12,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioners

12000 btu ac

12,000 BTU portable air conditioners are generally considered the middle ground for a portable AC purchase.

They’re viewed as a compromise between more expensive 14,000 BTU units and cheaper but less powerful 8,000 and 10,000 BTU units.

The problem with this perspective is that 12,000 BTU units are not really 12,000 BTU units. They’re cooling capacity in real world environments is actually much less.

Portable AC Inefficiencies and Cooling Capacity

All portable AC units have two major inefficiencies. Both involve adding heat back into the room that they’re actively working to cool

The first inefficiency is their ducting. The duct exhausts warm air away from the portable AC unit and out of the room. The problem is that the duct is made of a thin plastic. As warm air travels through the duct heat readily radiates through its thin plastic shell back into the room.

The second inefficiency again involves the AC unit’s removal of warm air from the room being cooled. The removal of air creates an area of low pressure inside the room. This causes even hotter higher pressure outdoor air – called infiltration air - to get sucked into the room. This adds heat back into the room.

Up until recent years, manufacturer testing for portable AC cooling capacity did not account for these two inefficiencies – heat added by ducting and infiltration air.

Today, manufacturers have to list two values for cooling capacity. The first value is the old value – 8,000, 10,000, etc. BTU. The second value is called seasonally adjusted cooling capacity – shortened to SACC.

SACC = ACC95 × 0.2 + ACC83 × 0.8

In which

ACC95 = CapacitySD − Qduct_SD − Qinfiltration_95
ACC83 = CapacitySD − Qduct_SD − Qinfiltration_83

Thus, SACC not only accounts for heat added via ducting and infiltration air, but it does so at two different temperatures – 83° F and 95° F. Heat added by these inefficiencies is more pronounced at higher temperatures than at lower temperatures. Hence why measurements at two different outdoor temperatures are required.

SACC is weighted at 80% at 83° F and only 20% at 95° F since it’s expected that most users will use a portable AC at outdoor temperatures closer to 83° F the majority (approx. 80%) of time and closer to 95° F for a minimal amount (approx. 20%) of the time.

In any case, the most important take away here is that SACC fully accounts for heat added by ducting and infiltration air, giving a much more accurate value for total cooling capacity in an actual real world environment than the values that were used previously – 8,000, 10,000, etc. BTUs.

And this brings us back to our main point – 12,000 BTU portable AC units are not really 12,000 BTU units.

Take a look at the table below

ModelTraditional BTUsSACC BTUs
Frigidaire FGPC1244T112,0007,200
LG LP1217GSR12,0007,000
LG LP1218GXR12,0007,000
Whynter ARC-122DS12,0006,800
Haier HPC12XCR12,0006,600
Honeywell HL12CESWK12,0006,500
Black + Decker BPACT12WT12,0006,500
Frigidaire FFPA1222U112,0006,500
Honeywell MN12CES12,0006,500

The most efficient 12,000 BTU unit has an actual cooling capacity – a seasonally adjusted cooling capacity – of only 7,200 BTU. This is 800 BTU less than the advertised cooling capacity for the lowest capacity portable AC units on the market – 8,000 BTU units.

What then, of those lower capacity units? What is their actual cooling capacity? Take a look.

ModelTraditional BTUsSACC BTUs
LG LP0818WNR8,0005,500
LG LP0817WSR8,0005,500
Honeywell MO08CESWK8,0004,000
Frigidaire FFPA0822U18,0004,400
MIDEA MAP08S1BWT Alexa Enabled8,0004,000

The most efficient 8,000 BTU unit has a SACC of only 5,500 BTUs. The least efficient units have a SACC as low as 4,000 BTUs.

The same type of drop occurs in the 10,000 and 14,000 BTU categories. The most efficient 10,000 BTU units have a SACC of 6,500 BTU. The most efficient 14,000 BTU unit has a SACC of only 10,000 BTU.

Our Recommendations

Clearly, all of the portable AC units on the market have much less of an actual cooling capacity than they’re advertised to have. What then, are you supposed to do with this information?

Recall that 12,000 BTU units, at least to this point, have always been seen as a compromise purchase. They were said to represent a good value at a reasonable cooling capacity.

You may have heard comments like

“You don’t need 14,000 BTUs for that small of a space”

“12,000 BTUs is more than sufficient and it’s much cheaper”

If you were to ask the associate at your local big box store which unit you should buy.

The problem, again, is that a 12,000 BTU portable AC unit is not actually a 12,000 BTU AC unit. 12,000 BTU portable AC units are actually much closer to 8,000 BTU AC units – again, the most efficient 12,000 BTU model on the market has a SACC of only 7,200 BTUs.

This puts things in an entirely new perspective.

12,000 BTU units should only be used for

  • very small spaces – we’re talking less than 150 sq. ft.
  • non-challenging applications – i.e. a 12,000 BTU unit should NOT be used in a space that’s on a second story or has a lot of windows or be used in a climate where it gets above 90° F frequently

All portable AC units are underpowered. Thus, only the highest SACC units on the market should be used for

  • larger spaces
  • challenging applications

Our own testing revealed a quantum leap in performance when cooling a 150 sq. ft. test environment using a sub 9,000 BTU (SACC) unit vs a 9,000+ BTU (SACC) unit.

The  9,000+ BTU (SACC) units cooled the test environment much quicker (in a matter of minutes) and to much lower temperatures (to 72° F and below).

Sub 9,000 BTU (SACC) units took very long to cool the room (hours) and also couldn’t get the room to very low temperatures (only to about 75° F at best).

Note that all tests were conducted with an outdoor temperature of 90° F and on a second story with multiple windows to ensure it was a challenging environment to cool.

The two 9,000+ BTU (SACC) units we recommend for any larger space and/or challenging application are the

The Best 12,000 BTU Units

If you’re looking to cool a smaller space that you don’t think will be too difficult to cool, a 12,000 BTU unit can still be a viable option.

The best 12,000 BTU portable air conditioners on the market are

  • 1. Frigidaire FGPC1244T1
  • 2.LG LP1218GXR
  • 3. LG LP1217GSR

These three units have the highest SACC in the category. We do not recommend any other lower SACC 12,000 BTU units.

The Frigidaire FGPC1244T1has a SACC of 7,200 BTUs. It draws 1090 watts to reach this capacity.

The LG LP1218GXR also has a SACC of 7,000 BTUs. It draws 1185 watts to do so.

The LG LP1217GSR has a SACC of 7,000 BTUs. It draws a whopping 1350 watts to reach this capacity.

Note that on top of having the highest SACC, the Frigidaire is the most energy efficient of these three units – it draws less power to generate more cooling BTUs.

Also note that the Frigidaire is especially tall and heavy for a 12,000 BTU unit. It’s over 3 ft. tall and weighs 85 lb. For comparison, both LGs are in the 60 to 70 lb. range. The LG LP1217GSR is at least 6 inches shorter.

In terms of most other features:

  • Installation difficulty
  • Noise output
  • Durability
  • Available modes

All three units are essentially the same. Thus, SACC, energy efficiency, and size/weight are the defining characteristics that separate these three specific models.

And the Frigidaire does the best in the two most important – SACC and energy efficiency. Hence why it’s our #1 recommendation in the 12,000 BTU size class.

Keep in mind though, that it cannot and should not be used in a large space and/or a challenging environment that will be especially difficult to cool. This is an underpowered AC unit with an actual capacity of only 7,200 BTUs.

If you need an AC unit for a larger and/or more challenging environment we strongly recommend a 9,000+ BTU (SACC) unit. Again, our recommendations here are the

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