Aug 14, 2023

Window Air Conditioners Take a U

I don’t usually pay a lot of attention to window air conditioners. We have two central ducted heat pumps on our house, as well as a ductless unit for an addition, and I usually only write about equipment that must be installed by a contractor. Not only that, but window units have the reputation of being inefficient and loud, hence their nickname, “window shakers.”

But I started to reconsider my viewpoint when one of our heat pumps stopped working recently. I thought it would be an easy repair and that my unit would be back up and running in no time, but that was not to be. According to the technician, the component was backordered, and it would be six to eight weeks until she could get the part.

OK, no problem, I thought. With two heat pumps in reserve, surely the strategic placement of fans would keep the family room and kitchen cool enough for us to muddle through for a while. That worked for a day or two, while the outside temps were still below 100°F. Then it hit 107°, and the temps in half the house hit a very uncomfortable 85°, and I started looking for alternatives.

Coincidentally, that same day, an article ran in the Wall Street Journal about Midea’s new U-shaped window air conditioner, and I was intrigued. The Midea U, which was launched in 2020, features a U-shaped design that allows the window to open and close normally, so users can still access fresh air whenever desired. In addition, the window actually bisects the R-32 unit, acting as a sound barrier to the outside inverter-driven compressor, making the unit nine times quieter than traditional window units, according to the company.

These units have proved to be very popular. According to the WSJ article, the initial demand for the Midea U in 2020 was five times what Midea predicted, and the company projects sales to crack 1 million units by the end of 2023.

GE offers a similar window unit, called the Profile ClearView™, which launched in 2022. It is designed to be installed below the windowsill, thus eliminating the need for a mounting bracket. The R-32 unit is essentially shaped like a saddle, with the connection piece resting on the windowsill and the inverter-driven compressor located outside. This design also allows the window to be opened at any time, and GE says that its unit is ultra-quiet.

Then there’s the Gradient, which is a window heat pump that is also shaped like a saddle and designed to be installed below the windowsill. Introduced last year, the unit utilizes R-32 and an inverter-driven compressor. It was chosen by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) to be used in 10,000 multi-family housing units. Midea offers a similar window heat pump that will also be used in NYCHA housing.

So why am I spending so much time on window air conditioners, when most contractors don’t carry or install them? Because I’m wondering if that should change. Given the continuing supply chain issues, it might be a good idea to offer homeowners window units to cool their homes while waiting for necessary parts. I know I would’ve been thrilled had my technician offered such a solution.

In this situation, end users could rent or buy the units outright from their contractors, or contractors may invest in a few loaner units that they could offer free of charge – similar to the free rental cars offered by some auto dealerships. Given that window air conditioners weigh a lot, homeowners of a certain age (of which I am one) would likely prefer contractors to install bulky window units rather than take on the task themselves.

Then there is the issue that some homes with central cooling systems still have areas that are uncomfortable. In fact, one of the readers who responded to the WSJ article noted, “We have two central air units, but our main bedroom…never really cools down. We considered adding a split system to the bedroom for several thousand dollars, then we saw one of these at a friend's cottage and bought one for $450. The Midea has been a game changer to cool the room comfortably and quietly. The bonus is, we can turn down the thermostats for the rest of the house at night while we slumber away in our Midea-cooled igloo.”

There is also the issue that new HVAC equipment is very expensive right now, which led another reader to write, “The HVAC space needs disruption. Owners wanting to replace old central HVAC units are in a strange spot now. Quotes to replace systems are astronomical. Do you replace them now or wait until the new EPA-mandated refrigerants come out? What's a homeowner to do?”

Joanna Turpin is a Senior Editor. She can be contacted at 248-786-1707 or [email protected]. Joanna has been with BNP Media since 1991, first heading up the company’s technical book division. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Washington and worked on her master’s degree in technical communication at Eastern Michigan University.