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My 16-Step Guide For Buying The Right Portable Air Conditioner

Holly Curell

Written By

Holly Curell

Expert Reviewed By

Josh Mitchell

Last Updated On

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I know buying a portable AC can feel like rolling the dice. Will it actually cool you down or just blow hot air?

I've spent over a decade working with more portable units, and I've learned how to pick the right ones. In this guide, I'll share my insider tips and take you through my 16-step guide to choosing the perfect AC.

Follow this process, and I guarantee you'll end up with an AC that keeps you chilled on the hottest days and gives value for money.

Step 1 - Understand The Different Types of Portable ACs Available

While the names and descriptions can be confusing, there are two main types of portable AC - dual-hose and single-hose. 

I recommend single-hose ACs for basic cooling and dual-hose ACs for more powerful cooling.

I also use more niche portable ACs for my tent and RV, but they are still just single-hose ACs.

Dual Vs Single Hose - Why Dual Hose ACs Are Generally a Better Choice

Almost every online guide will tell you that dual-hose ACs are better than single-hose models.

SINGLE VERSUS DUAL

While they are typically more powerful, I use some single-hose models, like the Honeywell ‎MN4HFS9 as well and they have served me well over the years.

However, when it comes to performance, dual hose ACs are almost always the winners. The biggest reason being that dual hose ACs do not create a negative pressure inside the room.

Basically, to cool down the evaporator coils, single hose ACs suck in the air that is already inside the room thus creating a pressure gap. This literally turns your room into an air magnet that attracts air from the outside to get sucked inside your room from every nook and cranny.

Not only is this an inefficient way of cooling, but it can attract pollutants, smoke and microbes.

Dual hose ACs work similar to how traditional ACs work. Instead of using the air inside the room to cool the evaporative coil, dual hose ACs use outside air. 

You will notice that dual hose ACs often provide higher cooling and they are also generally more efficient.

Single Hose ACs do have their benefits though. They are cheaper, they are available in small BTU capacities (dual hose ACs are often limited to high cooling capacities only) and they are also portable. 

I find single-hose systems far simpler to set up and move, making them a better choice for those who need portability or less frequent cooling.

AC Type

Single-hose

Dual-hose

Operation

One vent to exhaust hot air out of the room.

Two exhaust vents, one to expel hot air and one to draw in outside air to cool the compressor

Pros

  • Simpler installation, with less risk of air gaps.
  • Single hose limits the heat radiating back into the room. 
  • Lighter and easier to move.
  • Typically more efficient with more cooling power.
  • Air being pulled in limits negative pressure.

Cons

  • Vented air can lead to negative pressure that draws hot air in.
  • Dual hoses create more opportunities for air gaps and inefficiencies.
  • More complicated installation and less portable.

Best for

  • Those who want a lighter, more portable unit.
  • Homes that need less frequent cooling.
  • Smaller areas
  • Larger areas
  • Homes that need longer-term cooling.
  • Hotter climates that need more cooling power.

Ventless Vs Vented Portable ACs - Why Brands Set Out To Confuse Consumers

Ventless and vented are two terms I’ve seen thrown around by brands but all true portable air conditioners (dual-hose or single-hose) need proper ventilation out a window or door to function.

Brands label these as ventless ACs because they do offer cooling. However, just because they provide cooling doesn’t mean they’re true ACs, meaning that they use refrigerant to cool the air.

I have covered these ventless AC alternatives in my complete guide on ventless air conditioners, and I do recommend them for situations in which venting is tricky. 

Recently, I have found one true AC that is the exception to the rule, and doesn’t require venting and can operate with or without a vent hose. The Coolzy is the first of its kind, and is considered a personal AC. 

It’s not as powerful as most portable ACs, but it does use refrigerant to provide real AC-level cooling.

Why Evaporative Coolers Are Not Air Conditioners

I have seen a lot of people get tripped up thinking that evaporative coolers, or 'swamp coolers' are the same as air conditioners. They aren't, and they work completely differently.

evaporative coolers are not portable ACs
  • Evaporative coolers blow air over wet pads to add moisture and create a cooling effect.[1]
  • A true portable AC uses refrigerant to cool the air and lower the temperature. 

The AC mechanism is more complicated, requiring a compressor and refrigerant, but achieves much better results. 

Evaporative coolers like the Hessaire MC61V are cheaper than portable air conditioners and can make a difference in hot, dry climates (I used one when exploring Nevada a few years ago). 

However, they rely on moisture and are ineffective in humid conditions. I only recommend them for personal, short-term cooling in a dry environment.

Camping / Tent Air Conditioners (Often Battery Powered)

Compact, portable ACs designed for outdoor use are typically called camping, tent, or RV air conditioners.

I don’t recommend tent ACs for home use beyond emergency cooling, but they can be a lifesaver for outdoor summer adventures. 
ZeroBreeze Mark 2 for Camping

I use them when out adventuring or occasionally in my garage workshop when the temperature spikes. 

For me, the main considerations are cooling output, power options & charge time, and weight.

Pros of Tent ACs:

  • Smaller and more versatile - most are under 18 inches tall for easier placement. 
  • Lightweight - typically weighing under 40 lbs with some ultra-light models. I always choose tent ACs that I can comfortably carry by hand. 
  • Multiple power sources - options include rechargeable battery packs (usually lasting 2-10 hours), portable power stations, and adapters to connect to generators, car batteries, or a standard household outlet. I prefer models like the Zero Breeze Mark 2 with multiple power options, but it depends on what you have available.

Cons for Tent ACs:

  • Limited cooling output - typically under 5,000 BTU and usually just 50-200 square feet of coverage. 
  • Fewer features - even the premium models (like the EcoWave Flow 2) lack the dehumidification and adjustable settings of standard portable ACs.

Step 2 - Choosing the Right Cooling Capacity Of Your Portable AC

The size of your portable AC is as important as the make or model. I recommend measuring the space(s) you will use it in and choosing a BTU capacity to match. 

What’s The Size of the Room That Needs Cooling?

