Portable air conditioners can help you improve the airflow into specific rooms of your home. In addition, they're a great way to improve your comfort level whenever you need to cool off. But you might be surprised to know that there's more to buying a portable air conditioner than meets the eye.
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Whether you have an HVAC system that doesn't disperse air evenly throughout your home, a faulty ac unit that is not turning on or you don't have a central system at all, this guide will help you find the right portable air conditioner for you and your home.
In most cases, air conditioner units are out of sight. They're built into the confines of our home and pump air through the same ventilation system our heater uses. But there are actually three different types of air conditioner units available:
- Whole house central air conditioners
- Window mounted air conditioners
- Portable air conditioners
This article will focus primarily on portable air conditioners. So just what is a portable air conditioner? Well, they are a self-contained unit that's ideal for cooling a single room.
In most cases they sit on the floor near a window or door, and often have wheels which allows them to be easily moved from one room to another. And since they are easy to set-up, they have become a popular alternative to window mounted units.
A central air conditioning unit cools the air at a central location and then blows it through the home's ductwork throughout the house.
Not every home heating system has central air installed. Many systems have the ability to add AC, but may have chosen against it, or maybe, the AC compressor is in need of repair.
Whatever the reason, you may be trying to decide between purchasing a portable air conditioning unit or adding AC to your central heating system. Let's take a close look at how the two compare.
How Do the Costs Compare?
As a general rule, portable air conditioning units are less expensive to install than an entire central unit. In 2018, the average cost of a central AC unit was $5,000. However, you can pick up a portable air conditioner for around $500.
With that said, there are a few other cost considerations. If you plan to sell your home in the near future, a central AC unit will improve the home's value.
However, one huge advantage of a portable unit is that it can be relocated to another home or apartment. Wherever you move, it can go with you.
Many people enjoy that a portable AC unit is portable. It can be in your living room during the day, and your bedroom at night. They're also great in a home gym or workout space where your main air conditioner air flow is weak.
However, central AC units provide value by delivering a constant flow of air throughout your home, keeping your entire house cool instead of just one room.
Portable air conditioning units are excellent for a single room or a small apartment, but they simply don't have enough power to keep larger spaces cool without the use of multiple units.
Although both units require attention, central AC systems should be professionally checked in the Spring in preparation for the hottest months of the year.
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Choosing the Best Unit for Your Home
Both portable AC and central air have their advantages and disadvantages. If you're trying to decide which system is the best fit for your situation, here are a few helpful points to consider:
- A central air conditioning unit is better suited for a larger home. Where a portable air conditioning unit works better in a smaller space.
- Multiple portable air conditioning units could be an option if installing a central air conditioning unit is out of your budget.
- If you'll need to use three or more portable air conditioning units to cool a room or large space, your best option is to install a central air conditioning unit.
- When it comes to maintenance and repairs, you'll spend far less time and money with a portable air conditioning unit.
There's a few things you should keep in mind when it comes to purchasing a portable air conditioning unit. Among the most important is finding the right size for your room.
Selecting the Right Size
Manufacturers size portable air conditioners using BTU's (British Thermal Units). As a general rule, a higher BTU rating means a more powerful unit. In other words, a portable AC unit with a high BTU rating will be able to cover more square footage than one with a lower rating.
Finding a system that's the right size for your space is important. A system that's too small will increase your utility bills since it won't be able to adequately cool the room. A system that is too large will require you to spend more than necessary on your initial purchase.
Determining Your Room Size
The right size for you is determined by the square footage of the room. To determine the room's square footage, measure the length and width of the room and round the numbers up or down ( 25' 2" becomes 25, but 25' 6" is 26").
Next Multiply the length of the room by the width, your answer is the square footage of the room. (22" x 20" = 440 square feet).
In this example, we'd need to purchase a portable AC unit to cover 440 square feet.
Determining Your BTU Requirement
Now that we've determined your room's square footage, it's time to find out how many BTU's are necessary to cool the space. This chart will give you the answer.
Square Footage of Room
up to 350 sq. ft.
350 to 400 sq. ft.
400 to 450 sq. ft.
450 to 550 sq. ft.
550 to 700 sq. ft.
Don't want to do the math? Use this rule of thumb guideline:
- Smaller rooms need an AC that can pump out 7,000 to 10,000 BTUs. Think of offices, small bedrooms, and other places that are around 400 square feet.
- Medium-sized rooms need a more powerful portable air conditioning unit. You'll want to find one that can pump out 11,000 to 14,000 BTUs. Think of living rooms and larger bedrooms.
- Large-sized rooms require the most powerful kind of portable air conditioning unit. You'll want to find one that can pump out more than 14,000 BTUs. Think of large facility rooms, event rooms, and small warehouses for reference.
All air conditioning units require venting, including portable units. These systems need to be vented either through a window, door, or a wall in order to extract the hot air outside. This is done by connecting an exhaust hose to the unit.
The exhaust hose will vent the hot air and moisture outside. A venting kit is typically included, but if it isn't, or you want something different, they are reasonably priced and can be purchased separately. You can even find a kit that'll allow you to vent through a glass door and still use the door!
Condensation and Draining
During the cooling process, moisture is removed from the air and condensate is formed. Some portable air conditioners are designed to evaporate the moisture themselves, and others use a hose to direct the moisture towards a drain.
