This article provides all the information you need to make an informed decision when purchasing a portable air conditioner for your apartment, home, or office. These units are portable to the degree that they require a power outlet and are quite heavy. If you are looking for a portable air conditioner for multiple indoor and outdoor uses, as well as ones that can work on battery power, please see our article Best Battery-Powered Air Conditioners.
When the heat of the summer hits, demand for air conditioners spikes. With people spending a lot more time at home, including working from home, comfort is a top priority. There are many options for cooling your home from central air conditioning systems, mini-split ductless systems that are less costly to install, swamp coolers, to window air conditioners, and the most convenient of all, portable air conditioners.
Portable air conditioners are a great option for people who want to cool a room and improve air quality. They can be used in a home office during the day to provide a more comfortable working environment and then moved to a bedroom at night to allow for better sleeping conditions.
When portable ACs first hit the market, they weren’t as effective as other options as they weren’t powerful enough to cool a room. But newer, modern models are as effective as window air conditioners with the added benefit that they won’t damage your window frame and don’t look unsightly, as window ACs generally do.
For people who rent their homes or apartments, a portable air conditioning solution may make more sense than other available options because they won’t cause damage resulting in the loss of some of your security deposit, and they can be easily packed up and shipped to your next home.
Portable ACs are easy to install and can cool rooms up to 500 square feet in size. They won’t be particularly effective at cooling a large main living area of open plan homes but they will provide the relief you need in rooms that can be closed off to the rest of the house such as a bedroom or home office.
5 Best Portable Air Conditioners for Small Home Offices & Bedrooms
Of our smaller room recommendations, the Whynter CoolSize is the only one featuring full self-evaporation technology. Whynter’s patented auto drain technology recycles and utilizes the moisture collected during the cooling process, making this unit fully self-evaporative in all but the most humid most of climates. This means little to no need to manually drain the unit as it removes moisture from the air.
The unit is energy efficient with an EER of 10 and eco-friendly running on R-410A refrigerant and built using lead-free RoHS compliant components.
The main downside of this ac unit is the low-powered fan with airflow of only 145 CFM which mean you might need a ceiling fan to help circulate the cool air around the room. With an upper operating temperature of 90 F, this unit might not work well for people living in very hot climates.
Next on our list is the smartly designed HL10CES from Honeywell. Where the Whynter Coolsize struggled, the Honeywell HL10CES excels; it has a very powerful 241 CFM fan that forces the cool air out at speed enabling it to cool a larger space.
With an energy efficiency ratio (EER) of 8.9, this model isn’t as efficient as the Whynter and will cost a little more cost more to run than the Coolsize.
An issue identified with the HLCES10 is that the vent hose is not well insulated and emits heat back into the room – not what you want when attempting to cool it! If you purchase this unit, consider also buying a vent hose cover to help improve insulation. We recommend this one from Delonghi: Delonghi Universal Insulated Portable AC Hose Cover
Overall, the Honeywell HLCES10 portable ac is a top performer with excellent customer support.
Sunpentown is a Taiwanese household appliance manufacturer with US headquarters in California. They produce solid, affordable appliances that have gained popularity in with American consumers.
The WA-8070E portable AC is a top pick for bedrooms, home offices, and studio apartments measuring 250 square feet and less. It’s loaded with features that we wouldn’t expect to find in a value-priced portable air conditioner such as a programmable timer, auto-restart, and, adjustable louvers.
One thing we’ve noted from reviews of this model is that people struggle with the window installation kit but we don’t see that as a significant downside to purchasing this excellent ac unit.
Amana is an American company based in Iowa that specializes in household appliances. Chosen for its pleasing aesthetics as well as its powerful performance, the Amana AMAP101AB is an excellent choice and our top pick for small rooms of 300 square feet or less.
The AMAP101AB comes loaded with all the features you would expect in higher end models including a programmable timer, auto-restart function, and sleep mode. Where this unit really stands out is the combination of a powerful 230 CFM fan with auto-swing louvers to better circulate the cool air around the room. It also includes a sensor to alert you when the washable filter needs to be cleaned.
We were also blown away by the claimed dehumidifying capability of this unit. Amana claims it will remove 5 pints of moisture from the air per hour! For people living in high humidity climates, the Amana AMAP101AB is the perfect option.
