Which is Better; Window or Portable Air Conditioners?
Of the many different types of air conditioners, portable and window air conditioners are the best options when you want to cool only one room. But which among the 2 is the best for you?
The difference between window and portables ACs is that window ACs are installed on a window and doesn’t need venting while portable ACs are installed on the floor of the room and need to be vented through the window (or sometimes roof).
The advantages of window air conditioners is that they save space, are not very noisy, do not require a vent and are also more efficient. On the other hand, portable air conditioners are easily portable, super easy to install and do not interfere with your house’s aesthetics.
The disadvantages of portable air conditioners is that they occupy valuable floor space, are noisy, need to be vented and are less efficient. Window conditioners on the other hand are clearly visible from the outside (unsightly), blocks your window view and are harder to install.
It is important to mention that all air conditioners work in the same way. The principle of operation behind central ACs or heat pumps is the same one applied in window and portable air conditioners.
Let us now briefly look at how both of these air conditioners work.
Portable Air Conditioners
As their name implies, portable air conditioners are easily portable and can be moved from one room to another. You only need to plug them to a power source and vent out the hose through a window.
Just like all other types of air conditioners, a portable air conditioner has a compressor, condenser coil and an evaporator coil. It also uses a refrigerant which is responsible for the actual cooling.
The portable AC pulls hot and humid air from the room (it has a fan for this) and passes it through the evaporator coil. Since the refrigerant inside the evaporator coil is in the form of a very cold liquid, it absorbs heat from the air and cools it in the process.
The cooled air is then circulated throughout the house.
Portable ACs also reduce the humidity in the room. As the air is cooled by the refrigerant, the water saturated in the air in gaseous form condenses to its liquid state. There are 3 ways to get rid of that water from the system:
- Self-evaporation – In this case, the moisture is ejected out through an exhaust vent/hose.
- Internal Bucket – In older models, the AC will have a bucket where the water will drain into and you will need to manually empty it.
- Gravity drain – Here, the water collected is pumped out through a hose.
Inside the evaporator coil, the refrigerant evaporates and turns to its gas state and is ejected out to the compressor where its pressure increases, a move that also rapidly increases its temperature.
From the compressor the refrigerant enters the condenser coil where by heat is removed from the refrigerant by blowing cooler air over the coil using a fan. The hot air is then removed to the outside through an exhaust hose.
That is the main reason portable air conditioners are installed very close to windows. After losing enough heat the refrigerant changes state to a liquid and the process is repeated over and over.
You can choose to install a single or a dual-hose portable air conditioner. A single-hose air conditioner has only one hose which is used to vent out the hot air.
Because air is always being pulled from the room, negative air pressure can be created resulting in seepage of hot air from other adjacent room or from outside the house hence these units are not very effective unless you completely insulate the room.
Dual-hose portable air conditioners however have a secondary hose which brings fresh air from outside instead of recycling the air already in the room.
A dual-hose portable AC does not need to work as hard as a single-hose AC to cool the room which increases its overall efficiency.
Window Air Conditioners
A window air conditioner as its name suggests is installed on the window of the room that needs to be air conditioned. If not, a hole can be made on the wall and the AC installed.
With a window conditioner, the condenser side of the unit is outside the house while the evaporator side of the unit is inside the house. As such, you do not need a hose to vent hot air from a window conditioner.
Just like a portable AC, a window AC has a fan that pulls air from the room and passes it through the evaporator coil where it is cooled as the refrigerant absorbs heat from it.
As the air is supplied back to the house, the refrigerant evaporates and is compressed at the compressor before being released to the condenser coil (the section of the AC protruding outside the house).
The refrigerant releases the heat to the outside air by the help of a condenser fan which blows cooler air over the coil. At the end of the condenser coil, the refrigerant will have turned to its liquid state for another cycle of cooling to start
The Pros and Cons of Window vs Portable Air Conditioners
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Let us now look at the advantages and disadvantages of portable and window air conditioners in more detail by comparing one against the other.
1. Ease of Installation
Portable air conditioners are so easy to install. You only need to plug them to a power outlet and voila! You don’t even need to pay a technician for that. Even connecting the exhaust hose isn’t anything to bother you.
