By Gear Hungry

Published 12:04 pm

Over the course of the past few years the portable air conditioner has elbowed its way into the conversation about environmental control in the home. This is both welcome (it’s always great to have more alternatives) and a bit surprising because it wasn’t all that long ago that portable air conditioners were something of a joke. Not so today however. Today, they’ve become a viable alternative to window units and central air systems. Below we’re going to look at portable air conditioners and try to determine when they might be the right choice and when you might be better off with something else.

Why Even Consider A Portable Air Conditioner?

That is the question on most people’s lips these days when the conversation turns to portable air conditioners. Sure they might do a good job of cooling off a room but we already have two methods to do so that work just fine (those would be window units and central AC). So why do we even need to consider an alternative? It’s a fair question with a simple answer: Portable air conditioners are portable. Using the long accepted methods of air conditioning you either need to cool the entire house or buy window units for every room and turn them on and off as you move around. While we’ve become accustomed to this it doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do things. The best way to stay cool would be to take the AC with you wherever you go in the house and that’s exactly what portable air conditioners allow you to do. In addition: when you place an air conditioner in your window in May you can say goodbye to that window until sometime in the fall. Giving up a window is a lot to ask but it’s a necessary sacrifice if you want to use a window unit. But think about this: if you wind up putting a window unit in every major room (which is not at all an uncommon thing for people to do) then you’ve essentially written off ever opening any of your windows. Because by the time you remove the window units, it’s cold enough out that you don’t want to be opening the windows anyway. And two more things as well:

  1. The AC unit in the window doesn’t just prevent you from opening the window and copping a light breeze and some nice fresh air, it also prevents you from seeing out that window unless you’re standing right in front of it and
  1. Having an air conditioner in the window makes your home more susceptible to break-ins by the local weasels. Window air conditioners are actually pretty easy for an experienced B&E guy to remove. The more of them you have the more vulnerable your home is.

But while all of that seems to make a compelling case for portable air conditioners there’s one small catch (somehow you knew there’d be a catch). You see, it turns out “portable” is a relative term and here’s why. Any air conditioner, including a portable air conditioner, removes heat from the air. But once it does so it has to deposit that hot air outside the room or it’s just spinning its air conditioning wheels. The window unit simply blows the hot air out its exterior side into the atmosphere never to be seen again. And a central air conditioning system sends the hot air either out through the chimney or out through an exhaust pipe that exits through a basement window. With a portable air conditioner you also need to run an exhaust pipe out the window to vent the hot air. There’s no choice. Most portable ACs come with a window vent kit for doing just that. But this window venting has two effects. The first is to limit the places you can set up your portable air conditioner, (since it needs to be near a window) and the second is to, yes, take that window out of commission just as surely as if there were a window AC unit in it (although, to be sure, removing the exhaust hose from the window and setting up the kit in another window in another room is a fairly simple process.) So if after knowing all this you’ve decided that portable air conditioners are for you – or at least that you’d like to try one out and see how it goes – you’ll want to read through the following frequently asked questions people have about portable air conditioners.

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What size should I get? – The size of any air conditioner is determined by BTUs – or British Thermal Units – per hour. The higher the BTU number the more powerful the unit and the larger the space the air conditioner can cool as shown here:

● 8,000 BTUs are good for about 200 square feet
● 10,000 BTUs for about 300 square feet
● 2,000 BTUs for about 400 square feet
● 14,000 BTUs will cool approximately 500 square feet

Keep in mind that there are many things that influence air conditioner effectiveness, which means you may need something stronger than what’s shown here for your room.

● Where should I put the unit? – As we mentioned earlier you’re somewhat hamstrung as far as where you can put your portable air conditioner by the fact that you need to hook up a tube to a window to vent the hot air. Most exhaust tubes are fairly short so there isn’t a lot of leeway in where you can place the unit. It almost always needs to be near a window and a power source. It would also help, if you had a unit that was universal remote control compatible, to place it in a location where signal interference wouldn’t be an issue.
● Is there a lot of maintenance involved? – The short answer is “no”. About the only thing you’ll need to do is empty the pan. This is because air conditioners are designed to remove moisture as well as heat. Some units allow that moisture to evaporate harmlessly. Others collect the moisture in a pan that will need to be emptied on a fairly regular basis. Your instruction manual will tell you how often for your particular model. You may also need to clean filters and defrost the unit on occasion. Again, refer to the owner’s manual for your particular air conditioner.
● Are they noisy? – Some are noisier than others but as a rule portable air conditioners aren’t loud enough to keep you awake at night, unless of course you’re a very light sleeper. There’s no way of getting around the unit producing some noise, though today’s portable air conditioners are, on the whole, much quieter than they were even a few years ago.
● Do they use a lot of energy? – Some units use more than others. When you’re shopping for a portable air conditioner look for the unit’s EER or Energy Efficiency Rating. The EER number shows you the BTU to wattage ratio. In a nutshell, a unit with a higher EER is a more efficient unit.


Portable air conditioners are not the be-all and end-all of interior environmental control but they can provide a relatively simple, cost-effective way of keeping cool during the hot summer months. They’ll also free you of the need to buy multiple window units or install an expensive central air conditioning system.

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Original Posted