Once the summer season rolls around, air conditioners offer some relief from sweltering temperatures. While central cooling units are often the go-to for many people, they’re not always a feasible solution. Homes in moderate climates have no use for larger air conditioner units beyond a couple of months out of the year.
Plus, the installation costs, renovation requirements, and maintenance involved can turn those whole-home systems into a staggering investment that’s not practical for many. Luckily, there are smaller alternatives out there.
Small portable air conditioners offer a nice middle-ground. They serve the same practical purposes as a central unit. However, they’re much more cost-effective. This doesn’t just apply to the initial costs of owning a portable AC. These systems can help you stay cool without the exorbitant running costs that come with central units.
They’re a great solution for homes that only need air cooling capabilities during heat waves. These machines also work wonders for small accessory buildings or spaces in the home that aren’t connected to a larger system, such as the garage. Thanks to their portable nature, they can be used anywhere where a simple fan or open window isn’t doing enough to keep you cool.
The Benefits of a Small Portable Air Conditioner
Contrary to popular belief, bigger is not always better when it comes to air conditioning units. Many homeowners make the mistake of investing in a unit that’s designed to cool spaces far larger than they need. It’s an easy mistake to make. Getting a bigger and more powerful unit means that the area will be cooled faster, right?
Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily true. Let me explain…
You see, all air conditioner units have a specific BTU rating that reflects the amount of heat the machine can remove from a space. We’ll get into the specifics of BTUs in a bit. For now, all you need to know is that a higher BTU means that the AC unit can cool a very large room.
If you were to use an AC with a higher BTU to cool a small room, you may end up with more problems than you started with. The air conditioner will work hard to bring the temperature down to the temperature you designate with its onboard thermostat. This will happen quickly, but the dehumidification process won’t start until later.
As a result, your room may start to feel damp and clammy. Moisture in the air will do more to make you feel uncomfortable than the heat itself!
Furthermore, you run the risk of experience severe moisture issues. An air conditioner is designed to use its dehumidifier components very strategically by controlling where the moisture goes. When the entire room is suddenly much cooler, that moisture in the air going to have to go somewhere. You might start seeing droplets of water on the walls, floors, and furniture. If you continue to cool your home in this way, you may experience mold and rot issues.
Another issue you’ll need to worry about is increased wear and tear on your system. Larger units will cool down a space quickly before shutting off. However, to maintain that temperature you chose, it’ll turn right back on after a few minutes. AC units aren’t designed to switch on and off in short periods. Typically, the compressor will only turn on two or three times every hour. That quick cycle caused by a larger AC will only cause the unit’s compressor to degrade in quality much faster than normal.
This is why it’s always recommended that you go smaller rather than bigger when it comes to air conditioning units. Even the United States Department of Energy has guidelines about how a larger unit performs less efficiently than a smaller one.
10 of the Best Portable Air Conditioners
Midea MAP08S1BWT Portable Air Conditioner
It’s not hard to see why this unit from Midea is one of our top picks. It’s a well-designed machine that only takes a few minutes to set up. The unit comes with a window kit that can be installed horizontally or vertically based on your window.
From a performance standpoint, this portable unit checks off all the boxes. It’s great for moderate-sized rooms. Thanks to the included remote, you can control settings from across the room. Speaking of which, this system has a built-in proximity sensor that adjusts performance automatically based on where the remote is! It’s a nice perk that can make all the difference.
About 15 inches wide and 20 inches tall
Digital control panel and remote control
4-foot hose and window kit
Vremi 12,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner
This portable hose unit is capable of cooling rooms as large as 500 feet. Yet, it’s small enough to be discrete. It only measures about 17.3 inches wide by 14 inches deep and 28.2 inches tall.
There are multiple performance modes that you can choose. Aside from the standard cooling mode, you can operate the fan without the compressor or dehumidify the air. There’s also a sleep mode, which continually regulates the temperature while keeping the noise down to about 52 decibels.
