Portable Air Conditioners: What to Know Before It REALLY Heats Up

Maressa Brown

hot summer weather air conditionersCall me spoiled, but every house I grew up in had central air conditioning. I never knew the joys of installing a window unit or researching portable air conditioners. But as soon as I moved to the east coast, that became a thing of the past. Most of the apartments are on the older side, so central A/C? Fuggetaboutit!

I soon learned that window units are the standard, but sometimes they're not enough, or they can't cover every room, so that's where portable air conditioners come in. They can also be an alternative to window or wall A/C units or a supplement to central air (if you're that lucky!).

Here, a savvy shopper's guide to getting the best portable air conditioner for your chill-out moolah.

Decide if portable A/C is right for you. If you live somewhere that doesn't permit or allow for window or wall units, portable A/C makes a lot of sense. And if you're going to want your A/C to be mobile -- in other words, be transportable from room to room -- it's a great bet, too. However, you'll have to make sure you can place the unit near a window, because then you'll need to run the exhaust hose outside.

Know your specs. According to ConsumerSearch.com, the smallest and least expensive portable air conditioners are 7,500- and 8,000-BTU units that can cool 150- to 200-square-foot rooms like small bedrooms. This is important: With portable units, you need a higher BTU rating than you would with a window unit. If you're trying to cool a larger space, you'll need at least 10,000 BTUs to stay comfy.

Consider the cost. As you might imagine, if you want to cover an area larger than 250 square feet, you're gonna have to pay a bit more. Models for smaller rooms hover around $300-$325, but when you jump up to a 9,500+ BTU model (like this Sharp CV-P10MX), it could cost as much as $580! There are some exceptions, like the 12,000-BTU EdgeStar Extreme Cool AP12000S, which includes a remote control, a separate dehumidifier function, a digital thermostat, and a timer. But be a bit discerning of reviews for models like the EdgeStar; people might just be praising it because it's cheap -- not because it's effective.

Do your homework. Don't go crazy with it, but do consider what other people have to say about units you're considering. A couple units that are most popular in each size category ...

Small: SPT Portable Air Conditioner, 9000 BTUs, WA-9000E ($261.24) - Gets 3.5/5 stars on Amazon. Reviewers say it's easy to hook up, is "efficient," "quiet," and "well-made." 

Medium/Large: Whynter 14,000 BTU Dual House Portable Conditioner ($449.97) - Gets 4/5 stars on Amazon. Reviewers say it's "exceeded expectations," "has excellent cooling power," "does its job," and "The air is extremely cold around the unit and gets a good sized room down to a nice temp really fast. It seems very quiet during the day with all the other sounds and my daughter has slept like a baby ever since we got it."

Are you considering buying or do you already own a portable A/C unit? Thoughts?


Image via Julie Rybarczyk/Flickr

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