Window AC units have been a popular home cooling solution, especially for those who live in apartments and older homes that lack central AC. But window units aren’t a workable solution for some, due to a lack of an appropriately sized window, or other issues.
In response to this need, manufacturers have recently started marketing “portable air conditioners.” These units, which are similar in appearance to dehumidifiers, are essentially a small air conditioner that doesn’t mount in a window, but instead uses a hose to pass warm air out through a sliding or casement window, sliding door, an exhaust vent cut into a wall, or a dryer vent.
While portable ACs provide homeowners and renters with an additional option to consider, the question has to be asked: how effective are these products?
According to Consumer Reports, portable air conditioners aren’t particularly effective.
Recently, Consumer Reports —the nonprofit organization that reviewed a wide variety of consumer products for more than 80 years—published an article providing a brief overview of the effectiveness of popular portable air conditioners.
What they found wasn’t terribly reassuring. Consumer Reports tests window and portable AC units by placing them in a 90 degree room, and seeing how long it takes the unit to bring the temperature down to 75 degrees. However, they reported that, “few [portable ACs] made it to even 80 [degrees] after 100 minutes.”
Chances are that you don’t want to wait 2 hours for the temperature to drop to still stifling 80 degrees. And the best of the bunch that Consumer Reports has tested—keep in mind, none of the portable units they tested made CR’s list of recommended air conditioners—lists for $600.
Portable air conditioners have other problems to deal with as well.
It may be that you live in an area with a mild climate, and so being able to lower the temperature a few degrees is good enough. However, there are other unpleasant issues to contend with if you choose to purchase a portable AC.
The exhaust hose. For an air conditioner to be effective, it has to expel the hot air outside of the home. Window units accomplish this by venting hot air right out the window into which they’re mounted. But because portable ACs are free-standing, they use an exhaust hose that has to be directed outside. You’ll either have to spend some time inserting what is essentially a piece of flat plastic with a hole in it into your window, cut a hole in the wall through which to put the hose, or figure out some other solution.
The noise. The process of cooling air is rather noisy. Central air conditioning units have the advantage of putting the noisy condenser outside your home, so that you aren’t subjected to the worst of the noise. But a portable AC contains the condenser, meaning that whatever room you’re cooling will be very noisy.
Not quite so portable. Portable ACs are typically mounted on wheels, allowing you to move them from room to room. But they’re only portable in the loosest sense of the word, tipping the scales at up to 80 pounds. If your home is carpeted, or if you wish to use the unit in an upstairs room, you’ll have to use some muscle to get one around the house.
Limited area of effect. Like window units, portable ACs are only designed to cool a very small area, such as a bedroom. This means that only a small part of your home will be cooled, and all the doors connecting it to the rest of your home will need to be closed at all times.
Negative pressure. Portable ACs, like window units, use a small amount of the air they draw in to push out waste heat through the outside exhaust. Because air is being pulled out of the room and not replaced, this creates negative pressure. As a consequence, warm air in surrounding rooms will be pulled into the room that you’re trying to cool. This air in the surrounding rooms will, in turn, be replaced by warm outside air that is pulled in through cracks, window seals, and door frames. So, your portable AC will have to continuously work to deal with this constantly intruding warm air, while in turn effectively heating up the rest of your home.
Portable air conditioners are an expensive solution to hot summer weather. For a bit more money, an internal air conditioning solution will cool your whole home, without the unpleasant noise and inconveniences associated with a portable AC.