Understanding the room size you’re cooling will allow you to choose the most suitable portable AC. Follow these steps:

  1. 1
    Measure the length and width of the room.
  2. 2
    Multiply the length by the width to get the square footage.
  3. 3
    Measure the ceiling height - 8 feet is standard, but older homes can be higher (I recommend adding 1000 BTU for each foot above 8 feet).

To work out the area of irregularly shaped rooms, I split the space into rectangular sections, measure, and add the square footage figures together. 

I recommend checking the specs for RVs and tents to get accurate measurements.

You should be left with an accurate room size so you can choose an AC with BTU capacity to match.

What BTU Capacity Portable AC To Go For

What is BTU and Why Does It Matter?

BTU stands for British Thermal Unit, measuring how much heat an air conditioner can remove from a space per hour. 

ROOM COVERAGE

The BTU rating is the cooling output of the AC and should match the size of the space and the environmental conditions. Larger spaces need more BTU, and hot conditions need more BTU. 

An AC with the wrong BTU capacity will either be ineffective or inefficient.

I typically find 20-40 BTUs per square foot is about right, but it can vary.

Room Size (sq.ft)

BTU (ASHRAE) Required

150

5000

250

6000

350

8000

450

10000

550

12000

750

14000

1000

18000

1400

24000

1900

28000

2700

35000

* These figures are based on ideal cases with standard ceiling height, good insulation, average equipment, and average sun exposure. The actual BTU you need may differ.

ASHRAE vs SACC DOE BTU Ratings

There are two commonly used variations of BTU ratings:

  1. 1
    ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers) BTU ratings are based on standardized testing conditions [2]. They give a theoretical maximum cooling capacity. 
  2. 2
    SACC (Seasonally Adjusted Cooling Capacity) ratings by the DOE (Department of Energy) is the BTU figure that accounts for real-world conditions like humidity, insulation, cycling patterns, and heat radiating back into the room [3]. They give a more realistic cooling capacity rating. 

Short Cycling vs Undercooling - The Importance of Choosing The Right BTU

I can’t stress enough how important the BTU sizing is for portable ACs.

If oversized (too high a BTU rating), it will short cycle - with the unit switching on and off constantly, wasting energy [4].

If it’s undersized (too low a BTU rating), it will run nonstop but undercool the space, so the room never gets comfortably cool. 

Take the time to calculate the right portable AC BTU if you want to avoid sweating or paying higher energy bills.

How To Calculate The BTU Capacity You Actually Need

I’ve learned from experience that the actual BTU capacity you need will depend on several factors. Here are the rules I use to find the accurate BTU requirements:

BTU Capacity

Factor

Impact on BTU output

Area (in square feet)

  • Allow 20-30 BTUs per square foot.
  • For high ceilings, add 1000 BTUs for each 1 foot over 8 feet.

Climate

  • Add 10% for every 10°F above 80°F.

Insulation

  • Add 20-30% for poorly insulated rooms that let more heat in.

Occupants

  • Add 600 BTUs per occupant above 2 people as they give off more body heat.

Equipment

  • Add 300-600 BTUs for TVs and small appliances giving off some heat. 
  • Add 1000-1200 BTUs for PCs and large appliances giving off more heat.

Windows

  • Add 10% for unshaded south-facing windows that catch the most sun.
  • Add 5% for other windows letting heat in.

Sun Exposure

  • Add 10% more BTUs for rooms with direct sun exposure getting more heat.

Example calculations

So as an example, for a 350 sq ft room in a hot 95°F climate, with poor insulation, 3 occupants, a TV, and west-facing windows:

8,000 base BTU rating based on room size + 1,500 (hot climate) + 2,400 (insulation) + 600 (extra occupant) + 400 (TV) + 400 (windows) = 13,300 BTUs needed.

Remember, these BTU ratings and adjustments are just a rough guide based on my experience, but accounting for these factors will help you size more accurately.

ACLAB Note:

The ratings above are all shown in ASHRAE BTUs - the theoretical maximum. The actual SACC DOE BTU ratings will account for real-world conditions and be roughly 20-40% less.

The BTU Range Available For Portables ACs

Portable ACs typically range from 5,000 to 15,000 BTUs (ASHRAE), with some smaller tent ACs under 3,000 BTUs.

The BTU output will vary depending on the design, size, and intended use of the AC:

  • Smaller units, like the 5100 BTU ECOFLOW Wave 2, can only cool tents, RVs, or small rooms.
  • Larger ACs, like the 14,000 BTU Midea MAP14HS1TBL , can cool larger living spaces.
  • Single-hose portable ACs are usually less powerful and max out at around 10,000-12,000 BTU (enough for bedrooms and living rooms but not large open spaces).
  • Dual-hose portable ACs are more powerful - I recommend them for areas that need 12,000 BTU or more. These efficient units will give you the cooling power to keep larger spaces comfortable.

Related Article: 12000 BTU ACs Compared

Should You Trust A Model’s Official Rated Coverage?

The BTU ratings for different portable ACs are useful to help you buy the right size, but I only use them as a rough guide.

  • ASHRAE BTUs come from ideal testing scenarios, not real-world living conditions, and some models I have used performed 20-40% less than expected.
  • SACC ratings come from DOE (Department of Energy) testing in certified labs.

As with many marketing schemes, a brand is always going to focus on what makes them appear to be the best, and sometimes that means making understanding the specs as tricky as possible. 

I recommend carefully considering your home environment, working out what you need, and using the BTU rating as a guide.

You'll quickly learn whether you need more or less cooling in your home. 

The table below gives approximate BTU ratings needed in different scenarios:

Room Size (sq ft)

Base BTUs needed

Hotter Climates

Poorly Insulated

More Occupants

Lots of Equipment

More Windows

Higher Sun Exposure

100-200

5,000

5,500

6,000

6,200

6,200

5,500

5,500

200-300

6,000

6,600

7,500

8,400

7,200

6,600

6,600

300-500

8,000

8,800

10,000

10,400

9,200

8,800

8,800

500-700

12,000

13,200

15,000

15,600

13,200

13,200

13,200

700+

15,000+

16,500+

18,000+

18,600+

16,200+

16,500+

16,500+


Step 3 - Learn About EER and Why It Matters

The EER is the efficiency rating of the unit. Portable ACs are not held to the same energy standards as central units, but more efficient models can save you money in the long run. 

