Portable Air Conditioners 
Buying Guide and Tips

Air conditioner and remote controllerImage by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Explore portable air conditioners for residential homes, including type review, top-selling models, benefits, advantages, and disadvantages, how they work, and what to look for. Use this buying guide and discover the tips to buy the best model. Get familiar with the potential AC problems and see how to troubleshoot them.

In this article

  1. Why portable air conditioners - Benefits
  2. How does a portable air conditioner work
  3. Features to look for
  4. Sizing tips
  5. Pros and cons
  6. Types
  7. Brands
  8. Popular models to buy

Why portable air conditioners - Benefits

Portable air conditioners are small and mobile HVAC devices designed as freestanding types that don't require permanent installation, allowing homeowners to position them where they need it the most. These compact AC units are primarily used for air conditioning (cooling) of one or more rooms, and the work is based on the same principle as larger central residential and commercial type ACs.

Due to its ability for spot cooling, they are ideal for homes that don't have a central air conditioning system, or where cooling of just one room is needed (apartments, offices, cottages).

Built small, portable ACs can provide just enough power to ensure a comfortable environment, saving you energy and costing you less.

The most popular models are between 28" to 34" tall and have caster wheels for mobility. Either buying a top model from Delonghi, Whirlpool, Amana, NewAir, or GE, or the economy model, select multi-functional one; so it can cool, heat, dehumidify, or simply blow the air for the better comfort.

Due to its lower price, convenience, easy installation, versatility, modern look, and energy efficiency, portable air conditioners have become very popular in recent years.

How does a portable air conditioner work

Portable air conditioners are freestanding HVAC appliances designed to cool, heat, vent, and dehumidify the area. They often come with the installation kit for DIY hook up.

All the portable air conditioners work on the simple principle; the inside or outside air is drawn into the AC, directed over the evaporator coils, cooled down, and then blown back into the room, with the temperature you have selected on the thermostat. This way, the AC reduces the room temperature (makes it cooler) while increasing the humidity of the surrounding air.

They are equipped with the caster wheels making them easy to move from one room to another and water storage tanks to dehumidify the area. Keep in mind that moving a unit from one spot to another it requires moving its exhaust vent as well.

Features to look for

Versatile. Portable air conditioners are versatile that can be used not only during the hot summer but year-round; these can blow cold or warm air, move the air by using the installed fan or dehumidify the surrounding air.

The best portable air conditioners are 4-in-1 or 3-in-1 type, also found as ACs with a heat pump, and equipped with the advanced air filters, such as carbon, which significantly improves the air quality. Most units come with an "auto" option, so units can run the system independently.

Noise. Noise is one factor that can affect your comfort, so choose a model with a low noise level of less than 55 dB. If you get a unit with multiple fan speeds, even better, as you can always use the slowest speed at night, and keep the noise down.

Advanced electronics. A digital thermostat and 24-h timer are a must, as they allow you to get the most from a unit when needed and save on energy costs. So, when you are working or away, just program your device to turn it off and turn on when you needed it. This way, you will have a comfortable climate inside your home without spending too much energy and money, maintaining it. The remote control is provided with the unit, and it allows users to operate the unit from a distance.

Eco-friendly and healthy. An automatic water exhaust system or self-evaporative system is a convenient feature, so you don't have to deal with emptying any water from the bucket. Choose a model with an eco-friendly refrigerant and high-efficiency filter.

Simple installation and handling. The portable air conditioners' main advantages are the simplicity of the installation, mobility, and compact size. This cooling machine can be conveniently used where needed and moved from one room to another. No need to cool the whole house if you don't have to, just the room you want.

These small units can also be used for the supplemental cooling where the large whole-house, window, or wall air conditioners are used, or if there are no other options. Due to all these reasons, portable air conditioning might be a good solution as a cost-effective alternative to the central or window AC types.

Sizing tips

According to some experts, the cooling capacity of 20-25 Btu per square foot is sufficient for an air conditioner to provide decent cooling and comfortable living.

The first step when sizing a portable air conditioner is to measure the room area. Use the formula length x width to calculate the area.

Then multiply the area and the cooling capacity mentioned above.

