Portable air conditioners are efficient and highly mobile AC units that let you save money and reduce your energy consumption. They give you the flexibility to use a smaller cooling system for your home and heat/cool only the space you’re actively occupying.
For the prepper, they offer substantial benefits in comfort, off-grid energy savings, and improved health.
We checked out some of the most popular portable air conditioners to narrow it down to a list of ten. These are, in our humble opinion, the best portable air conditioners you can find.
1. Whynter ARC-14S – 14000 BTU (DOE)
The Whynter ARC-14S is a triple duty portable air conditioner that functions as an AC unit, fan, and stand-alone dehumidifier. It’s one of the most affordable and powerful units on the market and has a well-earned reputation for reliability and performance.
Why we like it: The ARC-14S uses a dual-hose design plus a highly efficient cooling system to provide a true SACC 14000 BTU cooling rating. That’s enough to quickly cool down large rooms such as living rooms, kitchens, or master bedrooms.
Flaws: The ARC-14S runs at right around 56 decibels on high. Given its high performance, we can overlook this, but if you’re a sensitive sleeper it may bother you.
2. LG Dual Inverter Portable Air Conditioner – 10000 BTUs (DOE)
The LG Dual Inverter portable air conditioner leverages LG’s technical expertise to create a highly efficient AC unit. It uses a dual inverter compressor to reduce noise and overall power usage.
Why we like it: Despite its relatively high cooling rating, it runs at just 46 decibels on average. That’s substantially quieter than many comparable portable air conditioners on the market. The same tech that makes it so very quiet also increases its efficiency compared to models of a comparable power.
Flaws: Price. While it does provide several key benefits over other models, you can find similarly powerful portable air conditioners for as little as half the price of this LG model.
3. Whynter 131GD Eco-Friendly Portable Air Conditioner – 13000 BTU (DOE)
The Whynter 131GD is a compact and highly efficient portable AC unit. It uses a dual hose design combined with some really nice features such as an activated carbon air filter, programmable timer, multiple fan speeds, and the ability to run as a dehumidifier only.
Why we like it: The 131GD uses an ingenious auto drain feature to remove all produced condensate with the exhaust heat. You won’t have to check and dump a catch pan or hook it up to a drain to prevent overflows onto your floor.
Flaws: At 56 decibels this sits right on the edge of acceptable noise levels. It’s still not very loud, but if you’re sensitive to repetitive sounds it may be a problem while trying to sleep.
4. Black + Decker BPACT14HWT – 7500 BTU (DOE)
The Black + Decker BPACT14HWT is a multipurpose portable air conditioner. It combines the benefits of a heater and air conditioning unit in one and offers some of the most in-demand features like a sleep setting, programmable timer, and easy to use remote control.
Why we like it: The biggest upside to this unit is the heating and cooling modes. It allows you to use a single floor unit as a portable air conditioner, space heater, dehumidifier, and standard fan.
Flaws: It’s larger and less efficient than some other units on our list. For approximately the same physical footprint and size you can get a portable air conditioner that’s twice as powerful.
5. Frigidaire FGPC1244T1 Portable Air Conditioner – 7200 (DOE)
This Frigidaire portable air conditioner is built to break the mold for the portable AC market. Instead of the standard boxy build of most portable AC units, it has a slimline circular body and narrow exhaust vent.
Why we like it: The slim design of the FGPC1244T1 is unique among portable air conditioners. It makes it much easier to fit into a small space and very easy to move around to different rooms.
Flaws: The small size comes at a price: Namely, price. It’s substantially more expensive than similar portable AC units. Keep performance in mind as well. At just 7200 BTU it can only cool a space of about 250-300 square feet. It’s best used for small bedrooms or office spaces.
6. De’Longhi 3-in-1 Portable Air Conditioner – 8500 BTU (DOE)
De’Longhi is well known for its stylish luxury appliances and other home goods. Its take on a portable air conditioning unit is a lot nicer to look at than many of its competitors and still offers acceptable performance at a reasonable price.
Why we like it: It’s sleek, portable, and easy to control. The features offered are a bit basic, but they all do what they’re supposed to and give you a reasonably priced and attractively styled portable air conditioner.