I recommend understanding the efficiency vs upfront cost vs frequency of use to get the best long-term value. 

What is the SEER/EER Rating of Portable ACs

There are two efficiency ratings used for portable ACs: EER and SEER:

  1. 1
    EER (Energy Efficiency Ratio) measures how efficiently a portable AC will operate when the outdoor temperature is at a specific temperature, usually 95°F [5]. This figure is more common, and the higher the EER, the more efficient the unit.

The average EER rating is between 6 and 10, and I consider anything above 8 excellent. Tent ACs are typically under 7 EER.

Portable AC energy efficiency
  1. 2
    SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) estimates the overall efficiency over an entire cooling season, accounting for fluctuations. Again, the higher the rating, the more efficient the unit. I prefer SEER ratings (if the manufacturer provides them) because they give a more complete picture. 

The average SEER is slightly lower, typically 4-8, and I consider anything above 7 good. Tent ACs are usually under 5 SEER.

ACLAB Note On EER Ratings:

Portable AC EER ratings on official and marketplace listings are often confusing, as some base them on DOE BTU, while others base them on ASHRAE BTU.

For the sake of uniformity, we are calculating EER ratings based on ASHRAE BTU, which is measured at 95 °F outside temperature, 80 °F inside temperate, and 50% relative humidity.

The formula used is
EER = BTU / Cooling Watts

Portable AC Efficiency vs Other AC Systems

The easy venting and portable design of portable ACs create inefficiencies compared to ducted central or mini-split ACs or fixed window ACs.

I have used some impressive modern ACs (like the 10.8 EER Whynter ARC-1230WN), but they usually have lower EER than other AC systems. 

Here's how they compare:

  • Portable air conditioners are usually 7-11 EER.
  • Window air conditioners are typically 8-15 EER
  • Mini-split ductless systems generally are 14-25 EER 
  • Modern central AC systems are typically 15-25 EER 

Are Portable ACs Energy Star Certified?

While I have seen some models advertised as ENERGY STAR certified, I haven’t found any portable air conditioners actually listed on the government Energy Star website [6]. 

ENERGY STAR certification shows that appliances meet strict criteria for energy efficiency set by the US Department of Energy and involves independent testing. 

The program doesn’t seem to cover portable ACs and focuses more on room, window, or central ACs,

I recommend sticking to the EER and SEER ratings.

How To Determine Their Running Cost

You can work out the approximate running costs using the:

  • BTU rating.
  • EER rating.
  • Average electricity rate (kWh) in your area (check your electricity bill for this).

Calculation: 

(BTU rating x 0.9) / ( EER x 1000) x Electricity Rate = Cost per hour

ACLAB Note:

I multiply the BTU by 0.9 to account for typical portable AC inefficiencies and give a more accurate figure.

Example:

So, for example, if you assume a BTU of 8000, a EER of 8, and an average electricity rate of $0.15 per kWh:

(8000 x 0.9) / (8x1000) x 0.15 = $0.135 per hour 

You can multiply this figure by the usage hours to get the daily, monthly, and annual running costs.

The larger the portable AC, the greater the running costs but the more you can save with a higher EER model. 

The table below illustrates the annual costs for different portable AC sizes and EER ratings, assuming a $0.15kWh rate and 500 usage hours annually.

BTU Rating

EER 4.0

EER 6.0

EER 8.0

EER 10.0

1500 (small tent ACs)

$68

$45

$34

$27

3,000

$135

$90

$68

$54

5,000

$225

$150

$113

$90

8,000

$360

$240

$180

$144

10,000

$450

$300

$225

$180

12,000

$540

$360

$270

$216

14,000

$630

$420

$315

$252

Do I Really Need a High EER Portable AC?

Higher EER portable air conditioners are more energy-efficient, which can lead to lower electricity bills over time. On average, an increase of 2 EER can save 20-30% in running costs. 

However, while that saving can be significant on paper, I find high EER portable ACs are often not worth a higher upfront cost because it can take years to recoup the extra money spent.

In my experience, higher EER portable ACs are usually only worthwhile if:

  • You use the AC frequently.
  • You don't overpay for the more efficient model.
  • The unit lasts long enough to realize the savings.

ACLAB Note On Inverter Compressors:

The most efficient portable ACs have an inverter compressor.

Portable ACs like Midea MAP12S1TBL and Whynter ARC-1230WN are the most efficient with 10.8 EER rating. 

Working Out The Cost Savings

  • The average cost for a 12K BTU 8 EER portable AC is $350
  • The average cost for a 12K BTU 10 EER portable AC is $550

That means you pay around $200 more for an EER rating two points higher.

If we assume they are both used in identical conditions and produce 12000 BTUs, here are the differences in running costs:

 

Hourly cost

100 hours

200 hours

500 hours

EER 8

$0.20

$20

$40

$100

EER 10

$0.16

$16

$32

$80

Running cost difference

$0.04

$4

$24

$20

In this example, you must run the higher-EER portable AC for 850-2,500 hours to realize the savings!

Good quality portable ACs can last 6-10 years, so you need to use them for at least 150-500 hours a year to justify the cost of the higher-EER model.

Is A Higher EER Portable AC Worth It In Hotter Climates?

Investing in a 2 EER more efficient model can lower your running costs by 20-25%, but you only see a significant dollar saving when you use the portable AC frequently.

I only recommend spending more on high EER models if you use them for more than 150 hours a year. 

Efficient portable ACs can save you a lot of money in hotter climates because you will run them frequently (often daily). 

The table below shows how climate can impact usage and running costs:

 

kWh cost

Average daily run time

Average days run a year

8 EER annual cost

10 EER annual cost

Potential annual running cost

Arizona (Hot climate)

$0.16

8-12 hours

150 days

$259-$388

$206-$309

$52-$79

Illinois (Average climate)

$0.14

4-6 hours

100 days

$76-$113

$60-$91.2

$16-$21.8

Maine (Cool climate)

$0.15

2-4 hours

50 days

$20-$40

$16-$32

$4-$8


Step 4: Consider the Noise Levels of Portable ACs

Portable ACs can be surprisingly noisy in a small space. To maximize comfort and prevent disruption, I recommend: 

  • Under 70 decibels for louder workshop use.
  • Under 60 decibels for general residential use.
  • Under 50 decibels for tents or RVs. 

