Warnings About Portable Air Conditioners

Warnings About Portable Air Conditioners

Warning About Portable Air Conditioners

Here are some warnings about portable air conditioners to help you to be aware of their low energy efficiency rating when purchasing a new air conditioner. If you already have a portable air conditioner or if a portable air conditioners your only option to get some cooling, these fair warnings may help you understand your air conditioner and make better use of it. We will look in details why portable air conditioners are taking more room, wasting more power, producing more noise, and costing more money.If you are in a hurry, just looked the colored text, bookmark this page, and come back later when you have time.

Warning about "Portable"

An major claim of portable air conditioners is that they do not need installation and they are portable. On the internet or in the showrooms, we see portable air conditioners neatly displayed without a hose most of the time. In reality all air conditioners need to pass heat to the outside. Central air conditioners and window air conditioners use Freon to carry the heat to the outdoor coils. Fans are used to drive air to cool the outdoor coils.


A portable A/C brings the outdoor coil inside the room but still need to cool the coil. The coil passes the heat to air then the hot air has to be sent out the house. These pictures show portable A/C in actual use. They are less prettier than the units themselves – everyone has at least one bulky hose connected to the outside. Tip: The longer the total hosing the more power will be wasted to drive air through the hose.

Portable air conditioners need venting kits installed almost the same way as window air conditioners. It is true that the venting kit is much smaller than a window unit. However, you may run into the same installation problems as installing window air conditioners. Do you like the installations in the pictures? Think what the installation will look like in your house when deciding the purchase.

Once installed like the above, “Portable” is questionable. To move the portable A/C to different rooms, we need the venting kit installed in every room or re-install the venting kit for every move. Small wheels may not move well on carpets. Will the move be practical for you? Will the move be easier than with a window air conditioner? Tip: A window air conditioner is more efficient and weigh less as you see below.

Warning on Lower Energy Efficiency

The cooling capacity of an A/C is defined by its BTU/h rating. The BTU/h number indicates the amount of heat the air conditioner can remove from a room each hour. A hot climate will need more heat to be removed from a room to feel cool. A cooler room will also need more heat to be removed for the deeper cooling.

Here are recommendations from HomeDepot.
We can see from these two tables, comparable portable units will cool less space than window units. Take the recommended 12,000 BTU units for example, a portable air conditioner is recommended for a 400 square feet roomwhere a window unit is recommended for a 550 square feet room. In other word, for the same sized room, we will need a higher BTU portable unit.

The power needed to run an A/C is tied to its EER (Energy Efficiency Rating). Also at HomeDepot, the highest EER of portable air conditioners is 9.5 like the Haier CPN14XH9. For this 14,000 BTU unit to work, 14,000 / 9.5 = 1,473 Watt of power will be consumed. All consumed power will become waste heat. 1,473 Watt will become 1,473 x 3.412 = 5,028 BTU (per hour) waste heat. Tip: For a 9.5 EER unit, the wasted heat is almost exactly 30% of the BTU number.

Here is a quote from ConsumerReports.org 2008 .

While portable A/Cs might be convenient, those we tested delivered only about half of their cooling capacity—that means they operated with an energy-efficiency ratio (EER) of about 5 or 6. Compare that with the minimum EER of just under 10 for the window air conditioners we’ve recently test (we tested window models with an EER as high as 12).

Central air units and window units have most of this power consumed outside the window and the waste heat is dissipated to the outside air. A portable A/C has all the power consumed inside the house. All consumed power turns to about 30% more heat that has to be removed from the room. This percentage will go higher for a lower EER unit or for a portable air conditioner whose EER has dropped because blocked air flow or dust on the coils.

Warning on exhausting cool air out of the room

Another hidden problem is inherent with single hose portable air conditioners. They suck air from the room and dump it outside. Besides cooling, a single hose portable A/C creates a vacuum for the room it is in. The vacuum may not be measurable if the room is not air-tight. The more air-tight the room is the higher the vacuum will be.

portable-air-conditioner-flow-diagramThe vacuum enable air from elsewhere to leak into the room for the same amount as the exhausted air, as shown in this picture. If the air is leaked in from outside, it will be humid and hot. If the air is from other rooms of the house, outside hot air will leak into those rooms. So, we may get some cooling near the portable A/C but more heat and humidity will come to the house, as seen in this image.

The tricky thing is that it may take an hour or two to vacuum out the cool air from the surrounding rooms. In the first couple hours, we may feel pretty good about the A/C. We may never thought the other rooms are getting hotter because the use of a single hose air conditioner. That is why we put the word “Warnings” in the title of this article.

