Best portable air conditioners 2019: keep cool wherever you are

Best Portable Air Conditioners 2019 - Reviews and Comparison

An air conditioning unit can be the difference between having a cool summer, or melting into a puddle of sweat. When you can’t have full air conditioning unit, portable air conditioning systems are a great alternative. Whether you live in a small, rented apartment, are touring the county in your RV, or just want to make your bedroom super chilled, a portable air conditioner will keep you cool this summer. 

There's a large range of brands and features available, meaning it can be hard to know what portable air conditioners are the best for small rooms or what models won’t melt in a blistering heatwave leaving you sweltering when you need it the most. 

We looked at a large range of the most popular air conditioners, to compile a list of the most common questions, problems, and uses to create a comprehensive guide to portable air conditioning. If you want to find the best portable air conditioner, read on to find out what BTU really means to you, what pitfalls to avoid, and what air conditioners we thought were the top of the range. 

In a rush? Then the best portable air conditioner you can buy right now is the Frigidaire Cool Connect (you'll also find it called by its formal model name, the Gallery FGPC1244T1) thanks to its great balance of performance, convenience and energy efficiency.

Best Overall

Frigidaire Gallery FGPC1244T1

Reasons to Buy
Excellent energy efficiency
Good cooling performance
Five-year compressor warranty
Reasons to Avoid
Heaviest unit we tested
Not quiet
Expensive

The Frigidaire Cool Connect didn’t have the best cooling performance, but it ranked higher than most machines in this category. It can provide cool air for rooms that are 550 square feet and has a good airflow rating of 200 cubic feet per minute. The Frigidaire Cool Connect is the second most efficient portable air conditioner we tested. Its energy efficiency ratio of 11 exceeds the average rating of 9.7 among the models in our review.

The Frigidaire Cool Connect has every feature we looked for, including sleep mode, auto-restart, a programmable timer and a remote control. Most notably, it has oscillating louvers that help to distribute cold air more evenly throughout the room; only two portable air conditioning units we tested have this feature.

The noise this machine produces is average, and the fifth-loudest unit we tested. The Frigidaire Cool Connect is the heaviest portable air conditioner we tested, weighing 78 pounds. We had some difficulty getting it into our lab before taking it out of the box, but the caster wheels made it easier to move afterward. While you probably need two people to move most portable AC units up or down stairs, it's especially true for the Frigidaire Cool Connect. This unit has an exceptional five-year compressor warranty, the longest in our review.

Best Value & Most Efficient

Whynter ARC-12S

Reasons to Buy
Most energy-efficient unit we tested
Relatively lightweight
Best value for the price
Reasons to Avoid
No sleep mode
Louder than four other models we tested
Drip tray fills up occasionally

An outstanding energy efficiency ratio (EER) of 11.1 makes the Whynter ARC-12S portable air conditioner the most energy-efficient model we reviewed. This is much higher than the average rating in our comparison, 9.7 EER. Despite it being more energy efficient than our top pick, the Frigidaire Cool Connect, it has a similar power output that can accommodate rooms up to 550 square feet. However, the ARC-12S has slightly lower airflow rating of 188 cubic feet per minute, compared with 200 CFM for the Frigidaire Cool Connect, so its cooling is marginally less effective.

We like that the Whynter ARC-12S is less expensive than the Frigidaire models we tested. It achieves this at the expense of a few convenience features such as oscillating louvers and sleep mode. It's also one of two models we tested without an auto-evaporative system, which means you need to occasionally empty a drip tray so it can function properly. If you can do without those extra features, the ARC-12S is hard to beat.

Regarding noise levels, this AC unit puts out 52.5 dB while it's running. This isn't the quietest machine we tested, but it's still a reasonable choice for bedrooms. The Whynter ARC-12S is one of the lighter portable AC units we tested, weighing only 62 pounds. You can move it with the attached wheels like other portable ACs, but it should be easier to carry with two people on stairs than heavier models. The three-year compressor warranty on the ARC-12S is average for the market.

Most Powerful

NewAir AC-14100E

Reasons to Buy
Can handle very large rooms
Highest airflow rating in our comparison
Surprisingly efficient for its size
Reasons to Avoid
Loudest unit we tested
Above average annual energy costs
Compressor warranty lasts just one year

The NewAir AC-14100E is extremely powerful. It can cool up to 700 square feet on its own. Although some other portable AC units in our comparison can handle 550-square-foot rooms that are nearly as large, the AC-14100E also has the highest airflow rating of 250 cubic feet per minute.