How Loud Are Different dB Levels

I appreciate that we don't think of things in terms of decibels, so let me give you a frame of reference [7]:

  • 30dB: Whisper, library
  • 40dB: Refrigerator humming
  • 50dB: Moderate rainfall
  • 60dB: Conversation, dishwasher
  • 70dB: Vacuum cleaner, hair dryer

Portable air conditioners are usually around 50-65 decibels, around the level of a standard conversation.

Noise Level

What is the Average Noise Level of Portable ACs

Portable air conditioners usually operate at around 42-70 dB. The decibel rating you need will vary depending on where you plan on using it.

I recommend:

  • Quiet portable ACs under 55 dB in small rooms. I use the 52 dB Whynter ARC-122DS in my small garage gym.
  • Portable ACs under 60 dB for larger spaces (like the Black+Decker BPT10HWTB 14000 BTU AC). More powerful cooling usually means more noise, but keeping it below this noise level will limit the disruption.
  • Ultra-quiet Inverter AC - Portable ACs with inverter compressors like the Midea MAP12S1TBL are the quietest in the market. They operate at 42 dB rating.
  • Ultra-quiet tent ACs under 45-50 dB for RV use or camping. I use the 44 dB EcoFlow Wave 2 in my tent.

ACLAB Note:

Portable ACs with inverter are not only energy efficient, but also very quiet. They are, however, expensive.

Dual-hose models typically run 5-10 decibels louder than single-hose portable ACs because the two/fan exhaust system generates more noise.

Comparing Portable AC Noise Level With Window and Mini Split ACs

Despite being the most compact AC systems, portable ACs tend to be louder than window, mini-split, or central AC units for 3 key reasons:

  1. 1
    They have large compressor units in compact casing - other systems house the compressor outside.
  2. 2
    There’s little/no sound insulation around the compressor system
  3. 3
    The exhaust hose(s) can add extra noise.

The table below shows the relative noise levels:

 

Portable AC

Window AC

Mini-Split System

Central AC

Average Decibels

  • 40-65 dB


  • 50-65 dB
  • Older models can be noisier.
  • 25-55 dB
  • Noise levels from outdoor units can be higher.
  • 45-80 dB
  • Outdoor units will produce more noise but it’s less noticeable.
dB comparison

Noise You Perceive Is Related To How Close You Are To Your AC

My 50 dB portable AC can often seem louder than my high-powered 80 dB central AC system. There are three key reasons for that:

  1. 1
    Central ACs/mini-split systems house the compressor outside, so you don't hear it through the wall.
  2. 2
    Larger AC systems have sound insulation around the compressor to minimize noise.
  3. 3
    The portable AC compressor is usually only a few feet away and protected by a thin casing. Even though the mechanism is smaller, it's more noticeable.

Even window ACs are less noisy because the compressor is outside your home.

How To Minimize The Noise

Unlike window ACs, you can position your portable AC to limit the noise. Alongside buying a quieter model, I recommend:

  • Positioning portable ACs on level surfaces to minimize vibrations
  • Placing the unit away from walls or furniture to reduce noise reverberation
  • Using foam insulation panels around the window kit to minimize noise from the exhaust.
  • Adding a sound barrier (like rugs, curtains, or acoustic panels) to dampen the noise.
  • Performing regular maintenance to tighten loose parts and reduce any strain.

Step 5: The Physical Footprint of Portable ACs

Make Sure You Have Enough Area In Your Room

Measure the space accurately and find an AC that will fit because one of the biggest mistakes I see homeowners make is assuming all portable ACs are compact enough to fit anywhere. 

Unlike mounted window ACs or central ACs fitted out of the way, portable ACs take up physical floor space and you may need to move things to fit it in.

Average Sizes of Portables AC

Portable ACs come in all shapes and sizes. There are ultra-compact tent ACs like the Zero Breeze Mark 2, and some, like the 19.6" x 17.5" x 34.6" LG LP1419IVSM, have a much larger footprint. 

Generally small portable ACs have a footprint of less than 10,000 cubic feet.
small portable AC BTU

In my experience, two main factors influence the size of the AC:

  • Cooling output/BTUs:
    The higher the BTUs, the bigger the physical dimensions because the compressor and condenser coils are larger.
  • Dual hose vs single hose:
    Dual hose ACs are usually bigger because they have a second intake/exhaust and fan system. The extra hose also adds to the overall footprint. 

Despite the different dimensions, there are similarities across models:

  • Most portable ACs are rectangular/cuboid shapes for mobility.
  • Heights and width stay reasonably consistent, whereas length varies most based on cooling power - making larger portable ACs more noticeable in your home.

The table below shows the average dimensions for different ACs, but I recommend checking the portable AC specs for the exact dimensions.

BTU Range (ASHRAE)

Average Length (inches)

Average Width (inches)

Average Height (inches)

1500-3000 BTU

12-18

10-14

12-16

3,000-6,000 BTU

18-26

12-16

14-18

6,000-8,000 BTU

25-28

14-18

16-20

8,000-10,000 BTU

26-30

16-20

18-22

10,000-12,000 BTU

27-32

18-22

20-24

12,000-14,000 BTU

30-34

20-24

22-26

14,000-16,000 BTU

31-36

22-26

24-28


Step 6: Placement and Venting Options

Place Near A Window Is Recommended For Easy Venting

Window venting is usually the simplest solution and my go-to option. Window venting is done with a window kit, sealing the exhaust hose in place. 

Most portable ACs have a vent hose around 5-10 feet (with extension options), so for easy venting, I recommend placing your AC no more than 8 feet from the window with space to run the exhaust hose out.

If there’s no window available, you can use a door, but then you’ll have to seal up the entire door, which is more work and looks very noticeable.

venting options for portable ACs

Portable ACs Have to Be Vented To the Outdoors Instead of Indoors

Portable ACs need cool air to remove heat and moisture and must be vented inside. Venting inside could raise the temperature in your home and make the AC ineffective. I've even seen improper venting damage AC systems. 

