tropical temperature, and wear light clothing made from natural fibres in summer
  • Contact your state or territory energy information centre. for more tips.

Heating

  • Close the doors between heated and unheated rooms.
  • Only heat the rooms you're actually using.
  • For more information see Your heating options.

Cooling

  • Shading for east, north and west-facing windows helps prevent the sun’s heat from entering your home; outside shading is more efficient than internal blinds or curtains.
  • Try fans for a cooling effect.
  • Avoid activities that produce heat during the day.
  • For more information see Your cooling options.

Warm House Cool House bookIn addition to the information on this site, you can find out more about keeping your home at a comfortable temperature using energy-efficient strategies in the CHOICE Book, Warm House, Cool House.

Use our calculator below as a guide to what you need.

Our 2007 reliability survey gathered responses from over 13,000 CHOICE subscribers about their appliances. 
 
Is your main air conditioner an inverter model?
Percentage not needing repairs in the 12 months prior to the survey*
Yes (2367) 91
No (1568) 88
 

*These figures have been adjusted for the age of the appliances.
There is a significant difference in the two repair rates.
The figure in brackets is the number of subscribers reporting on this brand bought in or after 2000.


Air conditioners by type
Percentage not needing repairs in the 12 months prior to the survey*
Wall/window unit (465) 96
Split system (3416) 91
Ducted (1073) 85
All air conditioners (4954) 90

*These figures have been adjusted for the age of the appliances.
Differences of 5% or more are statistically significant.
The figure in brackets is the number of subscribers reporting on this brand bought in or after 2000.


Percentage not needing repair
All air conditioners (5018) 90
Mitsubishi (493) 96
Electrolux/Kelvinator (144) 95
Panasonic (552) 93
Fujitsu (789) 92
Daikin (1283) 92
LG (362) 90
Carrier (199) 86

The figure in brackets is the number of subscribers reporting on this brand purchased in or after 2000.
These figures have been statistically adjusted for the age of the appliances.
Differences of 5% or more are statistically significant.


Percentage who would buy the same brand again
All air conditioners (5058) 87
Daikin (1296) 97
Mitsubishi (492) 94
Fujitsu (802) 93
Panasonic (555) 92
Electrolux/Kelvinator (148) 80
LG (362) a 79
Carrier (202) 76
The figure in brackets is the number of subscribers reporting on this brand purchased in or after 2000.
a) A higher than average number of respondents (57%) gave their reason for not buying again as 'Noise.'