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By Ana Reina
July 31, 2020
Courtesy of Retailers

The summer heat is in full effect, and a portable AC unit might sound like a good investment right now. Portable ACs can be a great alternative when window or split units aren’t a practical option for the space you’re looking to cool. Plus, they’re easy to install, move, and store during colder months.

There are some elements you should look for when shopping for a portable AC unit. According to Glenn Wiseman, sales manager at the home repair and maintenance service company Top Hat Comfort Services, “what stands out about these units compared to window units is the flexibility you have regarding installation options and the ability to move it from room to room.”

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Before you purchase a portable AC unit, however, make sure you consider these four factors, courtesy of Craig Anderson, co-founder of Appliance Analysts, a product guide website that specializes in home appliances.

  • Think about size: Measure the square footage of your room to choose a unit with enough of BTUs (British Thermal Units) to cool the space. The higher the BTU rating, the more cooling capacity and power the unit has. Our reviews include each model’s maximum cooling area per square feet, but here are general recommendations for a room with 8-foot ceilings:
    • 8,000 BTUs can cover 200 sq. ft.
    • 10,000 BTUs can cover 300 sq. ft.
    • 12,000 BTUs can cover 400 sq. ft.
    • 13,000 BTUs can cover 450 sq. ft.
    • 14,000 BTUs can cover 500 sq. ft.
  • Consider floor space and room layout: Your unit will produce hot air that must be vented through an exhaust hose and out a window, which means you will need to plug it into a power outlet near a window or sliding doors. Make sure your room’s layout and floor space can accommodate the unit you’re looking to buy.
  • Factor in maintenance: Portable ACs are relatively low maintenance, with filter cleaning and water drainage as the only requirements to keep the unit running efficiently. Since these units pull moisture from the air, you might have to drain the pan or hose manually. Some ACs, however, feature self-evaporative designs.
  • Don’t forget about noise: Unlike window or split units, portable units are housed entirely inside the room you’re cooling, so they might create more noise. If you’re sensitive to sound, make sure to compare the unit’s decibel (dB) levels before buying.
  • 8,000 BTUs can cover 200 sq. ft.
  • 10,000 BTUs can cover 300 sq. ft.
  • 12,000 BTUs can cover 400 sq. ft.
  • 13,000 BTUs can cover 450 sq. ft.
  • 14,000 BTUs can cover 500 sq. ft.

David Bakke, an AC expert at National Air Warehouse in Florida, adds that one of the most important things to consider when shopping for portable AC units is the price. A budget unit will run you just a few hundred dollars, while a higher-end model can cost up to $700. At the lower end of the price spectrum, you’ll find the basic features: cooling, dehumidification, and air circulation. Higher-priced models, on the other hand, have WiFi capabilities and can be paired with smart home devices like Amazon Alexa and Google Home.

You should also read customer reviews, check into the warranty, and look at the return policy of any unit you’re considering.

How Do Portable Units Stack Up to Window Units?

Window units are more effective and can be more affordable than portable units. A window AC for a medium-sized room (250-400 sq. ft.) can range from $200-$400, while a portable unit can cost anywhere from $300 to $700.

Besides pricing, window and portable air conditioners also differ in their configurations and installation. In window units, the console is inside the room being cooled while the condenser is outside the home. In portable units, both the console and the condenser are inside the room, which can increase the noise levels and take up floor space.

If you’re looking for quick and straightforward installation, the ability to move the unit from one room to another with ease, and options when it comes to venting the AC, a portable unit is the better option. But if you’re looking for an AC that doesn’t take up floor space, is more energy-efficient, and generates less noise, a window unit may be best.

If your bedroom windows are small or if you’re more concerned about curb appeal than you are about performance, a portable unit may be a better option. According to Rebecca Fernandez, decor and lifestyle blogger at Restyled Homes, “Most homeowners would agree that placing a window unit AC will detract from their curb appeal. In some cases, the homeowner association will forbid placing a window unit AC, or if they have casement windows, they would be unable to do so. That is when a portable AC unit has the upper hand, as its exhaust vent is less offensive in appearance and could be vented utilizing a wall, ceiling, or door if necessary.”

It’s advisable to get a fan to get a localized breeze towards your bed or desired spot to make the unit more effective. Also, keep in mind that getting direct sunlight into the room you’re trying to cool will be counterproductive, so use curtains or shades to block the sun at peak hours. Finally, for prime cooling, make sure you install the unit correctly. It should go without saying, but air-leak proofing your doors and windows will not only save you energy but also improve the AC’s cooling capacity.

