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Does your home turn into a sweatbox as soon as the summer sun hits the roof? You might want to invest in a portable air conditioner to keep things cool. The units are compact and designed specifically to cool your room as long as you have a window and a power outlet.

You don’t need to pay for expensive installation, and you can cool down rooms that haven’t been graced with other cooling methods or have a restricted airflow. In her article for cnet, Molly Price also noted they’re great for building that you can’t fit an AC unit into the standard window space. When you’re looking to buy a portable air conditioner, this is everything you need to know.

How do portable air conditioners actually work?

A portable air conditioning unit is different to your standard window unit. First, they look more like a tower fan or an air purifier, about the size of a mini-fridge, and won’t look out of place in the corner of most rooms.

The same way you need to have a dryer vent going out through your window or a wall fitting with traditional AC, you need to have a hose coming out of your portable set up to vent the moisture to the outside. Most portable AC units should come with a kit to set up window venting and you’ll get all the pieces that you need to get your hose connected to your window and create a seal over the rest of the space.

You need a nearby power outlet to plug into to supply the electricity so the unit an suck in air through the system and cool it to pass through your space. The majority of this type of air conditioning will have a water collection reservoir that will allow the machine to act as a dehumidifier too. If there’s no reservoir, the unit will have a venting hose.

You can easily pick up one of two main types – single or dual hose portable air conditioners. They both function in different ways, so let’s learn about them… 

Single-hose portable air conditioners

When there’s stagnant, warm air sitting in your room, making you sticky, a single-hose portable AC unit works by cooling the air and recirculating around the space. 

Whatever excess hot air and humidity was in the room gets vented outside using a window venting hose that should come with your purchase. If you’re looking for energy efficiency with your air conditioning, this is the model you’re looking for. A good example of this kind of AC is this one from SereneLife for $290

SereneLife. Image credit: Amazon.com

Dual-hose portable air conditioners

This type of portable AC doesn’t use any of the air that’s already inside the room, rather it pulls in the air from outside using hoses that you attach to your window. The external air is what will be cooled down and used to keep your room at a comfortable temperature. 

There’s a second hose that expels the warm in from inside the room back to the outside. Out of the two options, this type of portable air conditioner will work faster to get your room cool. A great option for this type of unit is priced at $500 from Honeywell.

Honeywell. Image credit: amazon.com

Things to think about before buying a portable air conditioner

After you’ve come to the conclusion you do, in fact, need a portable air conditioner, you need to think through some things to see which one will work best for your needs.

Location, location, location

It’s probably pretty obvious which room is your own personal hotbox, but you do need to think through where it’s going to sit in the room. It has to go near a window that you can open so that you have somewhere to fit the vents. It might seem obvious, but you also need a nearby power outlet so that it can actually function.

Money, money, money

Cheap isn’t a parameter you should be thinking about if you’re buying a portable air conditioner. You can pick up a personal unit that costs around $50, but if you’ve got a whole room to cool down you’re looking at spending $200 at a minimum. Bigger units that pack more power are going to cost more. 

For rooms of around 200-650 square feet, you can pick up portable units for around $200-$499. Air conditioners are seasonal, so you can usually bag a bargain as fall or winter sets in so it can be worth planning ahead to the next summer and pick up your AC in December. 

Eyes on the size

Is bigger always better? For your portable air conditioner, it depends on how big your room is. You need to calculate the size of your room so you can get the right circulating power in your purchase. You can pick up a range of different sizes of unit, and the price is going to differ along with the size.

The air conditioner manufacturer Sylvane has put together this guide, based on the assumption that your ceilings are 8-foot high.

  • 7,500 BTUs will cover 150 sq. ft. x 8-ft. ceiling = 1,200 cubic feet
  • 9,000 BTUs will cover 200 sq. ft. x 8-ft. ceiling = 1,600 cubic feet
  • 10,000 BTUs will cover 300 sq. ft. x 8-ft. ceiling = 2,400 cubic feet
  • 12,000 BTUs will cover 400 sq. ft. x 8-ft. ceiling = 3,200 cubic feet
  • 13,000 BTUs will cover 450 sq. ft. x 8-ft. ceiling = 3,600 cubic feet
  • 14,000 BTUs will cover 500 sq. ft. x 8-ft. ceiling = 4,000 cubic feet

It’s worth noting that BTU means British Thermal Unit and is used the amount of heat that an AC unit can take out of a space in one hour. This is the standard unit of measurement for portable air conditioners to measure how powerful they are. When you see a higher BTU, the unit will be able to cool larger rooms.

For a small room: A room that has up to 300 square feet in floor space will be fine with a 7 – 10,000 BTU unit. Black + Decker’s 8,000 BTU unit works fine in rooms up to 200 square feet and comes in at $310.  

For a medium room: Unit’s that have 11 – 14,000 BTU work well in rooms ranging from 350 to 700 square feet. For $290 you can pick up a Costway air conditioner that will work in a room of 400 square feet. 

For a large room: Units made to go in a home finish up at 14,000 BTU, which will cool a room up to around 700 square feet. If your space is bigger, you’ll need to investigate installing industrial air conditioners. If you get a unit that doesn’t have the power to match your space, it’s going to keep running and will never get your room as cool as you want – a waste of unit and electricity.

Prices for commercial air conditioning units are really high, getting into the thousands of dollars. If you don’t fancy paying out that much for your large space you could consider buying a few small units and spacing them out.

Add-on features and useful smarts

When you`re good about the size of the unit, you may want to add some extra features and helpful smart to make your experience even better. Here is a list of some of them.

Smarts: Some portable models with smarts have built-in WI-Fi to connect to a mobile application or your voice assistants, to set up commands and routines. 

Timer: Timers come handy for setting cooling on or off after the air conditioner worked for a certain amount of time or at a certain time of day. 

Auto: Just like the programmable thermostats, some of the air conditioners with automation allow you to set the unit to cool on its own according to the temperature you prefer.

Remote: Use the remote control to manage your climate control at ease.

Oscillation: Want some breezy feel? Some portable air conditioners are able to oscillate like a room fan.

Dehumidifying: If your room gets stuffy and humid, a dehumidifying setting on your air conditioner can get rid of the must feeling quickly. 

Keeping your portable air conditioner in good shape

There are air filters inside your portable air conditioning unit which help keep the air in your room clean. These need to be cleaned out every couple of weeks so you get the best performance from your AC. Generally, you can wash the filters using dish soap and warm water.

You get a certain level of dehumidification with your air conditioner, so if there’s a water collection tray you need to make sure that you drain it often. If you plump for a dual-hose model you might not have a water collection tray to empty because most of the water in the air will get vented outside. Check out the care instructions you get with your purchase to be sure. You need to keep on top of draining the water so mold doesn’t set it.

Aside from the air filters and emptying the water, you just need to give the AC a basic dust and wipe to keep it looking fresh and performing at its optimum level. If you choose to put it into storage as the weather cools, make sure you put it somewhere dry and cool. 

You only need some simple maths and a little forethought and you’ll be able stay cool all summer long with your portable air conditioner.

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