Best Portable Air Conditioner: The Complete Guide
With summer underway, it’s not just time to think about vacations and baseball. The arrival of the summer days means the arrival of summer heat, and that’s not a topic you should regard lightly. It’s not just a matter of your comfort. It’s also about your health. Most US homes these days have one or more air conditioners. But, sometimes it is just not practical for you to have one discreet AC for each room.
This is where compact ACs come into play, especially because they offer mobility. So, you can just take it to any room you want and experience truly portable cooling. Apart from that, it's also much more cost-effective to purchase one or two portable ACs, rather than buying multiple bulky non-mobile ones. This is why I've created this extensive beginner-friendly guide which will help you find the best portable air conditioner for your specific needs.
Best Portable Air Conditioner - Our Top Picks
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How the Summer Heat Can Be Dangerous
When you feel warm, your body compensates by cooling itself through perspiration. But in the summer, sometimes sweating just isn’t sufficient to cool you down. This is especially true when the humidity is high.
There are many types of illnesses and conditions that can be caused by heat. When you sweat too much, you can suffer from heat rash. A more serious condition is heat exhaustion, when you sweat heavily, your breathing speeds up, and your pulse becomes fast and weak.
Heat exhaustion in turn can become heatstroke, and this condition can actually be fatal. You feel dizzy, your pulse is strong and rapid, and your skin is dry. Your body temperature can go up to 106° F in just a few minutes!
After that, your brain may begin to malfunction, your kidney and liver may fail, your blood’s ability to clot is impaired, and many of your organs become dysfunctional.
One CDC report stated that from 1999 to 2003, a total of 3,442 deaths were reported to have been caused by exposure to extreme heat. The most at risk were young children, older people, and those with chronic medical conditions. The report also stated that the number of deaths may have been underestimated.
So Who Needs Portable Air Conditioners?
I didn’t mean to scare you out of your wits with these medical statistics, by the way. I just wanted to be sure that you’re taking the whole matter of air conditioning seriously. Unfortunately, not everyone does, so portable air conditioners may be important when other options are not available or insufficient.
So who needs portable air conditioners? Here are some examples of people who need them:
These are perhaps the largest group of people who buy portable air conditioners. In most cases, the landlords have not made it easy for them to install fixed tools or appliances like an air compressor or a permanent air conditioner. Maybe the landlords simply didn’t allow the installation of permanent air conditioners. Or there is one already, but its cooling capacity is insufficient.
Apartment dwellers may also find the installation of standard air conditioners tedious and time-consuming. It may be too troublesome especially for those who move around a lot.
Some homeowners also don’t want the bother of installing air conditioning. Maybe they're already planning to buy a new home and installing one isn’t worth the bother at the time. Or perhaps some rooms are not used often so it’s not worth it to install air conditioning for them.
For example, a portable air conditioner may be used for the library, sometimes. It may also be used for the guest room when there’s a guest staying overnight. It may also be used for a room where there’s an air conditioner but it is insufficient for the task.
Many offices use air conditioning, ever since it became common knowledge that the temperature is perhaps the most important factor that affects worker productivity. When it’s too hot, people can’t concentrate and creativity decreases. More mistakes are made, and tempers can flare. Even computers need cooler temperatures so that they don’t overheat.
If it’s allowed, a worker can bring their own portable air conditioner to the workplace, especially when they work alone in an office where air conditioning is insufficient or simply non-existent.
In the summer, it may even be ok to bring this in a common work area, especially when the air conditioner there can’t handle the size of the room and the number of people inside.
Camping is great, and usually you don’t need air conditioning when you go camping overnight. Most of the time, it is cooler in the outdoors at night. Sometimes the tent comes with lots of screen mesh to take advantage of the evening breeze.
If the natural isn’t enough, you can always use an electric fan. You may even use ice cooler fans that blow air over an ice cooler so you get cool air from the fan. Evaporative coolers can also work, as they create mist that cools you down along with the air the fan blows.
Sadly, all these solutions don’t really work all the time, especially if you’re in an area where it’s both hot and humid. The standard fan can just blow warm air towards you. And the ice cooler fans and the evaporative coolers increase the humidity in your tent, which compounds the problem.
