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Portable air conditioners conveniently cool small to large rooms

When considering how to cool a home, there are two main options: central air conditioners (which typically mount outside and cool the whole house) and smaller units that go inside the home. This second type -- which includes window and portable air conditioners -- costs less, isn't permanently installed and is designed to keep one room comfortable.

Portable air conditioners are a great alternative to window-mount units. The best ones can be set up quickly by just one person and can be moved fairly easily to cool a different room. Even though it doesn't commandeer a large section of the window (like a window-mount air conditioner), portable units still need access to outside air. Each comes with a window kit, which mounts one or two hoses to a small opening in your window. Experts prefer the dual-hose style because they cool the hot air that's already inside the house and then return it to the room. A second intake hose pumps in air from the outside to cool the device and keep it from overheating, and then pushes the air right back out. Experts say this type of system is much more efficient because the device isn't constantly working against itself.

Failing to connect the air conditioner to a window or hooking it up incorrectly dampens performance -- appliance professionals say this is one of the most common issues behind a portable air conditioner that isn't blowing enough cold air.

As they cool, most 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. Ideally, the dehumidifying function should operate independently of the cooling.

There are two main sizes of portable air conditioners, large and small. Small units are under 10,000 Btu and are often called mini air conditioners. The best size for your room depends on its square footage and the amount of sun it receives. Some portable air conditioners extend their abilities with a separate filter, dehumidifier and heater functions, and the prices for those appliances are fairly reasonable, experts say.

Expect to pay $300 to $500 for a portable air conditioner, depending on the size. Some experts say that when comparing portable units to other types of air conditioners, the overall cooling power of a stand-alone air conditioner can't keep up. However, if a portable is your only option, a dual-hose model is your best bet. Consumer reviewers generally heap high praise on their portable units for cooling a room down enough to be comfortable.

ConsumerSearch editors analyzed hundreds of owner reviews to find the top mini and full-sized portable air conditioners. We culled the list by selecting only units that effectively cool the recommended square footage, include low-maintenance features and operate quietly. Our top picks are easy to install and include user-friendly extras like air filters and a separate dehumidifying function.

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