To be fair, due hose portable air conditioners do not have this problem. The trade-off is another hose. These hoses will be vibrating in use and could break easily. Any leak in these hoses or their connections will result in dumping room air outside in the same manner as a single hose portable A/C.

The more leaks, heat leaks or air leaks, to the room the more heat need to be removed from the room. Hence, the higher BTU rating is needed. To achieve the same amount of cooling, a single hose portable air conditioner needs a substantially higher BTU rating. The higher the BTU rating, the more power an air conditioner will consume. All the consumed power will turn into heat. That heat also needs to be exhausted through the hose for a portable air conditioner. More heat needs a bigger fan to drive more air out the hose. A bigger fan turns more power to waste heat inside the house.

Warning about condensate, noise, and space

Portable-Air-Conditioner-Condensate-RemovalAs air is cooled, moisture in the air will condense to water. A portable air conditioner may fill its condensate tank quickly in a humid day. Watch out for condensate overflow or drips. Tip: When buying a portable A/C, check if it has the feature to evaporate the condensate with the exhaust air like shown in this image. In comparison, a window air conditioner is designed to have its condensate pan tilted down towards the outside. Any condensate will flow to the outside half of the air conditioner. The condensate evaporate into the hot outside air without being noticed most of the time.

The most noisy part of an A/C is the compressor. For central air unit, the compressor is in the outside unit. For window unit, the compressor is outside the window. For the portable air conditioner, the compressor is inside the room in the cooled area. The compressor is also bigger because of the higher BTU rating cited above. Any loose parts like the hoses could resonant and amplify the noise. Tip: A soft pad under the unit will reduce the noise.
A portable air conditioner need about 18 inches of space on each side for it to breath as shown in this image of an installation guide. Put your hand about that distance away from the unit, if you feel air flow though your hand, that place should be open for air flow. Any blockage of air flow to or from the unit will lower the EER and reduce the cooling. Do not put the unit too close to a wall, a sofa, or a bed. Make sure you have the space before you buy the unit.Tip: To achieve the full EER, a portable air conditioner need a lot more space than its physical dimensions.


BTU rating is the amount of heat an air conditioner can remove from a room. For a duel hose portable A/C, about 30% of that heat is the waste heat produced by the unit itself. For single hose portable air conditioner, about 50% of that heat is produced by the unit or sucked in by the unit from outside the house. In comparison, a window unit or a central air unit only has waste heat from the indoor fan for removal that could be less than 5%.


2008 Standard for Performance Rating of Unitary Air-Conditioning &a...
Cooling Load Calculations and-Principles

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Tags: About, Air, Conditioners, EER, Portable, Warnings, air, condensation, conditioner, cooling, More…efficiency, energy, exhaust, heat, home, hose, rating, summer, waste


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Comment by Franco Oyuela on June 20, 2018 at 8:23am

Here are the top five benefits of owning a portable air conditioner:

1. Low Price – All things considered, portable air conditioners are more affordable than conventional window air conditioners. (Of course, the high-end portable spot coolers will cost more than the low-end window units.)

2. No Installation Required – You don’t have to call a professional or break a sweat to set up a portable air conditioner. Just find an exit for the exhaust hose, and you’re done.

3. Portable and Convenient – Thanks to the built-in casters, you can roll your portable air conditioner from room to room – wherever you need cool air. Most of them are also lightweight and easy to carry.

4. Energy Efficient – Compared to a central air conditioner that cools an entire house, a portable air conditioner is much more energy efficient. A PAC is smaller and incurs lower operation costs. Plus, with a PAC, you can focus on specific areas that need to be cooled. That’s true efficiency.

5. Bonus Features – A spot cooler not only cools the air, but it also dehumidifies the air. If you suffer from allergies, you know that it’s important to keep indoor humidity levels low – because high humidity encourages the growth of allergens like mold and dust mites. Some portable air conditioners feature a “dehumidify-only” mode that will remove moisture from the air without cooling it.

Comment by Steve Gadsby on January 13, 2017 at 4:50pm

We couldn't agree more about the problems caused by portable air conditioners. Here at Canada Furnace, and we've seem many ruined floors working out here in Calgary, AB. On top of what you've mentioned, we find that some manufacturers way overstate the power. A built in system or ductless mini-split can do twice the square footage with half the power quite often.

Comment by Ricardo on March 18, 2015 at 1:11pm

Hi Perry,

Great post, having worked in the HVAC industry for sometime I feel I need to justify portable aircon units as they are becoming a lot more energy efficient and a lot more eco friendly. As a pre note I will say I've just bought a unit from http://portable-airconditioner.co.za/ which inspired this post as I was thrilled with the puchase.

