Portable Air Conditioners

If you’re dreading a hot summer, or currently sweating through one, you might be wondering how to quickly cool your home without a full-blown air conditioning set up. This is where the portable air conditioner steps in, because it could be your new best friend during the warmer months.

What is a portable air conditioner?

Portable air conditioners are small-scale air conditioning appliances which can be moved to wherever is most convenient in your home. Depending on the type of model you purchase, they can either be completely free-standing or connected to the exterior of the building via flexible pipes.

Here’s our guide to portable air conditioners, complete with all the information you’ll need to make an informed purchase decision.

Pros and cons of portable air conditioners

Portable air conditioners are the perfect solution for anyone whose cooling requirements are infrequent or temporary. This could mean a person who only wants to cool a single room at a time, or renters who only require a temporary solution to keeping cool in summer. Portable air conditioners are also much cheaper to buy upfront, meaning they’re ideal for households who may not be able to afford a full air conditioning system. Portable units are also (unsurprisingly) much easier to store and move – the fact they can be hidden away when not in use is appealing to many.

The unfortunate flip side of their modest size, however, is that portable air conditioners lack the power and features of larger, more expensive systems such as split system air conditioners. Additionally, portable air conditioners can be quite ineffective if they’re used to cool a large space – anything bigger than a small bedroom or lounge will be tough. They’re also not very energy efficient, which will cost you in power bills over time. If you’re in a warmer environment in Australia, then we suspect that investing in more substantive cooling methods will leave you happier in the long run.

Pros Cons
  • Portable and maneuverable
  • Great for renters and people who like flexibility
  • Often cheaper unit price than traditional A/C
  • An easy fuss-free solution for quick cooling of a room
  • Less powerful than traditional A/C
  • Ineffectual cooling for large rooms, usually best left in small rooms
  • Can still be expensive on a power to price ratio
  • Can be relatively energy inefficient for their size, especially in larger rooms

How much does it cost to run a portable air conditioner?

Take for example the Dimplex (DC10RC) 3kW portable reverse-cycle air conditioner. With an output of 3kW, and factoring in electricity costs of 23c per kWh, this unit would cost 69c per hour to run. In the middle of summer, we imagine your air conditioner will be getting quite a workout, so it pays to be mindful of the dreaded electricity bill when turning on your portable air conditioner. But keep in mind that costs will naturally depend on your electricity rates.

Air conditioning units are rated either by their power requirement in kW (kilowatts) or less commonly by the amount of heat energy they dissipate, measured in BTU (British Thermal Units). Many of the units we found online had an energy output of 3.52 to 6 kW.

Keep in mind that portable air conditioners lose much of their effectiveness when heating larger areas. Specifically, the amount of power you need from a portable air conditioner will depend on how much heat needs to be dissipated from the room in question. This depends on several factors such as the room size, window size, insulation, humidity, etc. There are several online calculators that can help you discern how powerful an air conditioner you’ll need, such as this one from FairAir.

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Portable air conditioner features to consider

Whilst portable air conditioners are generally quite sparse in features compared to larger models, there are still several useful functions and features that you should look out for:

  • Wheels: It could hardly be considered a ‘portable’ air conditioner if it couldn’t be moved around easily. These units can be quite heavy, which is why many models sport wheels to ensure the task of moving the appliance is an easy one.
  • Dehumidifier: Many evaporative air conditioners have a dehumidifier function to reduce the humidity of the cool air. Dryer air feels more comfortable and provides greater cooling.
  • Timer: Another useful feature is a timer control which allows you to set the unit to operate for a certain time or at a certain time of day, which can save you time and energy costs.
  • Noise control: All air conditioners have some inherent vibration and noise, but more expensive models can have extra damping and insulation to reduce this.
  • Dual condenser: Some models sport multiple condensers, to more effectively dissipate heat. Potentially, this could mean greater cooling power, but could also mean a more expensive running cost.
  • Window kits: You’ll need to run a hose or piping from your unit out the window to vent all the hot air from the room. A window kit will streamline this process, however keep in mind that you’ll have to remove and reinstall the window kit every time you move the unit.

Find a Portable Air Conditioner

How much do portable air conditioners cost?

Most models are priced between $500-$800 which, despite being a significant investment, is much cheaper than the costs you’ll incur by buying and installing a full-size air conditioning system. Some of the manufacturers of portable air conditioners include Atlantic, Delonghi, Dimplex, LG and Omega, with the brand also having an impact on price.

The above information should be entirely sufficient to help you pick a portable air conditioner for your home. However, if you want to be as well-informed as you could possibly be, you’ll also want to know how these air conditioners work.

How do portable air conditioners work?

