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Nathan S.
Nathan S.Oct 14, 2020

Portable Air Conditioner Buying Guide

In the sweltering summer months, a portable air conditioner is a nifty way to stay cool. With the array of choices, finding the best portable air conditioner can be complex. You may have wanted a small, cheap portable AC but just discovered the term ‘reverse cycle.’ Or what if you can’t decide between a Delonghi and a Dimplex? This portable air conditioners buying guide is here to help you meet your AC match so you can spend a cool time together.

Are portable air conditioners any good?

A portable air conditioner is a small air conditioning unit (usually no larger than a bedside table) that can be moved from room to room. It maintains a set temperature by pulling warm and humid air from a room and cooling it, via an exhaust hose. Any remaining air is vented outside.

Portable air conditioners are good at providing cooling comfort for 1-2 people in small rooms that are sensitive to the weather. For example, you might have a room that's unusually full of hot air due to direct sunlight or trapped heat. Portable aircons can also help to complement the work of larger ducted air conditioners or split system units on especially scorching (or freezing) days.

Pros

  • Portability means you can use it to cool multiple rooms
  • Travels with you when you move house
  • Many have reverse-cycle functionality, giving them dual cooling and warming functions
  • Cheap and easy to install
  • Cheaper models are around $100, much cheaper than split system air conditioners

Cons

  • Not effective in cooling or warming larger rooms
  • Not as powerful as split system air conditioners, and less efficient
  • Installation requires a window or a duct in the wall
  • Some portable ACs produce a lot of condensation and can leave wet spots on the floor

Factors to consider when buying a portable air conditioner

Size

Consider the size of the room/s you are cooling, as this determines the cooling power you need (measured in kilowatts). Portable aircons work better in smaller spaces, such as bedrooms or study rooms. They also often have a one-directional airflow, which makes them suitable for heating up a person, rather than a room. With a larger space, you’ll need a more powerful cooling system such as a split system air conditioner or a ducted air conditioner. Keep in mind however that a more powerful aircon usually means more noise and a more prominent, permanent unit.

To find out how many kW your portable AC should be, measure the room/s that you’re intending to use it for. The measurement should be in square metres - you do this by calculating the length and width, and multiplying them. For example a room 8m long x 4m wide would be 32sqm.

Portable Air Conditioners Sizing Chart

Installation

While installation is required for a portable AC, it’s minimal and fairly straightforward. The box will usually come with an exhaust hose and a product manual with installation instructions. You attach one end of the exhaust hose to the aircon, and the other end to a window or a duct in the wall. You may even be able to vent the AC through a door. The exhaust hose will usually stretch about 2-3 metres, giving you a little bit of leeway.

Sometimes a venting kit is also included, to make it easier. If you’re planning to use the portable AC for multiple rooms, buying a second venting kit and installing it in the other room could save your summer self some time.

If you don't have an exhaust point in the room/s you're cooling, a portable air conditioner is probably not practical for you, as the vast majority of models rely on an exhaust hose.

Noise

Portable ACs contain a compressor and a fan, both of which produce noise while operating. A portable air con with powerful cooling capacity and a fast cooling speed tends to produce a noisier unit. This is irrespective of size – you may think that a smaller AC will be quieter, but this isn’t true.

Think about the main rooms you’re using your portable air conditioner for. Aim for a balance between cooling capacity and a noise level you can tolerate. For example, you might prefer a quieter model in your bedroom or office. Also consider whether the room is carpeted (as this can absorb echoes or reverberation) and whether it’s well insulated, as this can also tamp down the noise.

Pro Tip: To get an idea of how loud your portable air conditioner will be, check the decibel level (dB) of a prospective air conditioner. Most portable air conditioners are between 48-60 dB. For reference, the average noise level for a portable AC is around 53dB, which equates to the sound of a normal conversation. A decibel rating of 53 dB and under would be suitable for most rooms. If you don’t want to compromise on performance, the highest dB rating that would still be somewhat ear-friendly is 58 db.

If you’re shopping in-store, ask the salesperson to demonstrate how quiet the AC really is, as this will give you a more real-to-life understanding of the noise you'll be living with when your aircon is turned on.

Condensation

Since summer can often be humid and air conditioners are cold (the nature of their job), condensation is bound to happen. However sometimes the degree of condensation a portable aircon generates can be surprising. Some air conditioners that aren’t effective at dealing with condensation may even leave wet spots on the floor.

Pro Tip: Since cleaning up after your AC is probably not high on your list of fun things to do, it’s helpful to understand how a portable air conditioner will handle condensation. These are the three options you have when it comes to condensation – choose one that will be sustainable and easy to manage for you.

  • Drip air conditioners: These contain condensation containers, which are internal containers that collect water and have to be emptied periodically.
  • Partial drip air conditioners: Some condensation collects inside a drip pan, and the rest is vented outside. This pan sits on your floor and needs o be emptied to prevent overflow.
  • No drip air conditioners: Also called a self-evaporating air conditioner or an auto drain system, this is the most ideal solution when it comes to condensation. No drip ACs collect moisture and humidity that would usually turn into condensation and evaporate it like magic (...or technology) – requiring no action on your part.

Price

Price can be divided into two parts: the initial purchase price of your unit, and ongoing running costs.

Purchase price

This can range between $60-$1395. The price is determined by several factors, including brand, cooling power and capacity (measured in BTU), whether the AC is designed for both cooling and heating (a reverse cycle portable air conditioner) and the number of extra features it has. Many cheaper models are evaporative coolers, which use a fan and water pump rather than a fan and a compressor with a refrigerant.

Running costs

This can be hard to gauge as portable ACs aren’t required to have an energy star rating, which usually indicates cost effectiveness. A more energy efficient portable AC will be dual hose, with a separate intake hose and exhaust hose.

Efficiency is also influenced by the placement of the portable AC in the room. Avoid placing it in a sunny spot, as this means the air conditioner must expend more energy to regulate the room. Also change your filter/s regularly, as this helps your portable air conditioner to operate optimally.

Extra Features:

Remote_control_portable_AC

  • Air vents: To add cool air into a room with multiple people in it, are going to be multiple people in the room, you’ll probably want an oscillating fan that moves from side to side rather than just up and down.
  • Dehumidifier: Removes dampness from the air, which helps with allergies and makes a room more comfortable on hotter days.
  • Reverse cycle: Allows the refrigeration cycle to be reversed, meaning an air conditioner can double as a cooler and a heater, increasing its functionality for use all year round.
  • Remote control: One of the simple conveniences in life, a remote control lets you control the air conditioner from a distance, so you can adjust the temperature or switch it on and off without getting up.
  • Self-evaporator: This ensures collected humidity and moisture from your room is simply evaporated, so you won’t have to constantly empty the collected water out.
  • Wi-Fi Smart controls: These let you operate your portable air conditioner via a smartphone app, so you can turn your portable AC on an hour before you get home for ultimate temperature control and comfort. Many are also compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

Conclusion

Overall, the main thing to consider if you're in the market for a portable air conditioner is your room size and whether your room can accommodate an exhaust hose. You should also think about the level of noise and condensation you can handle, as well as whether you'd like any handy extra features such as a dehumidifier. No matter whether you're shopping online or in-store, remember to do your research first. Our portable air conditioner reviews can really help you find a portable AC that will last you several summers.