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Portable Air Conditioner Reviews

By: Carl Laron on May 23, 2018

Editor's Note:
A portable AC is a reasonable alternative where a window air conditioner won't work. LG makes the best portable AC for small rooms; Whynter wins for bigger spaces. Need a (somewhat) quiet portable AC for a bedroom? We found a Honeywell portable air conditioner that will let you rest easy.

LG LP1215GXR Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Cooling capacity -- 12,000 BTU Dehumidification -- 28.8 pints/day Dimensions -- (w,h,d) -- 14.33" x 32.76" x 15.5"

Best single-hose portable air conditioner

The 12,000 BTU LG LP1215GXR is your best choice for average-sized rooms (up to 300 square feet). Like all portable air conditioners, it will struggle to cool down larger spaces, but it outperformed other models when asked to cool a 250 square foot room in one comparative test. Noise levels are lower than those of many other portable ACs, but still loud enough to disturb light sleepers. The feature lineup includes a timer, remote and a cleaning function to keep mildew in check.

Buy for $395.00
Honeywell HL12CESWB Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Cooling capacity -- 12,000 BTU Dehumidification -- 86.3 pints/day Dimensions -- (w,h,d) -- 18.9" x 31.3" x 15.7"

Best portable air conditioner for bedrooms

All portable air conditioners are loud, but the Honeywell HL12CESWB is a little quieter than most. Rated at 12,000 BTUs, this single-hose model can do a decent job of cooling down an average room, but will struggle to get things comfy in bigger spaces. Not every user agrees, but most say that the Honeywell is surprisingly quiet, and it's the only portable air conditioner to earn a Very Good score on noise, at least at its lower fan speed, in one comparative test. The five-year warranty is longer than typical.

Buy for $606.61
Whynter ARC-14S Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Cooling capacity -- 14,000 BTU Dehumidification -- 101 pints/day Dimensions -- (w,h,d) -- 19" x 35.5" x 16"

Best dual-hose portable air conditioner

Experts say that portable air conditioners that use dual exhaust hoses, such as the 14,000 BTU Whynter ARC-14S, tend to perform at least a little better than single hose models, especially in larger rooms and when the weather is at its warmest. The ARC-14S performs relatively well in expert tests, and user feedback is better than for many other portable ACs. It's decently featured too, with self-evaporation so there's no need to empty moisture unless humidity is high; a remote; 24 hour timer and more.

Buy for $474.99

One hose, or two?

In the past, we and other reviewers have grouped classes of portable air conditioners by their cooling capacity. More recent feedback indicates that that's not truly helpful, and we describe why below. Instead, you should consider whether you want a portable air conditioner that has one hose to the outside world, or two.

Types of Portable Air Conditioners

Single-Hose Portable Air Conditioner

A single-hose portable air condition exhausts hot air to the outside, but draws air to be cooled from the room itself. However, as experts at TheSweethome.com, YourBestDigs.com and elsewhere point out, this produces a negative pressure that actually draws warm air into the room through doors, around windows, etc., reducing efficiency. On the plus side, single-hose units are typically the least expensive type of portable air conditioner, and tend to be less bulky.

Dual-Hose Portable Air Conditioner

To eliminate the negative pressure effect and improve cooling efficiency, a dual-hose portable air conditioner has, as its name implies, two hoses. One is the same exhaust hose found in single-hose units, the other is an intake hose, which feeds air from the outside directly to the portable air conditioner. Expert testing shows that dual-hose portable air conditioners are more efficient than single-hose models, but they are bulkier and often pricier.

Based on the above, it would appear that dual-hose units should be a slam-dunk top choice, and indeed, that's the opinion of some experts. For example, Wirecutter says that, based on U.S. Department of Energy research, "A dual-hose portable AC usually cools a room faster, using less energy overall, than a single-hose design, especially in very hot weather." A dual-hose model is the top rated choice at Consumer Reports, too, though it doesn't fare all that well in testing.

But things are not quite so cut and dried. In our own research, we found that among users, single-hose models often rate as well or better than many dual-hose portable air conditioners. Your Best Digs chimes in to say that "Ultimately, dual hose units are better than single hose units in terms of pure cooling power on the hottest days," but also adds that in their test set up, "it wasn't such a significant difference that we could ignore the strengths of smaller, cheaper, and better-looking models that still have solid cooling capacity."

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 one 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, as Wirecutter notes, Department of Energy research found that regardless of their rating, the real-world cooling capacity of a portable air conditioner is limited. "Even in just moderately hot weather, around 82 degrees Fahrenheit, most of the portable ACs that the DOE tested cooled at only about 7,000 Btu—even when they claimed to cool at 13,000 Btu," the editors say.

That performance shortfall isn't a result of poor manufacturing or a design flaw with specific units, but a byproduct of having an air conditioner 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). There are a bunch of added sources of inefficiencies, too, experts like Wirecutter note.

