Haier HPN12XCM
Haier HPN12XCM

Best portable air conditioner

If you have a moderately-sized room to cool, and it's not practical to install a window air conditioner, the 12,000 BTU Haier HPN12XCM looks like a top choice. Professional testing reveals it to be among the better-performing window air conditioners in its class, and it's a relatively good value, too. User reviews are ample and strong. Features are also a plus, including a dehumidifier function that can pull up to 100 pints of moisture from the air per day.
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Friedrich ZoneAir P12B
Friedrich ZoneAir P12B

Dual hose portable air conditioner

Experts say that portable air conditioners that use dual exhaust hoses, such as the 11,600-BTU Friedrich ZoneAir P12B, tend to perform at least a little better than single hose models, such as the Haier HPN12XCM. The P12B does perform slightly better in expert tests, though user feedback varies depending on which retail site you check. This portable air conditioner has good features, including self-evaporation so there's no need to empty moisture unless humidity is high; a remote; 24 hour timer and more.

NewAir AC-12000E
NewAir AC-12000E

Compact portable air conditioner for moderate-sized rooms

The 12,000 BTU NewAir AC-12000E is lighter and more compact than many portable air conditioners in the same cooling class. Reviewers say it's easy to set up and low maintenance. User-friendly features include the self-evaporation cycle -- minimizing the need to drain a water tank -- and a 24-hour programmable timer. User feedback is mixed, with it being decidedly better at some retail sites than others. Still, reviews indicate that this NewAir portable air conditioner, which has been available for quite some time, is durable.

Koldfront PAC1401W
Koldfront PAC1401W

14,000-BTU portable air conditioner for larger rooms

While 12,000 BTU portable air conditioners are appropriate for rooms up to 450 square feet, if you have a bigger space to cool, you need to step up to a higher cooling capacity model, such as the 14,000 BTU Koldfront PAC1401W. It claims to be capable of cooling rooms up to 500 square feet, and owners say that it can deliver that in most cases. Features are similar to other portable air conditioners including self-evaporation, a remote, a 24-hour timer and a dedicated dehumidifier function.

Honeywell MN10CES
Honeywell MN10CES

Best portable air conditioner for small rooms

If you are looking for a portable air conditioner to cool down a bedroom or small office, look no further than the 10,000-BTU Honeywell MN10CES. It draws kudos in expert testing and good feedback from owners. Performance is good for rooms no larger than 350 square feet. Sleepers will appreciate the relatively low noise level. The warranty is good, and the feature line up is competitive with other well-regarded portable air conditioners.
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See a side-by-side comparison of key features, product specs, and prices.

If a window air conditioner won't work, a portable air conditioner can do the trick

When considering how to cool a home, there are two main options: central air conditioners (which cool the whole house from a central location) and smaller window or through-the-wall air conditioners that cool down individual rooms. We cover both of those types of air conditioners in their own reports, but there's also a third alternative -- a portable air conditioner. These are similar in scope and cooling capacity than a window air conditioner, but their more modest venting requirements make them easier to install -- especially in rooms where installing a window unit is either undesirable or impossible.

The best portable air conditioners can be set up quickly by just one person and can be moved around to cool a different room as needed, although they're still heavy in spite of having wheels. A portable air conditioner doesn't commandeer a large section of the window (like a window air conditioner does), but a portable AC still needs access to outside air. Each portable unit comes with a window kit, which mounts one or two hoses to a small opening in your window. Some experts prefer the dual-hose style because it provides slightly better performance. TheSweetHome.com says that while that's true in theory, in practice the difference is actually very slight. In our research, we found that single-hose models often rate as well or better than many dual-hose portable air conditioners, and typically cost less.

All air conditioners, including portable air conditioners, pull excess moisture from the air. This is stored in a water tank that must be periodically emptied (machines will shut down when the tank is full) or drained continually through a hose running outside. Portable air conditioners with a self-evaporative system manage this moisture automatically, though in very humid climates the water tank may still need to be emptied occasionally. Some portable air conditioners have dehumidifying functions that pull excess moisture from the air without cooling it. If you are primarily interested in that, we cover dedicated dehumidifiers in their own report.

Why most portable air conditioners get mediocre reviews

In doing the research for this report, we quickly found that expert reviews of portable air conditioners offer only half-hearted recommendations, and user reviews aren't much rosier -- though some models with 4-star or better ratings following enough user reviews to be meaningful were found. Here's the problem:

Like window air conditioners and central air conditioners, the cooling capacity of a portable air conditioner is measured in British Thermal Units, or BTUs. However, notes Liam McCabe at TheSweetHome.com, portable air conditioners aren't held to the same rating standards as window units or central air systems, so there's often a disconnect between their claimed BTU rating and the size of room a portable air conditioner can satisfactorily cool. McCabe notes that even different models with the same BTU rating will vary in their actual cooling capacity. Mary H.J. Farrell, in a free article at ConsumerReports.org, notes that most portables in its recent testing only produced 60 percent of the cooling capacity of window air conditioners with the identical BTU rating. She adds that units rated at 9,000 BTU or more performed "marginally better" than small units.

That's just as well, we think, given that the disparity between the BTU ratings of window and portable air conditioners renders traditional sizing guidelines somewhat mute. Instead, where a 6,000 BTU window air conditioner might be great for a small bedroom, testing shows that you may need to turn to a 10,000 BTU or better portable model to get the same degree of cooling.

These performance shortfalls aren't a result of poor manufacturing, but a byproduct of having a unit that's designed to vent hot air to the outside while sitting entirely in the room it is trying to cool instead of being half inside and half outside. "Yeah, the exhaust hose (which is not insulated) blows some of the heat out through the window," McCabe says. "But the whole process takes a lot more energy—and a lot more time—to get a room comfortable than a window unit."

Still, as most experts and users say, if a portable air conditioner is your only practical option, it's a lot better than having no air conditioner at all on a hot summer day.

Finding the best portable air conditioners

To find the best choices among portable air conditioners, editors read through available, credible expert reviews from sources such as ConsumerReports.org and TheSweetHome.com. We then weighed feedback from users as posted at sites such as Amazon.com, HomeDepot.com, Walmart.com and others. We considered performance, how easy the portable air conditioner was to set up and use, and how well it held up over the long haul, including the warranty and customer service reputation of the manufacturer. The result is our picks as the best portable air conditioner overall, the best value portable air conditioner, and some worthy runners up to consider.

Elsewhere in this report:

Best Large Portable Air Conditioners -- 10,000 BTU and above | Buying Guide | Our Sources

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