Your Guide to Portable Air Conditioners

When you think of an air conditioner, you likely think of central ac units that send air through ducts and vents into all the rooms of a home. You may also think of window air conditioners, which sends cool air into a single room.

There are, however, other options for cooling the home, including whole house fans. Another options is a portable air conditioner. These systems are convenient, affordable, and (when used properly) can be extremely efficient. If you need cool air in one room, a portable unit could be right for you.

portable air conditioner in a home

What are the Benefits of a Portable Air Conditioner?

The main advantages are the ease of installation and portability. Many people buy these units as a supplement to their central air conditioning. For example, if you have a room that doesn't have ducting or can't quite cool down. We also see them used in room like garages. They are also a good solution for windows that cannot support a window AC.

With the portable units, you don’t have to overhaul your home’s HVAC venting; you don’t even have to place the unit in a window and make sure it fits properly. Installing a window AC can be difficult. You have to lift the heavy unit into the window, make sure it is perfectly set, then secure the unit firmly in place so it doesn’t move. Once this is complete, you have to make sure all the gaps and cracks are sealed properly so the cool air doesn’t escape. Again, it’s a simple task, but it’s one that can be a challenge for many people.

With a portable AC, you don’t have this problem. Simply place it where you want it and you’ll have the cool air you need for your space. You will need to vent the hot air to the outside however the window or wall kits for the exhaust hose are easy to install.

Portable AC's are also considered more visually appealing than window units. You are getting an item that was designed to be inside; while they are certainly not decorative, they are designed with household users in mind, so manufacturers try to make them as visually appealing as possible.

Of course, the biggest advantage is mobility. You can move the cool air into any room of the home. Whether you need to cool a bedroom, living room, or kitchen, these units are able to deliver the cool breeze where you need it. The ease and convenience is one of the main reasons portable air conditioners are so popular. (Of course, you’ll have to move the vent hose, but assuming they will reach, this mobility creates versatile cooling options for your home.)


What are the Ideal Homes for a Portable Air Conditioner?

Some are simply better suited to different areas. A central air conditioning system, for example, is best for a full-size single family home. With this type of air conditioning, you can distribute cool air all throughout the house. But central air does not work in smaller areas alone or if you have added a room to your home, which is why a portable system may be best.

Apartments and condominiums are usually the great place for a portable unit. If you live in one of these locations, and it does not already have an air conditioning system, it is virtually impossible to install central air or other types. However, a portable air conditioner is easy to install. Because apartments and condos tend to be smaller, if you attach it to a window, you can likely move the unit from one room to another with ease, all without detaching and attaching the machine to a different window.

Portable air conditioners, if allowed, can also be useful for dorm rooms. In a dorm, you might not have as much control over the air conditioning as you would in your own apartment, so if your room is on the sunny side of the building, it can likely get a lot warmer. This can make your room very uncomfortable.


The Downside of a Portable AC

As with any choice for your home, there are positives and negatives; the same goes for choosing the best air conditioner, as there are clear negatives that can impact your decision.

One of the biggest negatives of a portable air conditioner is the lack of efficiency. Each unit is different, but in general they tend to use more electricity than other units.

In order to cool the same amount of space, you will likely be using more energy. The main reason for this is due to having to push the hot air through the exhaust vent. In contrast a window AC does not have this limitation since the area where the warm air comes out is already outside.

Portable air conditioners can also be louder. Or, more accurately, the noise they produce can be more of a nuisance inside. If a central air conditioning system, which holds the unit outside, kicks on, the noise is heard indoors but it is quiet and muffled. Much of the noise of a window unit is sent outward as well. But with a portable unit, the entire machine is inside, which means the noise could be louder. If you are trying to run the portable unit while watching television or listening to a podcast, you may have to adjust the settings to get a clearer sound.

There is also the unfortunate fact that you need floor space. A window unit is lifted off the ground and placed in the window. It doesn’t protrude extensively out into the living space, and most of the unit is actually outside, where it can’t get in the way. A central A/C system has the large, powerful unit outdoors, so it is hardly noticed when you are inside. With a portable air conditioner, however, you will need to use floor space for the unit. If you live in a small apartment, or simply want to conserve your space, it may not be the right choice. Of course, you can place it against a wall or in a corner where it won’t be as obtrusive, but it still means you are using space that could be used for a bookshelf, table, or chair.


What to Look for in Portable Cooling

Room Size

Most importantly, when purchasing an AC, you want to make sure it can properly cool your space. You need to consider the room size, as well as if the room is in direct sunlight or has air from adjoining rooms that are hot.

