TK Best Portable Air Conditioners for Your Home or Cabin
Learn all about portable air conditioners — features, efficiency and more — plus a few of our top picks for your home or cabin.
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Portable air conditioners offer a great solution for short summers, small rooms and limited window unit storage space. Affordable and easy to set up, these units feature strong cooling power and can go a long way toward making a warm room more comfortable.
What Is a Portable Air Conditioner?
Portable air conditioners are exactly what the name implies — compact, easy-to-move electricity-powered cooling units. They’re not fixed to any surface and generally come on wheels. Some are multipurpose and can also be used for heating and dehumidifying.
Pros and Cons of Portable Air Conditioners
These units are convenient, but they’re not for every situation. Here are the benefits and drawbacks of portable air conditioners.
Price. Portable units tend to be cheaper than window AC units of the same efficiency rating. A portable unit will usually cost between $200 to $650, while window units cost from $250 to $1000.
Ease of installation. Most portable A/C units come with everything you need for installation. Just put the window kit in place, plug in the unit and attach a hose from the window to the unit. This process doesn’t take long, and it’s possible to do it without hiring a contractor. Window units are heavier and take more time. They also come with more safety concerns and must be securely fastened in your window.
Versatility. You can move portable air conditioners from room to room, and they don’t hog the window (and therefore the view). Some units also double as heaters or dehumidifiers, making them useful year-round. They’re also a great option for cabins, where space is an important consideration.
Great for renters. In certain places, like California, landlords may prohibit tenants from installing window air conditioners. Portable air conditioners are generally permitted.
- Efficiency. If you have a large house but spend most of your time in a few areas, a portable air conditioner allows you to cool individual rooms instead of the entire house. That will save you a lot of money on your electric bill.
Ventilation. Though they’re portable, these units release their exhaust to the outside through a window, door or wall vent. This process is easy, but it does add another step, so you can’t just pick it up and move it whenever you want.
Weight. Some premium portable air conditioners weigh up to 80 pounds. However, you can find lightweight models. Most also come with wheels, making them more convenient to move around.
Maintenance. Many portable AC units collect water, so you need to empty them regularly. However, many newer models are self-evaporating or come with drainage hookups.
Limited cooling range. Due to their size, portable air conditioners, like window units, are only built to cool one room at a time. This works great if you only need cooling power in one space. But if you need to cool your entire home, you’re better off looking for a central air conditioning system.
Portable Air Conditioner Features
Whether you’ve got a small room, a cabin, or an apartment, here are some features to look for in a portable A/C unit.
- Adjustable fan speed: Nearly all portable air conditioners come with a three-speed setting (high, medium, and low) to control the temperature of your room.
- Dehumidifier: Removes moisture from the air while it cools. This is especially useful if you live in a damp climate or an area susceptible to mold.
- Fan-only mode: Allows you to circulate air in the room.
- Timer: Allows you to schedule a time for the unit to switch on or off.
- Quiet mode: Generates less noise when activated. Especially great for bedtime.
- Casters or wheels: Let you move the unit from place to place easily.
Portable Air Conditioner Energy Efficiency
When you’re shopping for a portable A/C unit, look for the number of British Thermal Units, displayed as BTUs. This number tells you how efficiently the air conditioner will cool down a room. BTUs typically range from 5,000 to more than 20,000.
Don’t just go with the highest BTU rating. If the BTU is too high for your room, the unit will waste power as it switches on and off, making the air humid — the opposite of what you want.
In general, A/C units should produce around 20 BTU per square foot of space you want to cool. The Energy Star website has a handy chart that will match your room size to the exact BTU you need.
You’ll need a few components to install your portable air conditioner. Look for units that come with a window venting kit. This should include an exhaust hose, connectors and panels for routing the hose through your window.
Finally, check the unit’s EER, or Energy Efficiency Rating. This number ranges from 8 to 11.5, and it’s visible on the unit on a bright yellow label. A higher energy efficiency rating results in lower electric bills and fewer greenhouse emissions.
Types of Portable Air Conditioners
There are two main types of portable air conditioners: single-hose and double-hose.
All portable air conditioners use air to cool their evaporators. A single-hose unit does this through one exhaust hole that releases hot air to the outside. A dual-hose unit has two hoses — one to take in air, and one to release hot air. Dual-hose air conditioners tend to cool a room quicker but can use more energy in the process.
Best single-hose portable air conditioner
The Black+Decker BPACT12WT comes with all the standard features you’ll find on most portable A/C units: remote-control operation, 24-hour self-timer and adjustable fan settings. It also comes with a dehumidifier setting and an extra-quiet mode for nighttime.
With a 6,500 BTU rating, it works best in rooms from 250 to 300 square feet. The compact size of this model makes it perfect for small rooms.
Best dual-hose portable air conditioner
The Whytner ARC-14S portable air conditioner doubles as a dehumidifier, using auto-drain technology to recycle the water it pulls from the air. You may still have to drain the water collection reservoir every so often, but not as frequently as most models.
Like the other models, it comes with a window-venting kit and an easy-to-follow installation manual. At 9,500 BTUs, it’s ideal for rooms up to 425 square feet. At 80 pounds, the unit is on the heavier side, but the attached casters help keep it portable. This is a great option for your summer cabin.
Best budget portable air conditioner
This portable air conditioner by Costway features a dehumidifier and a 24-hour self-timer. At less than $400, it’s cheaper than most 8,000 BTU-rated units. It comes with a sleep mode so you can turn down the noise at night, and a window kit for easy installation.