The Best Portable Air ConditionerUpdated August 3rd, 2023
A portable air conditioner is an inherently inefficient appliance.
Why? Because it puts a whole AC system – which includes both cold and hot components - inside of a single portable appliance.
The cold side is good – it cools air.
The hot side is a problem.
Specifically, a single hot part – the condenser- gets hot. It’s absolutely critical for the working of the whole AC system that the condenser is constantly cooled off.
Most portable air conditioners accomplish this task by constantly pulling cooled room air over the condenser and exhausting the heated air through a duct in your window.
The problem with this solution is that the air that’s exhausted out of the room is never replaced with fresh air.
This creates a “void” – an area of low pressure - inside the room. And this, in turn, creates a pressure gradient between the cooled air in the room and warm outdoor air.
This pressure gradient moves in only one direction – from high pressure to low pressure. Thus, warm outdoor air is constantly getting pulled into the conditioned room as room air (that was used to remove heat from the condenser) is exhausted by the portable AC unit.
The technical term for the warm air that’s constantly pulled into the room is “infiltration air”.
Another substantial inefficiency of a portable air conditioner is the fact that the large duct that is exhausting the warmed air (from the condenser) is completely uninsulated and inside of the room being cooled. The exhaust hose is usually made of a thin plastic that readily radiates heat back into the room.
Cooling Capacity Standards
In the past, portable air conditioners were tested in very favorable conditions:
- at indoor temperatures of 80° F
- at unspecified outdoor temperatures (single hose units)
- not fully accounting for major inefficiencies
The end result? Heavily inflated cooling capacity specifications – i.e. heavily inflated BTU specifications.
The US Department of Energy (DOE) recognized this issue and instituted new rules and regulations to combat it.
Their solution? Manufacturers are now required to give portable air conditioner cooling capacity in terms of a new standard of measurement called Seasonally Adjusted Cooling Capacity – SACC for short.
Here’s the equation used to determine SACC:
SACC = ACC95 × 0.2 + ACC83 × 0.8
Note how 20% of the SACC value comes from ACC95 and 80% comes from ACC83.
But what is ACC95 and ACC83?
ACC is simply Adjusted Cooling Capacity:
ACC95 = CapacitySD − Qduct_SD − Qinfiltration_95
ACC83 = CapacitySD − Qduct_SD − Qinfiltration_83
Thus, ACC95 involves taking the overall cooling capacity of the portable air conditioner, still measured in BTUs/hr and still measured at an indoor air temperature of 80° F, but accounting for the heat added by ducting and infiltration air (outdoor air) at 95° F.
ACC83 involves the same calculation but with infiltration air (outdoor air) at 83° F.
Thus, calculating SACC does not allow for testing at unspecified outdoor air temperatures. The minimum outdoor air temperature used for testing is 83° F.
This is the outdoor air temperature accounting for 80% of the SACC. 95° F is the outdoor air temperature accounting for 20% of the score.
You may be inclined to think that weighting the score in this way still makes for a higher overall value than if the weights were equal or even reversed. And you’d be correct. Hence why it’s not surprising that manufacturers have worked very closely with the DOE to compromise on this new testing standard.
The formal explanation for choosing these weights is that it represents the average seasonal use case – the DOE expects the average portable air conditioner to be used approx. 80% of the time at outdoor temperatures close to 83° F. And only 20% of the time in a heat wave with temperatures approaching 95° F.
Single vs Dual Duct Portable Air Conditioners
So far, we’ve primarily discussed single hose portable AC units.
Another type is dual hose.
Traditional dual hose units mitigate the pressure gradient problem by adding a second hose to the system. Instead of using cooled air from inside of the room to pull over the condenser and then exhaust out of a single duct, warm outdoor air is pulled into the system via a second duct. This warm outdoor air is cool compared to the condenser and so it can still remove heat from it. After it cools the condenser the heated air is exhausted via the first duct, much the same as heated air is exhausted in a single hose unit.
The end result is that the net volume of air in the room stays much more consistent than it does with a single hose system – the addition of infiltration air to the room is minimized.
Note that certain dual hose units may still use a small portion of cooled indoor air to contribute to cooling the condenser. And so, air infiltration is never completely eliminated.
It’s not surprising then, to see that the equations used to calculate ACC for dual hose units still account for infiltration air at different temperatures.