Find a window or door and use it to vent the portable AC.

Can You Lengthen The Hose?

The hose length dictates where you can place the unit.

The standard hose length is 6-10 feet, but some portable ACs have optional extension kits reaching 25-30 feet.

These ultra-long extensions do have some benefits, but there are three major drawbacks:

  1. 1
    A long exhaust hose can stop the AC from properly cooling the air and make it inefficient.
  2. 2
    Overextended exhaust hoses can strain the machine and void the warranty (most manufacturers advise against them).
  3. 3
    Extensions can be poor quality - even if bought as part of a package with the AC.

I only recommend lengthening the exhaust hose if absolutely necessary and instead trying to move the AC closer to a window or door. 

You Will Need to Get a Portable AC Window/Door Kit

Window kits create a seal around the exhaust, preventing hot air from entering the unit and allowing the AC to run efficiently.

Most portable ACs I’ve bought come with a window kit, but you’ll have to buy your own in some cases. 

There are two options:

  • Fabric kits
    Made with a flexible, lightweight fabric that can expand and contract. These are cheaper and easy to install, and I recommend them for temporary use. 
  • Plate/panel kits
    Made with rigid plastic plates that create a tight seal around a window or door. These are harder to fit but are more secure and provide better efficiency. I prefer these for semi-permanent installation. 
Window Seal

Which is best?

I normally use plate kits for doors and fabric kits for windows but most work on either. However, I recommend checking the specific specs before you buy to make sure it’s compatible with your windows and doors. 

Kit for Sliding vs Casement Windows

I've had some challenges installing window kits on casement and sliding windows, but most kits will work on them. It's just more complex.

I recommend considering the types of windows you're venting through and the kit you need to buy with your portable AC.
  • I find fabric kits better for casement windows because the flexibility accommodates the crank window motion. The plate kit will provide a tighter seal, but the heavier weight can impact the operation of the window in the long term.
  • I prefer plate kits for vertical and horizontal sliding windows. These work far better with the sliding window motion and are much sturdier when the window slides. The tighter seal also improves efficiency. 

Dual Hose Vs Single Hose Kits

The hose kit you need will depend on whether you have a single or dual-hose portable AC:

  • Single-hose kits are the most common, with just one gap for an exhaust hose venting hot air outside.
  • Dual hose kits have two holes; one exhausting hot air out and one drawing cool air in.

Check the number of outlets on your portable AC and find a window/door kit that is compatible. 


Step 7: What Condensate Draining Option Is Suitable For You?

As the air cools in your portable AC, condensate (moisture) forms and gathers in the system. This condensate must be emptied from the system.

The drainage options will vary between portable ACs and I recommend considering which is best for you so you can choose the right model.

Do Portable ACs Have to Be Drained?

All portable ACs create condensate, but not all portable ACs need drainage. It depends on the portable AC and the mechanism:

  • Standard Portable ACs: Regular portable ACs have a water collection bucket, which needs to be manually emptied when it gets full. Most of these models can be fitted with a gravity drain. 
  • Fully self-evaporative portable ACs: More advanced models use heat to evaporate the moisture.

Drainage Options Available

If you have a partially self-evaporative portable AC the draining method will vary depending on your unit:

Manual Self-Draining (Bucket, Pans)

Operation:

Self-draining portable ACs rely on you manually emptying the unit by placing a pan or bucket under the AC and opening the spigot to let water drain out. Once empty, you just pour the water away.

Pros
  • No equipment needed
  • Highly portable, with no fixed drainage
  • Usually the cheapest option
CONS
  • Requires the most effort
  • Risk of overflow or impacted performance if not emptied frequently

Best For?

I only recommend this drainage in less humid conditions where less frequent emptying is needed.

Using a Garden Hose (ATTN: This Relies on Gravity)

Operations:

This draining method involves attaching a hose to the portable AC and connecting it to a low drain. Gravity pulls the water down the hose into a floor drain or lower-level drainage system. It won’t work if you need to pump water upwards. 

Pros
  • Continuous drainage.
  • No manual emptying is required.
  • Cheap and fairly easy to set up.
CONS
  • Reliance on gravity and requires access to a lower drain.
  • Fixed drainage makes the AC less portable and limits placement.

Best For?

I like the effortless continuous drainage option for removing moisture quickly. I recommend it for ACs in a garage, basement, or ground floor room with an accessible drainage point.

Using Condensate Pump

Operation: 

A condensate pump connects to your AC through a hose and pumps moisture up and out of your home - I usually it in my garage to direct water up and through the window because I don’t have a floor drain. 

Pros
  • Great for continuously removing water quickly.
  • No need for a floor drain.
  • Allows for flexible hose routing options and more versatile placement.
CONS
  • Usually requires purchasing a separate pump for $40-$100 (although some high-end models, like the Whynter ARC-122DHP, have them built-in).
  • Some installation effort is required.
  • Less portable once set up.

Best For?

It’s cost vs convenience, but condensate pump draining is ideal for hot, wet environments and homes without floor drains.

I highly recommend it for those living in humid areas with lots of condensate to drain.

Step 8: Are Self Evaporating Units Worth It?

My customers often have confusion over self-evaporating portable ACs, because that word evaporative is often tied to evaporative coolers.

As I noted in my section above, evaporative coolers are not portable ACs.  The difference couldn't be more different:

  • Evaporative Coolers: These units are technically not air conditioners. They start with a tank of water, which evaporates over a cooling pad and emits the cool moisture into the air (increasing humidity). 
  • Portable Air Conditioners: Portable ACs begin with empty tanks, and draw moisture from the air by passing it over a refrigerated coil. As mentioned above, most of these models need to be drained. There are some models, though, such as the Whynter ARC-1230WN, that are fully evaporative and require very little, if any, draining. 

How Do Self Evaporating Models Work?

Self evaporating portable ACs use patented technologies to make the units' condensation drainage as hands-off as possible (under normal working conditions). 

