Think about air conditioning. Go on…What came to mind? Was it the airy sensation of leaving scorching heat and entering the crispy cool of an air-conditioned home? Or perhaps you imagined yourself walking on the sidewalk and avoiding the interminable drips of those precariously installed window units? It’s unlikely that you envisioned portable air conditioners — because, well, they aren’t a common form of air conditioning. However, there are many instances when these powerful appliances are your units of choice. In this article, we will discuss situations in which you would benefit from portable air conditioners and acquaint you with their mechanics.
What is a portable air conditioner (PAC)?
Simply put, a portable air conditioner is a window AC unit on wheels. It’s a powerful machine containing all the components of air conditioning, but rather than locking it into your window frame, you can roll it from room to room on caster wheels. While the term “portable” connotes something that can be carried, PACs are heavy machines that are more easily rolled. Like all air conditioning systems, a portable air conditioner extracts heat that must be expelled outdoors. Portable air conditioners do this through an exhaust hose that connects the appliance to a window or doorway. The exhaust hose attaches to your window frame with a slim, easy-to-install bracket. Portable air conditioners also accumulate condensation, which different technologies help extract.
Situation analysis: Why choose a PAC over a window unit?
You don’t have central air and your home, condo, or studio apartment gets unbearably hot during the summer.
You physically cannot lift a heavy window AC unit
We get it – window units are ridiculously heavy and some people just can’t lift them. You can store your portable unit in a closet and roll it out for the summer season.
Your window won’t open wide enough
Does your window only open 8 inches — and not an inch more? Until technology creates 8-inch window units, the slim bracket of portable units is an excellent alternative.
Your window is encased with security bars
Does your window not have the exterior space for a window unit? Don’t compromise your security. Hook up a portable unit instead.
You like an uncluttered window
You value your window. You like gazing outside and letting the sunshine in. You don’t want to block out the outside world with a bulky window unit.
You want to cool your office by day and your bedroom by night
Don’t buy two window units when one unit can do double duty! If you have rooms on the same floor, simply purchase a second set of window adaptors (click here for where to buy) and set them up in two different room. Hook up your PAC in your home office by day and roll it into your bedroom an hour before bedtime for a cool night’s sleep.
You want an all-season appliance – dehumidifier included
Did you know that many PACs are programmed with three functions: air conditioner, fan, and dehumidifier? Some even have a heat pump included so you can stay cool and dry during warm seasons and warm during the cooler seasons.
You have an RV or summer cabin
Spending a week in the great outdoors? If you love trees, flowers, the ocean, and birds, but dislike being hot and sweaty, then bring along some powerful cooling. Plug in a PAC and relax to the sounds of the ocean and twittering birds. Remember proper insulation of your RV or cabin will be required for efficient cooling.
Situation analysis: Why choose a PAC over central air?
Your home is equipped with central air, but it’s not always your best cooling option. Here’s why.
Not yet time to turn on the AC, but the fan isn’t cutting it
It’s that time of year where it’s not quite summer — it could be late June or early September. Your house is temperate with some open windows and a couple of ceiling fans. But the family den always traps the heat like a greenhouse. As soon as the outside temperature rises above 70°F, that room is uncomfortably hot. Skip wasting energy on whole-house AC and just hook up a portable unit to that one stuffy room.
You keep the central air set at 71°F – except for the bedroom
71°F does the trick for your home. It takes the edge off the heat without pushing the energy bill too high. But once you’re under the covers in the bedroom, it’s simply too warm for a comfortable night’s sleep. Keep your efficient system in place, and simply plug in a PAC in your bedroom.
You’re home alone during summer days
You work from home and spend your day in your home office, retreating out only to prep some lunch or sneak some snacks. It doesn’t make economical sense to turn on the central AC for your whole home, so you set it to turn on at 5:00 pm, while you make do with your portable AC during your workday.
You’re hosting a dinner party
Central AC is on, table’s set, salad is dressed, and soft music creates a nice ambience. All is good until the guests arrive and the room rapidly heats up with all that cumulative body heat. Keep the party going with a PAC contingency plan – roll out, plug in, and play.
Know before you buy: what specs do you need?
Here’s a rundown of the important differences among portable air conditioners and why need to know them.
