Are Portable Air Conditioners as Good as Window Units
Usually, most homeowners prefer installing central air or ductless mini-splits to cool or heat the entire house. However, if you have an additional room that is not covered by the ductwork or if you have a tiny house, you will find yourself considering between portable or window air conditioners.
Both portable and window air conditioners have their pros and cons and at times you will be forced to install a portable AC even if you initially would have wanted a window unit (and vice versa).
Portable air conditioners are great because they can be moved from one room to another, they are easy to install and are not an eyesore on the wall/window. They are however the least efficient type of AC, are noisy, takes up floor space and you may need to manually drain the condensate.
Portable air conditioners are not nearly as good as window units. They are not energy-efficient, are way noisier, they need to be vented through the window and may also need you to manually drain the condensate. Portable ACs are also way to big hence occupy valuable floor space.
The advantages of portable air conditioners over window air conditioners is that they are easy to install, can be moved from one room to another and are not visible from outside. Also, window air conditioners may need to be uninstalled during winter to prevent damages by extreme weather.
The main disadvantage of portable ACs is that they create negative air pressure in the room which allows hot air from other rooms to infiltrate the room. That forces the unit to work harder and hence low efficiency. They are also noisy, needs an exhaust hose and also take up valuable floor space.
A portable air conditioners will cool a room but not the whole house. Although its efficiency is not as high as that of other types of air conditioners, a properly installed air conditioner will sufficiently cool a room in 20 minutes.
How a Portable Air Conditioner Works
A portable air conditioner as its name suggests is an AC unit which can be moved from one room to another. Although they are quite heavy (50 pounds and above), they have wheels which makes it easy to move them to just any room in the house.
All types of air conditioners work the same way. The principle behind how they work is the same.
Air conditioners have 5 main components:
- Evaporator coil
- Condenser coil
- Expansion valve
In central and ductless air conditioners, the evaporator coil is found inside the house while the compressor and condenser are located outside the house and are known as the outside or condenser unit.
Portable and window air conditioners have all the components in one unit. The difference however is that in window ACs, the condenser side of the unit is on the outside side of the house while the evaporator side is inside the house.
To cool the house, a very cold chemical known as a refrigerant (like Freon or Puron) enters the evaporator coil. The evaporator fan pulls hot indoor air and forces it through the coil.
Due to the difference in temperature, the refrigerant will absorb heat from the air and cool it in the process. The cooled air is then circulated back to the house.
After absorbing heat from the air, the refrigerant will evaporate (turn from liquid to gas) and be ejected out of the evaporator.
From the evaporator coil the refrigerant gas enters the compressor. Inside the compressor, the refrigerant is compressed to increase its pressure. As the pressure of the refrigerant increases, its temperature increases as well.
It is important to increase the temperature of the refrigerant, so that it can lose the heat it absorbed from the indoor air to the outside air. Remember in heat transfer, there must be a difference in temperature between the 2 mediums.
From the compressor, the high-pressure high-temperature refrigerant gas enters the condenser coil. A fan blows cooler air over the condenser coil.
The air absorbs heat from the refrigerant and dissipates it to the surrounding. After losing enough heat, the refrigerant condenses and goes back to its liquid state.
Before flowing back to the evaporator, the refrigerant is first passed through an expansion valve where its pressure is considerably reduced. A reduction in pressure also results in a reduction in temperature of the refrigerant.
Let us now see how portable air conditioners work different from other types of air conditioners.
In other types of air conditioners, the condenser unit is usually outside the house. Therefore, when the fan blows cooler air over the coil, the air absorbs heat from the refrigerant and dissipates it to the outside air.
That is the main reason you will notice that when you stand close enough to the condenser unit, you will feel hot air being blown towards you.
A portable AC is different, since even the condenser unit is inside the house, it needs a system to remove the hot air outside. That is why these units are placed near windows so that they can be vented through the window using a hose.
Note: Some portable air conditioners can also be vented through the roof.
There are 2 types of portable air conditioners. These are single and dual-hose portable air conditioners. So, how different are they and which one is better?
Single-hose portable air conditioners have a single exhaust vent while dual-hose air conditioners have 2 exhaust vents. As a result, single-hose portable air conditioners are cheaper, easier to install and therefore the most common.
In a single-hose portable AC, the unit pulls air from the room and after cooling it, the heat and moisture are removed out through the single hose.
The main disadvantage of this type of unit is that it keeps on pulling air from the house without immediately replacing it. For that reason, negative air pressure (vacuum) is created inside the room.
Due to the negative air pressure created, hot air from other rooms can seep into the room through window or door gaps or even other crevices in the room. As a result, the air conditioner will need to work harder to cool the room.
Insulating the room and keeping all the doors and windows closed can help deal with this problem.
Dual-hose portable air conditioners have 2 vents. Although they ae more expensive and harder to install than single-hose units, their energy efficiency is way higher.
So, why the 2 separate exhaust hoses?
