How to Choose a Portable Air Conditioner
The top performers in our review are the Haier HPN12XCM, the Gold Award winner; the Friedrich P09B, the Silver Award winner; and the Whynter ARC-12S, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a portable air conditioner to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of these 10 air conditioners.
Portable air conditioners are excellent for apartments or small houses in which other air conditioning units, like window air conditioners, might be prohibited by landlords or private housing rules. These units are also highly maneuverable compared to other air conditioners, so you can move them from one room to another, such as from the living room in the afternoon to a bedroom in the evening. Because they are designed to move somewhat frequently, all portable air conditioners have casters, or wheels, to help you move them where they are needed.
Unlike other small air conditioners, these units don't rest inside a window frame. Instead, they sit on the floor inside the room you want to cool. Portable air conditioners still need to use a window, though, to vent hot air from the room via an exhaust hose. Installing the exhaust vent in a window frame is generally quick, easy and painless compared to installation of other air conditioning units, but it still takes a few minutes to set up properly. Unfortunately, these window kits tend to be the weak point in portable air conditioners; improper installation can lead to warm air leaking in through the window of the room you are trying to cool. To learn more about these products, check out our articles about portable air conditioners.
Is a Portable Air Conditioner Right for You?
All air conditioners share some common design elements, such as cooling mechanics and different operation modes, and they all require some level of installation. The defining element that separates portable air conditioners from other designs is that they rest on the floor instead of through a wall.
These units are designed to move from room to room to keep you comfortable throughout your house. If you spend most of your afternoons in the kitchen or living room, for example, you can set up the portable air conditioner there to keep you cool when temperatures are at their hottest. As evening sets in, you can quickly and easily move the air conditioner into your bedroom to control nighttime temperatures. It's important to note that although these units are more maneuverable than other air conditioners, they are still hefty appliances that take a few minutes to install.
If this type of air conditioner is not a good fit for you, there are other options to consider. Wall air conditioners are an excellent long-term solution to cool a room in your home. These air conditioning units differ from portable ones in that they are permanent fixtures. To install a wall air conditioner, you must actually create a hole in an external wall and seal the air conditioner in that hole. It then pulls in outside air, cools it and blows it into your house. If you are looking for a permanent addition to a specific room, check out our reviews of wall air conditioners.
If a permanent wall-mounted air conditioner isn't what you're looking for, consider a window air conditioner, which combines the efficiency of wall units and some of the maneuverability of portable units. These air conditioners, as the name implies, rest inside a window frame to pull in outside air and blow it cold into your home. These units are great if you want to keep one room in particular comfortable, like a bedroom, but don't want to create a hole in the wall to install the unit. Note that some landlords or apartment complexes do not allow window air conditioners, because they can damage windowsills if they aren't installed with care. To learn more, check out our reviews of window air conditioners.
Portable Air Conditioners: What We Evaluated, What We Found
In our evaluation of portable air conditioning units, we considered cooling ability and energy efficiency more heavily than other features and elements. The first and most important function of portable AC units is, of course, to regulate the temperature of your room and keep you comfortable. If an air conditioner can't perform this function, it does not serve its purpose. Therefore, we evaluated the effectiveness of each unit's ability to sweep cool air through a room.
We considered each unit's energy efficiency and estimated its annual operating cost. During our evaluation process, we considered features that make the air conditioners easy to use, such as the different operating modes. Fortunately, every unit we reviewed includes a remote control and a programmable timer, so you can control your air conditioner from across the room and set it to turn on or off at specific times.
Overall design is another major consideration. Make sure the unit is light enough to move from room to room without being too much of a hassle. Also, consider how quiet it is during operation. Can you sleep while the unit is running? A loud unit can take some getting used to or may be too loud to use altogether. The average noise level of portable air conditioners is 52 dB, which is about as loud as a normal conversation between two people.
Finally, when you look for a freestanding air conditioner, make sure the manufacturer has certain resources in place to help you in the event of a problem or just a general question. Look for products that include downloadable manuals and FAQs pages on their websites, as well as phone or email support.
The first and most important element to consider when looking for the best portable air conditioner for you is the size of the room you want to cool. Air conditioners are rated in Btu, or British thermal units, the number of which corresponds with the size of the room the unit can cool. You want to find a unit that is neither too weak nor too powerful for the room you plan to use it in. Typically, an air conditioner that produces 5,000 Btu can cool a room of up to 150 square feet, whereas a unit that produces 14,000 Btu can cool larger rooms ranging up to 700 square feet.
The next consideration is how much air the unit circulates. This is indicated by its maximum airflow, measured in cubic feet per minute (cfm). The higher the cfm, the more air is pushed through the unit and into your room.