So all in all, there is a need for portable air conditioners. And you definitely need a portable air conditioner for camping in summer. A lot of people need them, which is why a lot of portable air conditioners have been introduced in the market.
So What Are the Advantages of Portable Air Conditioners?
In many cases, the features of the portable air conditioner make it the only practical solution when combating the summer heat. Some people even choose portable air conditioners over its standard counterparts because of the advantages it offers.
Here are some of its advantages:
They’re easier to install
Think about how you install a standard air conditioner. To begin with, you don’t perform the installation. At best, you can be the one to pick the HVAC contractor to install the equipment. You need a pro to handle all those parts.
And you’re lucky if the installation is that simple. Sometimes complications can come up. Maybe the window space is inadequate. Or perhaps the electrical system just can't handle the power requirements of the air conditioner. In that case, you’re going to need an electrical contractor too.
On the other hand, with the portable air conditioner you can do the installation on your own. There’s not going to be any electrical issues, because as portable units they are specifically designed to use any regular electrical socket.
The other main problem is installing the exhaust vent, but the portable unit usually comes with explicit directions that any regular person can do. There’s really no need for an expert at all.
You can move them from one location in the other
That’s the definition of “portable” in the first place, in case you've forgotten. Granted, there are some units that are really bulky and heavy, so their portability is debatable. But still, it’s much easier to transfer even those units than traditional window or split-type air conditioners.
What that means is with a regular air conditioner, you can only cool down one specific area. That’s it. But with the portable units, you can cold down any specific area. It can be a different area every day if you want.
And some portable units are really portable. They’re compact and light, and they come with casters or wheels to make it easier for you to move them. Some are small enough that you can bring them camping with you, so that your muggy tents are not hell to sleep in on hot summer nights.
These things are also cheaper
For many of us who have tight budget limits, this one factor can be the most important consideration. In fact, some people who can’t afford regular air-conditioning may just have enough money to cover the cost of a portable air conditioner.
Just remember, a regular air conditioner may need lots of extra professional help. The electrical system may have to be improved, and holes may have to be done in the walls. All the help you get will cost you more money.
Are there any potential drawbacks?
Of course, especially if you choose the wrong unit to use. That’s true of even regular air conditioners.
Some people can’t take portable air conditioners because they can be noisy. After all, the entire unit is inside the room, unlike regular window air conditioners and split-types where the motor is outside the room. So, those people generally look for the quietest portable air conditioner if they have to settle for one.
Others may also notice that most portable air conditioners aren’t always efficient in their energy use. They’re not exactly green. In other words, in some cases when a regular and a portable air conditioner with the same BTU/h (the amount of heat it can remove from a room in an hour), the regular air conditioner can cool down a bigger space than the portable unit.
But the thing about technology is that it improves all the time. It’s true about cars, computers, TVs, and portable air conditioners. The newer ones are now quieter than ever, and they’re becoming more efficient. In fact, the ACs that I've listed above are among the quietest portable air conditioner models that are available currently. If you take a thorough look at portable air conditioner reviews before selecting a model, it should save you from getting a portable AC unit that produces more noise than you can tolerate.
Perhaps the real drawback that can’t be corrected is tied to the inherent design of the portable air conditioner. It’s that it’s inside the room, and it is producing heat. That’s heat that the air conditioner will have to draw out of the room. In contrast, the heat from window air conditioners and split-types are already outside the room.
Still, it’s crucial that you pick the right ones. So how do you do that?
Factors to Consider Before Choosing A Portable Air Conditioner
To make things easier for you, you need to look at all the pertinent factors and features. Some factors are more important than others, but it all depends on your needs and circumstances.
This is undoubtedly the most crucial factor of them all. After all, this is the primary reason why you bought an air conditioner in the first place. So to check its cooling capacity, you’re going to need to find out the BTUs per hour. The BTUs stand for British thermal units, and it measures the amount of heat you can remove from the room in an hour.
So the higher the BTUs per hour, the greater the cooling capacity. You don’t want to get an air conditioner with insufficient BTUs per hour, because it can take too long to cool down a room. It may not even be enough to cool down a room at all. At the same time, you don’t want to get a unit with too much cooling capacity. Not only are they more expensive, but they consume more power. You’re just wasting your money.