The equations for ACC for dual hose units are as follows:
ACC95 = Capacity95 − Qduct_95 − Qinfiltration_95
ACC83 = Capacity83 − Qduct_83 − Qinfiltration_83
Recall that the equations for single hose units are as follows:
ACC95 = CapacitySD − Qduct_SD − Qinfiltration_95
ACC83 = CapacitySD − Qduct_SD − Qinfiltration_83
Note that while the Qinfiltration variables in both sets of equations are the same, the Qduct and Capacity variables are slightly different. This is only to account for the fact that single hose units have slightly different parameters set when measuring cooling and duct heat transfer because they have only one hose instead of two.
This raises an important point: while the addition of a second hose in a dual hose unit does make for one major advantage over single hose units – that being that they create much less of a pressure gradient and therefore minimize the introduction of infiltration air into the room – the addition of a second hose does create a few disadvantages in the process.
more radiant heat generated by the addition of a second hose
a single hose unit has only one hose that radiates heat into the room. A dual hose unit has two. And these are not small hoses. They’re at least 5” in diameter. That’s a lot of surface area from which heat radiates back into the room.
more potential gaps for air to enter into the cooled room
the connection between the hose and the window bracket is not air tight. Adding a second hose to the equation creates more opportunities for air gaps
cooling of the condenser is not as efficient
A single hose unit uses cool room air to cool the condenser. This cools it much more efficiently than the warm outdoor air used in a dual hose unit.
the addition of a second hose makes installation more difficult
there’s less flexibility in terms of extending the length of the window bracket. The minimum length is reduced, etc.
These disadvantages are likely why very few manufacturers still make dual hose portable AC units today.
The Dual Hose Myth
Contrary to what you may have read or seen elsewhere online, it’s incorrect to make the blanket statement that:
A dual hose unit is always the superior option to a single hose unit simply because it’s a dual hose unit.
The primary factor that should be driving your purchase decision is real world cooling capacity – in other words, the unit’s Seasonally Adjusted Cooling Capacity.
SACC fully takes into account the inefficiencies of both single hose and dual hose units at lower and higher outdoor temperatures.
Remember, the equations for SACC and ACC are:
SACC = ACC95 × 0.2 + ACC83 × 0.8
Where, for single hose units:
ACC95 = CapacitySD − Qduct_SD − Qinfiltration_95
ACC83 = CapacitySD − Qduct_SD − Qinfiltration_83
And for dual hose units:
ACC95 = Capacity95 − Qduct_95 − Qinfiltration_95
ACC83 = Capacity83 − Qduct_83 − Qinfiltration_83
These values account for any advantage (and disadvantage) a dual hose unit might have compared to a single hose unit: namely, the contribution of heat from infiltration air and ducting. They also take into account these effects at lower and higher outdoor temperatures – 83° F and 95° F.
If a single hose unit has a higher SACC than a dual hose unit, it will be able to cool faster. It will be able to cool a larger room. Conversely, if a dual hose unit has a higher SACC than a single hose unit it will be able to cool the room faster and cool a larger room as well.
SACC is the differentiating factor between two units – not whether one or the other is a dual hose unit or not.
Our testing showed high SACC single hose units greatly outperforming one of the highest SACC dual hose units on the market, even in extremely hot outdoor conditions.
Why? How? The number of hoses involved had nothing to do with it. The high SACC single hose units simply had a higher SACC than the high SACC dual hose unit.
SACC Compared to Traditional Cooling Capacity
With this information in mind, let’s take a look at the current lineup of the most popular portable air conditioner models on the market, sorted by SACC.
|Model||Traditional BTUs||SACC BTUs|
|Midea Duo (MAP14S1TBL)||14,000||12,000|
|Black + Decker BPP10WTB||14,000||10,000|
|Black + Decker BPACT14WT*||14,000||7,700|
|Midea Duo (MAP12S1TBL)||12,000||10,000|
|Black + Decker BPP08WTB||12,000||8,000|
|Black + Decker BPACT12WT||12,000||6,500|
|Black + Decker BPP06WTB||10,000||6,000|
|Black + Decker BPACT10WT||10,000||5,500|
|Black + Decker BPACT08WT||8,000||5,000|
|Black + Decker BPP05WTB||8,000||5,000|
Note how SACC varies dramatically even among units with the same traditional BTU specification.
For example, the Midea Duo (MAP14S1TBL), a 14,000 BTU unit, has a SACC of 12,000 BTUs. The Black + Decker BPACT14WT, also a 14,000 BTU unit, has a SACC of only 7,700 BTUs.
