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Portable Air Conditioners: How to Buy the Right One and Stay Cool All Season


Portable air conditioners are a quick fix for hot areas in your home.


If you’re worried about sweating it out at home this summer, a portable air conditioner could be exactly what you need. These plug-in units are designed to cool rooms using a nearby window and a power cord.

Without expensive installation, they can be of great help to rooms that are not climate-controlled or that just don’t get enough airflow. They are also useful in buildings with windows that do not fit into one standard window AC unitHere’s everything you need to know if you’re looking for a portable air conditioner.

How Portable Air Conditioners Work

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

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

Your portable air conditioner plugs into a nearby outlet and draws air through the system to cool it and circulate it around your space. Most units have a water reservoir to help dehumidify the air circulating in them. Others use their vent hose to evaporate that moisture.

There are two main types – single hose and double hose – and they work differently. Let’s see.

Portable single hose air conditioners

A portable single-hose air conditioner works by bringing the stagnant, hot air into your room, cooling it, and then circulating it around your space.


On units with one hose, the hose removes warm air and moisture to the outside.


Any excess warm air or moisture is vented from your room through the window ventilation hose of the portable air conditioner. These models, such as this Black & Decker model are generally more energy efficient than models with two hoses.

Mobile air conditioners with two hoses

Two-hose models do not use the air in your home. Instead, they draw fresh air from outside through the hose attached to the window. That is the air that will cool the portable air conditioner and then circulate around the room.


In units with two hoses, one hose vents air from outside for cooling and circulating around the room. The other hose removes any extra warm air and moisture to the outside again.


A second hose absorbs the excess warm air and moisture and carries it back outside through the window. These units, such as this model from Honeywell, a room will usually cool down faster.

What to Look for in a Portable Air Conditioner

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

Plan where to put it

You may already know which room in your house needs to be cooled, but you also need to think about where you’re going to put it. You’ll need nearby access to an openable window that can serve as a vent source. You also need an outlet nearby.


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

Many models available online range from $ 250- $ 499 for rooms between 200-650 square feet. Seasonal items like air conditioners are usually sold in the off season, so keep your eyes peeled for fall and winter deals.


Size matters! Cliche? Yes. True? Yes also. You need to know the size of the space to determine how much circulating power to buy. Mobile air conditioners come in different sizes, and that often means different prices.

Here’s a quick guide, from air conditioner manufacturer Sylvane, starting with 8-foot ceilings.

  • 7,500 BTUs cover 150 square feet x 8 feet of ceiling = 1,200 cubic feet
  • 9,000 BTUs cover 200 square feet x 8 feet of ceiling = 1,600 cubic feet
  • 10,000 BTUs will cover a ceiling of 300 square feet x 8 feet = 2,400 cubic feet
  • 12,000 BTUs will cover 400 square feet x 8 feet of ceiling = 3,200 cubic feet
  • 13,000 BTUs cover a ceiling of 450 square feet x 8 feet = 3600 cubic feet
  • 14,000 BTUs cover a ceiling of 500 square feet x 8 feet = 4,000 cubic feet

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

Small rooms: 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’ll want 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 generally reach about 14,000 BTU, enough for up to 700 square feet. For larger spaces, you should look to commercial or industrial models. A unit that is too small for your space will last too long and never cool effectively to the desired temperature. However, there are some exceptions, such as this 15,000 BTU home Honeywell model that promises to cool to 775 square feet.

If you need portable cooling for larger spaces but don’t want to pay commercial prices (which can reach thousands), consider buying several smaller units and placing them far apart.

Extra functions and handy smart things


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


Once you’ve determined the right unit of measure, it’s time to start thinking about what additional features can improve your experience. Here are a few common extras and sample units.

Timer: Timers lets you set the cooling to start or stop after a certain time or time of the day.

Remote: A remote helps you manage your climate control much more easily.

Dehumidifying: Air conditioners that also dehumidify can quickly make rooms feel less stuffy.

Smarts: Portable air conditioners with smarts Have Wi-Fi to connect to voice assistants for voice commands and routines or with a mobile app.

Maintaining your portable air conditioner

Portable air conditioners have air filters to keep the circulating air clean. It is 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 extent, you should also empty your unit’s water trap, if there is one. Two-hose models may not collect water if they allow most of the moisture to escape from a second hose, so please refer to your appliance’s care instructions for more information. Drain the container often before or after use to prevent mold growth.

Aside from these two maintenance items, general dusting and wiping will keep your appliance looking fresh and working properly. If you keep it in cold weather months, 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.

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