Our final recommendation for small home offices and bedrooms is the ZonAire P08SA from Friedrich. Friedrich is an American company based in Texas that prides itself on manufacturing high-quality air conditioners.
The Zonaire P08SA is the most compact model we have reviewed, important if you have limited space in your office or bedroom. But despite its relatively small size, it performs very well with strong cooling capability combined with 212 CFM airflow.
What sets the P08SA apart from the other small room models we have recommend is that it also functions as a space heater. This makes it a great option for people who need additional heat in the winter.
5 Best Portable ACs for Small Apartments, Large Home Offices & Bedrooms
Smart home appliances are all the rage and we’re seeing more smart portable AC manufacturers incorporate smart WiFi features in their models. The Pinguino from DeLonghi is one of the best of the smart portable ACs.
If you’re an Alexa or Google Home subscriber, this AC unit is compatible with both. You can also control it remotely via the DeLonghi smartphone app.
We love the sleek, modern, European design of this unit. It’s a far better complement to the modern home or apartment than the typically ugly window air conditioners. The only knock on this unit is that the airflow isn’t as good it should be. At the premium price, we would have expected a higher airflow than 206 CFM.
Dual hose portable air conditioners tend to be more effective than single hose ac units because they draw air from the outside, cool that air, and blow it into the room while at the same time sucking warm air from the room and expelling it outside.
The added benefit of a dual-hose model is that you don’t have to be concerned with negative air pressure effects. If you have a room that’s difficult to seal off from the rest of your house, or isn’t well insulated, single-hose models will be less effective because they’ll suck in warm air from adjacent rooms or the outside. Dual-hose models keep the pressure the same so this isn’t a concern.
The Honeywell MN12CED offers excellent dual-hose performance at an affordable price. We highly recommend this model for people who don’t want the hassle of sealing rooms to ensure adequate AC performance.
Our next recommendation for larger rooms is also from Honeywell. The MN14CCS is a combination of air conditioner, heater, dehumidifier, and air purifier. It’s also a beast of a performer with 14,000 BTUs of cooling output while achieving an impressive energy efficiency ratio (EER) or 10.3.
The MN14CCS has dual washable filters to remove dust and fibers from the air. It also includes a sleep timer that will increase the temperature setting gradually as you sleep, saving energy and reducing noise, then reducing temperature again as you wake up.
Despite Honeywell’s claim that this unit uses special noise-reducing technology, a number of customers noted that they found it to be quite loud.
For the budget-minded homeowner looking for powerful portable AC at a reasonable price, look no further than the Sunpentown WA-1240AE. This innocent looking AC unit cranks out 12,000 BTU of cooling power and the impressive 292 CFM fan combined with automatic oscillation ensure that cool air reaches all corners of your room or apartment.
The WA-1240AE has dual washable filters for added air purification and device protection. Customers report that the Sunpentown portable air conditioners are very durable providing years of effective performance. With an affordable price and excellent durability, the budget-minder customer won’t be disappointed with this model.
The Whynter ARC-148MS wins our vote for best overall portable air conditioner. This unit combines modern design, powerful performance, and almost every feature you could wish for in a portable AC. All for a very reasonable price.
The ARC-148MS features advanced self-evaporating technology, using the moisture it’s removes from the air to help with the cooling process and expelling the resulting water vapor via the vent hose.
For people living in high-humidity climates, the ARC-148MS has an option to add an internal condensate pump which will automatically drain water from the unit.
If we’re being picky, the only thing missing from this unit is the lack of smart technology. We hope that Whynter will release a WiFi capable model at some point in the near future.
How does a portable air conditioner work?
Portable air conditioners work using a refrigeration cycle process, the same basic principles a home refrigerator works on. The main components of an air conditioner are an evaporator, a compressor, and a condenser. The process involves removing heat from the air in a room, blowing the cooler air back into the room, and venting the heat outside.
Single-hose portable air conditioners pull warm air from inside the room, pass the air over cooling coils in the evaporator where it is mixed with liquid refrigerant. Cool air is blown back into the room and the refrigerant (now a low-pressure vapor) is then compressed into high-pressure vapor.
The next phase involves condensing the high-pressure vapor. The condenser separates the heat which is then expelled via the vent hose. The refrigerant is recycled to begin the process again, and the resulting moisture is either collected in a drain pan or expelled via a drain hose. Some models with self-evaporating technology use the moisture to help with the cooling process and don’t need manual draining.