Despite the power you get with this unit, it only costs around $410, which is slightly cheaper than the industry average of $427. The AC-14100E's extra power also means it has a lower energy efficiency ratio (EER), 9.88, compared to the best portable AC units. For comparison, three other units we tested have EER ratings over 10. This lower energy efficiency means it costs more than average to operate throughout the year. You can offset the operating costs by programming the unit's timer.

The AC-14100E is the loudest unit we tested, with a decibel rating of 57. This is almost twice as loud as the 48 dB of the quietest portable AC we tested, which could affect your slumber if you're a light sleeper. At 61.9 pounds, this unit weighs about as much as the average unit we tested. It's fairly easy to move using the unit's wheels, though stairs might be a problem. The AC-14100E has a one-year compressor warranty, the shortest in our comparison.

Best Moisture Removal

Haier HPC12XCR

Reasons to Buy
Removes more moisture per hour than other units
Reasons to Avoid
Lower airflow than average

The Haier HPC12XCR has a higher rate of moisture removal per hour, four pints, than any other portable air conditioner we reviewed. This means it's more suitable for areas where high humidity makes it harder to maintain a comfortable environment.

The HPC12XCR efficiency rating of EER 9.5 is average, but good enough to only use around $90 of electricity per year, $4 cheaper than average. We also like that there's a digital thermostat on top of the unit, so you can set the unit to your desired temperature.

This unit weighs 56 pounds, making it lighter than most portable AC units so you can move it between rooms more easily. It has a five-year compressor warranty, which is the longest warranty you can get. With 12,000 Btu, the HPC12XCR is powerful enough for most rooms up 550 square feet. However, its airflow rating of 188 CFM is lower than that of most portable AC units we evaluated, but still as powerful as the Whynter ARC-12S.

Best for Smaller Rooms

Sunpentown WA-8070E

Reasons to Buy
Excellent for smaller spaces
Reasons to Avoid
Unsuitable for large rooms

At 8,000 Btu, the Sunpentown WA-8070E has lower power than the other portable AC units we reviewed, but this makes it an ideal choice for cooling smaller spaces.

If you live in an apartment or small house, the Sunpentown WA-8070E might be better than a more powerful unit. No matter how efficient a larger unit is, it still adds more to your electric bill than the WA-8070E would, it only costs around $78 per year to run, which is about $15 cheaper than the most efficient unit we looked at, despite a low efficiency rating of EER 8.9.
This unit has an airflow rating of 185 CFM, which is enough in smaller rooms. The WA-8070E costs around $318, which is more affordable than most portable AC units. Unfortunately, this unit only has a one-year compressor and appliance warranty, which isn't very competitive with the five-year compressor warranties from Frigidaire, Haier and Honeywell.

Why trust us

We've been testing portable air conditioners, fans, air purifiers and humidifiers for over five years now. Our reviews are focused on how easy the product is to use, how well it performed, and how much value it provided for the price. We keep a strict guidelines on how to score each product across a number of categories to maintain consistency. 

We also consulted with experts and guides from organizations such as Energy Star and Energy Saver to find comparative, objective information about the products we test. We considered advice published by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers such as their blog post on air conditioners  and statement about updated test procedures used to determine a product’s BTU rating.

How we tested portable air conditioning 

We tested 7 portable AC models from Amico, Frigidaire, Haier, Honeywell, NewAir, Sunpentown and Whynter. We relied on product specifications and EER ratings to evaluate effectiveness in terms of power and energy efficiency.

We tested the mobility of each portable air conditioner by moving them between rooms. For the most part, we only had trouble moving each product into our test lab while in the shipping packaging. After unpacking the units, it took much less effort to move each one using the built-in wheels. However, if you need to carry any of these units up or down stairs, we suggest caution and having someone assist you. Even though these air conditioning units were designed to be portable, on average they weighed 63.

To test how loud the machines were, we used a sound meter to measure noise levels while they were operating. Using this method, we found that the Amico AP11000 is the quietest unit we tested, at around 48 dB. The loudest portable AC unit we tested is the NewAir AC-14100E, measuring around 57 dB. Although this might look like a small variation, it's not. The typical human ear perceives a doubling in loudness every 10 decibels, so 57 dB is nearly twice as loud as 48 dB. A quieter air conditioner may be best in bedrooms if noise keeps you awake at night or in areas where people talk. 

How much do portable air conditioners cost?