We see the same variance in SACC - a number that's much more representative of actual cooling capacity - in other traditional BTU size classes (12,000 BTU, 10,000 BTU, and 8,000 BTU size classes).
For 12,000 BTU units, for example, SACC varies between 6,500 and 10,000 BTUs (SACC).
*Units marked with a * in the table above have a higher SACC now than they did in the past. For example, the Whynter ARC-14S we tested for review only had a SACC of 8,900 BTUs. The newest version of this model now has a SACC of 9,500 BTUs.
Using SACC to Buy the Right Model
So, how do you choose which model to buy? How do you match the SACC of a particular model to the size of your room?
Here we have to dispel our second major myth of the day: Using BTUs to properly size a portable air conditioner for a room is a fool’s errand.
Take a look at the box of this LG portable air conditioner. Notice how it matches a particular room size in square feet to a particular BTU specification.
Other boxes on other portable air conditioners have a similar table. Portable AC manufacturer websites use a similar table. Many other consumer guides for portable ACs use a similar table.
What is the major problem with this table? First of all, it uses traditional BTUs – not SACC BTUs - to specify area of coverage. We just showed how one 14,000 BTU unit has at least 50% more actual cooling capacity – i.e. 50+% higher SACC – than another 14,000 BTU unit. Wouldn’t it logically follow, then, that it would have a 50% greater area of coverage? Still, almost all area of coverage tables you find printed on product packaging and online specify area of coverage in terms of traditional BTUs and not SACC BTUs.
This, however, is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to exposing the true area of coverage for a particular portable AC unit.
The truth of the matter is this: there’s only one size portable AC unit you should buy – the highest SACC unit you can afford.
Any area of coverage table, no matter if it’s in terms of traditional BTUs or SACC BTUs, fails to take into account all of the factors that will impact the true area of coverage. That’s because it’s impossible for it to do so.
And many of these factors have a tremendous impact on the overall cooling ability of the portable air conditioner, regardless of its SACC.
Here we’re talking about factors like:
1. The surroundings - i.e. the climate the unit will be used in
The same sized room located in a climate that rarely sees temperatures over 90° F requires a unit with a much different cooling capacity than the equivalent sized room in a climate that frequently sees temperatures exceeding 100° F.
2. The room itself
the number, size, and orientation of windows in the room
a greater number of windows, a larger size window, and/or a west facing window greatly contributes to the heat added to the room and the BTUs required to cool it
the location of the room
a second+ story room requires greater cooling capacity than a first floor room
insulation/sealing the room
depending on the age of the building, the materials used for wall construction, floor construction, etc. the room may be well sealed and insulated or it may not. The worse the insulation/sealing, the more cooling is required.
3. What’s inside the room
the size and number of pieces of furniture in the room
a bedroom filled with a large bed and other large furniture has a lower volume of air (and therefore requires less BTUs) than the equivalent sq. ft. room with a small bed and/or less/smaller furniture
the number of appliances contributing heat in a room
a small room containing many electronics adding heat to the room may require more cooling than a large room containing no such appliances
4. How you use/install the AC unit
the unit will perform better if weather stripping is installed around the window bracket, if any other air gaps are taped up, if you put a towel in front of the door, etc.– you may or may not do so when you install the unit and this can affect its area of coverage
the time you choose to turn the AC unit on
Smaller capacity units need a head start when cooling certain sized rooms. If you turn them on too late into the day the room may be too hot to cool. Higher capacity units can cool the same sized room no matter when you turn it on – even if you only turn it on during the hottest part of the day (when the room is at its hottest)
being forced to put the unit in an unfavorable location
Where you put the AC unit will be limited by the length of the power cord. Most units have a power cord 4.5 and 7 ft. long – you may have to plug the unit into an outlet in an unfavorable location if you don’t have a lot of outlets in the room (e.g. you may only have one close to a west facing window)
being forced to use the unit in a way that doesn’t allow for peak performance
Most portable air conditioners have an exhaust hose with an adjustable length between about 2 and 5 ft. with the AC unit working best (at peak efficiency) with the hose extended as short as possible. Furniture, wall outlet location, etc. may dictate that you extend the hose to its maximum length which will reduce its performance.
the possibility of using the unit in different rooms over time
you may want to use the unit in a small bedroom right now, but what if you need to use it in a larger room in the future? A larger capacity unit will be required.
It’s impossible for a BTU calculator or chart to take into account this many complex factors that affect portable air conditioning sizing.