The standard rule is that if the room has an area of 200 square feet, you need 8,000 BTUs. For 300 square feet, you’ll need 10,000 BTUs. If the room is 400 square feet, the requirement goes up to 12,000. So for every increase of 50 square feet, you need to figure to get another 1,000 BTUs.
Of course, this is just a rough guide. These figures are assuming that the ceiling is 8 feet up from the floor. If it’s higher, you’ll need more cooling capacity. And then there are environmental concerns too. If it’s really hot where you live, you’ll need more. And if the room isn’t insulated properly or you have lots of heat producing appliances in the room (like in the kitchen), you’ll need more.
This is important for your electricity bills and of course for the environment. Remember, the best portable AC can also be the most energy efficient of the lot. Here you need to check the EER, which stands for the Energy Efficiency Rating. For standard air conditioners, an EER of 10 is the minimum, but of course that’s not going to be attainable for most portable units. But anything that’s close that is good.
It’s all tied in with the BTUs. The equation is BTUs divided by EER, and you get the number of watts consumed. So for a unit with 8,000 BTUs and an EER of 9, the result is 889 watts. But if the EER is just 6, then the result is 1,333 watts.
Of course, you’ll also need to consider the size and the weight. The size and weight is crucial because of portability issues. It can be big and heavy if you just use it in one place because you live in an apartment. But if you like to move it around, you’re going to think small and light.
You may want to also consider exactly where you’re going to put it. You need 18 inches of space all around it for proper ventilation so that it can cool the room efficiently.
If you’re using a portable air conditioner to cool you down at work or to help you sleep better during the muggy summer nights, it’s going to be counterproductive if the unit you get is so noisy it distracts and disturbs you. So you’ll need to check the decibel level.
The decibel measuring system is a bit strange if you don’t have a scientific or mathematical background. That’s because any 10-decibel increase means that the sound has become ten times greater. So a unit that produces 70 decibels of sound is 10 times noisier than one which produces only 60 decibels of sound.
In any case, 60 decibels is about the level of noise made by nearby normal conversation. So if you can’t sleep with people talking near you, you’ll need a decibel level that’s 55 decibels at the most. Some portable units are quiet enough to produce only 45 decibels. That’s like the sound of whispered conversation. So, it makes sense to read portable air conditioner reviews of a model you're considering, before you end up buying it.
Installation and Maintenance
Most people say that installing a portable air conditioner and then doing proper maintenance for them is “easy”, but what’s easy for some may not be all that simple for another. I once tried picturing Paris Hilton installing and maintaining a portable air conditioner, and I just can’t.
So if possible, download the manual for the unit you’re considering so that you have an idea of what’s in store for you. And read the reviews written by actual customers so you have a better picture of the level of difficulty.
Some units are super simple to install, and some don’t even need much maintenance at all. You’re probably going to still need to drain the moisture collected, clean the filters, and defrost the unit if there’s ice buildup in the coils.
Finally, there’s the price to consider. While this is mostly a function of cooling capacity (the more BTUs, the more expensive it is), other factors also come into play. Sometimes the additional features such as a remote controller and programmable timer can make life easier for you, but it’s also going to cost you. The price may be greater as well if you’re buying a well-known brand, although it may be worth it if the brand has a good reputation for quality build and durability. You may not get the absolute best portable air conditioner at a strict budget, but you probably didn't really need all those extra features it offered, either. So, what matters is that you choose a product which meets all your requirements while fitting your budget.
By figuring out just how important each of these factors is for you, you can then narrow down your options so you can choose the most suitable portable air conditioner for you.
Concluding the Best Portable AC Dilemma
So which one should you get? It should be obvious by now that there is no single right answer that will fit everyone’s needs. Rooms come in varying sizes, people use the portable air conditioners for different purposes, different people have their own definition of the comfortable temperature, and people have different budgets.
Everyone’s different. Just make sure you read comprehensive portable air conditioner reviews (like ours) for any portable air conditioner you buy, so you can increase your chances of making the right purchase. Take note of the features, the ease of use, and the durability. The price is crucial too.
You should also follow the manual directions and the maintenance guidelines so your portable AC can last a long time. It’s not just this summer you have to worry about, but with proper use and maintenance you can keep cool — and keep your cool — for many years to come.