There are two primary ways that these models remove condensation out of the exhaust:

  1. 1
    Some portable ACs recycle condensation by using it to cool the condenser coil. Any residual moisture is then routed out the exhaust vent. 
  2. 2
    Models such as the Midea MAP12S1TBL have a dual hose exhaust system that allow the unit to evaporate more water, and exhaust it more quickly. 

The downside is that self-evaporating units are often more expensive upfront. However, I find that the cost is offset by how often I have to empty a condensation bin!

ACLAB Note:

In extremely humid conditions, homeowners will still need to empty the condensation bin manually. I've had customers tell me that the self-evaporating feature on their unit is "broken," but in reality, it just can't keep up with the demand of intense humidity. It will go back to functioning as usual when humidity levels return to less than 60%.  


Step 9: Do You Need Strong Dehumidification Capability?

Portable air conditioners are surprisingly good at removing moisture from the air as a byproduct of the cooling process, but many portable ACs also have a specific dehumidification function. 

I recommend buying portable ACs with a reasonable dehumidification function if you live in a humid area. It's not vital in milder conditions but can make your home more comfortable.

Do All Portable ACs Have a Dehumidifying Mode? 

In my experience, almost every portable AC has a dehumidification function, usually as part of ‘3 in 1 functionality (fan, cooling, dehumidifying). 

ACs remove some moisture during normal operation, but in dehumidification mode, the compressor runs with a slower fan speed, extracting more moisture from the air.

How Effective Are Portable ACs At Dehumidifying?

I've always found portable ACs effective dehumidifiers in small spaces, with some models (like the Whynter ARC-1230WN) removing up to 87 pints of moisture a day. 

The exact dehumidification correlates to the BTU cooling output, with larger and more powerful ACs extracting more moisture every hour.
The table below shows what I expect from different BTU portable ACs with dehumidification modes:

BTU Range

Expected Average Pints Moisture Removed Daily (pints)

1500-3000 BTU

Under 10

3000-6000 BTU

10-25

6000-8000 BTU

25-40

8000-10,000 BTU

30-50

10,000-12,000 BTU

40-60

12,000-14,000 BTU

60-100

What Impacts The Dehumidification Rate?

If you need dehumidification and cooling, check the specs of your portable AC before you buy.

Just remember that the dehumidifying capacity given is in optimal conditions. 

The actual moisture removal rate will vary depending on the:

  • Design and purpose - If find tent AC dehumidification noticeably limited compared to residential portables.
  • Airflow in and out of the AC - more airflow means more moisture removal.
  • Drain efficiency - how fast the AC can get rid of condensate.
  • Quality of the unit and compressor - high-quality units can maintain dehumidification performance better than others.

Step 10: Power and Wall Outlet Considerations

Portable ACs can run using a wall outlet, battery pack (like the EcoFlow Wave 2), or alternative power source. 

I recommend checking the power source options and where you have available wall outlets, as this will impact your installation and placement.

Place The AC With Wall Outlet Into Consideration

I recommend planning your installation so your portable AC sits comfortably within 4-5 feet of the outlet. Most ACs have a 5-7 foot power cord, but it can vary, so check before you buy. 

Can You Use Extension Cords?

I have used extension cords in specific installations, but I try to avoid it for 3 main reasons:

  1. 1
    They can be a fire hazard (especially cheap extension cords) because power-hungry portables can overheat the wiring - especially on 10,000 BTU+ models [8].
  2. 2
    It can void the warranty because manufacturers don't recommend using them.
  3. 3
    It can create tripping hazards with long wires. 

I recommend placing your AC where it can reach the outlet. If you must use an extension, invest in heavy-duty extension cords- like the Iron Forge Cable. [9]

These are 15-20 amp rated and can handle the AC’s power needs without any voltage drop issues.

A Dedicated Branch Circuit Is Recommended

A dedicated branch circuit is a circuit that has just one appliance, limiting the power draw and letting it function without tripping the circuit breaker.

I always use a dedicated circuit for central ACs, but it's not always necessary for portables.

Home circuits can handle 15-20 amps, usually enough for portables, but it all depends on the power draw of the unit:

  • Larger portable ACs (10,000 BTU+) need a dedicated circuit.
    These can draw a lot of power, especially when turning on, and are more likely to overload the circuit if used alongside other appliances. 
  • Small or average-sized portable ACs (5000-8000 BTU) don't always need a dedicated circuit.
    They typically draw 5-10 amps of electricity, which most household circuits can handle alongside smaller appliances - depending on the exact power draw. 

15 AMP vs 20 AMP Circuit

Your home circuits will either be 15 or 20 amps - this is the maximum amount of power draw they can manage before the circuit trips to prevent a surge.

You can check the amps by looking in the breaker/fuse box. 

In my experience, 20 amp circuits are best for portable ACs because they are less likely to trip the breaker.

However, all but the largest portable ACs (12,000 BTU+) will work on a 15 amp circuit.
For safety, you should always use below 80% of the amp limit (12 amps for a 15 amp circuit and 16 amps for a 20 amp circuit) [10]. I recommend checking the AC specs compared to the circuit amperage to ensure it won't overload the outlet.

ACLAB Note:

Only a licensed professional should attempt electrical work as it can be hazardous, so do not try it yourself.

115 vs 220 Volts

Voltage is the power supplied from your outlet, and most homes run on 115-120V power [11]. Most portable ACs are rated for 115-120 voltage, and I've only seen pricy commercial units require 220-240V for extra cooling power.


Step 11: Do You Also Need Heating?

I don’t usually recommend portable AC/heater combo units unless you have limited space and need heating and cooling in a small room without using two appliances. There are three reasons for this:

  • They cost more
    These combo units work by reversing the AC process with a relatively complex process. This engineering usually adds $200-$300 onto the price of high-end models. 
  • The choice is limited
    Major brands like LG, Whynter, Frigidaire, and Honeywell have a few AC/combo units, but they tend to be pricey. Most budget portable ACs lack heating functionality.
  • The heating output is far less than you think
    I value the versatility of the combo units like the LG LP1419IVSM and Whynter ARC-1230WNH, but the heating is often disappointing compared to the cooling. You can check the specs to see the BTU heating output for each.
While combo portable ACs can save you money on buying a separate heater, I find they only work in mild conditions in a small space.