Our Testing Shows Minimum Requirements
Our own testing revealed a quantum leap in performance going from a sub 9,000 SACC BTU unit to a 9,000+ SACC BTU unit in an approx. 150 sq. ft. room.
9,000+ SACC BTU units cooled the room extremely quickly and to a much colder temperature.
Sub 9,000 SACC BTU units took much longer to cool the room and couldn’t reach as cold of a room temperature.
And so, at a minimum, we recommend a unit with at least 9,000 SACC BTUs.
One More Factor to Consider - Energy Efficiency
Portable AC units draw a lot of power. So much so that you'll eventually spend more to power one (on power bills) than you will to buy the unit itself. For this reason, energy efficiency is of paramount importance when buying a portable AC unit.
EER vs CEER vs SACC/watt
In the past EER (Energy Efficiency Ratio) was used to describe a portable AC’s energy efficiency.
Let’s take a look at the equation used to determine EER:
EER = BTUs per hour/Watts
For example, a 14,000 BTU model that draws 1,400 watts of power on maximum settings would have an EER of 10.0 as 14,000/1,400 = 10.0.
A 14,000 BTU unit that draws 1200 watts of power would have an EER of 11.67 as 14,000/1,200 = 11.67.
Taken at face value, this looks like a good and proper metric to use for energy efficiency. The lower the power draw (watts) compared to the cooling capacity (BTUs/hr), the higher the EER. And the higher the EER, the better the energy efficiency.
Thus, if we were to look at the EER of the two example units above we could easily say that the second has better energy efficiency because it has a higher EER – 11.67 compared to 10.0.
However, taking into account what you’ve learned so far about the old method used to determine cooling capacity (standard BTUs) vs the new method used to do so (SACC), you should be able to spot one major problem with EER. That’s right. It uses standard BTU’s – yes, the old BTU metric – in its equation.
The Department of Energy also recognized this issue with EER and acted accordingly by instituting a new metric by which to determine a portable AC unit’s energy efficiency.
That metric is called CEER – Combined Energy Efficiency Ratio.
Unfortunately, CEER is a lot more complicated than EER. The new energy efficiency ratio could have simply involved taking SACC and dividing it by maximum power draw on cooling mode in watts. But the DOE decided that the equation needed a little bit more nuance than that. Let’s take a look at the end result:
CEERSD = ACC95 × 0.2 + ACC83 × 0.8 divided by AECSP + AECT ⁄ k × t
Note: this is the equation for single hose units. The equation for dual hose units is even more complex.
We’ve already shown how
SACC = ACC95 × 0.2 + ACC83 × 0.8
Thus, the top half of the fraction (the part that goes before "divided by") in the equation can simply be replaced by SACC.
The bottom half of the fraction (the part that goes after "divided by") simply equates to power draw under specific conditions.
CEER combines the power draw of the air conditioner on all of its different modes over a set period of time; hence the name – combined energy efficiency ratio.
AECSD = annual energy consumption in cooling mode
AECT = total annual energy consumption attributed to all modes except cooling
t = number of cooling mode hours per year, 750.
k = 0.001 kWh/Wh conversion factor for watt-hours to kilowatt-hours.
Thus, the denominator for this equation involves accounting for power draw during cooling mode on top of certain other modes for a certain number of hours with “k” being nothing more than a conversion factor.
We can therefore say that
CEER = SACC/watts (but on all modes; NOT just on cooling mode)
1. the other modes involved here – standby (when the unit is plugged in but not on) and fan only (when cooling isn’t necessary and the desired temperature has been reached) - draw very little power compared to cooling mode. Thus, their impact on the CEER equation above is minimal
2. Furthermore, most models on the market draw roughly the same amount of power on these two modes – standby and fan only - which further minimizes their impact on the CEER equation above when comparing one model to another
Most models we tested do draw a few watts of power on standby (plugged in but not powered on) but they all draw very little power and roughly the same amount of power (1 or 2 watts).
Most models draw little power when only the fan is activated and most draw roughly the same amount as well (about 50 watts or so on max. fan speed).
The bottom line: the “other modes” that CEER takes into account (other than cooling mode) don’t really matter.
What does matter – cooling mode
When cooling mode is fully activated maximum power draw does vary. It tends to correlate with the old standard for measuring BTUs/hr. High BTU (14,000 BTU) units tend to draw about 1200 to 1400 watts. Lower BTU (8,000 to 12,000 BTU) units tend to draw about 1,000 to 1,200 watts.
