The Best Portable Air ConditionerUpdated January 24th, 2020
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 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 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 weighing 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.
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 accounts 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|
|Black + Decker BPACT14WT||14,000||7,500|
|Black + Decker BPACT12WT||12,000||6,500|
|Black + Decker BPACT10WT||10,000||6,000|
|MIDEA MAP08S1BWT Alexa Enabled||8,000||4,000|
Note how SACC varies dramatically even among units with the same traditional BTU specification. For example, the LG LP1419IVSM, a 14,000 BTU unit, has a SACC of 10,000 BTUs. The Honeywell MM14CCS, also a 14,000 BTU unit, has a SACC of only 7,500 BTUs.
12,000 BTU units have a SACC between 7,200 and 6,500 BTUs.
10,000 BTU units have a SACC between 6,500 and 5,200 BTUs. This means that there are a few 10,000 BTU units on the market – at 6,500 BTUs (SACC) - that have the same actual cooling capacity as several 12,000 BTU units – at 6,500 BTUs (SACC).
8,000 BTU units have a SACC between 5,500 and 4,000 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. 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 30% more actual cooling capacity – i.e. 30+% higher SACC – than another 14,000 BTU unit. Wouldn’t it logically follow, then, that it would have a 30% greater area of coverage? Still, almost all area of coverage tables you find printed on product packaging and online specifies 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.
Here’s the good news though: in reality, you only have two sizes or capacities to pick from:
- a high SACC unit
- a low SACC unit
Our testing revealed a quantum leap in performance going from a sub 9,000 BTU (SACC) unit to a 9,000+ BTU (SACC) unit in an approx. 150 sq. ft. room.
The higher SACC units cooled the room extremely quickly and to a much colder temperature.
The lower SACC units (lower than 9,000 BTUs SACC) took much longer to cool the room and couldn’t reach as cold of a room temperature.
Thus, our recommendation is quite simple:
We strongly recommend a unit with a SACC of at least 9,000 BTUs. These units cool quick and they cool well.
If you can’t afford such a unit, we noticed very similar performance among all units in the 6,000 to 9,000 BTUs (SACC) range. This includes all 12,000 BTU models and a few 10,000 BTU models. Since 10,000 BTU units tend to be cheaper, we would recommend a top rated high SACC 10,000 BTU model over any more expensive 12,000 BTU model currently on the market.
We generally do not recommend 8,000 BTU models. We saw a substantial drop off going from the 6,500 BTU (SACC) of higher end 10,000 BTU models down to the 5,500 and lower BTU (SACC) of 8,000 BTU models. There’s not enough of a price savings going to an 8,000 BTU model to justify the performance drop from a top rated high SACC 10,000 BTU model.
So, in summary,
Get a 9,000+ BTU (SACC) unit if you’re looking for a reliable option that will be able to cool any size room under a variety of conditions.
Our #1 recommendation is the LG LP1419IVSM. It has the highest SACC of any portable air conditioner currently on the market at 10,000 BTUs.
Our #2 recommendation is the NewAir NAC14KWH02. It has the second highest SACC of any portable AC currently on the market at 9,500 BTUs.
Get a high SACC 10,000 BTU unit if you can’t afford a 9,000+ BTU (SACC) unit.
Our recommendation here is the LG LP1017WSR or LG LP1018WNR. Both units have a SACC of 6,500 BTUs.
Moving up to a high SACC 12,000 BTU unit (e.g. the Frigidaire FGPC1244T1) the price goes up dramatically while the SACC BTUs only go up by 700 BTUs (the Frigidaire FGPC1244T1 has a SACC of 7,200 BTUs).
Moving down to a high SACC 8,000 BTU unit (e.g. the LG LP0818WNR) the cost savings are minimal while the SACC BTUs decrease by 1,000 BTUs (the LG LP0818WNR has a SACC of 5,500 BTUs).
You may be hesitant to spend a lot of money on a high SACC portable air conditioner.
