A portable air conditioner is something you never think of until you need one. This guide will help you find the best portable air conditioner if and when that day comes.
What Is A Portable Air Conditioner?
Just to clarify, because the term isn’t entirely clear, a portable air conditioner is an aircon unit that goes inside your home or office, as opposed outside or in a window. These units usually live on wheels (known as casters) and can be moved from room to room or even from place to place.
Portable air conditioners require a power source (a wall outlet) and an external vent where they can push hot air. This vent is usually a window, but it can be of any size, so rooms with small windows and basements are totally fine. This vent, known as the exhaust, works similar to the vent on a dryer or the hood above a range.
Most portable aircon units have a dehumidifier built in which means they collect water in a pan or bucket that will occasionally need to be emptied. Some clever models will vent the humidified water out of the vent, but this feature isn’t universal.
Types Of Portable Air Conditioner
A typical small portable air conditioner will have a single exhaust hose that connects to a window and expels hot air. These models are typically entry-level, but . Some others will have two hoses — usually called a “dual hose” model — that will use one hose to pull in air and another to send off the hot air.
When shopping for a portable air condition, what features should you look out for aside from the price and the amount of cooling the unit can provide (BTUs)?
- Fan: You’ll want to make sure your aircon can blow un-air conditioned air, acting solely as a fan
- Remote: A remote, like you’d find on a TV, is especially useful if you will be using it in a TV room or while sleeping
- Timer: These will let the air conditioner turn off after a set amount of time
- Dehumidifier: This will pull moisture out of the air and make the room less damp
- Oscillation: Rather than blow air in a single direction, some aircon units will turn side to side and oscillate like a fan
How Many BTUs Does My Air Conditioner Need?
This is the number one portable air conditioner question people ask. Here is a quick guide that will help you out:
- Small Rooms like Bedrooms, Offices, and Nurseries: 10,000 BTUs and under. Maximum room size of about 17 feet x 17 feet (about 300 square feet), given an 8-foot ceiling.
- Big Rooms like Living Rooms, Great Rooms, and Dens: 14,000 BTUs and under. Maximum room size of 22 feet x 22 feet (about 500 square feet), given an 8-foot ceiling.
Typical a small portable air conditioner unit will provide 10,000 BTUs.
When you are buying make sure you take into consideration the volume of the room, not just the square footage! A room with 10-foot ceiling will take more power to cool than a room with 8-foot ceilings, even if they have the same width and length.
Understanding Multiple BTU Measurements
You were just starting to understand BTUs but then you see that your portable AC unit has more than one BTU measure. Here’s why!
The air conditioner itself consumes power and creates heat. Most of this heat is expelled through the exhaust, but some doesn’t and it radiates into the room. An inefficient AC unit will use more power, create more heat, and provide less cooling than an efficient one. Portable AC units also push air out of the house, which means air needs to be pull in from somewhere else. That place is almost certainly hotter than the room being cooler, so there is a limit on the cooling power!
Long story short, the traditional BTU measurement (known as ASHRAE rating) does not take this into account but the new measurements do! The new DOE measurements, mandated by the FTC, are SACC and CEER. ASHRAE is fine for outdoor AC units and central AC, but not fort portable air conditioners.
The new DOE methods of measuring BTUs will account for the heat the AC unit creates, so it will be lower than the traditional method. The amount by which its lower will depend on the efficiency and design of the portable air conditioner.
One term you might see is “Seasonally Adjusted Cooling Capacity” or the SACC measurement method. This measures the weighted average performance of the AC unit under a number of test circumstances.
There is also something called Combined Energy Efficiency Ratio (CEER) which accounts for the power the AC uses when running plus the standby power consumption it uses when not running (sometimes known as vampire power usage).
Which number is more important? Definitely go by the DOE/SACC measurement! This will provide the actual cooling capability of the air conditioning and how much cooling you will feel in the room.
A good-sized Black and Decker small portable air conditioner will be rated at 12,000 BTU and 8,000 BTU DOE, which is a large difference in cooling power versus cooling effectiveness. In some cases newer models from top brands will forgo the traditional BTU measurement altogether in order to avoid confusion.
Why are there two BTU measurements on my portable AC?
All portable air conditioners made after 2017 and sold in the US need to measurements, traditional BTU (ASHRAE) rating and the newer SACC rating. SACC is more accurate because it all let you know how much cooling power the AC unit will be felt in your home. The traditional measurement is larger because it measures the total cooling power of the unit, not much much of that actually cools you. This is the case because portable AC units pull heat into the room in addition to cooling it.