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Money’s Top Picks

  • LG 14,000 BTU Smart WiFi Portable AC: Best for Cooling Performance
  • Frigidaire Gallery 12,000 BTU Cool Connect Smart Portable (FGPC1244T1): Best Space-Saving Unit
  • Honeywell HL12CESWK Contempo Series Portable Air Conditioner, Dehumidifier & Fan with Dual Filtration System, 12,000 BTU: Best for Low Noise
  • Whynter ARC-14S 14,000 BTU Dual Hose Portable Air Conditioner, Dehumidifier, Fan with Activated Carbon Filter: Best for Hot Climates
  • Black + Decker BPACT14HWT Portable Air Conditioner, 14,000 BTU: Best Affordable Unit

The 5 Best Portable Air Conditioners of 2020

LG 14,000 BTU Smart WiFi Portable AC

Courtesy of Amazon

Best Cooling Performance

According to Bakke, the best portable air conditioner for cooling performance is the LG 14,000 BTU 115V Smart WiFi Portable Air Conditioner. This unit stands out by using a dual inverter compressor that allows the unit to change the speed of the compressor. This way, the AC is capable of fine-tuning its cooling power to match the temperature of the room it’s cooling.

“The dual inverter compressor system also saves energy (and money). For an AC unit with smart capabilities — it can be controlled through the LG ThinkQ app, Google Assistant, or Amazon Alexa — it’s reasonably priced at around $679.”

More on this model:

  • Price: $679
  • Cooling Area: 500 sq. ft.

Honeywell HL12CESWK Contempo Series Portable Air Conditioner, Dehumidifier & Fan with Dual Filtration System, 12,000 BTU

Courtesy of Amazon

Best Quiet Unit

“If the noise level is your main concern, try the Honeywell Contempo Series Portable Air Conditioner, 12,000 BTU,” says Bakke. “It’s amazingly quiet according to reviews and from personal experience, plus it has three fan speeds, digital controls, a sleep mode, and best of all, there’s never a water bucket to empty because of its setup.”

More on this model:

  • Price: $550
  • Cooling Area: 450-550 sq. ft.

Frigidaire Gallery 12,000 BTU Cool Connect Smart Portable (FGPC1244T1)

Courtesy of Lowes

Best Space-Saving Unit

Although this unit is not as powerful as the LG or as quiet as the Honeywell, the Frigidaire Gallery Cool Connect Smart Portable AC features an appealing sleek design for those who value style over practicality. This unit measures 12.63 x 12.63 x 36.81, less than other options on this list, and its cylindrical body is made out of modern mesh grill, which makes it blend in with any room’s aesthetic while saving you floor space. Mind you, it’s much heavier than other models (85 pounds), but it does have wheels that work well on tiles and wood or laminate flooring.

The Frigidaire’s cylindrical design also enables it to circulate air in an upwards spiral, which helps cool air reach every corner of the room. It also has dehumidification and filtering capabilities, can be controlled through the Frigidaire app and features connectivity with smart home devices.

More on this model:

  • Price: $649
  • Cooling Area: 550 sq. ft.

Whynter ARC-14S 14,000 BTU Dual Hose Portable Air Conditioner, Dehumidifier, Fan with Activated Carbon Filter

Courtesy of Amazon

Best Unit for Hot Climates

For maximum efficiency, especially in hotter climates, a dual hosed unit is a great investment. “A model that has two ducts that are sucking the air in from outside, and then pushing the heat back, avoids sucking in the cold air that you’ve just cooled inside the room,” said Forrest Meggers, professor of architecture and engineering at Princeton University.

Investing in a dual hosed unit might be the best option for those living in hotter climates looking for more efficient cooling. Additionally, this model works as a dehumidifier, is self-evaporating, and uses an eco-friendly refrigerant (R32).

More on this model:

  • Price: $520.71
  • Cooling Area: 500 sq. ft.

Black + Decker BPACT14HWT Portable Air Conditioner, 14,000 BTU

Courtesy of Amazon

Best Affordable Unit

For those on a budget looking for maximum efficiency, this unit checks all the boxes. It provides cooling, heating, dehumidification, and air circulation. According to Bakke, if budget is your main concern, the Black & Decker BPACT14HWT model might be the option for you. While it doesn’t have the features of the LG model previously mentioned, you can get it on Amazon for $479.99 with free shipping.

More on this model:

    • Price: $479.99
    • Cooling Area: 350 sq. ft.
  • Price: $479.99
  • Cooling Area: 350 sq. ft.

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