Best Small Portable ACs
Top Small Portable Air Conditioners for the Money
Compact portable ACs are much lighter than their bulky alternatives, yet their effectiveness keeps going up every year. I see more and more people investing in these easy-to-move and low-noise portable ACs, mostly because of their relatively low cost and features offered at that low price point. However, you have to consider a few more aspects if you are interested in buying such a unit. Maybe your home or room just cannot accommodate a large unit, so a small portable air conditioner becomes the one and only solution for achieving a cool and cozy environment.
Generally, when it comes to buying an air conditioner or any electrical appliance for that matter, it is imperative to spend your money with your needs in mind. The general idea is fairly simple – do not buy something just because it feels trendy, but because you need it. Then, what should you know about these things? I have gathered some of the most significant details to pay attention to below. You can either have a look at those, or head straight to the products round-up section.
Benefits of Using a Compact Portable Air Conditioner
You do not have to be a genius to realize that a small unit has one major advantage over the classic models – mobility. As opposed to the window alternative, you no longer need to pay a professional for the installation.
From the same point of view, moving it around is just as simple. Some units have legs for support, while others come with small casters at the bottom. The wheels are better because you can just push the unit around. Working in the office? Expecting some guests? Keep the unit in the office, then push it in the living room right before your guests kick in.
The installation is worth some attention to. What is more exciting than using a home appliance as soon as you open the box? This is how compact air conditioners work. Forget about screws, holes, drilling activities and materials. If you are like me, you have no clue what goes where. Instead, just come up with an exhaust vent for the air to leave the room.
Worried about the costs? Indeed, a traditional air conditioning system can cost a fortune. Not everyone can afford one. The small alternative is not just space efficient, but also less costly. You no longer need to stop eating for a month to afford a higher-capacity, larger model.
Finally, think about the overall convenience as well. If you have just rented a place, a compact air conditioner can make your life easier. It is easy to install in pretty much any kind of home. I move a lot with my job, so this is my best option due to its exquisite mobility. I just put it in my car and drive. I even take it to work sometimes.
Of course, nothing is perfect, not even portable air conditioners. A large unit can handle a big home with no problems at all. However, you do not always need so much power. Besides, think about the energy consumption too!
Types of small portable air conditioners and what to look for
Buying randomly implies taking wild guesses. Small air conditioners can be classified by several features.
- BTUs (British Thermal Units)
- Water removal system
- Plug type
- Special features, bells and whistles
BTUs and power
I believe that British Thermal Units represents the main consideration. It represents the actual power of an air conditioner. This value must be directly proportional with the size of the area.
A larger area requires more power, of course. Most units come with various specifications regarding the area size, so you should not worry too much. Just measure the room and check the AC system box. Direct sunlight and cooking appliances may ask for more power.
Water removal system
Many of these ACs are self-evaporating. What does it mean? Simple! The water is recycled back, so it goes back to the air. Not so smart, huh? If you are like me, you probably want a dehumidifier as well. Some units come with condensate pumps. They are more advanced, but also more convenient. The water is pumped outside through a hose. If you cannot get a hole for this hose, opt for manual drainage. Just keep an eye on the tank and drain it at every few hours. Obviously, I find the middle option to be the most versatile one, yet you might need a hole for that hose.
Plugs and outlets
When it comes to the plug type, I will be honest – no one cares about it. Most units come with a common combination – 125V/15A. They can be used in 95% of all homes out there. Thinking about a different system? You better talk to your electrician as well, since the circuitry needs an upgrade. Other than that, stop worrying.
Useless bells and whistles
Finally, special features are usually random bells and whistles. It obviously is better if it also works as a dehumidifier. Apart from keeping the temperature at a comfortable rate, it also clears the moisture. Portable units that also heat the air might be worth a shot too, since they can be used during the winter time.
Other bells and whistles are worthless. They only “cool” your wallet, so I do not recommend them. You will not be spammed with too many of them anyway, since compact-sized portable air conditioning systems do not have room for all those random things.