Thus, based on the feedback we've seen from expert reviewers, and users, we are only recommending larger portable air conditioners in this report, rated at 10,000 BTUs or greater. Smaller portable air conditioner models are available, but because of their operational inefficiencies, unless the space you are cooling is exceedingly small, the chances are exceedingly high that performance will be disappointing.

Unexpectedly poor cooling isn't the only reason that many consumers are disappointed with the portable air conditioner they select. One key problem is not understanding some of the basics of how portable air conditioners work -- including the fact that they need a way to exhaust air to the outside to work at all. We discuss that in more detail in our section on the pros and cons of portable air conditioners, elsewhere in this report.

Finding The Best Portable Air Conditioners
Our Sources
"Portable Air Conditioners"
"The Best Portable Air Conditioner"
3. Amazon
"Portable Air Conditioners"

To find the best choices among portable air conditioners, editors read through available, credible expert reviews from sources such as Consumer Reports, Wirecutter and Your Best Digs. We then weighed feedback from users as posted at sites such as Amazon, Home Depot, Walmart and others.

In evaluating this feedback, 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.

The best portable air conditioners

No single-hose portable air conditioner gets more respect from owners and experts than the LG LP1215GXR (Est. $415). It's the top choice among all portable air conditioners at Your Best Digs, and has hundreds of user reviews -- mostly positive -- across sites like Amazon and Home Depot.

This LG portable air-conditioner is rated at 12,000 BTU and the manufacturer claims it will cool a room of up to 400 square feet, but you'll find the best performance in smaller spaces. Indeed, Your Best Digs found that the LG did the best job of all the portable models available, running even with a well-regarded Whynter 14,000 BTU dual-hose model (covered below), in cooling down a 250 square foot office. The testers note that it "not only cooled the room, but actually left the room cold—something these units can rarely accomplish."

However, when tasked to cool a 400 foot space, things begin to lag, markedly, and the LG beats, but just barely, other single-hose units, and lags behind the dual-hose Whynter. "These cooling levels mean that the only way you will stay cool in extremely hot temperatures with the air conditioners blowing directly on you, and even then, it's not comfortable É it's just barely getting you by," the editors say.

The other spot where the LG outpaces its competition is in noise levels, both when starting and while running. You won't be reminded of a library while the LP1215GXR is running, Your Best Digs says, but noise levels at least "stayed low enough to not wake us up as often."

The LG LP1215GXR portable air conditioner is reasonably well equipped. There's a remote control, 24 hour timer, a three-speed fan, and four way air direction. The unit can also be set to oscillate to distribute cooled air throughout the room. An auto-clean feature can be used to remove moisture from the heat exchanger to prevent the growth of mildew. Auto-restart will automatically start up the unit after a power outage. There's a dehumidification-only setting, and the unit can remove up to 1.2 pints of moisture from the air per hour. This self-evaporative model includes a drain outlet for continuous draining when used as a dehumidifier.

On the aesthetics front, the LG LP1215GXR isn't small, but it's more compact than many other portable ACs that cool this competently. Its footprint is 14.33 inches wide by 32.76 inches high by 15.5 inches deep, and it weighs just under 62 pounds. Most users find the grey cabinet to be reasonably attractive -- or at least not downright ugly. You'll need to find a spot that's in reach of its five foot exhaust hose, and its six foot power cord.

We found lots of user feedback for the LG LP1215GXR. No portable AC does particularly well with owners -- common complaints include inadequate cooling, unacceptable noise levels, and challenging installation, and the LG is certainly not immune from those. However, its ratings at user review sites, including a 3.9 star score at Home Depot based on over 500 reviews, and counting, is pretty good for the category. Many users -- at least those with reasonable expectations, say that the LG LP1215GXR cools adequately, or better; is reasonably quiet; and is reasonably easy to install.  

The LG LP1414GXR is covered by a one-year warranty that looks to be fairly comprehensive and includes full replacement and in-home service, if necessary. However, one potential worry spot is that LG's customer service doesn't get much love if things to go wrong with the unit.

We also like the Honeywell HL12CESWB (Est. $475) in this category. It's the highest-rated single-hose portable air conditioner at Consumer Reports, trailing the double-hose units they like better -- but only by a handful of points. Like all single-hose units, it only gets a Fair rating for comfort, but it is actually the best rated model for noise, at least at low speed, scoring the lone Very Good score among the currently tested portable ACs in this performance category. While not every user agrees, most do say that the unit is surprisingly quiet, so the Honeywell might be an especially good choice for a bedroom. Speaking of users, feedback isn't as ample as for the LG, but it is every bit as good, if not a touch better -- scoring a 4.2 star rating at Best Buy, for example, based on more than 300 reviews. The feedback at Amazon looks much worse at first glance, but drilling down we find that most of the reviews are actually for different Honeywell units, and the handful that are actually for the HL12CESWB are fairly positive on balance.

