Portable Air Conditioner Cooling Guide

Think about air conditioning. Go on… What comes 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—well, because 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 that would benefit from portable air conditioning 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 its wheels. While the term ‘portable’ connotes something that can be carried, PACs are heavy machines that are easier rolled. Like all air conditioning systems, a portable air conditioner extracts heat which must be expelled outdoors. Portable air conditioners do this through an exhaust hose which connects from 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, and there is differing technology in extracting this, too.

Situation analysis: Why choose a PAC over a window unit?
You don’t have central air and your home, condo or studio apartment get unbearably hot during the summer. Here’s why you’d choose a PAC over a window unit.

You physically cannot lift a heavy window AC unit.
We get it – window units are ridiculously heavy and some people can’t do it. 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 unit, 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 and 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! 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, dehumidifier? After summer, you can plug the appliance in your basement for some serious moisture reduction.

You have an RV or summer cabin
Spending a week in the great outdoors? If you love trees, flowers, oceans, and birds, but dislike being hot and sweaty, then bring along some powerful cooling. Plug in a PAC and relax to the ocean sounds and twittering birds.

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 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 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. Except for the bedroom. Once you’re under your covers, it’s simply too warm for a comfortable night’s sleep. Keep your efficient system in place, and plug 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 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
Table’s set, salad is dressed, soft music adds a background 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 and play.

Your business has a hot server room
While portable air conditioners are typically vented out a window, it is technically possible to run an exhaust out of a windowless room through the ceiling. This tends to be a business application, for example in a windowless server room that aggregates excessive heat from all those motors.

Know before you buy: what specs do you need?

Here’s a rundown of the important differences between portable air conditioners—and why you’d need them.

BTU Guidelines
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 hot temperatures 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 but 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. If your space is gusty and poorly insulated when you’re heating it for winter, it will also have a harder time containing coolness. Another overlooked issue are 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 demands 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. This can be useful in the colder, wetter seasons if your space is prone to mold or mildew. 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 or single- and 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.

Maintenance and Storage

Portable air conditioners don’t need intricate maintenance, but 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. Weekly, remove and empty out the internal condensation collection tank, rinse and wipe 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 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 neatly with the unit so you’ll have everything in place once summer comes back around.