Different units are capable of cooling different areas; generally the larger the portable air conditioner, the more space it can cool. Measure the space where you will use it, then look for items that have the power to cool this space.

Generally, you will want to look at the BTU's of the unit (more on BTU below), as this is a measurement of its cooling power. You should also consider other factors; for example, if the room is on the south side of the home and has lots of windows, it may take more power consumption to cool the space.


BTU

This is an acronym that stands for British Thermal Unit, and it is the measure of thermal energy. More exact, a BTU is the amount of energy needed to raise 1 pound of water 1 degree at sea level. However, it works a little differently when used as part of an air conditioner. In this case, the measurement is expressed as how many BTUs per hour the specific machine can add or remove from the air. It is complex, and unless you are actually involved in the manufacturing, complete understanding of the BTU measurement is not necessary. It is, however, a system you should at least be familiar with.

In general, an 10,000 BTU AC can cool 350 - 500 square feet. A 14,000 BTU unit can cool 500 - 700 sq ft.

If you are using a portable ac unit that does not have enough cooling power for your area, you will not be able to reach the desired temperature and comfort level for your room. Basically, the heal load will be too much for your machine, and this will cause your air conditioner to run non-stop while trying to cool the area.

For this reason, it’s essential that you pay attention to the square footage recommendations of the AC you are using and the amount of direct sunlight for your room.


Size of the Air Conditioner

The physical size of the machine will be an important factor for your overall use. Many people purchase air conditioning systems with the intention of only using them in one room, while others want the portability of these units, moving them from one room to another. Either way, size makes a difference.

If you are going to leave the portable air conditioner in one room, you will want to make sure the unit fits conveniently in that space. Obviously if the space is small, then you will likely want a compact unit so you don’t take up the entire room. On the other hand, if the room is large, you may need a bigger, more powerful machine to ensure the space is given enough cool air.

If you plan on moving the AC throughout the home, you will want a unit that you can move easily, which generally means a smaller, lighter machine.


Energy Use

If you use the portable air conditioner on a consistent basis, you will likely notice a rise in your utility bill. (If you are using it to decrease the burden on your central air, however, the opposite may be true.) Almost all systems will tell you how much energy they use on a daily basis, so you will be able to find one that uses less energy while still delivering the cool air you desire. Fan speeds can also impact overall energy use in both a portable and a window ac.


Ventilation

All air conditioners pump out hot air. This means that you need to keep it near a window while it is in use. In most cases you will have a window vent, which pours out air through a large hose or venting pipe. Most units will come with clear instructions on how to set up and operate the venting system, so you should have an easy process for setting up and using the vents.

If you want to keep the portable air conditioner in an area that is not near a window, you will need to look for a unit that has a long venting hose or pipe. Some models have kits with flexible piping so you can move the unit to almost any room and still have it connected to a window vent.


Dual Hose of Single Hose?

As you shop for air conditioning units, you will find they have either a single-hose system or a dual-hose system. These two configurations have a significant impact on how you use it, and they can also change the efficiency of the unit.

Single-hose designs use one hose for both the intake and the expulsion of air. It will certainly cool the room, but it usually has to work harder to achieve its overall temperature goals. Because it works harder to vent air in and out of the same hose, the overall efficiency will suffer and the unit will use more energy. On the plus side, they typically look better.

A dual hose design has a different hose for the intake and the exhaust. Air comes in one pipe and goes out another. They are more efficient and effective than single hose units, and are generally more recommended. Having an exhaust hose can be useful, but not all machines come with an exhaust hose, so keep this in mind when shopping for a portable ac.


Noise

Overall noise level also matters. You certainly don’t want a unit that is loud and clunky, so look for an air conditioner with a reputation and reviews for having quiet performance. This matters no matter what type you are purchasing. For the most part, the noise will be like a fan, but if you are going to place it in a quiet room, such as a baby’s bedroom or a place where you like to ready, a peaceful system is essential.

Some manufacturers have put a lot of time and energy into building a quiet unit, one that will have a low noise level. While many are advertised as quiet, your best option is to read consumer reviews and look to see if many people complain that the machine is too loud. This is often the most reliable information on noise level.


Installation Process

Compared to a central air-conditioning system, the installation of a portable system is fairly simple.