Bright LCD display
24-hour timer and sleep mode
EdgeStar AP8000W Portable Air Conditioner
From EdgeStar is this small portable AC unit. It’s designed for small rooms with about 150 square feet. Unlike a window air conditioner, this system is very easy to install. It comes with a versatile window kit and a lengthy hose.
The most notable feature of this unit is the dehumidifier. Whether you run it alone or with the cool air function turned on, you can eliminate up to 50 pints of water every day! There’s no need to empty out the water manually or even use a separate hose. It all comes out of the exhaust duct.
3 fan speeds
The portable air conditioner from KoldFront is a dual-hose model. The built-in dehumidifying components are quite efficient. It can remove up to 2.5 pints of water an hour.
To ensure that all the water escapes your home safely, KoldFront includes a separate automatic drainage hose. It works alongside the window duct, which is designed to fit a wide range of windows.
The cooling feature has 3 fan speeds and an adjustable thermostat. Digital controls are used for greater versatility. You can use the control panel or remote to set a timer and adjust the automatic functionality.
Digital control panel
Automatic timer and thermostat
3 fan speeds
Comes with remote control
Black+Decker BPACT08WT Portable Air Conditioner
Black+Decker is no stranger to creating some fine appliances. This portable air conditioning unit is no different. It has all the features you’d ever need to stay cool.
Use the control panel or remote to choose from one of the many operating modes and performance options. When you’re ready to call it a night, just turn on the sleep mode. The system will continue to run and work to keep the temperature stable as you snooze.
Remote control and digital control panel
Works with double-hung and sliding windows
Operates at around 75 decibels
Long hose included
LG LP0817WSR 8
Looking for a sleek machine that’s packed with features? Check out this option from LG. It’s a modern portable AC that’s beautiful enough to fit with any home. Thanks to its 8,000 BTUs, the machine is perfectly capable of keeping moderately-sized rooms cool.
There are a few automatic features worth mentioning. The first is the dehumidifier, which will take care of moisture without any intervention from you. The second is the louvers. They move to eliminate hot spots throughout the room.
Midea MPF08CR81-E Portable Air Conditioner
Here’s another great option from Midea. Like the previous best seller we recommended, this one has some high-tech features that you won’t find in other air conditioners. This includes the proximity sensor, which adjusts performance based on the location of the remote.
This particular unit is best for smaller rooms. It will cool a room with up to 150 square feet without any issues. It has several adjustment options and an energy-friendly sleep mode. The sleep mode works to adjust temperatures at night without using up too much energy.
LED display and digital controls
Washable air filter
Enklen Portable Air Conditioner
Next up, we have this unique portable AC unit from Enklen. It’s an evaporative cooler that works best in dry environments. This is an ultra-portable air cooler. It has a handle for carrying. You could even hang it on a ceiling or wall if you wanted to.
To use this machine, just fill the reservoir with cold water. It’s possible to add ice for an even bigger cooling effect. Once you turn the unit on, it can drop the temperature in the immediate vicinity for up to 8 hours.
Operates for up to 8 hours
High-density air filter
Very portable design
Light enough to hang on a wall
hOmeLabs 14,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner
This portable AC unit features a dual-hose exhaust system. The main duct is designed to be installed in your window. It comes with a window kit that fits several designs for convenience. The second hose is reserved for the dehumidifier. A small pump pushes the moisture out of this hose to ensure that your room stays dry.
This particular air cooler works for large rooms up to 600 square feet. It’s quite efficient and comes with several performance options to get the feel of your room just right.
Sleek control panel
Honeywell 10000 Btu Portable Air Conditioner
Last, but not least, we have this model from Honeywell. It’s a heavy-duty portable AC that can treat rooms with up to 450 square feet of space. You can install this unit in only a few minutes. Thanks to the extendable duct hose, you have a lot of flexibility in terms of placement.
This unit has a powerful dehumifier. It can remove up to 80 pints of moisture in a single day. Pair that with the multiple performance options and you have a device that can keep you cool all summer long.
Dual dust filter
Smooth caster wheels
Extendable duct hose
How Does a Portable Air Conditioner Work?