Another factor to keep in mind is that these air conditioners cool a room by pulling moisture out of the air. This raises some design considerations, as you may or may not have to empty a drip tray every once in a while. Some models have a self-evaporating design, combining excess moisture with the heat exhaust system to evaporate as much water as possible, meaning less maintenance for you.
Efficiency & Certifications
One important consideration for any appliance is how energy-efficient it is and how much it costs annually to operate. Every air conditioner we reviewed includes an energy efficiency ratio (EER) rating. The higher the EER, the more efficient the air conditioner is. The average EER of portable air conditioners is 9.7, so if you want an energy-efficient unit, look for one with an EER rating at least this high.
You also want to consider the annual operating cost. We determined each unit's annual energy cost using a standard industry formula based on continual use for eight hours of daily operation, 90 days out of the year. Of course, your annual energy cost depends on how often you use the unit and how much you pay for electricity (the national average is 12 cents per kilowatt), so your overall energy cost can vary from our estimate.
Pay extra attention to units that have certain performance and safety certifications. These include the UL-Listed mark, ASHRAE certification, the ETL-Listed mark and RoHS compliance. The first three certifications indicate that the unit has passed safety and performance tests by Underwriters Laboratories; the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers; and Intertek, respectively. If a product is certified RoHS compliant, this means it meets the specifications of the Restriction of Hazardous Substances, which restricts the use of six hazardous materials commonly used in electrical equipment: lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls and polybrominated diphenyl ethers.
Portability & Design Considerations
These air conditioning units should be lightweight and easy to move from room to room or lift and carry up the stairs. Installing one of these units should only take minutes and shouldn't be a headache. The average weight of portable air conditioners is around 63 pounds, so look for one around that weight or lower if you plan to move this air conditioner around your house regularly.
Every air conditioner exhausts hot air. This presents an issue, because you don't want the unit to blow both cold and hot air into the same room. To combat this dilemma, every portable air conditioner comes with a hot air exhaust system. You connect the unit to an exhaust hose and the exhaust hose to a window attachment that blows the hot air out of the room entirely. Improper installation of the window kit can let hot air enter the house, so make sure you take the time to install it correctly, taking extra care to cover any gaps between the window kit and the windowsill.
Regardless of which air conditioner you purchase, you want one that has multiple options to keep you comfortable. Look for one that provides multiple cooling options, such as a fan-only mode you can use when all you want is some extra airflow in the room. Fan speeds play a major role in keeping a room comfortable, so look for a portable air conditioner that has three speed settings: high, medium and low.
If you live in a humid environment, look for units that feature a dehumidifying mode, which pulls excess moisture out of the air. This element may eliminate the need for a separate dehumidifier in your home. You may have to empty the drip tray with this feature, even if the air conditioner uses self-evaporating technology.
If you plan on using an air conditioner at night while you sleep, consider a model that has a sleep mode, which gradually raises the temperature during the night, keeping you comfortable and saving energy. If energy conservation is important to you, consider a portable unit with an energy-saver mode, which reduces power consumption by turning off the exhaust and circulation fans when the compressor isn't running. When the compressor is on and starts blowing cold air in your room, the fans automatically come back on.
Portable Air Conditioners: Our Verdict & Recommendations
After evaluating a variety of portable air conditioners, we determined the Haier HPN12XCM, the Whynter ARC-12S and the Friedrich P09B are the best on the market. These portable air conditioners feature excellent cooling abilities and are also highly energy-efficient. They each have numerous operating modes, meaning you can customize them to your comfort level.
The Haier HPN12XCM is designed to work in rooms of up to 550 square feet, as it produces 12,000 Btu. Because it is capable of removing 4.2 pints of water from your air a day, this portable air conditioner is excellent for humid environments. Additionally, this is one of the quietest machines we found, meaning it shouldn't disturb you too much while you watch TV, listen to music or try to sleep. It comes with every convenient feature we look for in a portable air conditioner, including a self-evaporating system to add the water it produces back into the air. The machine also has a five-year warranty, which is among the longest we found. Overall, the Haier HPN12XCM is the best portable air conditioner because of its cooling abilities, design elements and convenient features.
The Whynter ARC-12S is the most energy-efficient portable air conditioner we reviewed, which means you don't have to worry about breaking your energy bill every month you use it. This machine is also designed for rooms of up to 550 square feet because it is capable of producing 12,000 Btu. Although it lacks some of the design elements we look for, such as a self-evaporating system and sleep mode, this is one of the best portable air conditioners you can find.
The Friedrich P09B is the best portable air conditioner at removing excess moisture from a room, as it can pull up to 5 pints of water every hour. The air conditioner produces 9,300 Btu, so it works best in rooms no larger than 400 square feet. Although it isn't as energy-efficient as some of the other models we reviewed, it comes with all the convenient features we look for, including a remote control with an LCD screen. This air conditioner is best for those who live in humid environments, as it can save you the cost of a dedicated dehumidifier to make your home comfortable.