If a summer heatwave overwhelms your home’s air conditioning system, consider a portable air conditioner to provide relief in rooms that need it most. Portable ACs aren’t a substitute for central AC. However, they can come in handy for rarely used spaces, small rooms, upstairs rooms, or any other difficult indoor spaces to keep cool.

Read on to learn how to choose the best portable AC to stay comfortable despite the heat. 

    Consider Your Cooling Needs

    Before shopping, decide which rooms you want to cool and find out their square footage. Portable ACs have a defined cooling capacity in British thermal units (BTUs). Choose a model with a high enough BTU rating for the room size. Undersized units won’t provide adequate cooling, while oversized units will waste electricity.

    BTU recommendations:

    • 150 to 200 square feet: 5,000 to 6,500 BTUs
    • 200 to 300 square feet: 6,500 to 8,000 BTUs
    • 300 to 400 square feet: 8,000 to 10,000 BTUs
    • 400 to 500 square feet: 10,000 to 12,000 BTUs

    Measure room dimensions and match the BTU rating for optimal performance.

    Look for Key Features

    Portable ACs offer convenient features beyond basic BTU cooling power:

    • Casters provide mobility.
    • Digital controls allow adjusting the thermostat and timer.
    • Remote controls let you control the air conditioning from across the room.
    • Different fan speeds adjust airflow when needed.
    • Dehumidifier mode reduces humidity for comfort.
    • Adjustable louvers direct airflow. 

    Other handy features include washable filters to maintain performance, auto restart after power outages, and a programmable on/off timer. Compare features when shopping to find useful options for your needs.

    Look for Efficient Operation

    ac unit
    Image Credit: Canva

    Focus on ENERGY STAR-certified models, which meet efficiency standards to save electricity and money versus less efficient units. Also, check the Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER). The higher the EER, the more efficient the AC. Take note of the model’s manufacturer warranty.

    Units with a programmable timer function to run the AC only when needed use less energy by turning off while the space is unoccupied. 

    Understand Venting Needs

    You must understand how portable ACs vent hot air outside. This process usually involves a flexible exhaust hose from the unit to a nearby window. Choose a model with an exhaust hose and window venting installation kit. Make sure the hose reaches your window. Extensions are typically available if needed.

    Depending on the design and capacity output, portable AC units may use a single-hose or dual-hose venting configuration. The best portable air conditioner for your space depends on your specific needs. 

    Consider Maintenance

    While portable ACs typically require little maintenance, air filters should be cleaned monthly to maintain adequate cooling operation. Depending on your climate and conditions, condenser coils may require periodic cleaning. Be sure to read the owner/maintenance manual. Following the manufacturer’s guidelines is the best way to achieve long-lasting cooling and energy-efficient operation.

    Compare Installation Costs

    Expect to pay $150–$300 for professional window unit venting for a basic portable AC. Complex venting costs more. DIY installation is free if you are comfortable setting up the exhaust hose and window kit. Exercise caution and always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines. Be sure to factor in installation fees to determine the total cost if you do not plan to install the portable AC unit yourself.

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    Shop Smart to Save Money

    At major retailers, average prices for portable ACs range from $250–$600. Larger BTU capacities cost more. Look for summer sales on portable ACs with steep discounts. The savings help offset the cost. Buying an efficient ENERGY STAR model also saves on energy bills long-term. The extra efficiency is typically worth the higher initial investment.

    Portable AC Purchase Considerations

    Limited window access makes venting a portable AC difficult. Consider alternatives like a window AC unit or upgrading your central air conditioning unit or evaporative cooler.

    Portable AC units are louder than window air conditioners or central air systems. Research the published decibel ratings before purchasing if you’re concerned about noise levels.

    So, Are Portable ACs Worth Buying?

    For cooling a single room when required, portable ACs offer flexible relief without renovating your central HVAC system. Units with adequate BTU capacity and venting can sufficiently cool rooms up to 500 square feet. Focus on ENERGY STAR models with good EER ratings, useful features, and proper maintenance. These factors will help you choose the best portable AC to provide comfort on hot days.

    FAQs About Portable Air Conditioners

    How long do portable ACs last?

    Portable AC units typically last around 6 to 10 years with regular filter cleaning, periodic maintenance, and adherence to manufacturer guidelines.

    Can you run a portable AC with the window closed?

    No. Portable ACs cool indoor spaces by transporting the heat in the indoor air to the outside of your home. Without a properly configured vent kit, it’s impossible to cool an indoor space using a portable AC unit.

    Do portable ACs require venting outside?

    Yes. Venting the hot exhaust outside is vital for cooling functionality and performance.

    What portable AC size do I need?

    Match the BTU rating to the space’s square footage. Over or undersized units won’t cool properly.

    Can I use one portable AC in multiple rooms?

    It’s best to buy units for each room. Open doors between multiple spaces may help cool adjacent rooms to some degree, but portable AC units are only designed to cool single spaces.

    Editorial Contributors
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    Elisabeth Beauchamp

    Senior Staff Writer

    Elisabeth Beauchamp is a content producer for Today’s Homeowner’s Lawn and Windows categories. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with degrees in Journalism and Linguistics. When Elisabeth isn’t writing about flowers, foliage, and fertilizer, she’s researching landscaping trends and current events in the agricultural space. Elisabeth aims to educate and equip readers with the tools they need to create a home they love.

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    Casey Daniel

    Casey Daniel is a writer and editor with a passion for empowering readers to improve their homes and their lives. She has written and reviewed content across multiple topics, including home improvement, lawn and garden care, sustainability, and health and wellness. When she’s not reviewing articles, Casey is usually playing board games, repainting her bathroom, or quilting.

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