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Buying guide for Best portable air conditioners

There are plenty of reasons to love summer, but they all seem to revolve around warm weather. Who doesn’t love spending time out in the sun, under an umbrella at the beach, or floating in the pool?

There is one place, though, where the heat isn’t welcome: your home.

When your home is hot, it’s difficult to sleep or even sit and relax without working up a sweat. That makes air conditioning a must for many people – but unfortunately, not everyone is lucky enough to have a central air conditioning (AC) system that keeps their home a comfortable temperature no matter how hot it gets outside.

Window air conditioners have been the answer for a long time, but many apartments and local ordinances don’t allow units that protrude from a window.

Fear not — that doesn’t mean you’re stuck suffering through a long, hot summer.

Portable air conditions are an ideal solution because they can cool your space as effectively as a window unit without being visible from the outside.

Finding the right portable air conditioner can be a real challenge, though, because there are so many factors to take into consideration. Not only do you have to get the size right, but you likely want an energy-efficient model that has effective ventilation, isn’t too loud, offers the extra features you need, and requires the kind of maintenance you’re willing to put in to it.

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The number of heat-related deaths in the U.S. between 1960 and 2004 dropped 80% compared to the number between 1900 and 1959 – due to air conditioning.

How does a portable air conditioner work?

While a portable air conditioner doesn’t stick out of a window like a window unit does, it does still require a window for operation.

The good news, though, is that it doesn’t take up the entire window. Portable air conditioners come with a window kit that usually features one or two ventilation hoses that attach to a panel that is placed in the window.

The kit is easy to install and usually doesn’t require any specialized tools.

Benefits of a portable air conditioner

With a portable air conditioner, you don’t have to worry about building or city ordinances that forbid units that protrude outside your home. Because the air conditioner doesn’t take up the entire window, you probably won’t lose the whole view or natural light.

A portable air conditioner can also help cut energy costs by supplementing a central air conditioning system. If you only need to keep one or two rooms cool, you can raise the central AC’s temperature and turn the portable unit on in the space you want cooler.

A portable air conditioner, though heavy, can be moved from one room to another so you can easily adjust your cooling setup based on your needs.

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Testing portable air conditioners
We spent 12 hours researching over 80 different portable air conditioners before choosing our top pick. We then brought in one of our top models for testing to make sure it lived up to its positive reviews.



Just as with a window air conditioner, the most important decision you have to make when shopping for a portable air conditioner is what size to get.

Air conditioners are rated in British Thermal Units (BTUs), and models with a higher BTU rating cool larger spaces more easily.

Poor insulation and other factors in your home can affect how powerful a portable air conditioner you need in a given space. However, there are some general guidelines that can help you decide.

  • An 8,000-BTU portable air conditioner should cool a space of 200 square feet.

  • A 10,000-BTU model is effective in a space of 300 square feet.

  • A 12,000-BTU unit is usually sufficient in a space of 400 square feet.

  • A 13,000-BTU portable air conditioner can usually cover a space of 450 square feet.

  • A 14,000-BTU model is typically enough to cool a space of 500 square feet.

Single-hose vs. dual-hose ventilation`

While all portable air conditioners need to be vented through a window to remove the hot air from your home, there are two different vent hose configurations: a single-hose and a dual-hose setup.

A single-hose setup uses the same hose for both the intake of fresh air and the exhaust of hot air. Because a single hose is doing all the work, the air conditioner doesn’t cool as efficiently as possible.

A dual-hose setup has separate intake and exhaust hoses. As a result, it can cool a space more effectively and is more energy efficient.

Energy efficiency

Running an air conditioner usually means a higher energy bill. That’s why it’s important to choose a portable model that is as energy efficient as possible.

Look for models that have the Energy Star label because they’re rated to meet energy efficiency standards. It’s also a good idea to look for a portable unit with a programmable thermostat or energy-saver mode. That way, it will automatically turn itself off when it reaches the temperature you’ve set.

Dehumidifier function

Any portable air conditioner will remove some moisture from the air. However, certain models are equipped with a dehumidifier function. This feature allows you to reduce the humidity in your home without adding any cold air, so it works well on humid days that aren’t necessarily hot enough to require the AC.

Noise level

It’s inevitable that your portable air conditioner is going to make noise – all AC units do when they’re working. However, some models are louder than others and can add more than white noise to your home.

If you’re concerned about the noise level, your best bet is a unit that’s been designed to be as quiet as possible. You can compare the decibel (dB) levels of models that you’re considering to see how they stack up. 45 dBs signifies a minimally noisy AC unit.


You’d expect a portable air conditioner to be ... well, portable, but the truth is that they’re usually very heavy. They can weigh up to 100 pounds, so while they’re easier to move around than a window unit, it can be tricky to get them from room to room.

If you want to use your AC in multiple rooms, choose a model that has casters or wheels to make the process easier. Pay careful attention to the weight if you plan to move the air conditioner up and down flights of stairs, too.


You want your portable air conditioner to be as easy to use as possible, so you should opt for user-friendly controls. Those with digital displays are typically the easiest to use, but look for a model with a display that isn’t too bright, or it may disturb you when the lights are off.

A remote control can also be handy if you’re using your AC in a large room or don’t want to get out of bed to adjust it. Look for one that allows you to turn the unit on and off and change the speed at the very least.


A portable air conditioner is going to take up some space in whatever room you put it in – and be hard to miss – so you should take its appearance into account when shopping. Units are available in a variety of aesthetic styles, though they do tend to put function over form. In most cases, you’ll be choosing from basic colors like white, gray, or black.

Required maintenance

When you’re choosing a portable air conditioner, you should think about the maintenance that’s necessary to keep the unit cooling properly.

The moisture that your air conditioner removes from the air will be stored inside it, and you will need to get rid of it somehow. Some units require that you empty a pan, connect a hose, or pump out the water to remove the moisture on a regular basis.

Decide how you prefer to dispose of the water, taking into consideration where the unit will be and how you’ll access the water it collects.

If that seems like a hassle, look for a self-evaporative model. That means it will evaporate the moisture that it removes so you don’t have to get rid of it yourself.

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Did you know?
Currently, approximately 87% of the homes in the United States have some type of air conditioning system.

Pricing for portable air conditioners

Portable air conditioners tend to be more costly than window models. In general, they range in price from $300 to $650.

If you are only looking to cool a small area, you can usually find an effective portable air conditioner for $350 to $400.

For a top-of-the-line unit that can cool a large area, expect to spend about $550 to $650.

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A basic AC unit cost $350 in 1940. Today, that’s equivalent to approximately $3,500.


Q. What are the power requirements for a portable air conditioner?
Most portable air conditioners operate on 115/120-volt power, which is standard household voltage. Nearly all have a grounded, three-prong plug. Keep in mind that 14,000-BTU and higher units may require special wiring and outlets, though.

Q. What type of windows can you vent a portable air conditioner through?
Most models are easy to install in traditional double-hung windows using the window kit accessories included with the portable air conditioner. In many cases, you can use the same kit to vent the air conditioner through a sliding window, too. Always consult your owner’s manual for proper installation.

Q. Can a portable air conditioner cool multiple rooms?
A portable air conditioner is typically more effective in the immediate area you place it in. In an open floor plan, though, it’s possible for nearby spaces to experience a slight cooling effect, too. Using a fan in conjunction with the air conditioner can help circulate the cool air.

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