In an unexpected twist, this season turned out to be the summer of the sexy AC. New direct-to-consumer companies popped up on our Instagram feeds, “disrupting” the market with their modern-looking window units that claimed to be easy to install and follow eco-friendly practices—every design-and-planet lover’s dream! It also turned out to be the summer we’d need this long overdue upgrade more than ever, since sitting at home for six months straight will drive anyone to grow tired of looking at their dusty old AC unit; not to mention the exceptionally high electricity bill that comes with it. So, for the last and historically hottest month of the summer, I tested one of the aforementioned new AC companies, Windmill, to see if this modern unit was worth the hype. Founded by third-generation AC expert Ryan Figlia and start-up wiz Mike Mayer, Windmill was devised to solve the biggest pain points in shopping for a window unit. It features an appealing design that blends into your home, dead-easy installation, and energy efficient technology all under $400. Read my review to see how Windmill delivered on these promises:
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I have lived without central air for the past 15 years, so I’m very familiar with the fear instilled in city dwellers around self-installing AC units: they’re heavy, bulky, need to be supported by exterior brackets, and if you don’t do it right the unit could slip out of the window, potentially injuring innocent passersby below. But Windmill claims that any able-bodied customer can handle this on their own—er, with the help of a friend. (They offer a nationwide service partnership with TaskRabbit for installation if you’re solo.) I enlisted the help of my quarantine partner and got to work. The well-designed instruction manual comes with extra-large font and lots of white space—as someone who hates reading instruction manuals, I appreciated this detail. When I unpacked the box, I was surprised to find the frame was already preassembled onto the AC unit which I also appreciated—fewer instructions to read! Windmill provides a roll of insulation foam to adhere to the top and sides of the window to keep out pests and cold weather drafts. After lining the window with insulation, my partner lifted the unit into the window frame and held it into place while I closed the window down behind the AC frame, extended the side panels, and drilled five screws into the window to secure it. There is a white rubber plug that fits over the center screw to disguise the hardware, another nice touch!
While that was all fairly easy, the next part was a little tedious. Windmill provides snap-in, weatherproof foam “cosmetic panels” that fit over the side panels for double insulation and a seamless look. But because windows come in a range of widths, you have to cut these down to size for your specific frame. There is a convenient ruler system already on the panels so measuring is no issue, and they even provide a pair of scissors. But I found cutting through the plastic-coated foam to be difficult since it’s a thick and hefty material. (I even switched to my personal scissors but it didn’t help much.) Fortunately, the cut doesn’t have to be perfect since that side slides into the front frame and isn’t visible—mine looked like it was done by a three-year-old. The final step was to drill an L-shaped sash lock into the top of the window which made me feel more confident in the security of the unit.
How it Works
Operating Windmill is pretty straightforward, with standard modes (cool, eco, and fan) that can be controlled on the device, via a slim remote control, or on the smartphone app. When I first turned it on, the fan was set on high and it sounded quite loud, but when I set the fan to low it was surprisingly quiet (around 50 dB, or similar to a household refrigerator according to one decibel comparison chart). Even on cool mode with low fan, I was impressed by the relatively soft noise level from Windmill. To make sure I wasn’t just losing my hearing, I turned on the nearby TV and noticed the volume level required to hear “I May Destroy You” over the sound of the AC was much lower than with our previous unit. (Don’t get me wrong, this AC still makes a noise; it’s just closer to a strong purr than the typically harsh AC sounds.) Unlike most AC units, the air from Windmill isn’t directed straight out at your waist level. Instead, it flows up and out which is an important factor if you were to place it near your bed or workspace. They also designed the LED display to turn off after 60 seconds which would be a nice touch to have at night if the unit was situated in a bedroom. The Windmill comes equipped with 8,500 BTU which they claim is ideal for cooling rooms up to 375 square feet. I was impressed that the unit could easily cool not only my 187-square-foot living room but also reached far back down the connected L-shaped hallway. (A Windmill representative confirmed they will introduce a smaller unit for spring 2021.)
Connecting Windmill to my Wi-Fi and the app took a few tries but was otherwise simple. I controlled Windmill primarily from my phone out of laziness, but more often than not, upon opening the app the temperature display was set in Celsius. Sometimes it was Fahrenheit, but most of the time it would come up in Celsius, and I couldn’t find this as a setting in the app so I eventually just looked up the conversion to learn that I prefer my AC set at 23 degrees Celsius. (Windmill also confirmed they will be making improvements to the app which will update automatically for users.)
As a company, Windmill prioritizes reducing their impact on the environment—and as consumers, we all should, too! The actual device uses an R32 refrigerant with 68% less global warming potential than what’s commonly used (410a). Plus, the app allows users to control the unit from outside of the home—for all those times you forget to switch it off on the way out the door. Every Windmill unit comes with an antimicrobial filter that can be easily removed from the magnetic front cover, and when cleaned monthly, will improve the unit’s efficiency. Since refrigerant leaking into landfills is one of the leading causes of global warming, Windmill partnered with Earth911 to help customers find a nearby recycling facility to responsibly dispose of their old AC units. (Alternatively, if you schedule an installation with TaskRabbit, they will recycle the unit for you.) To top it all off, Windmill will also offset carbon emissions of each AC unit it sells through verified forest carbon projects using Pachama.
At first glance, I thought the unit was a little too hi-tech looking for my personal taste, especially with the perforated front panel. But I really appreciate the soft edges of the unit, the disappearing display, and the minimalist frame. One review described Windmill as the “iPhone of air conditioners” and I have to agree—the overall effect is easy on the eyes, and there’s a certain “cool factor” to having one, pun intended. As mentioned earlier, I also thoroughly enjoyed the packaging, instruction manual, and online experience of Windmill; it’s sophisticated, approachable, and easily digestible. If you cringe at bad graphics and unconsidered design, you’ll appreciate Windmill!
I would highly recommend Windmill to a friend shopping for a new AC unit. Besides the laborious step of cutting the plastic cosmetic panels, I found installation to be easy (again, with the help of a partner), and it operates quietly and efficiently. I also think it’s a no-brainer to purchase an appliance that is more environmentally-friendly than others on the market, especially when the price is competitive (most 8,000 BTU units go for $300–$500). Sadly, as I recommend this product to you, dear Clever reader, I learned the 2020 batch of Windmill ACs has already sold out. But they are offering a preorder for spring 2021 delivery (with a $60 discount), so consider checking this task off your list six months in advance—there’s no better time than the present!
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest