LG Electronics LP0814WNR
LG Electronics LP0814WNR

Best portable air conditioner for small rooms

The 8,000 BTU LG Electronics LP0814WNR is your best choice for a very small room of less than 200 square feet -- the happiest owners use it in rooms that measure about 10 by 15 feet. At 47.6 pounds, the LG LP0814WNR is more portable than most in its class, and is reported as easy to install. In testing, it gets average ratings for noise, and some agree, but others say they don't perceive it as loud, or that they appreciate the "white noise" effect.

$404.84
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Haier HPN12XCM
Haier HPN12XCM

Best portable air conditioner for average rooms

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 portable 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.

$531.90
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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. The P12B does perform slightly better in expert tests, and user feedback is better for this portable AC unit than for most others. This portable air conditioner if fully featured too, with self-evaporation so there's no need to empty moisture unless humidity is high; a remote; 24 hour timer and more.

$599.00
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LG Electronics LP1414GXR
LG Electronics LP1414GXR

Best 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 LG Electronics LP1414GXR. It claims to be capable of cooling rooms up to 600 square feet, and owners say that it can deliver that in most cases. It also performs better than most other portable air conditioners in one professional test.

$479.00
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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 1-star ratings: 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). We wanted to make that clear early on, so that, if you don't have the option of venting your portable air conditioner to the outside, you can head on over to our report on fans instead, to find the one that will keep you the coolest.

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, but there's also a third alternative -- a portable air conditioner. These are similar in scope and cooling capacity to 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, 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, 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 panel that's installed in a 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 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.

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. 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.

That means that the disparity between the BTU ratings of window and portable air conditioners renders traditional sizing guidelines somewhat moot. 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). 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 for a portable air conditioner for any size room.

Elsewhere in this report:

Best Small Portable Air Conditioners | Best Large Portable Air Conditioners | Buying Guide | Our Sources

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