Small Portable Air Conditioner Reviews - Best Ones According to Us
In the end, small portable air conditioners might look similar at a first glance. Apart from the power and cooling area, most other aspects look similar. I recommend digging deeper and reading portable air conditioner reviews beforehand, though. Small details tend to make the difference. Keep in mind that what works for some people is less likely to work for everyone else. Do not buy a product just because someone else benefits from it.
If your needs are different, you can just stick to the same segment or manufacturer. I hope this guide on the best small portable air conditioners was of help to you in your research phase. From my experience, these tend to become the most cost efficient investments in one's comfort, as long as they are chosen accordingly.
Best Cheap Portable Air Conditioners
A portable air conditioner will cool your home without the complicated installation process usually required from regular air conditioners. Different types of portable AC units are available, but they work the same way: the AC takes the air in, cools it down and sends it back to the room while releasing the warm air outside via an exhaust or another system. That being said, the features vary per product so to make the right choice you’ve got to know not just your requirements but also options.
One of the major factors to consider when buying an AC, or any home appliance for that matter, is the cost. Not only cost-efficient units generally tend to provide more bang for the buck than their more expensive counterparts, but you also don’t need to spend more unless you need to. This guide will hopefully help you quite a bit in choosing the best cheap portable air conditioner for your specific needs.
What Should be My Primary Considerations?
Portable AC units have different features, so look for those increase the unit’s versatility and make it more convenient to use. Knowing how an air conditioner works definitely helps, but knowledge aside you may want to check units with extra functions besides cooling.
If the air conditioner has a dehumidifier for instance, it will eliminate air moisture without cooling, while a fan function is going to circulate air in the area. In addition there are AC units with heating so the temperature remains consistent the entire year. If you opt for one of these multipurpose units make sure they are configured properly so it runs without a hitch. The cool mode for example, needs warm exhaust while the dehumidifier must be given access to the proper channel to eliminate moisture.
Also keep in mind that if your portable AC has a heater, there will be a separate BTU rating so the room requirements and fitting may vary. And while you’re on the lookout for a portable AC, look for those with a self-evaporating feature to reduce the draining required (more on this on the draining condensate section later).
A programmable timer is also useful so you can set the AC to go on and off at particular times, minimizing energy consumption as it only runs when specified. Remote controls are becoming standard, and why not as they make control adjustments easy. Just like with a TV, an AC remote control allows you to adjust the settings from halfway across the room so there’s no need to go over to the actual unit.
All portable AC units can be used to cool a specific part of your home, and their biggest advantage over other AC types is their mobility, so if you’re moving it to another area of the house you can bring the unit there without much trouble. A typical portable AC has a window venting system for the exhaust hose, and most units are set on casters so you can transport them from room to room. The hose is long, flexible and is set on a window to exhaust the warm air.
Most portable AC units will emit some sort of sound, and regardless of the model it’s not going to be 100% silent due to the fans and the motorized compressor systems. Even if they do emit sounds, these units are no longer as noisy as they used to be. Most if not all of the popular AC units have a timer that will be activated once you’re in a deep sleep. On the other hand there are people who like to sleep with some background noise so the AC unit’s sound works for them and help with their sleep.
How Do I Choose the Right Size?
It’s hard to emphasize the importance of size, and not just the physical dimensions of the unit. As the BTU / sq. ft. guide below indicates, it’s even more important to have a unit that has the cooling capacity for the area where it will be installed. If the AC is too small it won’t cool the air sufficiently, and it the unit is too large it’s going to cycle repeatedly, wasting energy and reducing the unit’s dehumidifying capability. Worst of all this will rack up your power bill.
Aside from the BTU you also need to consider other factors like sun exposure, location, climate type, insulation in the room and ceiling height, as together they’ll help you get the most out of the unit in terms of energy efficiency. Of all these factors however it’s the BTU that’s the most important.
In a nutshell the BTU tells you how effectively and quickly an AC can cool your room. Ratings range from 5,000 to 20,000. Different types of portable air conditioners but regardless of the feature set, make sure that the unit has a sufficient amount of BTUs to cool the room or area where you plan to install it. Here’s a quick guide.
The figures below are in square footage. If you’re not sure how to measure square footage, here’s how.