So, in summary:
- power draw on fully activated cooling mode is important. It does vary.
- But on other modes – standby and fan only - power draw is minimal and essentially the same for different models.
This means that we can further simplify our evaluation of portable AC unit energy efficiency by simply looking at:
Which only considers energy efficiency on cooling mode with maximum power draw.
Furthermore, you can make things even simpler by only using:
Since maximum power draw is so similar between units in the same traditional BTU size class, you really could just focus on SACC.
The higher the SACC, the better the unit’s energy efficiency (in most cases).
In other words, if energy efficiency = SACC/watts and watts are essentially equal in the comparison, then the higher SACC, the greater the energy efficiency.
Indeed, when we look at a table for 14,000 BTU units - all with similar power draw - we see the trend that higher SACC units have better energy efficiency (better SACC/watt ratios).
|Midea Duo (MAP14S1TBL)||14,000||12,000||1300||9.2|
|Black + Decker BPP10WTB||14,000||10,000||1250||8.0|
|Black + Decker BPACT14WT||14,000||7,700||1450||5.3|
We see the same trend when we compare 12,000 BTU units, 10,000 BTU units, and 8,000 BTU units – higher SACC units tend to have better energy efficiency (better SACC/watt ratios).
|Midea Duo (MAP12S1TBL)||12,000||10,000||1200||8.3|
|Black + Decker BPP08WTB||12,000||8,000||1160||6.9|
|Black + Decker BPACT12WT||12,000||6,500||1200||5.4|
|Black + Decker BPP06WTB||10,000||6,000||1050||5.7|
|Black + Decker BPACT10WT||10,000||5,500||1150||4.8|
|Black + Decker BPACT08WT||8,000||5,000||950||5.3|
|Black + Decker BPP05WTB||8,000||5,000||860||5.8|
Putting It All Together - General Recommendations
- The fact that portable AC units are inherently highly inefficient
- All of the complex factors that impact portable air conditioner sizing (factors like the insulation of the room, whether it's on a second floor or not, etc.)
- Our own test results which show high SACC units greatly outperforming low SACC units even in 150 sq. ft.
- The fact that higher SACC units are more energy efficient
We generally recommend you buy a portable AC unit with as much cooling capacity (SACC) as possible.
Buying a portable air conditioner with as much SACC as possible is the only way to ensure you will have a reliable portable AC unit that will be able to cool any size room no matter how difficult it is to cool.
With this in mind, these are the top 3 options currently on the market:
Midea Duo (MAP14S1TBL)
Our #1 recommendation is the Midea Duo (MAP14S1TBL). It has the highest SACC of any portable air conditioner currently on the market at 12,000 SACC BTUs.
It's also the most energy efficient portable AC unit on the market, with a SACC/watt ratio of 9.2.
Note: if the MAP14S1TBL is unavailable (it sometimes goes out of stock during peak parts of the summer) or if you also require heating functionality, get the MAP14HS1TBL instead. The MAP14HS1TBL is identical to the MAP14S1TBL except that it adds heating functionality.
Midea Duo (MAP12S1TBL)
The next step down, in terms of cooling capacity and price, compared to our top pick, which offers 12,000 SACC BTUs, are units with 10,000 SACC BTUs; and the best 10,000 SACC BTU unit is also a Midea Duo – the MAP12S1TBL.
The MAP12S1TBL obviously offers just as much cooling capacity (10,000 BTUs) as every other 10,000 SACC BTU option on the market. Where it pulls ahead of the competition is with energy efficiency. The MAP12S1TBL is the most energy efficient 10,000 SACC BTU unit on the market with a SACC/watt ratio of 8.3.
Black + Decker BPP10WTB
The 10,000 SACC BTU Black + Decker BPP10WTB isn't quite as energy efficient as the 10,000 SACC BTU Midea Duo, but it's not far off (it has a SACC/watt ratio of 8.0 vs a ratio of 8.3 for the Midea) and it's usually considerably cheaper than the MAP12S1TBL.
It's our recommendation as the best value high SACC portable AC unit on the market.
SACC and energy efficiency should be the primary factors that dictate your purchase decision when buying a portable air conditioner.
Now let's take a look at everything else that might factor into that decision.
A Closer Look At Secondary Factors
Installation can be trickier than you might be anticipating.
Recall that a portable air conditioner’s hot condenser has to be cooled. Once it’s cooled, the heated air (used to cool the condenser) has to be exhausted. If you were to exhaust this air right back into the room you were cooling you wouldn’t be able to cool the room. The exhausted air would heat it right back up.
