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Pros and Cons of Portable Air Conditioners

By: Carl Laron on June 08, 2017

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Pros and Cons of Portable Air Conditioners Our Sources
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Whynter ARC-14S

You MUST have a window to use a portable air conditioner

The statement above is the greatest misconception we saw regarding portable air conditioners and it results in a lot of the 1 star ratings we saw in user reviews: people don't realize that, even though a portable air conditioner is not a window air conditioner, you MUST have a window to use a portable air conditioner (although, a sliding door or any other way of venting the exhaust to the outside will do as well). If you don't have the option of venting your portable air conditioner to the outside, one will not be an appropriate choice. The best option in that case will be a fan, and we highlight the best choices to keep you the coolest in our separate report on fans.

Now that we have that out of the way.

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 as well, but there's also a third alternative -- a portable air conditioner. Flaws inherent in the design of all portable air conditioners limit their real-world cooling capacity (see the introduction to this report for why), but their more modest venting requirements make them easier to install -- especially in rooms where installing a window unit is either undesirable or impossible, such as apartment units where they may be prohibited.

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. But, they're still heavy in spite of having wheels, and moving them from one floor to the next can be a back-breaking job -- especially in the case of large units, which can weigh up to 100 pounds or more.

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 panel that's installed in a window. Most owners have minimal issues with the installation, but complaints of window panels that are too flimsy or that needed owner assistance -- such as the use of duct tape -- to be securely mounted, with no gaps for bugs to enter through, are not unheard of.

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 minimize the need for emptying, though under more humid conditions, the water tank may still need to be emptied occasionally, and more frequently if the humidity is exceptionally high. 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.

The bottom line? All of the feedback we found says that if a window air conditioner is not out of the question, it will almost invariably provide better cooling -- and better energy efficiency -- than a portable model. Window air conditioners are also much cheaper -- half the price or less than a portable AC with equivalent cooling performance. However, if a portable air conditioner is your only practical option, experts and users agree that having one is a heck of a lot better than having no air conditioner at all when the weather gets hot.

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