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2017 Buyer's Guide

The Quietest Portable Air Conditioner Units

The white noise from an air conditioner can be louder than you might think.

2017 Buyer's Guide

The Quietest Portable Air Conditioner Units

The white noise from an air conditioner can be louder than you might think.

by jtanner

Most room air conditioners are in the 50 – 60 decibel range, or about the same volume as light traffic or conversation. Here are a few options to keep things quieter.

Those who live in homes with central air conditioning may be used to the loud whir and hum of an AC unit getting started, but because the unit is outside, it doesn’t generally matter if the unit is loud. With portable air conditioners, however, the unit is fully inside your home, so for your own personal comfort, it may be important to you to invest in the quietest portable air conditioner.

At Air Conditoner Lab, we’ve spent hours researching the industries top units from brands like Honeywell, LG, Haier, Whynter, EdgeStar, Friedrich and more. Our research included nearly 40 portable AC models that ranged in strength from 8,000 BTUs to 14,000 BTUs.

In the end, we found that the average noise level for portable air conditioners is about 53 decibels, which is about the same as light conversion or nearby traffic. According to Yale Environmental Health and Safety, this is also about the same as the hum of an average household refrigerator. For reference, a vacuum operates at about 75 decibels.

So, the noise produced by a portable AC isn’t extremely loud, but if you’re used to sleeping or living in a quiet room, it can be a noticeable addition of white noise. For some people, this actually works well: babies can often sleep better when there’s white noise in the background that mimics the echoed sounds of the womb.

For other situations and users, keeping background noise to a minimum is key.

The Quietest Portable Air Conditioner

After reviewing the top models on the market, we found that the quietest best performing unit is the  Haier HPC12XCR, which is also our recommendation for the top small portable AC. Because of its small size, it keeps noise to a minimum, at just 50 decibels, but with 12,000 BTUs of cooling power, it’s strong enough to keep your room consistently cool.

If you need something larger and with more strength, the quietest high-performance portable unit is the Friedrich PH14B, which operates at about 51 dBA. This model has a BTU rating of 13,500, which makes it the quietest unit at that level.

Typically, units in the 13,500 – 14,000 BTU range operate at about 56 decibels, including the Whynter ARC-14SH.

Last, we also recommend the Whynter ARC-122DHP, which runs at about 52 dBA – still below the average noise level for most units. The ARC-122DHP is routinely named one of the better performing models on the market, and its dual-hose technology and clean styling make it one of the more pleasant choices for a room air conditioner. While it may not be the absolute quietest unit available, it’s one of the best combinations of quiet performance and solid cooling capability.

Models We Recommend Avoiding

Although the noise range for portable ACs is small, we found several models that had higher than normal decibel ratings: the Kenmore 84126, which operates at about 60 decibels, and the Tripp Lite SRCOOL12K, running at about 57 decibels.

How We Found the Quietest ACs

We researched and analyzed approximately 40 models that are well-known and readily available from retailers like Amazon, Home Depot, Sears and the like. From there, we found the manufacturer’s stated decibel rating for the models, then compared to those with the consensus from users to get a better idea of their “real-world” noise level.

To explain, the stated decibel level can be different than the actual decibel level, which can be tested using a decibel meter. So although we focused on the manufacturer’s data, we also wanted to confirm that users were satisfied with the overall noise level of their units. Often, consumer feedback is the best way to get a good idea of the actual – rather than advertised – noise you’ll be dealing with.

On the other hand, we also consider that many reviews and reviewers are not necessarily objective; one reviewer who lives in Manhattan might find 53 dBA to be comfortable and even necessary, while someone who lives a quiet life in a rural area may find that much white noise to be distracting.

To that end, we reviewed and ranked our models on a combination of stated decibel rating, overall unit performance and user feedback. We also looked at industry reviews from resources like The Sweet Home, Your Best Digs, Home Depot and others to get an idea of trends in the market.

To clean up our data and process, we did not qualify any unit that did not have a manufacturer stated decibel rating. In some cases, this disqualified units from trustworthy brands, but we didn’t want to include these models to keep the ratings reliable and consistent.