Dual-hose portable air conditioners draw air from the outside, cool it with the AC coils, and blow it into the room while at the same time drawing in warm air from the room and expelling it outside. Dual-hose models tend to be more effective and efficient than single-hose models but they also cost more.
To keep your AC unit working to full capacity, it’s good practice to keep them maintained the best you can. Many call in the professionals to perform routine maintenance every so often but tasks like cleaning the portable AC coils can be done by yourself.
How to install a portable air conditioner
Portable ACs come with an installation kit that fits into the window of the room you want to cool. The installation kit includes a window seal that covers the gap in the window (you need to keep the window open) and a hole cut the right size to fit the vent hose. Installation kits that come with most residential portable ACs can be used with sliding windows but if you have casement windows (windows that open with a crank), or you want to vent through a door, you may need to buy a separate installation kit.
How to choose the right portable AC for your home
There are many criteria to consider before purchasing a portable air conditioner. It’s best to start with the most important criteria, making sure you choose a model that has the right power output (measured in BTUs) for the size of room or rooms you want to cool.
Other important factors include:
- Ambient temperature: the room temperature before cooling. Most portable air conditioners are effective within a certain operating temperature range. In average humidity conditions, this is likely to be about 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 Celcius) and below.
- Relative humidity of the environment in which you live or work: In areas of high humidity, the portable AC is going to have to work harder to cool the room. This means you’ll need a more powerful unit relative to the size of room for it to be effective.
- Ceiling height: Manufacturers recommend portable ACs for certain square footage rooms. The average room size is 483 square feet. But this assumes an average ceiling height which is 9 feet. If you have high ceilings, you’ll need a more powerful AC unit relative to the square footage of your room.
- Noise levels: This is particularly important if you’re using the unit in your home office or bedroom. Some units can be quite loud so look for units with max output decibel levels in the low 50s.
- Energy efficiency: Measured as an Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER), the ratio of cooling power (BTUs) to power required (watts).
- Cost to Run: Portable air conditioners can cost between $25 to $50 a month to run if used for 5 to 7 hours per day.
- Draining options: In areas of moderate to high humidity, units with a drain tray or bucket will need to be emptied frequently, as many as three to four times per day. This can become quite tedious. If you live in an area of high humidity, you might be best considering fully self-evaporating models or models with the ability to drain via a hose to your plumbing system.
- Ease of portability: While these AC units are labeled “portable”, they are portable within limits. They are heavy! So while they include castors to move easily from room to room on the same level in your home or office, you won’t enjoy moving them from floor to floor.
For a full explanation of product attributes, check out our article: 29 Factors to Consider when Buying a Portable AC.
How many BTUs do I need in a portable ac?
One of the first things to consider is how powerful an AC unit you will need. Each unit is rated by BTUs (British Thermal Units) per/hr. A British thermal unit (Btu) is a measure of the heat content of fuels or energy sources. It is the quantity of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of liquid water by 1 degree Fahrenheit at the temperature that water has its greatest density (approximately 39 degrees Fahrenheit).
Depending upon your room size, you will need to calculate the size you will need of the appropriate system. The following is an example given for a standard room with 9-foot ceilings:
- 8,000 BTUs will cover 200 sq. ft. (1,600 cubic feet)
- 10,000 BTUs will cover 300 sq. ft. (2,400 cubic feet)
- 12,000 BTUs will cover 400 sq. ft. (3,200 cubic feet)
- 13,000 BTUs will cover 450 sq. ft. (3,600 cubic feet)
- 14,000 BTUs will cover 500 sq. ft. (4,000 cubic feet)
It’s important to keep in mind that the recommended room size provided by manufacturers assumes ambient temperatures are under 95 degrees Fahrenheit, average relative humidity, and average ceiling heights of about 9 feet. If you live in areas with high humidity, and/or have high ceilings, you’ll want to select a portable AC unit with a higher BTU rating – i.e. 12,000 BTUs for a 300 square foot room to make sure it has enough power to cool the room.
If the rooms you are trying to cool often reach temperatures above 95 degrees Fahrenheit, portable AC units might not be effective at all. Using blackout curtains might help, a ceiling fan to assist in circulating the cool air from the portable AC might also help.
Should the room you want to cool experience such high temperatures, we recommend buying a portable air conditioner from a local store, testing the unit, and returning it should it not be effective at cooling the room. Repackaging and returning a portable AC you purchased online is not at all convenient.