The most essential requirement in a portable air conditioner is having the correct BTU for your space. If you purchase a unit that’s too weak, it will be a wasted investment. BTU is the measurement used to determine how much energy the unit requires to decrease the temperature in a given space. However, many factors go into determining the space itself. A living room with a magnificent 12-ft. vaulted ceiling will obviously need more cooling power than the same-sized living room with a low 8-ft. ceiling. Use this chart as a general guideline of the suggested BTU for your space, and then read on to determine if you need to alter your assessment.
Other factors can necessitate purchasing a higher BTU. Rooms with large open doorways or rooms nested within open-plan spaces will need a more powerful unit. Similarly, rooms with poor insulation around windows or doors, or with high ceilings and thin floors, will need a stronger unit. If your space is gusty and poorly insulated when you’re heating it for winter, it will also have a harder time retaining coolness. Another overlooked issue is rooms with large south-facing windows that encounter many hours of direct sunlight. Some of these structural obstacles can be mitigated by covering doorways with makeshift boundaries, sealing up cracks, or hanging light-colored window coverings. Otherwise, choose a higher BTU.
One more consideration is the function of your space. If it is attended for high occupancy with frequent crowds, then go for a more powerful BTU than your area might normally demand to counteract body heat.
Manual drainage vs. Auto-evaporative Hose
All portable air conditioners convert hot air into liquid condensation. Some portable units collect the condensation into an internal tank or funnel it out through a drainage tube. These systems require regular attendance: either you’ll empty out the internal tank once it gets filled or empty the pan that the condensation is dripping into. More advanced units convert the condensation into water vapor and evaporate it through the exhaust hose and into the outdoors, eliminating the need for manual drainage. These units are described as having an auto- evaporative or self-evaporating hose. In climates with acute humidity, these self-evaporating units may still accumulate a small amount of condensation inside the unit and need manual drainage.
Single Hose vs. Dual Hose
In a dual hose system, one hose is constantly cooling the room while the other hose is constantly extracting hot air — as opposed to a single hose system which is doing double duty. This makes dual hose units faster and more efficient in their cooling power. On the other hand, they tend to be louder and consume more electricity than single hose. If cooling speed is your biggest factor, then you may want to opt for dual hose.
Dehumidifier or Heater Option
Some portable air conditioners can also convert into dehumidifiers, extracting humidity without fanning out colder air. Use the AC mode for summer and the dehumidifier mode for winter. There are also models equipped with a heating element, transforming the unit into a secondary heating source for winter.
More Features and Accessories
Keep an eye out for other conveniences, such as remote control, LCD control panel, programmable timer, auto-shut off or auto-restart, and Wi-Fi connectivity.
Setting up and operating your PAC
Your portable air conditioner has arrived. Now what?
Most likely, your machine will arrive with an exhaust hose and a window kit. The exhaust hose is approximately 4 ft. long and extends from the back of your unit to a window or sliding door. The window kit contains a sliding panel that can be extended or trimmed to fit your window opening and can be used in horizontal slider windows and single- or double-hung windows. Sometimes, a sliding door accessory can be purchased separately, enabling your PAC to be connected to a sliding doorway.
Follow your instruction manual to attach the exhaust hose to the back of the unit. Size the window kit bracket to fit your window and connect the exhaust hose. Set up your manual drainage system if required. Familiarize yourself with any specifics noted in the instruction manual. Plug and play—and enjoy your new cooling option.
If you have a casement window that pushes outward, you can use a seal kit like the HOOMEE Universal Window Seal, which seals around the window and zips around the exhaust hose to prevent hot air from returning into the room.
You might want to install your portable air conditioner onto a sliding door instead of a window. In this case, you can purchase a special sliding door kit from brands like Honeywell which extends the length of the door.
Maintenance and Storage
Portable air conditioners don’t need intricate maintenance, so simple routine cleaning should keep your appliance in good working order. Periodically wipe down the exterior with a damp cloth so it doesn’t accumulate dirt or grime. Once a week, remove and empty out the internal condensation collection tank, then rinse and wipe it down to prevent any buildup of bacteria. Portable air conditioners usually are equipped with dust filters or active carbon filters. Depending on the model, these may be washable in warm water or may need to be replaced seasonally.
Once you’re ready to store it for the season, cycle through the maintenance routine – wipe down internal and external nooks and crannies, and be sure to rinse filters. Let the unit run in fan-only mode until you are confident that the unit is dry inside. Detach the exhaust hose and window kit and store them neatly with the unit so you’ll have everything in place once summer comes back around.