We found that the average decibel rating for the 37 units was approximately 53.4 dBA. Twelve models had a rating below 53, and 11 models had a rating of 55 dBA or more. The larger 14,000 BTU units were nearly all 54 dBA or higher. The only model that was above 12,000 BTUs and still had a lower decibel rating was the Friedrich PH14B.

For future tests, we will be buying our own units to read the “real world” decibel ratings of the models placed in various rooms: living rooms, bedrooms, offices and so on. This will give us a better understanding of how manufacturer-stated ratings relate to the actual noise level produced by a unit.

Our Top Pick

haier HPC12XCR quiet acThe Haier HPC12XCR was also named our top recommendation for small units, so it’s no wonder that the model excels in this area as well.

Haier did an excellent job of keeping this single-hose model efficient: it’s dimensions keep the unit compact and less loud than its counterparts, but it still delivers excellent cooling performance. (Read our review of the best small units to learn more about why the Haier HPC12XCR was our top pick in this category)

The Haier HPC12XCR can cool a room up to 450 square feet, though this depends on the layout of the room, orientation toward the sun and the environment outside (humidity, direct sunlight, etc.). If you have a room larger than 450 square feet, the Friedrich PH14B offers stronger cooling performance that can work in rooms up to 700 square feet.

A remote control, digital panel and air circulation features makes the Haier HPC12XCR a good pick for today’s modern user. An auto-evaporative setup means you don’t have to manually drain the unit, which is extremely convenient for those who have to leave for extended amounts of time and still want the unit to run. Units without this technology will run until their water containers are filled, and then typically shut off.

The Haier HPC12XCR offers several fan speeds and has a top-flow design that keeps rooms cool. As with portable ACs in general, this model has its share of users who say it doesn’t cool the room as fast as they’d like, but this is often the result of higher-than-normal expectations. After all, a portable unit has all of its components in the room that it is cooling, so these are often less efficient than many users expect initially.

With all that said, the Haier HPC12XCR is an excellent choice if you’re trying to keep your background white noise to a minimum. Because of its small size, it fits in easily to small bedrooms and the smooth aesthetics don’t make it stick out like many bulky home appliances do.

It’s easy to use, easy to clean and quiet, and for those reasons the Haier HPC12XCR is our top pick for the quietest portable AC unit of 2017.

The Quietest High-Performing Portable AC

Friedrich PH14B quiet air conditionerFor rooms larger than 450 square feet, or rooms with direct sunlight that need better cooling, consider the Friedrich PH14B, a 13,500 BTU unit from “the experts in air conditioning.” The company was started in 1883, and today they make some of the finest air conditioning products because of their rigorous field tests.

Friedrich claims that the PH14B cools rooms up to 40 times faster than normal units, and although it’s one of the more powerful models on the market, it’s still quiet at 51 dBA. Those looking for a hybrid of quietness and cooling power will find the PH14B more than capable.

Where the Haier model above uses only one hose to vent hot air, the PH14B is a dual-hose AC that works more efficiently because the air that’s warmed by the unit’s components is vented outside before it can circulate in the room, which is a common design flaw (though unavoidable) with single-hose units.

This makes the Friedrich more efficient than the Haier, though it is larger and more powerful, which is why it’s still slightly louder than the Haier. The negligible difference in decibels, however, means that for those with more demanding cooling needs, the PH14B is an excellent choice.

The PH14B is even more useful than most units as well: it also functions as a heater (as well as fan and dehumidifier). The heating capability of the unit is 10,700 BTUs, so if you live in a climate that has harsh summers and winters, then the PH14B can help eliminate the need for multiple appliances.

Like the Haier, the PH14B has self-evaporating technology that doesn’t require you to empty and fill water containers. It has a remote, 24-hour timer and auto-start capability in case it’s turned off by a power outage or user. Installation is easy with Friedrich’s quick-install kit, and the window kit works about as well as most industry-standard kits do. To make the unit work even better, consider sealing the air around the window kit with a simple tape seal.

A fully washable air filter makes it easy to maintain the Friedrich through summer and winter. The only downside of the PH14B is its weight and size: at 78 pounds, you may not be moving the unit very often, though it does come with casters that make it mobile.