On average, portable air conditioners cost around $400, though you can find units as low as $250 and as high as $700. As with other types of air conditioners, you can expect to pay extra for units that have greater power and efficiency than average. You can also expect ongoing costs of around $94 a year on your electricity bill.

What to look for in a portable AC unit

When looking to buy a portable air conditioning unit, there are some key considerations you need to make, as well as some jargon you need to get to grips with. Here's what you need to look for before you buy a portable AC unit.

What is BTU on Air Condition?

BTU standard for British Thermal Unit is basically a means to measure heat. Air conditioners use BTU to measure how much heat an air conditioning unit can add or remove from a room in the space of an hour. The higher the BTU rating, the quicker the unit will remove the warm air. 

Are air conditioners with a high BTU rating always better? 

You should always calculate the BTU you need for the space, and buy a portable air conditioner that is capable of cooling that air. An air conditioner with a high BTU rating will cool a small space quickly, and cycle off. This could cause the temperature to climb again, and you’ll need to restart the machine. 

This is not only frustrating, but by turning the machine on and off in a small amount of time it can cause extra wear and tear on the air conditioner’s compressor, shortening the lifespan of your portable air conditioner. So, a higher BTU is not always the sensible option.

But you should always err on the side of having the BTU rating being slightly higher, as choosing an air conditioner with a lower BTU for the space might mean you will never reach your the most comfortable temperature. 

How to calculate the BTU needed for room size

BTU rating is used to calculate the maximum room size for an air conditioner. First up, you need to measure the room you plan to use the AC unit in. Once you've done that, you can use this handy chart from Energy Star to determine the BTU you need. 

This is just an average, and there are other factors that will affect the calculation. If you are on a higher floor, the heat typical raises too or the room is in direct sunlight it best to adjust the air conditioners BTU rating by 10%. 

In rooms that are naturally shaded, and not exposed to sunlight you can reduce the BTU rating by 10%. However, it is best to err on the side of caution and have a higher BTU than not enough. 

In rooms where there are heat sources, like an oven in a kitchen, it is advised you add 4000 BTU onto the rating of the portable air conditioner to counter your appliances. 

Apart from room size, you can also look over the unit's other power specifications such as power level, air flow, moisture removal and fan modes, all of which determine the effectiveness of a portable air conditioner. However, comparing room size against the BTU is the best indicator. In general, higher values mean higher performance, though the most powerful machines often have lower energy efficiency.

Portable air conditioner’s efficiency ratings

For efficiency, we looked at each unit's Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) as provided by the manufacturer. This tells you how much energy it uses when compared with its output power. Among the units we reviewed, the highest EER rating we found is 11.1 while the average rating is 9.84. You can expect to save money on your electric bill if you choose a machine with higher EER ratings. In general, portable AC units aren't as efficient as other types of air conditioners, but they are great for cooling specific areas in your home or apartment.

We also calculated the estimated cost to run a unit eight hours a day for a year using the national average cost of electricity. While this is a practical way to see long-term costs, it differs from the EER because weaker units sometimes cost less to run than more efficient units that are also more powerful.

Portable air conditioner warranty

There are two types of warranties on portable air conditioners: one for the compressor and another for parts. Because the compressor is the most essential component, it should have as long a warranty as possible. The average compressor warranty is three years, but the best units – such as those from Frigidaire, Haier and Honeywell https://www.toptenreviews.com/home/hvac/best-portable-air-conditioners/honeywell-review/– have five years of warranty coverage. You can expect a minimum compressor warranty of one year. With parts warranties, also called appliance warranties, you can expect one year of coverage from the manufacturers in our comparison.

We also advise you to check how the warranty works. Some companies, like Whynter, require you to send the product to California to be fixed or replaced. As portable air conditioning units are heavy, this is an expensive cost, and postage fees can be as much as a new machine. 

Convenience features on an AC unit

Convenience features can affect your experience with the portable air conditioner, for better or worse, depending on how you plan to use the machine. The units we tested all have a 24-hour programmable timer, wheels on the bottom and a remote control. However, a few have unique features that differentiate them. These include a sleep mode that adjusts the temperature as you sleep, as well as an auto-restart that turns the machine back on after power outages.

Hose length of an air conditioner

Hose length is an important consideration before buying a portable air conditioner. All portable air conditioners need to vented outside through a window. If you have furniture in front of the window, a longer hose is needed to be able to vent heated air outside. Look at the space you have available and where you want to place your portable AC unit. Measure this distance to make sure the hose is long enough. We would recommend portable AC units with a hose length of 5 feet or more for the maximum flexibility. 