So, instead, the exhausted air is pushed through a large diameter hose that’s attached to a window bracket that fits into a partially opened window.
Portable AC installation requires three primary components
1. The hose connecting the back of the AC (where hot air is exhausted) to the window bracket.
The hose has an adapter on each end. One that connects the hose to the AC and one that connects the hose to the window bracket.
These adapters usually come pre-installed on the hose. However, sometimes they do not. And when they don’t, they can be quite difficult to install. For example, the LG LP17WSR series of units require that you pull the end of the hose into the end adapters using pliers. A lot of force and a bit of finesse is required to pull the hose into each adapter properly. In contrast, a unit like the LG LP1419IVSM comes with both end adapters installed so none of this work is required.
All hoses can be extended from a minimum length in the 16” to 24” range to a maximum length in the 5 ft. range. All the hoses for all of the ACs we tested were about 5” in diameter.
Note that all manufacturers recommend that the hose be kept as short as possible. This is to ensure that the AC runs at peak efficiency. Most manufacturers warn against extending the hose. For example, the Honeywell HL14CESWB has a sticker right on the hose warning that extending it will void the unit’s warranty.
Some manufacturers are not as critical of hose extension. Whynter even sells a 5 ft. extension separately although they don’t recommend extending the hose beyond a total distance of 9 ft. and they still recommend that the hose be kept as short as possible.
2. The window bracket and any extensions.
Window kits vary in
- min/max length
- versatility – the range of in-between lengths that can be accommodated without cutting
Most kits come with a primary window bracket – the bracket that the hose actually fits into – and one or multiple extension brackets.
The primary bracket determines the minimum length of the kit. The shorter this bracket the lower the minimum length of the window that can be accommodated. The LGLP17WSR series again does very well here. The primary bracket is only about 18” long. Most other units come with primary brackets that are about 23” to 26” long.
If the primary bracket is too long for your window you won’t have any other choice other than to cut it to the correct length. A saw that can cut plastic (like a hacksaw) will be required.
The number and size of extensions determines the maximum length of the kit. Depending on model, a kit can be extended between 3.5 ft. and 5 ft.
On the low side of things are Whynter dual hose units. The ARC-14S and ARC-122DS can be extended to 47” and 46”, respectively, according to the manufacturer.
Note that manufacturer specifications are not always complete. For example, the kit for the ARC-14S could be extended to 47” with custom work involved (drilling holes into the brackets) but using the standard adjustments (the screws and holes that already pre-drilled on the brackets) we measured the maximum length for the kit to be 46 ¼”.
On the high side of things is the Midea Duo. The manufacturer specification for maximum length for its window kit is 63.8”. Again, we measured the actual maximum length with no custom work required to be slightly less – right at around 63”.
The number and size of those extensions also largely determines the versatility of the kit.
One of the most versatile kits on the market comes with the LG LP17WSR series of portable ACs. The kit includes a short primary window bracket and four different extensions. The extensions can be fitted to the primary bracket and to each other in different combinations to accommodate a wide variety of window sizes.
Dual hose units tend to have the least versatile kits on the market. A dual hose unit requires two large cut-outs in the primary bracket. This reduces the range of lengths to which the kit can be extended.
- The way in which length is adjusted on the kit and
- included weather stripping
also impact the versatility of a particular kit.
For example, the NewAir NAC14KWH02 has a unique locking mechanism installed on the primary bracket that allows for extreme fine tuning of the total length of the primary bracket and extension.
Most other units on the market come with brackets with drilled holes on the top and/or bottom. For example, the Midea Duo has drilled holes 3/8" apart from each other on both the primary bracket and all extensions. A screw is pushed through a hole in the primary bracket and a corresponding hole in an extension to extend and secure the kit.
Note that the brackets can still slide into each other and fit together without the screw but they won’t stay in place without the screw. And because the holes through which the screw fits are 3/8" apart from each other, the length of the kit, should it be secured by the screw, can only be adjusted in 3/8" increments.
Window kit brackets are made of a hard material. So is the bottom of the window sash, the window sill and the side jambs of the window into which you’re fitting those brackets. Not to mention the fact that the brackets may not perfectly fit into channels in the bottom of the sash, the sill and/or side jambs.
To improve fitment and eliminate air gaps you can install weather stripping between the AC window kit brackets and all of these window components.