Flaws: As a single hose exhaust model, we really start to see the loss of efficiency. While this AC unit has an ASHRAE rating of 14000 BTU it’s adjusted DOE rating is just 8500. That drops it from a 500-550 square foot unit as claimed down to about a 300 to 350 square foot model.
7. Toshiba 115V Portable Air Conditioner – 7000 BTU (DOE)
This 7000 BTU Toshiba portable air conditioner combines a fan, dehumidifier, and AC unit into a single easy to control package. It includes most of the features people look for in a portable AC unit and is powerful enough to cool a reasonably sized bedroom.
Why we like it: It does what you need it to do, when you need it done. There are no bells or whistles to this AC unit’s design but the performance it provides is reliable and it’s easy to use.
Flaws: There weren’t any glaring flaws to the design of this portable air conditioner, it was just overall unremarkable. It meets the criteria for a good portable AC unit but doesn’t really stand out from the crowd with any ‘wow’ features.
8. LG LP0817WSR Portable Air Conditioner – 5500 BTU (DOE)
The LG LP0817WSR is a lower-powered yet affordably priced portable air conditioner. It’s quiet, reliable, and includes all the features we most look for in a quality portable AC unit.
Why we like it: The LP0817WSR is one of the few portable air conditioners that accurately lists its effective cooling space. Many still cling to the misleading ASHRAE rating system that doesn’t give you a reliable picture of how much space they can actually cool.
Flaws: While it was accurate about how efficient and powerful it is, it’s still not very powerful. At just 5500 BTUs it’s best suited for a small room of around 200 square feet, with a maximum square footage of 300 square feet.
9. Honeywell HL10CESWK – 5500 BTU (DOE)
The Honeywell HL10CESWK is a solid portable air conditioner that’s easy to operate and maintain. It includes all the most in demand features for an AC unit of its size including remote control, three-way operation, and digital/programmable controls.
Why we like it: The HL10CESWK uses a slimline window exhaust vent that’s much lower profile than many comparable AC units. It also uses a dual filter system that gives you cleaner air overall without impacting flow rate.
Flaws: Despite taking up just as much room and drawing comparable amounts of power to more efficient portable AC units, this Honeywell portable air conditioner is only capable of producing 5500 BTUs. That’s just enough to cool a maximum of a 300 square foot room.
10. Danby Portable Air Conditioner – 3000 (DOE)
The Danby portable air conditioner is a basic AC unit that offers reasonable performance at an affordable price. It works as an air conditioner, standalone fan, and dehumidifier and is very easy to operate and maintain.
Why we like it: It’s inexpensive, extremely compact, and easy to use. It takes up about the smallest space of any portable air conditioner on our list and is light enough for just about anyone to pick up and move as needed.
Flaws: At just 3000 BTU on the DOE SACC scale it’s just barely powerful enough to cool a small bedroom. If you have any desire to put your portable air conditioner in a larger space like a living room this isn’t the model for you.
What’s new with portable air conditioners
Who should buy a portable air conditioner?
Portable air conditioners can provide a lot of value, even to people with a full central air system. They allow you to target your heating and cooling precisely to the room you need it.
Preppers living off the grid – Central air conditioning systems and off-grid living don’t mix. The average central AC system draws a constant 3000 to 5000 Watts. You’d need a massive solar array and a comparable battery bank to power that for no real added benefits (1).
Most portable air conditioners draw less than 1000W, with smaller units drawing as low as 400 to 500 Watts. That’s a much more manageable cooling system for someone trying to live completely from a solar power system.
Preppers with chronic medical conditions – If you or your loved ones have a chronic medical condition a portable air conditioner can help. Temperatures and humidity levels that would just be an annoyance for a healthy individual can seriously impact the health of someone with a preexisting condition.
There’s also the benefit of having your air cycled and cleaned. Almost every quality portable AC unit has some kind of built-in filter. This helps remove dust, pollen, mold, mildew, and other potentially hazardous particles (2).
If you’re recovering from an illness or injury AC can definitely help. Having a cooler and more comfortable environment helps reduce head-related complications such as dehydration. It can also make it much easier to fall and stay asleep (3).