Power of Mobility

Portable air conditioners are different than traditional windows because they are portable, so they have the mobility to be moved from room to room. Traditional installed window air conditioners only cool so much square footage in an apartment, office or house. Most of these wall units are installed in one area of the entire square footage of a home, which makes it harder when you need a specific room cooled that doesn't fit this square footage, such as the baby's room or office. With the power of mobility, you have the option to move it from room to room. They are also great for office spaces where they set the air conditioners at one temperature that doesn't satisfy that one person who gets hotter than most.



A portable air conditioner is easier to install and cheaper. It doesn't require any piping; supporting straps, supply duct or any other adhesive materials. The only thing you have to do is install the exhaust vent for the air conditioner to bypass out of the room. A traditional air conditioner would require you to hire an HVAC contractor to install the equipment and also charge for the labor. You can also come to find problems with an installation that may require you to pay more, for example if your electrical system isn't equipped to handle the volts of the system, this may require you to hire an Electrical contractor. That's just one example of things that can rise from having a window or central system installed and the cost of doing so to rise up. With a portable air conditioner, you just need to plug it in a 120v outlet and follow instructions for the exhaust vent for the window, which you can do all by yourself.


Lower Cost to Purchase

Portable air conditioners cost less compared to central or wall air conditioning systems. They come in several sizes and shapes to fit your needs at an affordable price. You can replace it if it goes bad, if you decide you want a new model that just came out, or if you would like another for another room. Portable air conditioners won't require any work being done to your house that an installation might require such as ; making holes in your drywall, adjusting your power outlets and other factors that may come up when you install a central or wall unit in your home. Installing a central and wall air conditioner system in your home would require the cost of the unit, the cost of labor, and some companies add extra charges on top of that.


In conclusion, there are units of all kinds to fit your needs. If you need a an affordable unit with the portable mobility that a portable air conditioner unit has, then these are a great choice for you.

Comment by Michael Berg on June 30, 2014 at 12:56am

I recently purchased a single hose portable 5000 btu a.c. for a small enclosed 100 sq ft room inside my garage.  I am having a heck of a time controlling the humidity in both "a.c." and "dry" mode.  The temperarture drops nicely but according to my hygrometer, I will start out at approx 42% humidity and as the a.c runs, the humidity shoots up to 65-70%. after I experienced the high humidity  I have sealed up the room so well that due to the vacuum it is difficult to open the door into the room.  I have a fan circulating air inside also but without running a separate dehumidifier in the room, the humidity is still high.  I am getting virtually nothing from the external hose when in "dry" mode but the dehumidifier will need to be emptied every 8 hours.  I don't have a window in the room so I drilled a hole in the side of the house to exhaust the warm air, but did use the window kit that came with the unit.  There are no leaks in the hose or the connection with the hose to the wall mount.  I thought that the room was not getting enough air so I have cracked the door a tad with the garage door closed and after several hours the humidity is still high.  I am not sure what to do at this point as I am trying to avoid running the dehumidifier and a.c. at the same time to reduce humidity.  I will say that the pan in the bottom of the unit does gather plenty of water but is recycled and shouldn't need to be emptied.  I am hoping someone could offer some advice.  Thank you.    

Comment by elizabethreilly on June 25, 2014 at 7:28am

The information provided is really helpful to understand the concept whereas people mostly miss out simple things like cleaning air ducts which helps to inhale the fresh air.


Comment by Nancy shirley on May 29, 2014 at 8:44am

Portable air conditioners are one off the most usable home appliances. Such type of ac's usually takes a small amount of money to consumed. Noise is the most common problem portable ac's have. But there are several of the excellent brands too who have noise free units as the size increase the chances of noise also increase. 

Comment by David Kerrigan on April 2, 2014 at 6:47pm

I agree with you here, but wanted to add the fact that a portable air conditioner can be utilized very effectively such as cooling your bedroom at night or home office during the day while keeping the rest of the windows in the house open. You would be amazed how much energy this can save over the course of the month.

 - David from Coolaer.com

Comment by Bob Blanchette on July 5, 2013 at 9:19pm

Ever notice that Portable AC's are exempt for posting EER on the box?

Comment by Perry Ning on July 5, 2013 at 3:56pm

Hi Adam, Thank you for the comment.  Have a nice summer!  Perry

Comment by Adam brown on July 5, 2013 at 12:06pm

Hi Perry

Very factual and informative post on portable AC!! 

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