- 150 Sq. Feet: 7,500 BTU
- 200 Sq. Feet: 9,000 BTU
- 300 Sq. Feet: 10,000 BTU
- 400 Sq. Feet: 12,000 BTU
- 450 Sq. Feet: 13,000 BTU
- 500 Sq. Feet: 14,000 BTU
This guideline is just that, a guideline, and some allowances have to be made depending on your room’s location and other factors. If the area gets a lot of sun, increase the BTU by 10%, and reduce the BTU by 10% if shady. If another person is going to occupy the room, add 600 BTU and add another 600 for every other individual that occupies the area. For the kitchen, add 4,000 BTU.
Finally, if you don’t need all the power that a large unit has to offer, consider getting a small portable air conditioner instead, for a much more efficient operation overall.
The energy efficiency of an AC unit depends on its BTU rating and the EER. The EER refers to the energy efficiency rating, which is from 8 to 11.5. The higher the EER the more you’ll be able to save in your monthly power bill. The EER also serves to indicate the impact the unit has on the environment. The higher the rating the less greenhouse emissions, but the good news is most portable AC units are energy efficient certified.
A Closer Look at the Ventilation and Exhaust
A major part of the workings of a portable AC is venting hot air from the area where it is installed. The hot air is removed from the room usually by an exhaust, and if this is the case the hose needs to be vented properly in a drop ceiling, a wall that’s joined to an unused spot area or a window. Although there are ventless portable air conditioners out there, the feature is not a standard among most portable ACs.
While modern AC units have window kits or drop ceiling panels, the setup process varies, and there is no one-size-fits-all option here. Depending on where you install, adjustments for space have to be made. In most cases however there’s no need to take out a window screen when venting out because the exhaust hose doesn’t go that far. Do note that crank windows cannot be used, but workarounds have been done by replacing the glass with Plexiglas with an opening is made for the hose.
Note: these hoses come in a specific length and should not be extended or modified as that will void the warranty.
Some people ask if a portable AC unit can cool more than a single room. The answer depends on the unit you bought and its specifications as well as the environment. In many cases this isn’t going to be a problem because you can simply move the AC to the room where you’re going to be in. But if you want to cool multiple areas simultaneously, keep in mind that the room temperature plays an important role in determining how well the portable AC unit will work.
However, most AC units today are capable of handling different types of temperature and cool them, but it’s another story if the area has inadequate insulation, or if the room has too many windows that let in an excess amount of sunlight.
Draining Condensate Options
The efficiency of a portable AC hinges a lot on the manner which it discards water on the air. This was touched upon earlier, but it’s worth looking at what these units actually use.
- Containers: many portable AC units have a container that handles the water. These containers have a plug that has to be removed for proper draining.
- Self-Evaporating Mechanisms: some units eliminate the moisture using the exhaust system discussed above. In many cases this is one of the most ideal systems because it requires little to no water draining.
- Full Evaporating: as the name suggests, these systems evaporate moisture completely and from the inside. No water is collected and is therefore suitable for homeowners who want to have the AC run without attending to it.
- Gravity Drainage: portable AC units can be fitted with a condensation hose that will drain water on a continuous basis via a floor drain. Although different setups may be used, they all rely on the same principle and use gravity to work.
- External Condensate Pumps: these condensation pumps pump water via a drain hose, and the pump drives the water into a hose in a window.
What are the Requirements?
Portable AC units list their requirements on the package, and additional instructions are found on the product description as well as the official website. Most of them however, use a 110/120 volt outlet with no unique wiring necessary. While these portable units are more energy efficient than ever before, do not install the unit on the same circuit as another power hungry appliance so the circuit doesn’t overload.
Note: some portable units require a 220 volt wiring or 20 amp outlet. Read the product description to be sure.
Best Budget Portable Air Conditioners – Our Picks
Now that you’re familiar with the options and requirements, it’s time to check out some of the cheapest portable air conditioner models we have got!
Buying a portable air conditioner is easy enough nowadays, but it’s another thing to find one that fits your needs perfectly — especially when you want a cheap portable air conditioner. Far too often people get caught up with the claims and forget about their own requirements. Don’t let that happen as your focus needs to be on what you need above all else. If you have confusion about a particular unit, feel free to check out our reviews section and read out in-depth individual product reviews that will help you make an informed decision. By taking cue from the information in this guide, you’ll be better informed and make the right purchasing decision.