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How to Buy a Portable Air Conditioner

Published: Dec 1, 2017
By Joy Corkery

You've made the decision to purchase that badly-needed home air conditioning unit. Plenty of information about portable air conditioners is available but it is still hard to decide which is the best option. If you're considering a portable air conditioner for your home, learn about these appliances before making a final purchase decision.

Why Choose a Portable Air Conditioner?

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A portable air conditioner works more or less the same as a window mount air conditioners bar one thing – it's portable. This doesn't just mean it can be rolled from room to room, it can also be taken along from house to house (or potentially job site to job site).

Choose From the Available Options

There are two types of portable air conditioners: single-hose and dual-hose. The single-hose air conditioner is the least effective as it takes longer to cool a space. This is because the same hose is used for the intake and exhaust. On the other hand, the dual-hose system has an intake hose and an exhaust house, which means it is more energy efficient and cools a room approximately 40 percent quicker.

Select the Right Portable Air Conditioner

The following factors should be taken into consideration when choosing the correct portable air conditioner:

Size: The size of a unit is measured in BTUs. Use the following chart to match the size of the room you want to cool to the output of the portable unit:

  • A 150 sq. ft. room requires 5,000 BTUs
  • A 250 sq. ft. room requires 6,000 BTUs
  • A 350 sq. ft. room requires 8,000 BTUs
  • A 450 sq. ft. room requires 10,000 BTUs
  • A 550 sq. ft. room requires 12,000 BTUs
  • A 700 sq. ft room requires 14,000 BTUs

Placement: Placing the air conditioner next to a window is the optimal solution as the hose needs an exit space; make sure to select one which will fit nicely in the intended space. It should not be placed where it is a dripping hazard or obstructed by items like plants.

Maintenance: Usually, the only maintenance needed is draining any collected moisture. For something more hassle-free, there are fully self-evaporative designs available.

Noise level: Noise cannot be avoided with a portable air conditioner. Consumers who feel this could be a problem can purchase one with a low decibel (dB) level.

Energy efficiency: This is a worry which steers homeowners away from buying an air conditioning unit. To avoid this, look for one with an Energy Efficiency Rating (EER) above 9.9. Also, purchase a dual-hose unit if possible.

Remember, it's also important to consider condensate type as it relates directly to the ease of use. Three options are available:

  • Drip air conditioners: Deposit condensate to an internal bucket which needs emptying.
  • Partial drip conditioners: Most of the condensate is released through the exhaust hose but there is still a drip pan which needs emptying, though less often than the first option.
  • No-drip conditioner: This option requires the least work, as all condensate is released into the outside air.
  • Benefits of Portable Air Conditioner

    The most obvious benefit is portability, making the portable air conditioner perfect for those who plan on moving house or are renters rather than property owners. However, there are other benefits to consider.

    Cost: Portable air conditioners are more affordable than window air conditioners at the same price point. There are companies that will rent portable air conditioners, but they are generally more cost effective to buy than rent.

    Installation: It is not necessary to hire an HVAC contractor to install a portable air conditioner. The unit will come with instructions for setup. Big box stores offer installation options for $30-$50. This may make sense if you need plexiglass cut to fit, you need to install the unit in a hard-to-reach area, or you want to make sure that the final installation has a professional look and feel.

    Energy efficiency: A portable conditioner can be moved from room to room so you can cool one space at a time rather than central air conditioning which cools an entire home all at once.

    Dehumidifier: All air conditioners dehumidify -- but in humid climates you may want to compare the amount of moisture that different models remove from the air.

    Anything Else to Know?

    Before committing to a portable air conditioner, be aware that some consumers have mentioned the following disadvantages:

    • Portable air conditioners aren't as visually appealing as consumers may think.
    • Each unit needs a hose and these can be bulky.
    • Units need to be placed near a window that can be opened.
    • Given that portable units require a venting kit, it's arguable that these units aren't really that portable, unless you bring the venting kit from window to window as well

    Other considerations are:

    • Portable air conditioners generate heat as they cool air. That heat is created inside the home, and then requires a fan to push the heat outside. This makes portable air conditioners intrinsically less efficient than central split-system air conditioners, where the extra heat is generated outdoors.
    • Single-hose portable air conditioners cool air in the immediate area but may cause heat and humidity elsewhere in the house.
    • Condensation can occur.

    Also bear in mind that portable air conditioners have a limited one-year warranty, including repair of mechanical and electrical parts. Any repairs following will come at a cost. However, it is possible to get a longer warranty. Some manufacturers offer repair and replacement of the sealed system and compressor for an additional 4 years.

    When it comes to buying a unit, all the above information is enough to make an educated decision. Buyers should just be aware of the different brands before making a final decision. Reputable manufacturers include LG, Haier, and Frigidaire.

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