Portable AC units work very similarly to larger central air systems. The only difference is that all of the crucial components to make air cooling possible are built into a compact unit that you can move from room to room.
Basically, an air conditioner starts by pulling in hot air. A powerful motor within the unit sucks in air through a large vent. Most often, this vent is equipped with some kind of filtration system. As a result, many systems do double-duty as an air purifier to improve air quality. Though, the air-cleaning capabilities of a machine are largely dependent on the design of the air filter. Generally, the filter is there to prevent dust and hair from clogging up the system as the air moves on to the next steps.
Once the air has been pulled in, it will go over a refrigerant system. This looks very similar to a radiator. However, the coils are filled with a refrigerant solution that cools the air down rapidly. The refrigerant is constantly moving through these pipes to get rid of any heat they accumulate.
Then, the air will go through the dehumidifier process. As the air cools, the moisture in the air will turn into vapor, which is collected by the unit. The cool dehumidified air is then sent back out of the machine through the air blower. Meanwhile, heat exhaust and moisture are sent out of your home through a hose.
Most portable AC units will need some kind of venting to work properly. We’ll get into the specifics of that soon. Typically, most manufacturers will include a hose and mount that you can easily install on your window.
Portable Air Conditions vs Window Units and Evaporative Coolers
There are a few different cooling machines available. Oftentimes, people will mistake portable air conditioners will window units or evaporative coolers. While they all serve the same purpose, these are very different devices that get the job done in a distinct way.
Portable AC units are standalone devices. Despite their portable nature, they are quite hefty. Depending on the model you choose, the machine could tip the scales at around 80 pounds! However, that doesn’t affect portability as much as you would think.
Manufacturers utilize caster wheels so that you can roll the system to your living room, garage, and any other space that needs cooling. The units have a relatively compact footprint as well, ensuring that they don’t take up a ton of space.
Window units are very small, too. This is especially true when compared to central air conditioners. As the name would suggest, these machines are built to be installed onto a window in the room. They work the same way as a portable AC unit, but the exhaust and moisture drainage components are built right in.
The downside of a window unit is that they’re not portable. Not only that, but you can no longer use your window! They are installed on your sill and must be mounted into the frame using special hardware. If you have a traditional double-hung window, there is no way that you can open it up to let the fresh air in without having to remove the entire appliance out of the way.
Also referred to as swamp coolers, these machines are very unique. They don’t really condition the air in the traditional sense. Instead, they use water and mist to treat dry hot air. Usually, there’s not a powerful blower or multiple fan speeds to control operation.
These can be beneficial if you live in an area with very little humidity. They don’t need an exhaust hose. All you have to supply is water.
If you do have humidity in the air, evaporative coolers are not the way to go. There’s a reason why they are called swamp coolers! They can make the room feel very damp and muggy, which defeats the purpose of cooling.
Small Portable Air Condition Buying Guide
Finding the best portable air conditioner for your home is easier said than done. These are complex machines. Unlike many appliances, bigger is not always better! To ensure that you’re getting a machine that works for your needs, we’ve created this buying guide with all the information you need to know.
First things first, let’s talk about BTUs. BTU stands for British Thermal Units. It’s a unit that’s used for many appliances that deal with heat. Essentially, it refers to the amount of thermal energy required to raise 1 pound of water 1 degree Fahrenheit at sea level.
In the world of air conditioners, you can just look at it as a device’s cooling power. Think of it as a unit’s ability to remove heat from the air.
As we mentioned earlier, more BTUs are not the answer if you want to cool your home efficiently. If you go too high, you run the risk of experience moisture and performance problems. Meanwhile, getting a machine with not enough BTUs will make the machine struggle to reach your desired temperature.
The trick is to match the BTUs of an air conditioner with your room size. Manufacturers offer systems with a wide range of BTUs. Generally, you’ll need approximately 20 BTUs per square footage. So, a larger room will need more BTUs than a smaller one.