Example: A room that needs to be air-conditioned is 10 x 12 ft, giving you an area of 120 sq.ft. Now we will multiply the area of 120 with the cooling capacity 20(or25) Btu, so we will get 2400 (or 3000) Btu, which is the cooling capacity needed for that room.

To size the portable air conditioner properly, use the following tips as a reference:

For small rooms with the area size from 100 to 300 sq.ft. buy the AC that can provide up to 7000 Btu.

Medium size rooms with an area from 300 to 500 sq. ft. need approximately 9000 Btu.

Large rooms with up to 700 sq. ft. can use AC models with around 12 000 Btu of the power.

If you buy an oversized portable air conditioner, you will spend more not only on the unit itself, but operational costs as well, and the unit won't last as you would expect. The unit will turn on and off more often (short cycles) so the moisture won't be extracted properly. The temperature won't be as consistent, affecting your comfort.

Pros

  • Ideal for small apartments, cottages, rooms
  • Affordable
  • Small, compact, and lightweight
  • Easy to install and move
  • Nice design
  • Versatile (cooling, heating, dehumidifying, ventilation)

Cons

  • Less efficient than window-type. Some types generate waste heat indoors (single hose type), so units have to work harder.
  • Noisy when operating on high fan speed.
  • Placement restrictions (consider plug-in, exhaust hose, water management)
  • They are not used for the whole-house cooling.
  • While they have a nice modern look, once installed with the hose(s), they become less attractive.

Types

The most common types of portable air conditioners are:

Single-hose type. Portable ACs with a single hose only come with one hose, which is used to remove the heated air and moisture to the outside atmosphere. The unit pulls the surrounding warm air (room air) inside, takes it over the coils for heat exchange with the refrigerant, and then returns cool air back into the room. The main disadvantage of such systems is that they create negative air pressure inside the room.

Dual-hose type. Portable ACs with the dual hose vent system consists of two hoses. One hose is an intake through which warm air is drawn into the unit, cooled, and send to the room.

A second hose is used to remove the warm air and moisture from the room to the outside atmosphere.

Since these units don't work as hard as the single-hose type, they offer better cooling performance, making them ideal for larger areas. As they use outdoor air for cooling, problems related to the negative air pressure are eliminated.

They are more efficient, cool more space quickly, but also cost more.

Either type you choose, keep in mind that all portable air conditioners must provide sufficient air supply and free flow for the proper operation, and then send the exhaust out without disruptions.

Popular brands

  • Delonghi
  • Danby
  • Honeywell
  • Haier
  • NewAir
  • LG
  • Frigidaire
  • EdgeStar
  • BLACK+DECKER

Video - Portable AC explained

Popular models to buy

Black + Decker BPACT08WT Portable AC - 8,000 BTU

"Absolutely the best purchase!"
(Jamie)

"Works amazing- good for single room use"
(Ry A.) 

  • One hose operation; 
  • Cools up to 150 sq. ft
  • 3 operational modes
  • Customer ratings: 4.3 out of 5

De'Longhi 3-in-1 Portable Air Conditioner - 14000 BTU

"Great for RV or Big Room & combined Bathroom"
(Jennifer H.)

"Worth every penny"
(Mary Ann) 

  • One hose operation; 
  • Cools up to 700 sq. ft
  • 3 operational modes
  • Super quiet
  • SMART cooling technology and Bluetooth monitoring
  • Customer ratings: 4.0 out of 5

Whynter ARC-14S Portable Air Conditioner - 14,000 BTU 

"Cools whole house a lot better than you would expect."
(WRBarker)

"The best portable AC unit you can buy!"
(Jason) 

  • Dual hose operation; 
  • Cools up to 500 sq. ft
  • 3 operational modes
  • Patented advance auto drain technology
  • Customer ratings: 4.2 out of 5

Conclusion

Portable air conditioners are an ideal solution for homeowners who need quick relief from a hot summer without investing time and money for major renovations, such as complicated ductwork.

While the central air systems are more efficient, quieter, and convenient, they are mostly used for whole-house cooling. And not everyone can afford to install a central HVAC system. That is why many homeowners decide to go with the portable version; they are cheaper, efficient, and will do the work, making your summers enjoyable.

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