Our Alternative Recommendation

Whynter ARC-122DHP quiet portable acAs an alternate recommendation, we found the Whynter Elite ARC-122DHP is an excellent model that focuses on cooling performance while minimizing background noise. Its decibel ranking of 52dBA is still lower than average, and it’s difficult to beat Whynter’s performance and reputation in the industry.

The Sweet Home recently named the ARC-122DHP its model of choice, stating that it was a clear winner in efficiency and overall user satisfaction.

“We think this dual-hose unit will cool a room faster than other portable ACs, using the least energy, even in extreme heat,” said the editors at The Sweet Home, which is now owned by The New York Times.

The ARC-122DHP offers 12,000 BTU cooling and 10,000 BTU heating capabilities, and comes with the standard features of most good units: remote, timer, digital settings and multiple functions (cools, heats, dehumidifies).

A window kit makes installation relatively easy, though we still recommend using tape or some sort of seal to keep the air in your room. The unit cools rooms to between 61° – 89°F and has a sel-evaporating feature that doesn’t require draining in most environments.

The ARC-122DHP isn’t quite as heavy as the Friedrich, but it is still hefty at 63 pounds, so size should be a consideration depending on how much space you have to work with.

At 52 dBA (stated), and potentially higher in real-world settings, the ARC-122DHP does get closer to the standard noise level for portable air conditioners, which we found to be around 53 dBA. If the humming of a regular home refrigerator doesn’t bother you, neither will the ARC-122DHP, though this may seem louder at night when getting ready to sleep.

Still, the ARC-122DHP offers industry-leading cooling performance at a noise level that’s below par for the course, so for those reasons we recommend it as a smart alternative to the Haier and Friedrich models above.

Which Unit is Best for You?

The Haier HPC12XCR is ideal for those who value quietness in a small space (under 450 square feet) over anything else. This model still performs well, but at 50 dBA and under 28 inches, its real strength is quiet, compact cooling.

The Friedrich PH14B is ideal for those with rooms larger than 450 square feet but smaller than 700; it’s great for users who want to keep noise down, but still get the efficiency and cooling power of a dual-hose portable AC.

Finally, the Whynter Elite ARC-122DHP is a great option for those who want industry-leading reputation and performance in a unit that still performs, according to the manufacturer, below the average decibel rating we found in our research.

Things to Keep in Mind

These recommendations are based primarily on the manufacturer’s decibel rating, as well as consumer feedback and industry opinion. It’s important to keep in mind that often, what the manufacturer states in their specifications can be different in real-world settings.

These companies use labs, field tests and third parties to verify and review their data, but at the end of the day, the way a product performs in your home depends on a number of environmental factors.

For instance, if you’re using a portable AC in a room that gets direct sunlight throughout the day, the room may be anywhere from 5 to 15 degrees hotter than other parts of the house, and you may need a stronger unit to cool the room – even if it’s in the specific square footage area of your AC model.

Energy Star Savings Table Air Conditioners

Source: ENERGY STAR

When it comes to noise level, the same concept is true. The stated decibels is often different than the actual decibels because of the way the singular product operates. Even if that specific product operates normally, it may be higher or lower than the stated decibel rating.

When testing the best portable units, Your Best Digs found that the actual decibel readings of their units was much higher than stated, which some units often getting into the 60 – 70 decibel range. This is much higher than the 53 average manufacturer-stated rating.

“There are two stages of sound levels for these units: ongoing, and the moment it turns on or off,” says Bryan Vu at Your Best Digs. “These units are all designed so that when they hit a temperature that now needs cooling, it hums to life, reaching its all-time loudest point—and vice versa when shutting down.”

In their findings, the Whynter model was significantly louder than the Haier model when turning on or off the machine, or while its running. These are the kinds of tests that prove that decibel ratings vary widely, and it’s something to consider while making your purchasing decision.

You’ll also want to consider that the ambient noise of each household is different. As we mentioned, homes, apartments and flats in loud, urban environments may have generally louder ambient noise to begin with, so an appliance operating at 53 decibels may not be too noticeable.