Step 12: How Difficult Is It to Maintain

I prefer low-maintenance appliances and recommend portable ACs that take less work. I look for models that require the least possible manual input, ideally with the following:

  • Washable filters that only need to be cleaned every 4-8 weeks.
  • Pre-filter systems to protect the internal components
  • Self-evaporative system/built-in condensate pump to automatically remove moisture.
  • Automatic restart, so it runs after an outage.

However, all portable ACs require more hands-on maintenance than central, mini-split, or window AC systems. It’s important to understand the maintenance requirements and stick to a consistent maintenance schedule.

Are The Filters Washable?

Portable AC air filters collect dust and airborne particles. Top-tier portable ACs have built-in air purification systems, but they all have at least a basic filter. 

Proper maintenance of these filters is vital, and there are two options:

  1. 1
    Reusable filters that require washing every 1-2 months.
  2. 2
    Disposable filters that require replacement every 1-3 months.
I recommend washable filters because they are more economical and can save you $50-$100 over the lifetime of the AC. 

However, disposal filters are best for those who prefer low-maintenance models. 

I also recommend finding a unit with easy-to-access filters, like the BLACK+DECKER BPACT14HWT with a slide-out filter system.

Is The Condensate Spigot Easy to Access and Drain?

If you are considering a partially self-evaporative portable AC, I recommend ensuring the spigot is easy to access and the AC is placed so you can drain it easily. I prefer units that fit a small bucket underneath, not just a tray. 

Trust me, this easy-access draining will save lots of time in the long run.

What Automatic Restart Features Does It Have?

Power cuts happen across the US, and I hate spending hours resetting my appliances after an outage.[12]

Modern portable ACs, like the Frigidaire FHPC132AB1, have automatic restart features that will restore the system settings as soon as the power comes back on, meaning there’s no manual input needed.

If you want uninterrupted cooling, I highly recommend an AC with an automatic restart feature- particularly for those living in outage-prone areas. 

Does It Give Reminders?

I have a lot of appliances running in my home, and it's a challenge to stay on top of them. I value ACs with automatic reminders which tell me exactly what maintenance is needed.

These reminders can be indicator lights on the unit or app notifications (depending on the model). 

If you lead a busy life, I highly recommend a portable AC with reminders/alerts.

Step 13: Other Quality of Life Considerations

I recommend finding a portable AC that looks good and is easy to use. These aren’t the most important factors, but they can help you get more from your AC. 

Is It Aesthetically Appealing?

One of the biggest changes I have seen with ACs over the past decade is the design. Modern portable ACs are not just more compact and powerful, they also blend into the home. 

I'm not as picky with my outdoor ACs, but I prefer residential ACs with unobtrusive designs, sleek shapes, and neutral colors.

Most brands have some stylish options, but these are the brands I recommend for the most aesthetic portable ACs:

  • LG
  • Frigidaire
  • De’Longhi
  • Whynter
  • Dreo

Is It Remote Controlled?

I look for portable ACs with remote controls because I often install units in hard-to-reach places. In my experience, any mid-range and high-end portable ACs (over $300) have remote control options, with two varieties:

I recommend always buying a portable AC with a remote control because it makes life easier. I prefer app control because it has a longer range and provides diagnostics - but these units are more expensive. 

  • A physical remote control.
    This is the most common option and usually has a remote with buttons to activate/program the portable AC - although the button/control options vary across models. The range for these is typically 20-30 feet.
  • An app remote control.
    This modern remote control is typically only found in premium models, like the high-end LG LP1419IVSM & Whynter ARC-1230WNH. The app lets you control the AC and view diagnostics using an app on your phone. It requires WiFi connectivity but means you can control it from anywhere.
I recommend always buying a portable AC with a remote control because it makes life easier. 

I prefer app control because it has a longer range and provides diagnostics - but these units are more expensive.

Does It Provide WiFi and Smart Connectivity

Portable ACs with ‘smart’ connectivity can connect to the internet and integrate with other appliances.

They have become increasingly popular because they let you:

  • Remotely control and monitor the portable AC from a smart device.
  • Set schedules and adjust temperatures remotely.
  • Connect to smart home systems, allowing for single-point control of all HVAC systems.
  • Better manage energy usage and improve home comfort.
  • Check maintenance needs and receive alerts.

The downside of this functionality is that it is a lot more expensive and is only found in top-tier portable ACs, like the Frigidaire FGPC1044U1, Midea MAP12S1TBL, and Whynter ARC-1230WN

I love smart appliances, but I only recommend WiFi-enabled portable ACs for those with flexible budgets and more demanding cooling needs.

Step 14: Consider the Warranty Coverage

Warranties are one of my key considerations because they help to protect the investment and give value for money.  

Most portable AC warranties range from 1-5 years, but you usually get more coverage on more expensive units:

  • Low-end models (under $250) typically have 1-2 years warranty.
  • Mid and high-end models usually have a 3-5-year warranty (the longest I've seen is the 6-year complete appliance warranty on the Whynter ARC-1230WN).

At a minimum, I recommend a 1-year warranty for affordable portable ACs and 3 years for high-end portable ACs. 

Brand

Average Warranty Length

LG

2-5 years

Whynter

3-5 years

DeLonghi

2-4 years

Honeywell

3-5 years

Frigidaire

3-5 years

Haier

2-5 years

Midea

1-2 years

Hisense

1-year labor, 2 years parts, 5 years compressor

Black+Decker

2-3 years

SereneLife

1-2 years

Emerson Quiet Kool

1-year labor, 2 years parts, 5 years compressor

Della

1 year

hOmeLabs

1-2 years


Step 15: Choosing the Right Brand

Popular Portable AC Brands To Look Out For

Choosing the right brand is half the battle, and that’s why I always go back to the same names time and time again.

Brand

Price Point

Key Features/Best For

EcoFlow

Premium

Portable ACs designed to provide high-powered cooling outdoors.

