Which portable air conditioners are best?
According to the National Recreation and Park Association, the top three summer activities are trips to the beach, taking a walk or hike, and having a barbeque or picnic.
However, when you must spend summer hours indoors, an air conditioner is a must to make your stay comfortable. The portable AC is an attractive option for keeping a small space or a single room cool and fresh.
To find the best portable air conditioner for your cooling requirements, make sure you consider these issues.
How portable air conditioners work
A portable air conditioner’s operation is based on the same principle as the standard refrigerator, using a heat exchanger.
The air conditioner pulls room temperature air (initially hot and humid) into the unit and then passes it over cold coils. Upon contact, the moisture in the air condenses, transferring the heat to the refrigerant inside the coils and converting it from a liquid to a gas.
The cooled air is pumped back into the room, and the accumulated condensation is vented outside (or manually removed from a condensation bucket). Most portable AC systems use a condensation exhaust system to expel hot air and water vapor collected during the cooling/dehumidifying process.
A compressor compresses the gas-formed refrigerant on the condenser coils, and the heat released by the process is then vented out of the window exhaust tube. The cycle repeats itself, producing a constant flow of cool air to make your space comfortable.
Many portable air conditioners use water reservoirs to help dehumidify the room. Other systems offer an optional drainage hose hookup.
Single-hose and dual-hose portable air conditioners
A single-hose portable air conditioner pulls stagnant air from inside the room, cools it using the evaporator and condenser, and then circulates it throughout the room. The excess warm air and moisture flow through the exhaust hose and out the window.
Dual-hose portable air conditioners pull air from outside the house through an intake hose attached to a window. The excess warm air and moisture exit through a separate exhaust hose and out the window.
Dual-hose systems usually cool the space quicker and more efficiently than single-hose units, but they tend to use more energy and cost more than their single-hose counterparts.
What to know before you buy portable air conditioners
Most portable air conditioners are designed to cool specific rooms, such as a living room or bedroom, and are much less effective in cooling an entire apartment or house. You can determine how big of a space a portable air conditioner will cool by looking at its rated power output measured in British Thermal Units.
Here are some guidelines for matching your room to the right air conditioner output:
- For 150 square feet: 5,000 BTUs or higher
- For 300 square feet: 7,000 BTUs or higher
- For 400 square feet: 9,000 BTUs or higher
- For 700 square feet: 14,000 BTUs or higher
- For 1,000 square feet: 18,000 BTUs or higher
In addition to the room dimensions, you will need to account for other factors that increase the BTU requirement for your space. For example, a more powerful portable AC unit is needed if the room has vaulted ceilings, if sunlight enters for most of the day or if the room contains appliances that generate heat, such as an oven.
Portable AC unit size
Buyers motivated by the flexibility of moving a portable air conditioner from one room to another should check the size and weight of the unit. Most come with wheels, but a heavy AC will be a challenge to move upstairs. Also, keep in mind that the portable units need to be located near a window for the exhaust tube. Finally, look at the AC unit’s footprint and make sure you have the floor space to accommodate it.
Look for an efficient Energy Star Rated portable air conditioner with a high Energy Efficiency Ratio. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a room air conditioner with an EER of at least 10.0 will give you the best energy efficiency and cost savings.
All air conditioners make noise. While most portable units generate background noise at about 55 dB, be sure to check the rating before making a purchase. Perhaps a better source for determining the actual noise generated, other than the manufacturer’s specifications, is a customer review. Avoid an AC that has a lot of noise complaints.
What to look for in quality portable air conditioners
Several features will make the portable air conditioner easier to use.
- Remote control: Allows you to change settings without being next to the unit.
- Programmable thermostat: Provides time, cycle, and temperature settings to improve energy efficiency and save money.
- Dehumidifier: Removes dampness from the air, making your space more comfortable and healthier.
- Fan mode: Often sufficient to cool a room and consumes less energy than running in the “cooling” mode.
- Auto drain system: Converts the liquid condensation into vapor exhaust, so you never need to empty a reservoir.
What are the best portable air conditioners to buy?
Top portable air conditioner for larger rooms
Our take: The powerful Whynter uses a dual hose system that allows it to cool down a room faster than single-hose portable units. Operating in dehumidifier mode, the unit will remove moisture at a rate of 101 pints per day.
What we like: The 24-hour programmable timer allows you to create a daily cooling schedule, and three fan speeds help cool rooms up to 500 square feet.
What we dislike: The air direction cannot be adjusted; it only goes straight up.
Top low noise portable AC
Our take: The powerful but quiet 13,000 BTU unit can operate at 52 dBA, even quieter than a normal conversation (60 dB).
What we like: The AC unit features a dehumidifying Dry Mode capable of removing 67 pints a day, a programmable timer, and a Washable Filter to trap dust from the air and maintain efficient operation.
What we dislike: The system does not remember the last louver position when it is turned off and must be repositioned when turned back on.
Top for small spaces
Our take: The quiet 8,000 BTU unit weighing a mere 53 pounds offers cool, dehumidifying, and fan modes in a lightweight and portable configuration, ideal for a small room.
What we like: The installation kit includes a window casement, water drain hose, air exhaust hose, and hose inlet/outlet adapters. The self-evaporating operation eliminates the need for buckets or drains pans.
What we dislike: Not WiFi enabled for Internet connection.
Sold by Amazon
Top smart, high-end portable air conditioner
Our take: The 10,000 BTU portable air conditioner featuring cool, dehumidifier, and fan mode can cool an area of 500 sq. ft. The efficient unit operates at up to an estimated 40% in energy savings.
What we like: The sleek WiFi-enabled air conditioner can be controlled from your smartphone via LG’s SmartThinQ app, as well as your favorite Google Home or Alexa smart speaker.
What we dislike: The system is heavy, making it less portable than its competition.
Sold by Amazon
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Jeff Harper writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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