This 12,000 BTU portable air conditioner has some positives -- and negatives -- when compared to the LG. It has the same BTU rating and many of the same features -- including a 24 hour timer, remote control, auto evaporation, dehumidification only mode and three speed fan. What's missing, however, is the oscillating and auto clean functions -- neither of which are likely to be deal killers. The Honeywell HL12CESWB is a little bulkier and heavier than the LG -- measuring18.9 inches wide by 31.3 inches high by 15.7 inches deep and weighing 72 pounds. Cost is the biggest negative, however. Its retail price is a bit higher than the LG, and even a little higher than our Best Reviewed dual-hose model, profiled in the next section. But if relatively quiet operation is high on your priority list, the Honeywell is well worth considering.

The Honeywell HL12CESWB comes in white, with a blue accent panel that gives it a little bit of a nautical look. However, versions with grey or black accents, or in all white, are also available. It's covered by a five year parts and labor warranty.

The best dual-hose portable ACs

While single-hose portable air conditioners are often cheaper and less bulky, experts largely say that for the best and most energy-efficient cooling performance, a dual-hose model is your top choice. There are a number of reasons for that, but chief among them, as noted at the top of this page, is that they are less prone to drawing warm air into the room you are trying to cool down.

Whynter dual-hose portable air conditioners typically do well among experts and users, and they are often price competitive with -- and sometimes cheaper than -- better single-hose models. A case in point is the Whynter ARC-14S (Est. $455), which is rated at 14,000 BTU. It's an Also Great pick at Wirecutter, largely because it is a little less efficient than the site's top pick, the Whynter Elite ARC-122DS (Est. $430). We like the ARC-122DS, too, but it simply has less support among experts and users. Where we found only a handful of user reviews for the ARC-122DS (albeit ones that were, for the most part, very strong), the ARC-14S has a well-established track record, with well over 1,750 unique reviews across sites like Amazon, Home Depot, and elsewhere. While not every owner is completely pleased, with scores that range from 3.8 stars to 4 stars almost everywhere we looked, and occasionally even a point or two higher, that's actually pretty good satisfaction for a portable AC with this amount of feedback.

In addition, Consumer Reports and Your Best Digs have tested a version of this model that includes a heating function, the Whynter ARC-14SH (Est. $515). It scores just behind the top finishers at both sites. User reviews are a bit more limited, however, and a bit less positive, leading us to suggest that unless, for some reason, you want a portable unit for both heating and cooling -- though one that's not really aces at either function -- you stick with the cooling-only ARC-14S.

Of course, its dual-hose operation is why you'll want to select this Whynter portable AC, but there are other pluses, too. It's a self-evaporative design, so unless you have very humid conditions, there's no need to drain condensate from the unit. It has a three speed fan and can work as an AC, dehumidifier (up to 101 pints per day) or just a fan. There's a 24 hour timer and remote control for convenience.

On the downside, some users say that the ARC-14S can be loud, so take that into consideration if you want a unit for your bedroom. Some also say that the intake and outlet houses mount too closely together on the window kit -- and offer some relatively simple DIY modifications among their reviews, especially at Amazon. It's rated to cool an area of up to 500 square feet, but as we've discovered in our research, those types of claims are on the optimistic side. That said, while the version of this portable AC with a heater function was not exactly gangbusters in cooling down a 400 square foot room in tests at Your Best Digs, it did better in that large of a space than any other portable AC tested.

In terms of size, the Whynter ARC-14S is not exactly petit. Housed in black with silver trim, it measures 19 inches wide by 16 inches deep by 35.5 inches tall. It also weighs 80 pounds, so pushing it from room to room on its casters can be a bit of a chore, let alone lugging it up and down stairs. Even though this is a portable unit, placement -- as is the case with most portable ACs -- is limited; it needs to be within five feet of the window (or other opening to the outside) and six feet of an electrical outlet. The ARC-14s is covered by a one year warranty on the entire unit, plus three years on the compressor, but freight charges back to the maker are the owner's responsibility after the first two months.  

The 11,600-BTU Friedrich ZoneAir P12B (Est. $600), a Best Reviewed model from a couple of years ago, remains available and worth considering if you want an option other than a Whynter portable air conditioner. It performs well enough in testing to take the top spot in Consumer Reports' review, although it still does not earn a Recommended label (no portable AC units are recommended in that test).

Owner feedback, although somewhat limited (be careful at Amazon as it lumps feedback of this unit with a different one, with a higher capacity and a heating function, that does not score as well), is better than we see for most portable air conditioners. Most say it works very well and is certainly an improvement over having nothing.

In addition to cooling the Friedrich ZoneAir P12B has a fan mode and a dehumidifier mode that can remove up to 72 pints of moisture per day. There's a self-evaporative system to handle condensate, with a water tank to capture excess water and an auto shut off to prevent over flow. Other features include a remote control, 24 hour timer, washable air filter, and casters so that the portable air conditioner can be wheeled into another room. At 72 pounds, the P12B is lighter than the ARC-14s, but still a little heavy to be carrying up and down the stairs too often -- something that can be said about most "portable" air conditioners. The Friedrich covers parts and labor for one year, and five years for the sealed refrigerant system.

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