Just like in single-hose AC units, one hose is used to remove the heat and moisture from the unit while the secondary hose is used to bring in fresh air and hence equalize the air pressure inside the room.
The outside air is first air-conditioned before being released into the room.
When to Install a Portable Air Conditioner
So, when should you install a portable air conditioner and when should you explore other options?
1. When Portability is Important to You
One of the main advantages of portable air conditioners is the ability to be move them from one room to another. You only need to unplug them and push them to the room you want them to cool.
If for instance you can only afford one air conditioner to use between your home office and bathroom or living room, a portable air conditioner will come in handy.
Although they are more efficient, uninstalling and installing a window air conditioner in different rooms is just too much work.
2. When You Don’t Like the Look of Window ACs
To be honest, window air conditioners are not pretty to look at, especially from outside the house. They are quite conspicuous from outside and always seem to take away something from the design of the house.
Another thing to remember is that a window air conditioner will partially block your view. If you, like me likes the entire view of the outside from the window then you might opt to instead install a portable air conditioner.
3. If Your Area Experiences Extreme Winters
Air conditioners have no use during winter but it is important to always remember that you will need them during the next summer. And that is especially the case if you have a window air conditioner.
If you live in an area that experiences extreme winters, it is generally advisable that you uninstall the unit to prevent it from the elements. Extreme winters can damage your window AC unit and hence the reason you should uninstall it.
If you have no problem uninstalling and installing your window AC every year then you have no reason to be alarmed. However, if it is too much to deal with for you, that is where a portable AC comes in.
Portable AC s are always indoors and are therefore safe from extreme weather conditions.
4. If Floor Space is Not a Problem
There are people who install window ACs purely because they have no floor space to keep a portable window conditioner. Window AC are therefore a good option for folks who cannot have an extra appliance on their floor.
If floor space is not a problem for you then you can go ahead and purchase a potable air conditioner.
5. You Don’t Mind Manually Draining the Condensate
This point does not apply to all portable air conditioners. Older portable air conditioners have an internal bucket where the condensate drains into and you as the homeowner will need to regularly and manually drain the condensate.
Modern air conditioners uses gravity drain or self-evaporation where the moisture is ejected out through the exhaust hose.
6. When You are Restricted by the HOA
Most homeowners associations are very strict on how the external environment of the community should look like. And that actually affects your choice of HVAC system.
As I have already mentioned, window AC units are not particularly attractive especially when viewed from outside the house. For that reason, there are lots of HOAs that forbid them in their community.
If you therefore find yourself in such a community, you may be forced to settle down for a portable air conditioner even if you would have otherwise preferred a window unit.
7. When You Need Supplemental Cooling
Central air conditioners are excellent options for cooling the whole house but at times they leave some places uncooled. Such places are known as hot spots and a potable AC can come in handy.
If you have a hot spot in your house, you can install a portable AC there to supplement the central air conditioner. Due to the nature of hot spots, portable AC units are a better fit than even window units.
8. When Your Windows Don’t Cooperate
You may want to install a window air conditioner but then your windows fail to cooperate with you. It could be that the windows are too small, too high up the wall or don’t open properly.
In such a scenario, you would have no option other than to install a portable AC unit. As you can see, there are a lot of things to consider prior to making the purchase.
When Not to Install a Portable Air Conditioner
The following are some of the reasons why you should look alternatives to portable air conditioners:
1. If You Value Efficiency
Simply put, portable air conditioners are the least effective type of air conditioners. This is actually their main disadvantage.
As I had mentioned earlier, when they suck air from the house for cooling, negative air pressure is created and hence hot air from outside the room seeps in forcing the unit to work harder.
By working harder I mean the unit will be on for a long period of time and are thus “power thirsty”. This is unlike other AC units that will turn off once the room is sufficiently cooled.
If you must buy a portable air conditioner, I would advise that you purchase a dual-hose portable AC unit. Although a little pricey, this unit is way more efficient than a single-hose portable AC unit.
2. If You Hate Noise
All air conditioners are noisy but some are noisier than others. For instance if we were to compare portable air conditioners and window air conditioners, I can tell you for a fact that portable air conditioners are way noisier.
Unlike other AC types, a portable AC has all its components including the condenser fan inside the hose. That is unlike that of a window AC which is outside the house therefore directing its noise outside the house.
If you would therefore want to avoid noise in your house then a portable air conditioner is not the AC to install.
3. Your Area Experiences Extreme Winters
If you live in area that experiences very cold winters, you may need to uninstall your window conditioner when winter starts and install it back the next summer. The extreme weather conditions may damage your unit or even shorten its lifespan.
Another thing to remember is that if a window AC is not properly insulated against the window, cold air may infiltrate the room thereby reducing the efficiency of your heating system.
In such a scenario, you may want to consider a portable air conditioner.
In conclusion, we can agree that a portable air conditioner is a good appliance but not without its setbacks although in some cases, you don’t have a lot of choices but to go with them.
If the information in this guide is not sufficient, you can always consult an HVAC technician for personalized feedback.