Here is a quick rundown of some recommended BTU ratings based on room size:
150 square feet: 5,000 BTUs
250 square feet: 6,000 BTUs
300 square feet: 7,000 BTUs
350 square feet: 8,000 BTUs
400 square feet: 9,000 BTUs
450 square feet: 10,000 BTUs
550 square feet: 12,000 BTUs
700 square feet: 14,000 BTUs
1,000 square feet: 18,000 BTUs
1,200 square feet: 21,000 BTUs
Now, several factors can affect a system’s cooling capacity. While the room’s size is certainly an important consideration, you also need to think about what’s in the room. For example, if you have a living room with tons of windows, it’s going to get hotter than other rooms in your home. You might want to add about 10 percent more BTUs to overcome that issue. The same goes for a room with a hot appliance, such as your stove. For rooms with heat-generating appliances, we recommend adding a few thousand BTUs for good measure.
Whether you get a 5,000 BTU portable air conditioner or a 15,000 BTU portable air conditioner, it’s always important to think about your energy usage. Generally speaking, portable systems are much more efficient than central or window units. Most people will use them sparingly, which will keep your annual costs low.
However, you can cut back on your energy usage even more by going with an Energy Star model. The Energy Star seal of approval means that the unit meets government energy standards.
Manufacturers will designate a unit figure to help you determine how efficient a machine is. This figure is called the Energy Efficient Ratio, or ERR rating. To come up with this rating, the cooling capacity of the unit is compared to the number of watts required to run it. A lower ERR is always recommended if being energy efficient is a top priority.
The hot air and moisture have to go somewhere. Before you choose an AC unit, make sure that the exhaust system works for your home. As we mentioned earlier, most come with a simple exhaust duct that you can mount on your window. Typically, they come with a rigid plastic mounting plate that can extend to fit the width of your window.
To install it, all you have to do is open your window and stick the mount in place. The bottom of the opened window will keep it in place while creating a seal. From there, it’s just a matter of connecting the duct. Hose portable air conditioner units are very easy to install and don’t require any permanent work.
Some portable units also come with a dual-hose system. One hose will remove the hot air from your home while the other will take care of water pulled from the air. Dual-hose systems are relatively simple to install as well.
No air cooler is complete without multiple performance options. To get the right temperature in your home, you need an adjustable thermostat and several fan speeds.
More affordable models come with simple dials that you can turn. They don’t have exact measurements to work with, but they offer more than enough versatility to get things just right. If you want the most flexibility possible, stick to a portable unit with digital controls. You can choose the exact temperature and modify the power of the blower fan.
Some units also have dehumidifying controls. They can be useful if you live in a particularly humid environment where moisture raises the temperature to unbearable levels.
Another thing worth considering is automatic functionality. Like central air conditioning, many portable units have smart thermostats that can be set to work at specific times. You can program the system to turn on before you get home from work or whenever the temperatures reach a certain level.
Air conditioners aren’t exactly known for being the quietest machines around. Most will hover around 40 to 60 decibels when the compressor on. For reference, a normal conversation at a comfortable volume is about 60 decibels. Keep this in mind, as having a louder unit in your living room can affect the way you relax.
Smart Home Compatibility
Do you have smart home gadgets? If so, you can easily find units that work with your systems. Some of the big-name brands have technology that’s compatible with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. They connect to Wi-Fi. So, you can take control of your unit with your voice. You can also pair the machine with other devices to control everything from your smartphone.
Even if you don’t spring for a portable unit with smart home technology, you can still take control of your cooling capabilities from across the room. Many brands are starting to include remote controls with their air conditioners. They allow you to turn the system on and make some basic performance adjustments.
Finally, you need to think about the unit’s portability. Like we said earlier, these machines can be quite heavy. If you need true flexibility in your system’s placement, look out for models with caster wheels and side handles.
On average, most portable AC units are going to take up very little floor space. They’re usually somewhere between 12 and 18 inches wide. They are a bit taller, measuring around 2 to 3 feet tall.
Portable air conditioners are a great investment that will keep you cool during the worst heat waves. They’re easy to install and are much more energy-efficient than central systems and window AC units. Give one of our recommended picks a try and see how much relief it will provide during those sweltering summers!