Preppers living in very hot and humid climates – It goes without saying that if you live in a sweltering climate or one with a high ambient humidity AC is almost a necessity. The average global temperatures are rising year over year. Homes that once got along just fine without AC are now experiencing the kind of hot, muggy summer months that only more southerly locations had (4).
A portable air conditioner provides you a flexible and affordable solution to this problem. Instead of a costly retrofit of your entire home or unsightly window AC units, you have a portable and efficient air conditioner ready to go.
You can set it up to cool your bedroom while you sleep, then move it into the living room, kitchen, or a home office. That gives you the best of both worlds, a single AC unit that can rotate through every place you’re at.
People looking to save on their heating and cooling bill – One of the biggest benefits of a portable air conditioner is how very targetable the cooing is. Even if you have a central heating and cooling system you may not want to take on the expense of full house cooling.
This is especially true for folks who like to be really cool while they sleep. You can set your main AC unit to a workable temperature for the majority of the house, then run your portable unit in your bedroom to get it nice and cold for sleep.
A portable air conditioner allows you to target individual spaces in your house to get the perfect temperature at different times of the day.
Preppers living in very small spaces – The portable air conditioner is sized to cool rooms of up to about 500 square feet. There are units that are capable of cooling larger spaces but they’re almost too large to be considered truly portable.
If you’re one of the millions of American’s who live in an apartment or if you built a compact off-grid cabin a portable air conditioner offers an affordable and efficient option. It allows you to achieve a comfortably cool and dry microclimate in a small space. This is especially true if you live somewhere that doesn’t allow window AC units.
RV and Tiny Home dwellers – Portable air conditioners are exactly the kind of cooling system you need in the small space of an RV or Tiny Home. If you’ve decided to go off-grid mobile to prepare for significant disruption, it’s nice to have some creature comforts too.
A portable AC unit lets you cool your RV or Tiny Home when plugged into grid power at a campsite or from a generator/solar power system. The space is small enough that a portable unit can cool just about the whole thing without a problem.
How we ranked
There were five key factors we considered when putting together our list. These were performance, portability, energy efficiency, ease of use, and noise.
Performance – By far the most important factor for portable air conditioners is their performance. It doesn’t matter how energy efficient or quiet an AC unit is if it won’t actually cool your space.
Performance is measured in BTUs as determined by a Department of Energy guideline. The most current rating metrics are the Combined Energy Efficiency Ratio (CEER) and Seasonally Adjusted Cooling Capacity (SACC). They set out a specific series of tests for portable AC units and give you a much more realistic measure of how efficient they are (5).
All of the BTUs we list are based on the DOEs newest standard where possible with a (DOE) next to the rating to indicate this.
Portability – The biggest benefit of a portable air conditioner is the ability to use it in multiple rooms as needed. Portability is absolutely crucial. The bulk of models on the market today offer at the very least wheels and some kind of handle to make moving them easier, but we also looked at how difficult the whole process is.
What we didn’t want to see was an annoying pack up process and difficulty moving from room to room.
Energy efficiency – Energy efficiency in portable air conditioners is closely tied to performance. You can get a much more powerful AC unit by just drawing more power, but we prefer to see models designed to take advantage of design principles to improve energy efficiency.
Unfortunately, portable air conditioners are not currently EnergyStar certified products. That makes it a lot more difficult to compare energy draw for different units. We followed manufacturer listed efficiencies where available, but it’s important to take them with a grain of salt.
Ease of use – Using a portable air conditioner includes things like how intuitive the controls were, the presence of remote controls, app connectivity, and general upkeep. We focused both on everyday use and the kind of periodic maintenance required to keep it running at peak condition.
Remotes are great because they let you adjust the temperature and turn your AC unit on/off without moving from your desk or bed. App connectivity gives you the same benefit, just with your smartphone as the control system.
Maintenance is pretty much how frequently it needs to be drained, how often filters need to be cleaned/replaced, and what kind of general procedures you need to follow to keep it running.
Noise – Noise while operating significantly impacts when and how you can use your portable air conditioner. Studies have shown that nighttime noise exposure can noticeably impact the length and quality of sleep (6).
Most portable air conditioners hover around the 50 to 55 decibel range. That’s slightly below the volume level of normal conversation. It’s important to remember that almost every manufacturer lists this based on their low setting.