How loud are portable ACs?
Portable ACs are very powerful, and because they work so hard to cool your space, they are not going to be completely silent. Similar to window AC units, or through-the-wall AC units, the motor that powers portable air conditioners does produce noise.
If you are bothered by loud noises, consider the decibel level that you opt for. Most portable AC units produce between 50 and 60 decibels at the maximum output. 50 decibels is about the equivalent of a dishwasher and 60 decibels equates to normal conversation levels.
If the noise is going to be a problem, you might want to consider more expensive options such as ductless air conditioners or central air conditioners. Swamp coolers are another option for people who live in low humidity climates. But these “permanent” home upgrades are only applicable for people who own homes. For renters, you might have to trade off the noise of a portable AC in return for the cooling comfort unless you have an extremely nice landlord!
How efficient are portable air conditioners?
Most portable AC manufacturers include the energy efficiency ratio in the manual. The EER is the ratio of the cooling capacity (measured in BTUs) to the power required to run the unit (measured in Watts). The higher the EER, the more efficient the unit.
Of the units we reviewed, the EER ranged from 8.9 to 12.25. In general, more powerful units designed to cool larger rooms are going to be less efficient. However, there are powerful units that still operate at a respectable energy efficiency ratio.
Both EER (energy efficiency ratio) and SEER (seasonal energy efficiency ratio) values are applied to all cooling units, but for portable air conditioners, EER is the more commonly used rating as they operate in a closed environment that is unaffected by seasonal change.
You can read more about this in our article: EER vs SEER.
How much does a portable AC cost to run?
Central air conditioning can cost as much as $200 to $300 per month during a hot summer. The average portable air conditioner (10,000 BTUs) run for 5 to 7 hours per day, will cost between $30 and $50 per month. To break this down, a few calculations must be made.
If you want a more accurate estimate of the cost, it is important to know the following definitions:
- BTU (British Thermal Unit) – number used to measure cooling power of AC
- Ampere – measurement used to calculate how many electrons pass through a certain point
- Watt – one Joule of energy per second, amount of energy transferred over time
- Volt – measure of electric potential between two points on a wire
- Kilowatt-Hour – side of the house contains a meter displaying your usage
Calculate your amps (usually a 2-ton AC creates 15 amps, 3-ton creates 18 amps, and 4-ton creates 21 amps). Multiply this number by the voltage of your outlet. Next divide this number by 1,000 to figure out your Kilowatt-Hours.
The chart above can assist you with figuring out how much you will have to pay per Kilowatt-Hour in your given location (bare in mind, this will show you the cost to run the AC as if you were running it non-stop).
Advantages and disadvantages of portable ACs vs alternative ACs
To review, here is a summarized look at all of the pros and cons of each type of AC unit:
Pros: Remains out of sight and has a thermostat for optimal temperature control, can evenly cool your entire home, the air output is filtered and clean
Cons: Complicated installation that must be done by a professional, maintenance will be required, pricey
Portable AC maintenance
For the most efficient, effective, and long-lasting performance, remember to routinely clean your portable air conditioner. These units are expensive and regular simple maintenance will help you get the most out of your investment. If the temperature is easily controlled by opening a window, opt for this instead of blasting your AC 24/7. This will save you money and prolong the life of your portable ac unit.
Dust accumulation on the ac condenser coils is the bigger impediment to AC performance. Research conducted by Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in a study called Dirty air conditioners: Energy implications of coil fouling found that dirty AC coils can reduce the life of an air conditioning unit by over 50%. If you’re comfortable opening up your unit and cleaning the coils yourself, there are plenty of resources available online to guide you through the process such as this video on youtube: How to Clean a Portable Air Conditioner.
Also, as much as you don’t want to, read the manufacturer’s manual! Following the manufacturer’s recommendations on how to set up the ac unit properly, and how to maintain it, will lead to a far more satisfying outcome for you and your new cool friend. Many people who leave negative reviews for portable air conditioners have not set up the unit properly nor maintained it per the manufacturer’s recommendations.
For further research in to portable air conditioners, please see our other guides and articles:
About the Author
Dave Miller is a HVAC technician with over 10 years in the industry. Dave created HeatTalk with the ambition for it to become a resource for individuals looking for answers, whether they be a layman, student or a professional.