Most portable air conditioners come with an easy to understand instruction manual that will lay out the process for installing the machine. Anyone with basic skills should be able to set up the unit, but if you are not confident in installation, you likely have a friend or family member who can complete the task. In less than an hour, you can likely have the machine up and running.

If you plan on moving it from room to room, it may be worth it to purchase an additional ventilation kit, which allows you to set up vents in multiple locations and simply attach the air conditioner where it is needed. For example, you can set up vents in windows on the north and south side of the house to service either end of your home.


User Interface

Almost all portable air conditioners are simple to use. You still need to have the right control to properly operate it. These controls should be intuitive, simple, and easy to understand. You need to figure out how to work the air conditioner without creating a lot of confusion.

As we said, most are easy to understand, but you should still explore the user interface to make sure it will work for you. If you want a simple machine, you can likely find one that has simple high-low and temperature settings.


Appearance

Even if you purchase a small unit, it will take up space in your home, likely in a room where you spend a lot of time. It makes sense, therefore, for you to purchase a unit that is not an eyesore. Portable air conditioners are certainly not artwork, but you can find appliances that have a sleek, sophisticated appearance. You can also find units that are bulky, ugly, and obtrusive.

In most cases, you want it to fade into the visual background; you don’t want something that will be easily noticed, so look for one that has a color to match your space. If you have bright white walls, then a white air conditioner makes sense. If you have a neutral color palette in the home, look for a unit that has similar tones.


Variety of Features

AC's come with a variety of features, and while some are more important than others, there are a few specific features you should look for. First of all, you should find a unit that has a programmable thermostat. Like central-air systems, some portable ac units have thermostats that can be set to a specific temperature, eliminating the need to manually adjust the settings.

You will likely want one with an auto drain setting. With this feature, all the liquid water created from condensation will be drained away, so you never have to deal with emptying a container. Changing the container is easy, but if you ever forget, an overflow could cause serious damage in your home.

A remote control can also come in handy. With a remote control, you can set the machine to the specific settings from a distance, allowing for greater convenience.


Price

Price makes a big difference in any purchase and you can find units in a broad range of costs. If shopping, expect to pay from $100 to as much as $1,000, depending on how and where you buy. The difference in cost will relate to many factors, including the availability of different functions.

Take your time when shopping and compare prices so you are a well-informed consumer.


Other Types of Air Conditioners

There are also different types of units that you can install in your home. Each type has different advantages and disadvantages, so even if you want a portable machine, it never hurts to research other types, as you may find that one is right for you.


Primary vs Supplementary Air Conditioners?

First of all, it helps to understand how you will use the machine. Different systems can provide cooling either as a primary unit or as a way to supplement your home’s cooling system.

Most of these units can be used either as supplementary or primary cooling units. All you really need is a window or wall for most of them, although a custom-designed wall space can also be used for certain types.


Central Air Conditioning

This is the largest, most powerful, but also (usually) the most expensive type of air conditioners, and it’s also the type used in most modern homes. Central air conditioning has a unit that sits outside and is connected to the vent system. It has a powerful strength that can add significant cooling power all throughout the home. This type also requires a complete venting system.

Because this system requires a large unit and extensive venting, they are often the most expensive to install. In older homes, it can also be difficult to install the ductwork, which causes some homeowners to choose a different type, such as a portable or window unit.


Window Air Conditioners

Designed to be installed in a standard window, these units provide cooling in a single room. They are especially common in older homes that do not have a central air conditioner. These appliances are attached to a partially-opened window and secured firmly, sometimes with screws or other fasteners. They usually sit half inside and half outside, venting cool air inward and sending hot air out.


Through-the-Wall Air Conditioners

These AC's sit inside a wall. They are considered more visibly appealing than window units, and they can be mounted to sit flush with the wall.

One of the downsides for these units is that they can’t be removed once they are installed. (At least not without significant effort.) Window units are popular in climates with hot summers and cold winters, as they can be removed when cool air is not needed. The same can’t be said for through-the-wall air conditioners. They do, however, tend to have higher cooling capacities.


Ductless Mini-Split Systems

Another popular type is the ductless mini-split system. There are popular largely because of their efficiency, which allows users to get the cool air they need without a large energy bill. These systems provide quiet cooling throughout the home without being obtrusive, and they can cool multiple zones of the home and office, while maintaining relatively low usage. Unlike portable units, as well as window air conditioners, mini-split systems are not self-contained machines, but they also do not require ducting and ventilation systems like a large central air conditioner.

