Buyer’s Guide: The Best Portable Air Conditioners
Looking to beat the heat but unable to install a window AC? We've broken down important shopping considerations to help you choose the best unit for your home.
Window AC units and full-blown central air conditioning systems aren’t a viable option in many homes and buildings. Fortunately, in these situations it’s often possible to fall back on one of the most flexible climate control technologies around—portable air conditioners.
True to their name, portable air conditioners are, well, portable—especially when compared to virtually all other types of equivalent cooling solutions.
The portable AC unit sits entirely inside the home, transferring heat to the outdoors via an exhaust hose. While they take up floor space and don’t run quite as efficiently as their in-window counterparts, they are your best bet in many scenarios.
If you’re in the market for a portable air conditioner, you need to be informed as to what makes one unit better than, or different from, another. Read on to learn the ins and outs of the category, and to find out which models we’ve selected as top picks.
- BEST OVERALL: Whynter 14,000 BTU Air Conditioner
- BEST FOR QUIET OPERATION: COSTWAY 10,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner
- BEST FOR HUMIDITY CONTROL: hOmeLabs 14,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner
- ALSO CONSIDER: Honey 12,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner
When choosing a portable air conditioner, consider these important factors above all else:
Single-hose vs. dual-hose models: Homeowners should first decide whether to buy a single-hose model or a dual-hose model. A single-hose unit pulls warm air from the space around it, cools it down, and disposes of heat and moisture through one hose that leads outside. These models are typically cheaper than their dual-hose counterparts, but they have significant drawbacks. Since the unit relies on already-cooled indoor air to bring down the temperature of the condenser, a lot of energy goes to waste. Plus, single-hose models create a negative pressure within the room, and hot air is subsequently drawn back inside to even out the room’s pressure. This, in turn, creates a “back-to-square-one” situation.
On the other hand, dual-hose units have both an intake and outtake hose. The intake hose draws in outdoor air to bring down the temperature of the condenser. The separate outtake hose disposes of the heat, humidity, and used air from the indoor space. While pricier, dual-hose units are more efficient and generally the wiser option, particularly for larger spaces.
Energy-efficiency: Generally speaking, the cooling capacity of air conditioners is measured in British thermal units (BTU). Models with a BTU rating of 10,000 or higher are typically the most efficient at cooling a room—but the higher the BTU, the louder and heavier the model.
Perhaps more important than a unit’s BTU is its energy efficiency ratio (EER). A higher EER rating equates to greater efficiency, because the EER indicates the ratio of the air conditioner’s BTUs per hour to its power input, measured in watts. In other words, you need more BTUs to cool a larger space, and some units are built with greater energy efficiency than others. The EER weighs output and input against each other to tell you how effective and efficient your unit will be. Many portable air conditioners have EER ratings between 8.5 to 10. Any rating higher than 10 is ideal.
The Best Portable ACs
With input from consumers and experts alike, and in keeping with the criteria outlined above, we’ve rounded up our favorites among the best portable air conditioners on the market today. Read up on, then cool down with, one of these top-rated units.
BEST OVERALL: Whynter 14,000 BTU Air Conditioner
To cool a larger room in your home up to 500 sq. ft. in area, it’s tough to beat the highly efficient Whynter 14,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner. The key to its energy efficiency rating of 11.2 EER? Dual hoses—one for intake and one for outtake. This design enables the unit to operate with less energy than is required by the average single-hose model. (Just note that between the two types, dual-hose ACs are slightly more difficult to set up and move.) Additional features include a 24-hour programmable timer, a remote control, an easy-to-read digital display, variable fan speeds, and a window kit that makes it substantially easier to install the air hoses than it would be otherwise.
BEST FOR QUIET OPERATION: COSTWAY 10,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner
If you’re a light sleeper worried about the noise level of your air conditioner keeping you up at night, or if you’re just sick and tired of listening to lower-quality appliances drone on and on, this is the unit for you. The COSTWAY 10,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner features multiple modes, including a quiet sleep mode in which the unit emits only a gentle hum while maintaining a preset temperature all night (or day). In addition, with an energy efficiency rating of 10.3, the COSTWAY is, an ongoing basis, cheaper to run than many peers.
BEST FOR HUMIDITY CONTROL: hOmeLabs 14,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner
Sure, all portable air conditioners remove humidity from the air, but the hOmeLabs is different. This unit is designed to remove up to 100 pints of water from the air per day, making it a great choice for homes in humid regions. On top of that, there’s a built-in dehumidifier that can function independently of cooling—just the thing when temperatures are cool but humidity runs high. The 10.2 EER unit comes with a remote control, a drain hose, a programmable timer, and it even features a quiet sleep mode.
ALSO CONSIDER: Honeywell 12,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner
Quickly cool down rooms up to 550 sq. ft. with the Honeywell 12,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner. Homeowners love its sleek design and good looks, but more importantly, they appreciate that it works wonderfully well and incorporates many features for added usability and convenience. For instance, the Honeywell features auto evaporation. That means, unlike many other models, this one doesn’t require you to empty a water tank or run a drain hose to an existing drain. Rather, the unit simply evaporates the moisture automatically as it removes humidity from the air. Don’t overlook the efficiency of the Honeywell either. Its energy efficiency rating (EER) of 9 is darn close to being best in class.