That’s low enough not to bother all but the most sensitive sleepers. If you fall into that category you should definitely consider sacrificing some performance for less noise.
Brands we trust – Whynter is one of the most trusted names in the portable air conditioner market. Their products consistently include the most cutting edge features at affordable prices. Most of their flagship portable ac units offer multiple modes and settings that allow you to use them all throughout the year.
LG is a giant in the home goods and appliance industry, and their portable air conditioners showcase their attention to detail and quality craftsmanship. Their products offer the most in-demand features plus quality you can depend on.
Things to avoid – The biggest thing to avoid with a portable air conditioner is brands that overstate their effectiveness. Way too many people trash portable air conditioners in general because they don’t get the performance they’re expecting from a specific model.
Unless a portable AC unit displays a DOE SACC BTU rating it’s not taking into account the unit’s own heat. That means your 10000 BTU portable AC unit might only be providing a net 5500 BTU of cooling.
We weighted each of these measures by importance and created our full list. Each of the portable air conditioners on our list is well-made and offers an excellent performance level for its intended use.
Portable air conditioners require no weatherproofing and are easy to set up – In the past single room air conditioning was exclusively the realm of the window AC unit. They worked alright, but they were kind of an eyesore and had a lot of downsides. One of the biggest was the weatherproofing required during installation and the potential damage they could cause to your window itself (7).
Putting in a window AC unit was a semi-permanent installation. You had to carefully balance the unit and provide weatherproofing for the electronics of the unit itself and the area around your window. A poorly fitted window AC unit could lead to leaks and even structural damage to your window frames (8).
Portable air conditioners have none of those downsides. The small exhaust tube that connects through the window takes less than a minute to install and requires no special sealants. The AC unit itself is located inside your home so there’s no need to weatherproof it.
Another great benefit is that portable air conditioners all run on standard 110V AC outlets. Many window units require a 220V appliance grade outlet, greatly limiting where they can be placed.
Portable air conditioners are one of the most energy-efficient cooling methods – While portable air conditioners are slightly less efficient on a unit by unit basis than a window air conditioner, overall they reduce energy usage.
This comes down to how people use portable air conditioners vs how they use central cooling or window air conditioners. Running a central cooling system requires you to cool your entire house, even the parts of it you aren’t actively using. That uses a lot more energy than you really need for your comfort.
Window units target cooling to a single room, but only that single room. If you move to another room you’ll need to turn on a separate window unit to achieve the same level of comfort. This requires multiple window units that, let’s be honest here, most people probably keep on at the same time.
This is especially beneficial if you’re looking for an off-grid cooling option. Unless you’ve got a monster of an off-grid solar system you’re unlikely to have enough capacity to run multiple AC units at once anyways.
Portable air conditioners can be used around your whole house – By far the biggest benefit of a portable air conditioner is their portability. The setup process for a portable AC unit is pretty much just setting it where you want it and putting the exhaust hose into a window. It takes maybe a minute and then you’ve got cold air blowing out.
Instead of having to spend a fortune to have central AC installed or purchasing window units for all the rooms, you want to be cooled you can simply buy a single portable AC and take it with you. Put it in your bedroom to stay comfortable while you sleep, then move it to the kitchen, an office, or your living room for day time comfort.
Portable air conditioners can perform multiple roles – Portable air conditioners aren’t actually just air conditioners. Many models are designed to function as AC units, dehumidifiers, air filters, and even heaters. This allows you to purchase a single appliance that can condition and filter your air throughout the year.
The heating feature is one of the newer additions to the portable air conditioner repertoire but is extremely useful. You no longer have to purchase multiple space heaters and other small appliances to perform multiple tasks.
Q: Are portable air conditioners quiet?
A: One of the most common complaints about portable air conditioners relates to noise. Most units hover somewhere between 45 and 60 decibels, or between a computer fan and a normal volume conversation. Larger units are a bit louder, though manufacturers are doing their best to quiet them. A good rule of thumb is that any air conditioner you plan to sleep with should be less than 55 decibels. Above that level and it starts to impact your sleep quality (9)(10).
Q: What is a BTU?