Portable air conditioners come in two varieties – refrigeration cycle air conditioners and evaporative cooling air conditioners. Refrigeration cycle units use a standard refrigeration cycle system employed by most large air conditioners. The essential principle is that heat in the room is transferred to a refrigerant gas (usually just plain old air for household air conditioners) which is circulated out of the building to a condenser where the excess heat is dumped. The now cool refrigerant then circulates back into the building to repeat the cycle. This type of air conditioner must be connected to the outside of the building in order to dump heat, and this is usually done using a flexible hose that allows the unit to move around.

Evaporative cooling air conditioners pump air from outside through a screen which is partially saturated with water, and this absorbs the unwanted heat from the air. This cool air is pumped directly into the building to cool it, or is used indirectly to cool the condenser of a refrigeration system described above. The main advantage of an evaporative cooling unit is that it’s much cheaper to run than a refrigeration cycle unit. Further, evaporative portable air conditioners require no connecting pipes to circulate air, making them truly portable, unlike refrigeration cycle models. However, the use of water as the cooling mechanism has two disadvantages.

Firstly, the humidity of the cooled air is increased as it passes through the filter, which can be uncomfortable and less useful in humid climates where the outside air is already moist. For this reason, evaporative cooling is best suited to hotter, dryer climates. And secondly, these coolers require a steady supply of water in order to operate.

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How to find the best portable air conditioner

If you’ve decided that a portable air conditioner is right for you and your home, then you may want to consider these popular brands and models.

Dimplex DC10RC

Dimplex DC10RC Air conditionerAs mentioned earlier, the Dimplex DC10RC is one of the more popular portable air conditioners. With 3kWh of capacity, this nimble unit is reverse-cycled. Its size is more suited to smaller rooms, 20m² or smaller. It also doesn’t just cool your home, it can also heat. This means that it’s suitable for a range of environments, and for those particular places in Australia that have both hot summers and cold winters.

The fun doesn’t stop there. This Dimplex also acts a dehumidifier, which can immediately leave you feeling fresher or cooler when you step into the room. The dehumidifier function can also limit the growth of mould and mildew. On the flipside, the Dimplex can also humidify the room thanks to the 3.6L water tank on board; this is similar to an evaporative air conditioner that can cool rooms suffering from scorching dry heat through humidifying the air.

Retailing for the best part of $800, it’s at the mid to high end of portable air conditioners. Overall, it’s a tidy unit that could look good placed in one of your smaller rooms.

Delonghi PACN76

Atlantic DADOS40 air conditionerIf you’re in the market for a quick-fix solution for cooling a room this summer, then this Delonghi unit may be for you. Retailing for about $600, it’s at the cheaper end of the portable A/C world. With 2.1kW of power, it is best suited to smaller rooms such as a bedroom or study, but it can still pack a punch.

This is a more mindful portable air conditioner. Its energy efficient rating is Class A, and the refrigerant gas R410A is more environmentally friendly. Additional features include a three-speed fan function, dehumidifier and a remote control for total control over the unit. If you want maximum portability then this little fella may be for you. At 75cm tall, it’s on castor wheels and has handles for maneuverability.

Atlantic DADOS40

Delonghi PACN76 air conditionerIf you’re in the grips of a heatwave, sweating in the middle of Mildura, then this Atlantic model may provide you the breeze you need to feel like you’re out at sea. Retailing for almost $1,000, it’s at the higher end of the portable A/C market, but you might find it to be supreme value. At only 540mm tall, it’s a box-shaped unit that could easily tuck away and look inconspicuous. With 4kW of power, it could potentially do well in a small to medium-sized room.

It’s also designed with user experience in mind. It features three fan speeds as well as dehumidification. It also contains washable filters for easy cleaning, as well as a window kit for a window mount, as well as a remote control to aid you in staying cool exactly how you like. For portability it also has wheels so you can have a wheely good time this summer.

Is a portable air conditioner right for me?

There are a few things you’ll need to consider before hightailing it down to your local appliance store to buy a portable air conditioner. As mentioned in the pros and cons above, portable air conditioners are especially handy if you only need to cool one room. For a renter or a person on-the-go they can be a great investment. And if you’re a single person living at home then moving the air conditioner around from room-to-room is a realistic scenario.

However, as discussed earlier, a portable air conditioner is nearly always going to pale in comparison to the cooling power of a split system or ducted unit. If you’re intent on cooling your whole house or a large room, then one of these larger systems may work better for you. A portable unit is a great investment, but it comes with some strong limitations. Not to mention, around $500 or more for one is nothing to sneeze at. Overall you’ll have to consider your own needs before getting cool with a portable air conditioner.

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