While window air conditioners aren’t as hard to install as central or mini-splits, they are not as easy as portable ACs. You will need some tools to install the AC securely on the window to make sure it doesn’t drop on the ground.
While avid DIYers will easily install window ACs for themselves, there are many people who will still help from a technician, especially with the heavy lifting involved.
If you need to cool different rooms at different times (meaning portability is important to you), this is a no-brainer. A portable air conditioners is what you should buy.
Once installed, it is not easy (and doesn’t make sense) to remove it and install it in another room. Ideally, window conditioners are designed to stay in one room and only cool only that room.
Most portable air conditioners have wheels which makes it easy to move them from one room to another without physically lifting them. It also makes it easy to clean the area where they are installed.
When deciding between portable and window air conditioners, the cost isn’t likely to be factor that will sway you to one side over the other. There is not much between the prices of the 2 air conditioners.
Both portable and window air conditioners cost between $150 and $500 depending on the brand, BTU rating and size (size of the unit corresponds to the space in cubic feet that needs to be cooled).
4. Floor Space
The issue of space comes up if you have a small space inside your room but for those whom space is a non-issue then any of the 2 ACs will do.
This is where the window AC beats the portable AC. Windows ACs are conveniently installed on the window of the room and as a result they don’t occupy valuable indoor space.
On the other hand, portable AC needs to be installed on the floor of a house. Unless you have enough space indoors, you will need to settle for a window air conditioner.
The space also needs to be very close to the window for ease of venting out the hot air. That is unless you will vent your unit from the roof.
One thing about window air conditioners is that they are quite conspicuous from the outside. Another thing that most people agree on is that they don’t look that good.
An air conditioner hanging from the window without a doubt takes away the beauty of the house’s design. As a matter of fact, there are many homeowners’ associations that have banned window air conditioners for this among other reasons.
Portable air conditioners on the other hand are always indoors and to be honest they don’t look that bad. They have the same appearance as washing machines or even smaller refrigerators.
Window air conditioners also block your view from the window. If you enjoy peeping outside from your window, part of that view will be blocked by the unit.
6. Noise Levels
All air conditioners are noisy. However, some are noisier than others. How important is a quiet room to you? That may help you decide which air conditioner to settle for.
Window air conditioners are less noisy compared to portable air conditioners. That is however not literally true. It all depends on how these air conditioners are installed.
While both portable and window air conditioners are noisy, the fact that the window air conditioners are installed on windows means that most of their noise is directed outside while a portable air conditioner’s noise is circulated throughout the house.
Other than that, all air conditioners have a decibel rating on their nameplate/label which tells you how loud the can get. The higher the decibels the louder they are and vice versa. If you hate noisy appliances be sure to check out that rating prior to making the purchase.
Window air conditioners are simply more efficient than portable air conditioners. As a result, you are likely to have a higher electricity bill with a portable air conditioner than with a window conditioner.
As I mentioned, in order to cool the air in the house, a portable air conditioner first sucks the air already in the room. That can create a vacuum (negative air pressure) forcing hot air to come in from other adjacent rooms.
As a result, the portable air conditioner will need to worker harder to cool the room. The harder it works the more energy it consumes.
Note: While buying an air conditioner, pay attention to the BTU ratings. The higher the BTU ratings the bigger of a space the air conditioner can cool.
8. Winter Inconveniences
This applies to window air conditioners. During winter, you will have no use for you air conditioner. Your focus will turn to the furnace.
While it is easy to unplug the portable air conditioner and forget till the next summer, you will probably need to uninstall the window air conditioner then install it the next summer.
To start with, if the air conditioner and window are not properly insulated, cold air can manage to seep through and lower the efficiency of your house’s heating resulting in high utility bills.
Leaving your air conditioner exposed to harsh weather will shorten its lifespan or even cause the coils to freeze resulting in expensive repairs.
As you can see, installing your window conditioner before every summer and reinstalling it at the end of the summer every year will be an inconvenience that you may want to avoid if a portable AC does not sound like a very bad idea.
Tip: If both portable and window air conditioners look like they will not work for you, you can always consider a ductless minis-split air conditioner.
And basically those are the pros and cons of portable and window air conditioners. I hope this was a helpful guide.