Whynter

Premium

Industry-leading, efficient, and powerful cooling. Mostly dual-hose design

LG

Premium

Smart home integrations and industry-leading technology

De’Longhi

Mid-Premium

Quiet operation with lots of customizable cooling modes

Frigidaire

Mid-Premium

Easy installation and efficient cooling for mid-to-large rooms.

Midea

Mid-range

High-efficiency portable ACs with smart home compatibility.

Honeywell

Mid-range

Reliable cooling and dehumidifying at an affordable price point.

Black+Decker

Mid-range

Compact size, energy-saving features, and easy setup for smaller rooms.

Soleus Air

Mid-range

Energy-efficient at a competitive price point, some ENERGY STAR certified models.

Haier

Low-mid

Affordable, but feature-rich. Good value for money.

SereneLife

Low

Affordable and good for basic cooling needs.

Della

Low

Affordable options for smaller rooms.

hOmeLabs

Low

Budget-friendly portable ACs, but with plenty of variety to match different needs.

CostWay

Low

Affordable models that offer solid cooling and some integration options.

Portable AC Brands To Avoid

Almost every brand has at least one decent model to choose from, but there are four brands I recommend avoiding based on my experience:

  1. 1
    Arctic King
    These budget-friendly residential coolers just don’t have enough cooling capacity. I found them ineffective in larger spaces, and even the personal Arctic Air Chill Zone cooler couldn’t keep my tent temperature down.
  2. 2
    Kogan
    Kogan is not as well known as other brands in the HVAC industry, and I’ve only used them a handful of times. However, I find they underperform by around 30-50% of the advertised BTU rating, and their operation is noisy (some running over 75 dB). Kogan is not a brand I would run back to.
  3. 3
    Friedrich
    Friedrich is a mid-range brand that produces some reasonable units (the ZHP14DB & ZCP12DB perform well), but I generally find them overpriced. They are less reliable than other mid-range brands, and the installation is overcomplicated. I don’t think they can justify the $400+ price tag most of their models carry.
  4. 4
    Honeywell (the low-grade models)
    Honeywell has a good name in the HVAC industry, and I’ve used their products for years. However, over the last decade, they’ve moved production overseas and noticeably impacted the quality of their low-tier models (flimsy casing, poor-quality coils, etc.). I recommend sticking to the high-end Honeywell models.

Step 16: How Much Do You Want To Spend?

I recommend budgeting at least $400-$500 for a good-quality portable AC - but your budget needs to match your cooling needs.

High BTU models will cost more, and you should be prepared to spend more to get the cooling you need (see Step 2 to work out your BTU requirements).

What Impacts The Price?

There are portable ACs to suit a range of budgets:

  • Entry-level basic portable ACs are around $150-$300 (for affordable models I recommend a brand like SereneLife or hOmeLabs).
  • Mid-range units are typically $300.
  • High-End ACs often have dual hose and have an inverter compressor like the Midea Duo MAP12S1TBL. These can cost between $500-$700.

These are the main factors I’ve seen noticeably impact the price:

  • Cooling Capacity/BTU rating:
    Higher BTU ratings mean more cooling capacity and coverage. These models cost more because they have larger, more expensive compressor systems. 
  • Dual-hose vs single-hose:
    Dual-hose models are almost always more expensive because they have more complicated systems, greater efficiency, and more coverage. 
  • Brand reputation & warranty:
    Established brands like Whynter and LG have spent decades establishing a solid reputation. They often charge more but use the best quality materials, have the most advanced features, and invest the most in innovative products. 
  • Features & Technology:
    Portable ACs with advanced integration, WiFi connectivity, smart control, and dehumidification will cost more. 
  • Quality:
    Quality ACs are made with durable parts and are longer-lasting. You pay more upfront but get much better long-term value. 

Portable AC vs Window AC Cost

Window ACs are generally less expensive for the same BTU capacity, which means you get more cooling output for the price.

However, window ACs offer less flexibility in placement and can only be used on one fixed area.

If you only need to cool one room, I recommend exploring window AC options because they can be 20-50% cheaper. 

However, if you need more versatility, portability, and less frequent cooling, you can’t beat a portable AC.

Average Price vs BTU Output

The bottom line is that the BTU output is the most important factor. You can downgrade the tech, features, and aesthetics, but you can’t scrimp on the cooling output. Always budget for an AC with enough BTU for the job.

The table below shows the average price for portable ACs and window ACs with different cooling capacities:

BTU Capacity

Portable AC Price Range

Window AC Price Range

1,500-5,000 BTU

$150-$400

$150-$300

6,000 BTU

$300-$550

$220-$350

7,000 BTU

$350-$600

$250-$400

8,000 BTU

$400-$650

$300-$450

9,000 BTU

$450-$700

$350-$500

10,000 BTU

$500-$800

$350-$600

11,000 BTU

$550-$850

$400-$650

12,000 BTU

$600-$900

$450-$700

13,000 BTU

$650-$950

$500-$750

14,000 BTU

$700-$1000

$550-$800

15,000 BTU

$800-$1200

$600-$900

Note: The cost is determined by more than the BTU and this table just shows the average price range for different cooling capacities. 


References: 

  1. https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/evaporative-coolers
  2. https://www.ashrae.org/
  3. https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2023/05/15/2023-09755/energy-conservation-program-test-procedure-for-portable-air-conditioners
  4. https://www.ncfac.com/blog/air-conditioning-service/short-cycling-ac-why-its-bad/
  5. https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/room-air-conditioners
  6. https://www.energystar.gov/products/room_air_conditioners
  7. https://www.iacacoustics.com/blog-full/comparative-examples-of-noise-levels
  8. https://www.cpsc.gov/s3fs-public/5032.pdf
  9. https://www.amazon.com/Appliance-Extension-Cord-Heavy-Duty/dp/B07ZS2X5VB
  10. https://www.homelectrical.com/understanding-capacity-your-circuit-breaker.6.html
  11. https://quick220.com/pages/north-american-voltage-ranges
  12. https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=61303 
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Holly Curell

Managing Editor & Writer

Holly Curell
Holly is an experienced writer and editor who specializes in technical manuals, and safe and efficient home appliances. When she’s not writing, Holly enjoys reading, hiking, and the odd glass of wine.

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