Basically, ductless systems have two basic components. The first is a large condenser unit that is installed outside. The other is a compatible wall-mounted blower unit that is placed strategically inside the living space. When properly installed, the insulated conduit housing the refrigeration line runs from the outside condenser to the unit blower.

Each wall-mounted blower can be controlled independently, so users can deliver cool air to the exact room they prefer. They are known for providing quiet, efficient performance without taking up much space, which has increased their popularity.


PTAC Cooling and Heating

There is also a home-comfort system called PTAC, which stands for Package Terminal Air Conditioner. These are commercial grade systems that are generally used in hotels, assisted-living facilities, and offices. If you are selecting a system for a new commercial building, this could be a good choice for your needs. These systems are able to cool and heat a space, so they can often replace not only a central air conditioner, they can also replace the furnace in your facility.

PTACs are self-contained heating and cooling systems that use a system of compressor pumps to cool coils, which pulls heat and humidity from the air. To heat a space, the process is essentially reversed, allowing the system to perform two functions. (Heating and cooling.) Used mostly in commercial spaces, these systems are popular in residential areas, such as sun rooms and other spaces that don’t receive air through the ventilation system.


Choosing Between a Portable and a Window Air Conditioner

For most people, the basic choice is between a portable and a window unit. While many other systems provide the cool air you need, these are usually the most practical, affordable, and convenient, especially if you only need cool air in a small space. Each type has its own unique benefits, so let’s take a close look at the two to see if one is right for you.


Advantages of a Portable Air Conditioner

Portability, as you might have guessed, is the #1 advantage of a portable ac. With these units, you can move the cool air from one room to another, helping you stay consistently cool and refreshed. Moving a window unit is possible, but it can take time and effort and move these heavy machines. A portable unit, however, can simply be wheeled to the right location. (Assuming, of course, that your unit came on wheels.) As long as you have the proper hoses to reach a new space, you can move the machine practically all over the house.

These units also allow you to enjoy easy set up and installation. You won’t have to lift the unit into place and try to balance it while securing it into place, creating far greater ease during installation.


Advantages of a Window Air Conditioner

While portable air conditioners are popular in many homes, some find that window units are the right choice for their house. One of the main benefits is that the window air conditioner is stored essentially outside the home, with most of the unit sticking out of the window. Because of this, you are able to maximize your floor space and fully utilize your rooms. With a portable AC, you will need floor space for the unit, which can make them unpopular for inside use.

In many cases, a window air conditioner can use less energy as well. Window units are designed to maximize efficiency, and because they don’t have the extensive ventilation hoses, they tend to have numbers from an efficiency standpoint. Of course, efficiency depends on the model itself, and you can’t expect every window unit to be more efficient.

There is also the fact that you don’t have to move the window air conditioner around the home. (In fact, you can’t move it.) This can make it more convenient if you simply want one that will stay in one place.


Is it Possible a Portable Air Conditioner Can Lower Your Costs?

Energy consumption and overall use depends on many factors, including the exact model you purchase and how you use it. In general, however, it is possible to use a portable air conditioner to lower your utility bills.

First of all, you can use it in a room-to-room basis. Instead of running a powerful central air-conditioning system to cool the entire home, you can use a smaller portable air conditioner, which uses less energy, to cool the specific room where you will spend your time. Instead of cooling the entire house, you can simply cool the living room where you relax, read, and watch television.

With portable units, you can give a specific room a quick blast of cool air, instead of trying to cool a single room by, essentially, cooling the entire house. Once again, this enhanced efficiency makes for a lower utility bill. Whenever you can use the portable instead of the central air conditioner, you are likely saving money and using fewer resources.

They could also be a good choice if you are purchasing a house that does not have a central air system. Many older homes are not equipped with central air, which means you have two choices: you can either install an entire central air conditioning system, which will likely cost thousands of dollars, especially when it needs to be retrofit into an old home, or you can install various window and portable air conditioners.

In most cases, you can get enough air conditioners to cool your entire home for less than $1,000, which will result in outstanding savings and could, depending on the units you buy, be more efficient than using a large central air system, which has to distribute air into the home through various ductworks.


Cool the Air with a Dehumidifier?

You may want to increase your home comfort by using a dehumidifier. By removing moisture from the air, you will make the rooms feel cooler. As an added advantage, using a dehumidifier can reduce the overall amount of allergy triggers and air pollution in your home. This is because dry air is less likely to support mold growth, which is a common contributor to poor indoor air quality.


Find an Efficient, Reliable Air Purifier to Go with Your Air Cooling

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