Portable air conditioners serve as an alternative to window or wall air conditioners or as a supplement to central air conditioning. They're often the only option for those living in apartment buildings that don't permit window units. Some owners say portable air conditioners are more desirable than through-the-wall installation in homes that can't accommodate window AC units. Installation doesn't require any heavy lifting, and because these units are mounted on casters, you can theoretically move them from room to room and easily store them away in the off-season. Installation does require them to be placed close to a window, however, because you'll need to run the exhaust hose outside. Portable air conditioners weigh between 50 and 90 pounds on average, and a few weigh as much as 100 pounds.
On the other hand, window air conditioners are less expensive than portable models, and all reviews say they work better. See our separate report on window air conditioners for more on these units.
Despite a large number of portable air conditioners on the market, relatively few receive reviews and comparisons. Some websites like AllergyBuyersClub.com provide expert ratings of portable air conditioners, but since the ratings criteria aren't disclosed, those recommendations lack context. ConsumerReports.org last published a thorough review of portable AC units in 1991. Editors there have since revisited portable air conditioners on occasion, but don't rate or recommend them. "The tests for our report on air conditioning in the July 2009 issue of Consumer Reports ... showed that the portable models have some noteworthy drawbacks," writes ConsumerReports.org's Kimberly Janeway.
Instead, we found the most credible reviews on sites that allow owners to post comments. Websites such as Walmart.com, HomeDepot.com, Air-n-Water.com, Amazon.com and Target.com offer lots of feedback, both positive and negative. While customer comments lack professional expertise, lots of user reviews considered together can provide a clear picture of which portable air conditioner does what it promises and which is likely to make you lose your cool.