Most manufacturers include weather stripping with the purchase of their portable ACs. The only two manufacturers that don’t necessarily include weather stripping are Whynter and NewAir.
Most manufacturers (including Midea, LG, Honeywell, and Frigidaire) include
compact sponge adhesive weather stripping in different lengths
intended for lower rail of window sash, sill, and jambliner
less compact foam non-adhesive weather stripping in different lengths
intended for the gap between sashes when the bottom sash is raised to fit the AC’s window kit
Some models come with more or less weather stripping than others. The Midea Duo comes with more weather stripping than any other model on the market. The Honeywell HL14CESWB comes with much less but still enough to get the job done in most applications.
You can, of course, always buy weather stripping separately. But having it included with your purchase is certainly a nice bonus.
We also strongly advise that you buy duct tape along with any portable AC unit you end up purchasing. The tape can be used as an additional tool to eliminate air gaps.
For example, the NewAir NAC14KWH02’s primary window bracket has that unique locking mechanism to adjust the length of the extension. That same mechanism is not tightly sealed. Once you have the whole window kit installed for this unit we would recommend taping over the mechanism.
All portable AC units are noisy. They generally produce two different types of noise:
- fan noise
- compressor noise
The fans on a portable AC tend to be very loud – at least on maximum fan speed. So much so that fan noise is generally louder than compressor noise (again, on maximum fan speed). This is actually a good thing as fan noise consists of a clean white noise (the sound of air moving) while compressor noise consists of harsher sounds (usually a buzzing noise). With the fan’s noise level exceeding the compressor’s noise level the more pleasant sounding noise generated by the unit’s fan can dominate the much less pleasant sounding noise generated by its compressor.
A portable AC’s compressor noise is in fact so unpleasant, that you will almost always opt to run your portable AC on maximum fan speed. Lower fan speeds make for a very unpleasant listening experience.
Note that the soft thump of the compressor kicking in (when cooling mode is activated) and shutting off (when the desired temperature is reached) – an altogether different noise compared to the general buzzing of the compressor - is definitely noticeable, but only if you’re paying careful attention to the unit’s noise output (like we were when we were testing these units).
In regular day to day use it shouldn’t bother the average user too much. The fan noise is loud enough (assuming it’s on high fan speed) to drown out much of the sound when the compressor first kicks in or shuts off. For night time use we suggest setting the unit to as low of a temperature as possible (for most units this is 60° F). This will keep the compressor running throughout the night and minimize unique sounds generated when the compressor is activated/deactivated.
So far we’ve told you that portable air conditioners are loud but just how loud are they?
Most manufacturers list noise levels in the low 50 dB range, many touting their units as being “whisper quiet”. And indeed, on low fan speed, even with the compressor on, at least a few of the units we tested were measured in the low 50s, even the high 40s (dB).
But, while noise levels are lower on low fan speed, the quality of the noise produced is extremely unpleasant. Without the overpowering effect of high fan noise, compressor noise dominates the perceived noise at these lower noise levels. And this compressor noise is highly unpleasant.
On high fan speed the measured noise level jumps up to about 60 dB (measured at 2 ft. away from the unit) but the noise is much more bearable as it’s dominated by fan noise instead of compressor noise.
For example, our top pick - the Midea Duo - was measured at only 49.7 dB of noise output on low fan speed with cooling mode activated (compressor activated). This is very low noise output.
However, on this setting (cooling mode on low fan speed), the Duo still generates compressor noise just like every other portable AC we tested, and you can hear this compressor noise above the unit's fan noise.
On high fan speed, the Duo is much louder - it was measured at 61.4 dB - but the noise it produces is much more pleasant-sounding because fan noise masks compressor noise on this setting.
All portable AC units are large and heavy appliances. All units – even 8,000 and 10,000 BTU units.
8,000 BTU and 10,000 BTU units do tend to weigh in the 50 to 60 lb. range while 12,000 and 14,000 BTU units tend to weigh in the 60 to 70 lb. range.
But, 50 lb. is still very heavy. And if you can’t lift 70 lb. by yourself, chances are that you won’t be able to lift 50 lb. either. If you find 70 lb. uncomfortable to lift you’ll likely find 50 lb. to be uncomfortable to lift also. Again, these are very heavy appliances no matter what BTU unit you buy.
In terms of size, certain low BTU units are a little smaller but not by much. For example, the Frigidaire FFPA0822U1 is an the 8,000 BTU unit and one of the smallest units on the market but it’s still almost 2.5 ft. tall – only about 2 inches shorter than the 14,000 BTU LG LP1419IVSM.
