Goodbye for now, snowbirds. Hello, air conditioning

For those of you not familiar with abbreviations, A/C means air conditioning. Or, as the snowbirds who don't have it say, "A-Adios - C-California ... no, that's not right. We're in Arizona.

Anyway, the snowbirds we welcome each winter are wonderful people, some coming from as far away as Minnesota, and Fargo, N.D. Yikes! I saw that movie - twice, and if I lived in Fargo, it would be adios for me the first time the temperature dropped below 40. I wouldn't buy a car from that Fargo car dealer, either - if you get my snow-drift.

Here's the point of this article. I'm an Arizona boy. Lived and worked in Phoenix and Scottsdale for more than 23 years. It took me three years in the summer heat to wise up that my car needed cold air and my first house needed more than the cluckity ... cluckity ... cluckity ... cluckity noise of the swamp cooler on the roof. Not to mention getting up a 3 a.m. to let the backyard flood with irrigation water. Maybe you remember those good old days. Kingman, Bullhead City, Laughlin and Lake Havasu City are real hot spots. In July and August, you can fry an egg on the sidewalk or the hood of your car. I've tried it. Will that be eggs over easy, sir, or scrambled? So, here's what I know that you should know.

I have great news for those of you who want A/C but feel the cost is out of reach. Now, low prices and high efficiency make individual room air conditioners an inexpensive alternative to central air for cooling one or two rooms or more.

Can I see a show of hands on this question? Do you want an air conditioning company crawling around in your attic for days running a wire here - a wire there - plus all that pounding noise while you're trying to eat lunch, OR can I pencil you in for a room air conditioner that can cost as low as $100 and often includes relatively precise controls with digital temperature readouts instead of the "old-fashioned" and vague "warmer" and "cooler" settings you had to suffer through in the old days.

Ah, yes, folks, we have come a long way in 2007. But, it gets better.

Adding all this efficiency is also trickling down the price scale. All models meet the 9.7 Energy Efficiency Ratings now required for air conditioners. And most units qualify for the federal Energy Star designation. All these big words and numbers simply mean you're going to save money using individual room air conditioning units.

Those of you who have a four- or five-ton A/C unit making the inside of your home feel like the base camp below Mt. Everest, are paying through the nose ... or pocketbook ... wherever you keep your cash.

So, informative Mr. Tony, what's available, you ask? Well, here are some familiar names: GE, Fedders, Kenmore (Sears), Frigidaire and LG are the leading brands of room air conditioners and offer cooling units that range from 5,000 Btu to more than 30,000 Btu. Price range is $100 to $600 for the small to mid-sized models based mostly on cooling capacity, and $200 to $700 for larger models.

I don't know how much you paid for that "freeze-you-out" A/C unit in your house, but three summers ago when I had a new four-ton unit installed in my home in California, the cost exceeded $4,000. So, you do the math.

Some inexpensive room air conditioners that will do the job during those blistering summer days/nights pretty much will do the same thing you may have paid an arm and a leg to have installed by some company you found in the yellow pages.

Here are some tips that can help you choose the right size air conditioner that combines performance, efficiency and value:

• Determine how much cooling you need: A general rule is that 5,000 to 6,000 Btu/hr models cool rooms 100 to 300 square feet; 7,000 to 8,200 Btu/hr models cool rooms 250 to 550 square feet, and if you bump up to a 9,800 to 12,500 unit, you can expect to cool up to 950 square feet - the size of a small home or condo.

• Window locations: Where you place the unit(s) does make a difference;

• Third-party certifications where you may be able to get rebates; check out www.energystar.gov.

• Finally, don't buy features you don't need, and clean your air conditioner unit filters biweekly or as needed. Where possible, hose off the back of the unit if debris has clogged cooling cells. This is especially necessary in areas like Kingman and Bullhead City where the wind blows a lot.

There! Haven't I made you feel a whole lot better about the hot summer days ahead?

No tip necessary.