Single or dual hose portable air conditioners 

There are no hoseless portable air conditioners. A single hose portable AC has one hose. The compressor uses this hose to pump the hot air it has extracted from your room outside. A single hose design is considered effective than a dual hosed portable AC unit because it creates negative pressure. 

Negative pressure means that is easier for the warmer air from outside to find its way back inside your room, meaning the air conditioner has to worker harder to keep your room cool. This lower the efficiency of the AC unit compared to dual hose systems. 

Single hose portable air conditioning units are cheaper to buy, and cost less to run. This is a great choice for people who value budget over efficiency as it saves you money in two ways. 

Dual hose portable air conditioners have two hoses. One hose is designed to pump hot air from the room, while the other pumps in cold air. This system is designed to stop the buildup of negative pressure, making it more efficient. This means they are excellent at lowering the temperatures, and are usually the better performing portable air conditioners. But this performance comes at a higher initial cost, and electric bill. 

Setting up a portable air conditioner 

A lot of people have difficulty installing a portable air conditioning unit, especially if they have vertical windows. 

Before purchasing a portable AC read a few reviews to see how easy it was to adjust the window kit to the style of window you will be venting through. You may have to trim window kits that are bigger than your window’s opening or add plywood frame for those openings that are bigger. 

Portable air conditioners noise level

Portable AC units are noisy. They use motorized fans and compressors that create a flow of air. If you are looking for a quieter unit for the bedroom, or something that you can hear the television over, we recommend you check the decibel levels before buying. 

Do portable air conditioners have to be vented out a window?

Air conditioners work by pulling humidity and heat from the air and venting it somewhere else. In a typical window air conditioner or central AC unit, the hot air is released into the outside air near the unit.

Portable air conditioners work a little differently. If it released equal amounts of hot air as cool air into the room, there would be no cooling effect, making them expensive noise machines. They use an insulated exhaust hose to move heat waste through a nearby window. 

If a portable air conditioner worked the same way, it would release as much hot air, if not more, as it would cold air into a room, essentially negating any cooling in the room. Because of this, portable air conditioners use an insulated exhaust hose to transfer waste heat to a nearby window.

No exhaust hose is perfect, so some of the heat leaks into the surrounding room before it leaves the window. This is why portable air conditioners are considered the least efficient type of air conditioner on the market. When it comes to home air conditioners, portability always comes at the cost of energy efficiency.

There are alternatives to portable air conditioners, in case you don’t have a window for ventilation, such as tower fans and portable evaporative coolers, though these don’t cool rooms much compared to a proper air conditioner.

Do you have to drain a portable air conditioner?

While most portable air conditioners have an automatic evaporation system, most still need a little help getting rid of all the water. Automatic evaporation systems move the condense water to area where it evaporates and gets blown out with the exhaust hose. However, in our experience, this system doesn’t always operate as well as it should, and does require emptying. 

No. While it’s true that moisture collects in a portable air conditioner, modern units have an automatic evaporation system. This moves water collected from the air inside your home to the other side of the AC unit where it evaporates and gets blown out through the exhaust hose, along with excess heat.

Do portable air conditioners have filters? 

Most portable air conditioning units have filters.These filters are designed to remove dust and particles from the air and prevents them from damaging the machine.   

Regularly cleaning these filters will prolong the life of your portable AC unit. If dirt is allowed to gather, it forms a crust on the coil, which will stop it from pumping the heat outside. This can cause the compressor to overheat, and stop working. 

Don’t use soap to clean the filters, as this can leave the filter sticky, and cause a rapid build up of dust. When cleaning the filters, it is also recommended that you clean the vents on the machine too, as the fans can suck in dust.

How long do portable air conditioners last?

Depending on how well you maintain your portable air conditioner, you can generally get between 5 and 10 years of service. Pay close attention to the warranty on the compressor, as this is a good indicator of how long the unit will last. You can expect portable AC units to last longer than the warranty if you keep up with basic maintenance tasks, such as cleaning filters and winterizing the unit when you put it away for the season. For guidance on how to conduct maintenance, refer to the owner’s manual that comes with your air conditioner.

It should be noted there are a large number of complaints about durability of portable air conditioners across all brands, and models. There are a large number of factors that can result in a lower than expected life span. When buying a portable air conditioner we always recommend you choose one with the best warranty. 

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