There are, of course, outliers in each size class. For example, the 14,000 BTU Whynter ARC-14S is a full 3 ft. tall and weighs over 80 lb. The 12,000 BTU Frigidaire FGPC1244T1 is similarly tall and heavy.
But, for the most part, most portable air conditioners fall in the 50 to 70 lb. range and are about 2.5 ft. tall.
To combat this lack of portability all units come equipped with high quality heavy duty casters. So, while you will absolutely need to exert quite a bit of effort to pick a portable air conditioner up (e.g. take it up or down a set of stairs) you can move it between rooms on the same floor quite easily.
General Settings and Features
Par for the course
Most portable ACs come equipped with the same three modes
- cool – the standard mode for cooling a room
- dry – a dehumidifier mode
- fan – a fan only mode
Almost all units come equipped with
- three fan speeds – high, medium, and low
- a thermostat that lets you set the desired temperature between 60° F and at least 86° F
- a timer that can usually be set in 1 hour increments up to 24 hours
- a remote
Generally, higher BTU units can remove more pints/day in dehumidifier mode. For example, the 14,000 BTU Midea Duo can remove as much as 125 pints of moisture from the air per day. The 8,000 BTU Frigidaire FFPA0822U1 can only remove 67 pints/day.
Some units do have certain unique features but this is extremely rare. For example, the LG LP1419IVSM gives you the ability to adjust the brightness and even turn the display LEDs completely off for night time use. It also has a compartment on the back of the main body of the unit to store your window kit during the off-season. No other unit currently on the market (other than the very similar LG LP1022FVSM) offers either one of these features.
Certain units also include a drainage hose for continuous drainage during dry (dehumidifier) mode operation but this is true for only a few units on the market.
Most of the portable air conditioners we tested appear to be reasonably durable and reliable appliances. The Department of Energy cites the average lifespan of a portable AC as being 10 years which confirms this observation.
The only potential concern we can list here is that certain units have no filter for intake air on the condenser side of the system.
We see the most egregious example of this with the dual hose Whynter ARC-14S. There’s absolutely no filter (the plastic grate on the intake hose is not a filter) for outdoor air as it enters the unit to cool its condenser. The NewAir NAC14KWH02 intakes indoor air to cool the condenser and doesn’t have a filter either.
Will this create reliability issues for either unit down the line of ownership? The ARC-14S, the more extreme example (because it intakes outdoor air), has been on the market for several years now and it doesn’t appear that it has, at least not for this particular model.
Finally, we should mention that almost all portable air conditioners come with a very similar 1 year warranty. You cannot buy a particular model that comes with a longer manufacturer’s warranty.
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I have no idea who you are or where Consumer Analysis came from, but wow! This is real, technical reporting.
What an amazing summary of portable AC units. I had to spend weeks learning all of this myself. Having bought a LG unit 4 years ago for ~$600cdn, I was utterly disappointed in its performance. At the time, SACC was not a thing and it was not a metric available for comparison. Now it is stated that unit was 14k btu/10k sacc.
I recently purchased a Midea MP12 model (14k btu/12k sacc) and can not wait to test it out, as the sacc btu difference between the two is quite a lot.
One thing the article could use is that manufacturers are playing word games with the ratings systems. Instead of using SACC, some use (US DOE), which is extremely confusing.
In any case, great article! I will be recommending your site from now on versus consumer reports.
Would it be true to say that the LG LP1419IVSM will dehumidify more quickly than your top rated dehumidifier model, the Frigidaire FFAD5033W1?
From what I gather, the bucket size of the Frigidaire FFAD5033W1 being 16.9 pint size would require emptying 2.95 times per day; but if I'm understanding correctly, the LG LP1419IVSM running in "dry" mode would remove 163 pints of moisture per day and would require "emptying" much more frequently due to its greater efficiency and also minuscule "bucket."
I'm trying to kill two birds with one stone here and just get the LG LP1419IVSM to handle both tasks, but not sure how well it will perform it's dehumidifying duties. Also not sure of "bucket size" on LG LP1419IVSM.
You would absolutely need to drain the LP1419IVSM (using a hose or draining directly into something). It has more of an overflow tank (with a very low volume) than it does a bucket (like the FFAD5033W1) to collect moisture.
However, outside of this caveat, it should be able to dehumidify better than the FFAD5033W1.