Portable Air Conditioner Buying Guide (What to Look For & Best Suggestions)

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Maybe you live in a place that gets blazing hot for only a few days a years, making a large air conditioner a waste of money. Or maybe you live in a hotter part of the country where the stress on your air conditioner makes having a backup unit a smart idea. Or perhaps you simply have an uncooled room (like a garage) that you want to make more comfortable.

No matter the reason, portable air conditioners are a popular way to keep cool in the summer. The only question is which unit should you buy? After all, they can be a large investment (several hundred dollars) and different air conditioners work best for certain situations.

The good news is that there are plenty of options out there, so finding the best portable air conditioner for you is possible. Below, we’ve highlighted some of our favorite machines, along with details on what you should look for in the best unit for your home.

Portable air conditioner

When Does a Portable Air Conditioner Make Sense?

If you want to cool your home, you have a number of options. You could go with a central air conditioner, a so-called “mini-split” system, a window unit, or a portable A/C. So when does it makes sense to use a portable unit versus those other kinds?

Portable air conditioners make the most sense when you need cooling for a small area — usually under 700 square feet. This includes spots like bedrooms and living rooms, and even garages. Larger areas need more cooling power that is provided by a larger (and more permanent) unit.

It also makes sense when you want the ease and convenience of cooling with a smaller unit without the eyesore that can come with a window unit air conditioner. These semi-permanent solutions sit in windows and have part of the unit sitting outside, creating an eyesore that many people don’t like. You also typically need professional help (or at least a strong back) to lift and install heavy window units. Portable A/C units, in comparison, have a vent tube that fits neatly into a window.

Next, these units are great if you have a need for secondary cooling. Take a hot climate like the southern U.S. Rooms on the west or south side of the home could take direct sun in the summer, making them several degrees warmer than the rest of the house — even with traditional air conditioning. When you need a little extra power, then one of these machines could be just the thing.

Finally, portable air conditioning units make sense when you want to cool for a relatively short time period. While they absolutely work in warm climates like Florida or Texas, they are also perfect for those in cooler climates that might only need some cooling for just a few weeks or months a year. You can wheel the unit to where you need it, set it up, and then use it within just a few minutes. Come cooler weather, it’s easy to disconnect it and put it away for the rest of the year.

Again, a portable air conditioner might be for you if you have at least one the following:

  • Cooling an area under 700 square feet
  • More attractive and easier to install than a window unit
  • Need a secondary way to cool a room
  • Need only a short-term solution for cooling

Our Suggestions for the Best Portable Air Conditioners

There is no “one-size fits all” pick for the air conditioner. What’s right for you depends on your use, budget, and needs. Below, we’ve covered several options we selected based on several criteria.

Best Overall Portable Air Conditioners

Honeywell 10,000 BTU with Remote Control (Name Brand)

Designed to cool rooms from about 350-450 square feet, this Honeywell portable air conditioner is one of the most versatile units for almost any situation. The well-known company makes a number of different units, and we feel this one will fit most needs.

With cooling, dehumidify mode, and fan, it offers a range of options for making your home more comfortable. And at 10,000 BTUs (a measure of cooling capacity), it should work perfectly for most bedrooms.

At around $430, it’s a bit more expensive than our value option below, but reviewers seem to think it’s well worth the money. It carries an Amazon rating of 4.5 stars, with nearly 70% of those being 5-star ratings. If you want to save a little cash, there is also a 9,000 BTU version available.

JHS 10,000 BTU with Remote Control and Wi-Fi (Value)

If you’re simply looking for the model we would buy, we’d suggest this version from JHS. It comes in at 10,000 BTU, which should be enough to cool around 400 square feet. Yet, the company suggests use in rooms up to 220 square feet. We actually like that the company appears to temper the expectations of its capacity instead of trying to overinflate its power.

Coming in at 50 pounds, the unit is on the lighter end of portable air conditioners. A noise rating of 54 decibels is also pretty good. The machine claims cooling down to 61 degrees, but what really sets the unit apart is the introduction of wi-fi.

While having wi-fi on an air conditioner may seem strange, it can be quite useful. Using an app from the company, you can control it from anywhere. So you can be at work and turn it on an hour before you get home so it has time to cool things down.

It’s also affordable for a 10,000 BTU unit, priced around $300. Most units in this range are $350 to $400. Meanwhile, it’s rated 4.5 stars based on more than a hundred reviews on Amazon.

Best Budget Portable Air Conditioner

Shinco 8,000 BTU with Remote Control

If you’re looking for simply the cheapest option to cool your home, this unit from Shinco is our suggestion. We found it priced around $200 on Amazon, making it hundreds less than many other models.

For this price you’ll get an 8,000 BTU unit, or enough for about 200-350 square feet (ideal for bedrooms or smaller spaces). The unit also has a dehumidifier and remote control. Larger units are also available in 10,000 BTU (~$275) and 12,000 BTU (~$325) should you need something with more cooling power.

Best Air Conditioner/Heater Combo

Black & Decker 14,000 BTU + Heat

When you look to add a heater to your portable unit, the number of options goes down, while the price goes up. Still, for many people having a heat option is ideal as it extends the time they will use a unit, meaning they get more for their money.

