Buyer’s Guide: 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.
In the ambient heat of summer, nothing beats walking inside to a blast of chilled air. But while air conditioning provides a welcome relief from high temperatures, central air or even window units aren’t always an option. Some homeowners live in a building with infrastructure that doesn’t support central air; renters may not have the option to renovate and install an HVAC system. If, in either scenario, a window is not large enough to accommodate a window unit, a portable air conditioner can offer a preferable alternative to sweltering in your living space.
As the name implies, portable air conditioners are movable units—in the sense that they’re not permanent, not that they’re particularly easy to carry from room to room—that blow cold air into an interior space. Standing at a couple feet tall, the entire unit sits inside the home and transfer heat outside through a window via an exhaust hose. While they eat up floor space and don’t run quite as efficiently as their window counterparts, the right model can still get the job done. That’s why, if you’re in the market, you need to be informed on what makes a unit the best portable air conditioner out there. Read on to learn the ins and outs of this type of appliance, and check out our three recommendations for the best portable air conditioner to help you beat the heat.
When choosing a portable air conditioner, aside from cost, 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 the singular 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 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 outdoor air to bring down the temperature of the condenser. The separate outtake hose disposes of the heat, humidity, and used air outside. While pricier, these units are more efficient and generally the wiser option, especially 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, but anything 10 or higher is ideal.
OUR TOP PICKS
Taking into account reviews from customers and experts alike—as well as the criteria outlined above—we’ve rounded up three picks for the best portable air conditioner on the market. Read up on then cool down with one of these top-rated units.
LG 8,000-BTU Portable Air Conditioner ($279)
Home Depot shoppers love the efficient and economical LG 8,000-BTU Portable Air Conditioner, which cools interior spaces up to 200 square feet. The single-hose unit comes with dehumidifier function, as well as an LCD remote to control the temperature, timer, and two fan speeds. The unit has an EER of 9, and it also features automatic shutoff, LED display panel, and a washable filter. At 54 decibels, reviewers note that it can run a bit on the noisy side, but those who like white noise may see it as a bonus. Available at Home Depot.
Honeywell MN10CESWW 10,000 BTU Portable AC ($385)
The home experts at The Spruce call the Honeywell MN10CESWW the best portable air conditioner. The 10,000-BTU single-hose unit, which is ideal for rooms under 350 square feet, is an affordable option with a 3M electrostatic filter and eco-friendly compressor. The auto-evaporation system dehumidifies up to 70 pints of moisture per day, and the no-drip design eliminates the need for cleanup. Complete with remote control, this portable AC unit is very quiet during operation. It’s available in three colors (white, silver, and black) and has an EER rating of 9. Available on Amazon.
Whynter Elite ARC-122DHP Digital Portable AC ($467)
After exhaustive testing, experts at Wirecutter named the Whynter Elite ARC-122DHP the best portable air conditioner of 2017. The dual-hose 12,000-BTU unit cools up to 450 square feet, and it uses a heat/drain pump to extract and dispose of heat and humidity in small spaces. In addition, the system boasts an EER of 12+ and a remote control, and it works well in rooms with high humidity. “We think this dual-hose unit will cool a room faster than other portable ACs, using the least energy, even in extreme heat,” says The Sweethome team. The unit has four modes of operation: heat, cool, dehumidify, and fan. Available at Home Depot.