A quiet home with minimal outside noise may have lower levels of ambient noise, in which case 53 – 55 decibels can make a more significant difference in personal comfort levels.

Another consideration is the placement of the unit. Most portable ACs have a hose and power cord of 5 – 7 feet and require ventilation through a window, which means you may be limited as to where you can place the unit.

If the AC is further from your bed or desk, then the noise level will be lessened by the time it reaches you. Sleeping right by the unit, however, means that its humming will be much louder as its closer to you. If your window placement means the unit will be close to where you’ll sleep, work or relax, then you may want to go with a quieter, smaller unit.

If you’re cooling a larger bedroom or office and will be working or sleeping on the opposite side of where your unit will be, you can get away with a larger, louder unit that won’t disrupt your sleep or work as much.

These are all things to consider, and in the end often the only way to tell if the noise from a portable AC will bother you is to try them out. You can shop in person at places like Sears, or if shopping online, be aware of the return policies of units and manufacturers before you make a decision.

Portable AC Buying Guide

Make sure your machine is sized appropriately to your space.

As with any piece of climate control equipment you buy, you want to make sure you’re buying an appliance that’s suited appropriately to your space. We’ve included area ratings in square feet for all our recommendations, and you should compare those ratings to the space in which you want to use your new appliance.

If you’re going to be using it to cool a single room, the area of that room will be your total square footage. If you’re intending to use it for a condo or entire apartment, figure out the total area and use that as your size benchmark.

While you come up with your numbers, bear in mind that tested ratings are based on standard 8-foot ceilings. If yours are higher or lower than average, factor that into your estimates.

If you’re using one of these machines in a room that connects to another space, with an open doorway, you’ll want to assume that there will be a decent amount of airflow. So, include the total area of both rooms in your requirements.

Remember: always leave yourself some margin of error between what your machine can do and what you actually need! Just because a portable air conditioner can technically handle 500 square feet, you don’t necessarily want to force it to. By running one of these machines at the edge of its capabilities, you’ll burn it out faster, and end up with a machine that’s constantly at its highest speed (which is going to make it anything but quiet). So, round up slightly when you’re deciding between sizes of portable air conditioner!

Look at decibel ratings.

The simplest way to tell how quiet any appliance will be is to look at its decibel ratings! They’re usually listed in the tech specs, and we’ve included all the numbers we could find in our reviews. In general, you want to go for something between 40-60 decibels, with the lowest ratings being the best.

Most portable air conditioners fall somewhere in the 50’s, depending on the fan speed you’re using. That’s commonly considered the noise level of a quiet conversation. Bear in mind that most manufacturers list the highest noise level, so if you buy something large enough that you can run it at half speed, your actual noise level could be considerably quieter.

Decibels are also an exponential scale, so a little difference on paper can feel like a lot more in real life! On the decibel scale, noise levels double every 10 units, so there’s a pretty significant difference between 55 decibels and 50 decibels: 50%, in fact!

Don’t skimp on power.

While you’ll want to judge which size machine is best for your space, you should also consider that the primary factor in determining how loud an a/c unit will be is the fan speed you’re using.

With that in mind, we’d encourage you to slightly overpower your space. If you do so, your machine will have to work less hard relative to a smaller machine, meaning it can run at lower speeds and lower noise levels!

Try to avoid budget models if you can.

If you’ve bought any cheap appliance before, you know how light and rattly they can be. It’s true of portable air conditioners as well! The cheaper they are, the more lightly they’ll be built, which means less noise insulation and more rattling.

So, it’s always worth spending a bit more for something with thicker plastic parts and a heavier build to mask noise. The more expensive options also tend to be designed more efficiently overall, which usually has the side effect of making them quiet!

What’s Next?

We hope this guide has answered all your questions about how to find the quietest portable air conditioners, and pointed you to at least one model that would be appropriate for your needs. If so, click on the links in the reviews to see more details and check current prices on Amazon.

Still looking for your ideal unit? Don’t worry! Now that you know what you’re looking for, you can click through to see all Amazon’s best-selling portable air conditioners here, or head over to our best small portable ACs page to find more of our recommended models for all needs.

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