- you're already spending hundreds of dollars even on a low SACC unit
- other than price, lower SACC units have no advantages – they’re still large and heavy, still noisy, etc. like higher SACC units
- this is an appliance you will likely own for a very long time – the DOE estimates the average life for a portable air conditioner to be 10 years
Ultimately you want to
cool as fast as possible
cool under any circumstances
in any climate, even if the room has a lot of windows or is on the second story, etc. - factors that BTU calculators and square footage recommendations don't take into account. The last thing you want is a $300 paper weight that doesn’t get the job done when you need it done the most. So our overall recommendation is that you buy a 9,000+ BTU (SACC) portable air conditioner or not buy one at all.
SACC should be the primary factor that dictates your purchase decision when buying a portable air conditioner. It is also the only portable AC feature that distinctly sets one model apart from another.
All portable air conditioners
- Require a bit of effort to install
- Draw a lot of power – in the 1,000 to 1,400 watt range.
- Make a lot of noise – in the high 60 to low 70 dB range (measured at 2 ft.)
- Are large and heavy appliances
- Come with the same general features and functionality
- Are about equally durable and reliable – all of them even come with the exact same length warranty of 1 year
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 LG LP1419IVSM. The manufacturer specification for maximum length for its window kit is 60”. Again, we measured the actual maximum length with no custom work required to be slightly less – 58 9/16”.
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 LG LP1419IVSM has drilled holes one 1 inch apart from the 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 1 inch apart from each other, the length of the kit, should it be secured by the screw, can only be adjusted in 1 inch 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 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 LG LP1419IVSM 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.
SACC and energy efficiency.
In the past and even still today EER (Energy Efficiency Ratio) is 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.
At face value, this equation looks unnecessarily complex and that’s because, well, it is.
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.
But what about the bottom half of the fraction (the part that goes after "divided by") ?
Here’s the bottom line.
The bottom half of the fraction equates to power draw – that is, 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 NOT just on cooling mode)
We do feel like this is still unnecessarily complicated.
The truth of the matter is that
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 1300 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.
In our opinion, the standard CEER equation should only be used by manufacturers when testing units to give standard specifications. It unnecessarily complicates energy efficiency for the average consumer.
The better simpler ratio to use would be:
SACC/watts (on cooling mode)
You can use this ratio to compare the actual energy efficiency differences between different models.
Still, you can make things even simpler by only using
Since maximum power draw is so similar between units with similar SACC, 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 approx. the same power draw - we see the trend that higher SACC units have better energy efficiency.
|Black + Decker BPACT14WT||7500||1420||5.3|
When we look at a table of 12,000, 10,000, and 8,000 BTU units – all with approx. the same power draw – we see the same trend – higher SACC units tend to have better energy efficiency.
|Black + Decker BPACT12WT||6500||950||6.8|
|Black + Decker BPACT10WT||6000||950||6.3|
When we compare energy efficiency among different BTU size classes we see that, in general, the highest SACC units in the 14,000 BTU category greatly outperform most units in lower BTU size classes.
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).
However, 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?
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 (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.
Comparing the noise levels of different models
All portable air conditioners generate a lot of noise. But, are there specific models that are even a little bit less noisy than others?
The short answer – no.
The long answer – yes, under certain conditions.
For example, the LG LP1419IVSM was measured at only 52.3 dB of noise output on low fan speed with cooling mode activated (compressor activated). The LG LP1017WSR was measured at 58.6 dB. Thus, in terms of raw noise output, the LP1419IVSM can get much quieter than the LP1017WSR while still cooling a room.
However, on this setting (cooling mode on low fan speed), the LG LP1419IVSM still generates compressor noise just like every other portable AC we tested – and that is despite its “Dual Inverter” technology.
The truth is that in a real world setting you’re likely to use either unit exclusively on high fan speed to mitigate the cacophony of compressor noise. And on high fan speed the LP1419IVSM was measured at 59.5 dB while the LP1017WSR was measured at 60.8 dB – hardly much of a difference at all in terms of raw noise output and in the perceived noise generated by either unit.
And this leads us to our final point for this section – lower BTU units are not any less noisy than higher BTU units. We saw approximately the same dB levels on cooling mode on high fan speed for all the units we tested, regardless of maximum cooling capacity.
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
All 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 LG LP1419IVSM can remove as much as 163 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 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.
All 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.