A: A British Thermal Unit, commonly known as a BTU, is the most widely used metric for heating and cooling in the US. In scientific terms, it’s the amount of energy needed to heat or cool a pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. For the purposes of portable air conditioners, it’s what tells you the level of performance a unit has. Higher BTUs equal greater cooling capabilities, though also higher energy draw (11).
Q: How do I install a portable air conditioner?
A: The beauty of portable air conditioners is that there’s almost no installation process to speak of. The only real installation you have to do is putting an exhaust vent into a window, a process that takes under a minute with a bit of practice. Once that’s done you’re ready to go.
Q: How do portable air conditioners work?
A: Portable air conditioners rely on the same principles as other AC units to work. They use a scientific process called phase conversion to absorb heat. Refrigerants within your portable air conditioner absorb heat from the air in your room as they change from a liquid into a gas. A mechanical compressor activates and forces that gas back into a liquid form while venting the heat given off outside your home. This process also removes humidity from the air, creating a cool and dry internal temperature (12).
Q: Are portable air conditioners safe?
A: Portable air conditioners are just as safe as traditional AC units. There was some early concern that their lack of intake vents would reduce air supply inside rooms, but that has proven to be false. There’s a slight vacuum effect pulling air in from other parts of the home, but this isn’t a concern at all. If you’re still worried just purchase a dual-hose portable air conditioner.
Q: Do portable air conditioners need to be vented?
A: Yes. Any air conditioner produces waste heat as part of the cooling process. If you don’t properly vent your portable air conditioner through a window all the heat it pulls out of your inside air will just go right back into your home.
Q: Do portable air conditioners use a lot of electricity?
A: It depends. If we’re talking about a foot by foot basis then portable AC units are a bit less efficient than a modern central cooling system. Overall though, they don’t use that much electricity. The biggest benefit of a portable AC unit is that you can target your heating and cooling. They allow you to cool only the parts of your home you’re actively occupying. You may be using slightly more power per square foot, but you’re cooling a much smaller overall space.
Q: Do portable air conditioners need to be drained?
A: Yes and no. All portable air conditioners produce water as they dehumidify the air. In the past, you had to periodically empty out the water container in your portable air conditioner or risk it overflowing. Now the most advanced units use what’s called an evaporative auto drain feature. This uses the warm exhaust air to carry the water outside your home without you having to deal with it. Check the model you’re interested in to see if it offers this feature.
Q: What size portable air conditioner do I need?
A: To figure out how powerful a portable air conditioner you need, simply look at the square footage of the space you want to cool. Smaller rooms of sub 300 square feet work best with around an 8000 BTU unit. Up to about 400 square feet, you should look at a minimum of a 10000 BTU with anything above about 550 square feet requiring at least a 14000 BTU unit (13). Generally speaking though, we recommend you err on the side of caution and go up a size for each space.
Q: What’s the best portable air conditioner for high humidity?
A: When you’re in a very high humidity environment it’s important to keep it under control. Too much humidity makes any temperature less comfortable, and can even lead to mold and mildew growth within your home. If you’re worried about high humidity you should choose a portable air conditioner capable of removing the maximum amount of water from the air possible.
Our number one pick for the best portable air conditioner for high humidity is the LG Dual Inverter Portable Air Conditioner.
Q: Are there portable air conditioners without exhaust?
A: No. Air conditioners work by taking heat from one area and transferring it to another area. Without exhaust there’s nowhere for the removed heat to go but back into your home. Currently, it’s physically impossible to build a working air conditioner that doesn’t have some kind of exhaust.
Q: How often do I need to clean my portable air conditioner?
A: Different manufacturers will recommend different cleaning schedules but there are a few general rules of thumb you can follow. You should wipe down the housing and vents of your air conditioner at least once every few weeks. At the same time, you should check the filter and either clean or replace it as needed (14).
Portable air conditioners are reasonably priced, efficient, and great for people looking to reduce their energy consumption or live totally off-grid. They allow you to precisely target your heating and cooling without wasting energy on unoccupied parts of your home.
Picking out the best portable air conditioner comes down to properly sizing the model you want and looking at the quality metrics we covered above.
For Survival At Home’s #1 portable air conditioner recommendation, click here.
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