For a heater combo unit, we like this Black & Decker version. It comes in a variety of sizes, but as we write this the best value is for the largest machine — 14,000 BTUs for about $385. There is a smaller 12,000 BTU version with heat, but it’s actually more expensive.

According to specifications listed, the unit draws 9 amps, or about 1,000 watts. That’s relatively little for the size of the air conditioner. This unit is also the #1 best seller on Amazon, giving some credence to its popularity.

How We Chose the Best Suggested Air Conditioners

Wondering how we decided on our picks? Since it’s nearly impossible to test every single unit on the market, we have to rely on a number of factors to come up with our suggestions.

Specifications — To start our rankings, we looked at the specifications of the machines. What sort of BTUs do they claim to generate? What about their noise levels? We studied the specs for each air conditioner suggested to determine which scenario it might be the best option in our opinion.

Features — While the cooling is the most important feature for any air conditioner, we also looked at the features included with the machine. Appreciation was given to things like heat, remote controls, sleep timers, and more.

Reviews — We think the best way to know how a product will perform is to check out the reviews posted by people who have bought and used a product. That’s why we gave the most weight to reviews for machines, reading hundreds to find potential pros and cons of each.

Value — Finally, we considered the value of each portable air conditioner. Machines that offered the same specs for less money were given more credence in our view, all other things equal. The goal is to find those machines offering the most bang for your buck.

What to Look for in a Portable Air Conditioner

Just like buying a car, there are a number of factors and features to consider when buying an A/C unit for your home. From the power consumption of the unit to whether or not it comes with a remote control, making the right choices here can make a big difference in how much you enjoy your air conditioner.

Cooling Power
Of course, the most important thing for anyone buying an air conditioner is how well will it cool? For portable units, that’s measured in two ways.

The most consumer-friendly way of measuring cooling power is simply measured by the square footage listed on the product description. Every unit will have this figure, usually somewhere between 350 to 700 square feet. To ensure that the unit you buy has enough power, we recommend subtracting about 10-20% off the “headline” figure to see if it would work for your space. So a unit advertising 500 square feet of cooling power would be ideal for a room up to about 450 square feet.

You can also go by BTUs or British Thermal Units. This is a classic way professionals measure cooling power. As a rule of thumb, you can figure about 12,000 BTUs has roughly 500 square feet of cooling power. So an 8,000 BTU unit should cool around 350 square feet. It would take 18,000 to cool 750 square feet.

Power Consumption
As you might expect, running an air conditioner can mean using a lot of electricity. Of course that means the obvious outcome that your power bill is going to rise the more that you use the air conditioner. For instance, the average kilowatt hour costs about 12 cents in the United States. Running a 1,200 watt unit for eight hours costs about a dollar a day. In other words, it will bump up your bill, but not by much.

And while energy efficiency is important, we actually think power consumption is more important in regard to the circuits in your house. Most modern homes are built using 20-amp circuits. That can deliver a bit over 2,000 watts of power before you get in trouble of overloading the breaker. If you have 15-amp circuits (also common), you only get about 1,500 watts before running into the risk of overload.

If you have a portable unit that’s drawing 1,200 watts, then you are using most of the capacity on a 15-amp circuit and about half on a 20-amp circuit. That means if you plan to use it on the same circuit as other lights or outlets, you need to be careful about how much power you are using.

All units will have a listing of their wattage listed. As a rule of thumb, expect units to draw between 1,000-1,300 watts. We also suggest running portable air conditioners on their own circuit if possible.

Truth is most filters on portable air conditioners leave something to be desired. We’ve found them to be rather flimsy and not that effective due to the size of the webbing. These filters do have the advantage of being reusable and washable.

However, if you are the type interested in also filtering the air heavily (due to allergies or just odors) then know that you are likely to be happier having a dedicated home air purifier than relying on a portable air conditioner to do the job.

Heaters on Units
While we’re talking about air conditioners, some units have an added perk — heaters. This essentially doubles the number of days you can use your machine. Now, you shouldn’t expect to get whole house heating or for it to replace a furnace or central heat in colder climates. Still, it can add supplemental heating to a room, especially if you want to just heat one area instead of an entire home.

In our research there is a premium for having heat added to a unit, but it actually appears to be minimal — about $50-100 to have a unit that functions as both a heater and air conditioner.

Decibels (Loudness)
One final thing to consider before your purchase is the amount of noise that the unit creates. With a machine running continuously, you don’t want something that is going to drown out the sound on a television, keep you up at night, or make it difficult to talk over.

Thankfully, most units run in the 50-60 decibel range. That’s certainly loud enough to hear, but not loud enough to cause a lot of issues. On most scales it’s measured as roughly the equivalent of moderate rainfall or conversation.

Most units will disclose a decibel rating in the specifications listed on the website, but we’ve found that it’s often better to look toward reviews to see if loudness is a problem. There have been some units that have complaints over the noise level, which raises a red flag if you are worried about how loud your portable air conditioner will be.


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