Portable air conditioners: buy the right one and stay cool this summer

Temperatures rise steadily as summer approaches. If you sweat at home, a portable air conditioner could be exactly what you need. These plug-in units are designed to cool rooms using a nearby window and power cord.

No expensive installation required, they can be a great help for rooms that are not air conditioned or do not get enough air. They are also useful in buildings with windows that cannot fit a standard window AC unit. Here’s everything you need to know if you’re looking for a portable air conditioner.

How Portable Air Conditioners Work

Portable air conditioners are different from window units; they are more like tower fans or air purifiers that can easily fit in the corner of most rooms.

Like the dryer vent that exits your home through a nearby window or wall fitting, portable air conditioners use a hose to vent moisture and exhaust out of your home. You should get a window vent kit with your purchase, and it includes everything you’ll need to connect the pipe to your window and seal off the rest of the window’s open space.

Your portable air conditioner will plug into a nearby power outlet and draw air through its system to cool it and circulate it throughout your space. Most units include a water tank to help dehumidify the air it circulates. Others use their vent pipe to evaporate this moisture.

There are two main types – single-hose and double-hose – and they work differently. We’ll take a look.

Single-hose portable air conditioners

A single-hose portable air conditioner works by taking in the warm, stagnant air inside your room, cooling it, and then circulating it around your space.


In single-pipe units, the pipe exhausts hot air and moisture to the outdoors.


Any excess warm air or moisture is vented from your space through the portable air conditioner’s window vent pipe. These models, like this Black & Decker model are generally more energy efficient than twin-pipe models.

Dual Hose Portable Air Conditioners

Dual-hose models do not use the air inside your home. Instead, they pull fresh air from outside through that pipe attached to the window. This is the air that the portable air conditioner will cool and then circulate around the room.


In double-pipe units, a pipe takes air from the outside to cool it and circulate it throughout the room. The other pipe exhausts additional warm air and humidity to the outside.


A second pipe takes hot air and excess humidity and exhausts them out the window. These units will generally cool a room faster.

What to Look for in a Portable Air Conditioner

Once you’ve decided that a portable air conditioner is right for you, there are a few things to consider.

Plan where you will put it

You may already know which room in your home needs cooling, but you’ll also need to think about where you’re going to put it. You will need nearby access to an operable window that can act as a source of ventilation. You will also need a nearby electrical outlet.


Portable air conditioners are not cheap. Small personal models can cost around $50, but for a unit that will cool an entire room, you’ll likely spend at least $200. The larger and more powerful the unit, the more you will pay.

Many models available online range from $250 to $499 for rooms between 200 and 650 square feet. Seasonal items like air conditioners tend to go on sale out of season, so keep an eye out for fall and winter deals.


Size Matters! Cliche? Yes. True? Yes too. You need to know the coin size to determine how much circulating power you should buy. Portable air conditioners come in different sizes, and often that means different prices too.

Here is a quick guide, from the air conditioner manufacturer Sylvaneassuming 8 foot ceilings:

  • 7,500 BTUs will cover 150 square feet x 8 foot ceiling = 1,200 cubic feet
  • 9,000 BTUs will cover 200 square feet x 8 foot ceiling = 1,600 cubic feet
  • 10,000 BTUs will cover 300 square feet x 8 foot ceiling = 2,400 cubic feet
  • 12,000 BTUs will cover 400 square feet x 8 foot ceiling = 3,200 cubic feet
  • 13,000 BTUs will cover 450 square feet x 8 foot ceiling = 3,600 cubic feet
  • 14,000 BTUs will cover 500 square feet x 8 foot ceiling = 4,000 cubic feet

BTU stands for British Thermal Unit, a measure of how much heat an air conditioning unit can remove from a space per hour. Portable air conditioners use this unit to measure their cooling power, so the higher the BTU rating, the larger the room an air conditioner can cool.

Small parts: A 7,000 to 10,000 BTU unit can effectively cool rooms up to 300 square feet. This 8,000 BTU Midea Unit claims to cool rooms up to 150 square feet.

Medium rooms: For rooms between 350 and 700 square feet, you will need an 11,000 to 14,000 BTU unit. This 12,000 BTU SereneLife Air Conditioner says it cools rooms up to 450 square feet.

Large rooms: Residential units typically reach around 14,000 BTUs, which is enough for up to 700 square feet. For larger spaces, you will need to look to commercial or industrial models. A unit that is too small for your space will run too long and never effectively cool it to the desired temperature. There are a few exceptions though, like this 15,000 BTU residential Honeywell model which promises to cool up to 775 square feet.

If you need a portable cooling system for larger spaces but don’t want to pay commercial prices (they can skyrocket into the thousands), consider buying several smaller units and keeping them away from each other. others.

Read more: Deals on portable air conditioners

Additional features and useful tips


Some units work with an app so you can make adjustments on the go.


Once you’ve figured out the right unit size, it’s time to think about additional features that might improve your experience. Here are some common extras and sample units.

Timer: Timers allow you to set cooling to start or stop after a certain amount of time or at a certain time of day.

Remote: A remote control will help you manage your air conditioning much more easily.

Dehumidification: Air conditioners that also dehumidify can help rooms feel less stuffy quickly.

Intelligent: Smart Portable Air Conditioners have Wi-Fi to connect to voice assistants for voice commands and routines or a mobile app.

Maintenance of your portable air conditioner

Portable air conditioners have air filters to keep the air circulating clean. It’s a good idea to clean the filter every two weeks for best performance. You can wash these filters with dish soap and warm water.

Since portable air conditioners also dehumidify to some degree, you’ll also need to empty your unit’s water drain pan, if it has one. Dual-hose models may not collect water if they drain most of the moisture through a second hose, so check your unit’s maintenance instructions for more information. Empty the drip tray often, before or after use, to prevent mold from forming.

Along with these two maintenance items, general dusting and wiping will keep your device looking fresh and in good working order. If you store it in cold weather, keep it in a cool, dry place.

With a little math and planning, you can solve your summer heat problems before they ruin the season with a portable air conditioner for your space.

Karl M. Bailey