Some systems collect the condensate in a pan which will need to be emptied on a regular basis to prevent it from overflowing.
Whichever draining system you select, be sure to check regularly that its properly working to prevent mold build-up and/or water damage to your floors and surrounding area.
Since portable air conditioners are self-contained, they're very easy to set-up. Once unpacked from the box, you pretty much just need to plug them into an electrical outlet and attach the vent.
They should be positioned near a window to ensure that the warm air is moved outside. An exhaust vent kit, which is often included, seals the hose in place and prevents the warm outside air from flowing into your room.
In addition, your portable AC unit should be placed where the electrical cord can reach the electrical outlet without the use of an extension cord.
Portable air conditioning units come in a variety of types, and not surprisingly, each type has its own set of pros and cons. Let's take a closer look at the three most common models available on the market:
When most people think of portable air conditioning units they think of windowless units. They are portable and since they sit on the floor, they don't require mounting.
While many HVAC experts will argue that these units are less efficient, they can help you improve the airflow of a specific room. And, they are incredibly easy to install and able to blend into the aesthetic of your room.
The unit will need to be positioned near a window or door so the hot air and moisture can be expelled outside through a vent hose, which is almost always included.
Windowless systems are a good choice if you own a central air conditioning unit as they can help improve the air flow in a specific room. They are also a good choice if you don't have central air because they can help you cool your most frequently used room during a hot day.
Many users appreciate that these units can help remove odors from inside your home. This is especially helpful if someone in your family is a smoker; you have pets; or there are other odor-causing issues.
When comparing portable air conditioning units, a windowless model is the most cost-effective. But they do take longer to cool down a room. In fact, when compared to other windowed units, they could take twice as long!
Since a portable AC removes the moisture from warm air in order to cool the air (which is why it must be vented), these units are better suited for humid areas, such as the Eastern United States where humidity levels can become quite high.
Evaporative Air Cooler
Although, technically not considered to be a true air conditioner, an evaporative air cooler is incredibly effective, economically friendly and very energy efficient.
These unique systems are also called ventless air conditioners and swamp coolers. They're similar to a windowless unit since they are self-contained, easy to install, and can be moved from one room to another.
However, an evaporative system works differently than other air conditioning units. To begin with, they don't use a hose for ventilation, and because you won't need to position it near a window and install a venting hose kit, they're actually more "portable" than a windowless AC system!
In addition, evaporative systems cool the room differently. Located within the unit is a tank of water, and as it evaporates, the warm air is cooled. A fan then moves the cool air from the unit into the surrounding area and cools the room.
However, one thing to keep in mind is that the cooling process of an evaporative system actually adds moisture back into the air. In order to avoid a humid room, it's important to provide the unit with a constant supply of fresh air. This can be done by opening a door or window.
Evaporative systems are a good fit for homes that are located in a dray climate, such as the Western US.
How to Properly Size a Ventless System
Evaporative systems use a calculation called Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM) to measure the necessary air flow. It's not a perfect system, but it's also not as critical to get it right with ventless units as it is with AC systems that are sized by BTU's.
When shopping for an evaporative system look for the maximum square footage the unit can cover, this is the most important factor. Then check the CFM rating, as a general rule of thumb, the higher the rating the quicker it'll cool your room.
A window mounted AC unit is more efficient than a windowless or evaporative system. They improve the airflow of your room in much the same way that a central air conditioner works, and they're less expensive to run, especially if you only want to cool one room.
Window mounted units are portible in the sense that you can remove them if you move to a new home. However, where you choose to install it will most likely be where it operates. You won't be moving it from room-to-room throughout the day.
It's also a good idea to contact a professional to help you install it, especially if you're not sure of what you're doing. Window mounted systems tend to be more expensive, particularly when you take into account installation.
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Many owners don't mind the added installation struggles and lack of portability in order to have an air conditioning unit that can provide a stronger air cycle. And since the unit is mounted outside, there's no need to install an exhaust vent or lose interior space within your room.
Is a Portable AC Unit Easy to Use?
From installation to general day-to-day use, a portable air conditioning unit is very easy. The majority of the features are automated and require very little set-up, and combined with sensors that detect room temperature and when to cycle its airflow, many people choose to use their portable AC over their central system.
Are Portable AC Units Noisy?
Portable air conditioners have a long list of advantages, but they do tend to be noisy. When you're shopping for a system check the decibel (dB) rating. Most units fall into the 60 to 70 dB range.
A normal conversation is 60 dB, and although this isn't bad, you should consider when and where you'll be using your system. If it will be in the family room where you'll be watching television, it probably won't bother you too much. However, if you're trying to fall asleep it might be a huge nuisance.
We recommend finding a portable AC unit that meets your cooling requirements, and next look for the quietest unit within that group size. Shop for the bells-and-whistles after you've determined the other two items, not before.
Are Portable AC Units Energy-Efficient?
Yes and No. Most homes will see a reduction in their utility bill when using a portable air conditioner vs. their central air. This is because central air cools your entire house, even the rooms you're not using.
A portable air conditioner will cool only the room in which it's located. In most cases, this is the room you're most often in. The other rooms of your house are not cooled and energy is not wasted.
But when it comes to energy efficiency, in general, a portable AC unit is not as efficient as a window-mounted unit or a central air system. Although, purchasing an ENERGY STAR model won't change this fact, it will ensure that your unit meets the strict criteria of energy efficiency.
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