Cheap Portable Air Conditioners
Two factors determine the cost of owning a portable air conditioner
- the initial price of the AC unit
- the long term cost of operating that AC unit over time
Cooling capacity is the single most important factor to evaluate when deciding which portable AC unit to buy.
In the past, cooling capacity was tested in a highly simplified manner that put most portable AC units in one of these four categories:
- 8,000 BTU
- 10,000 BTU
- 12,000 BTU
- 14,000 BTU
All models within the same BTU category would have the same listed cooling capacity. For example, all 14,000 BTU models were specified to have 14,000 BTUs of cooling capacity. There was no distinction to be made between one model vs another, in terms of cooling capacity, as long as both models fell in the same BTU category.
This is no longer the case. A new standard for measuring cooling capacity – SACC (Seasonally Adjusted Cooling Capacity) – takes a more nuanced approach to determining actual cooling capacity.
This standard – SACC – takes into account portable AC unit inefficiencies and subtracts the cooling capacity lost because of those inefficiencies from the total BTU number.
Not all models are equally inefficient, and so some models have a higher SACC BTU than others within the same general BTU category.
For example, some 14,000 BTU units have a SACC in the 10,000 to 12,000 BTU range. Other, less efficient 14,000 BTU models, have a SACC as low as 7,700 BTUs.
SACC is much more representative of actual cooling capacity.
And so, you can use SACC to evaluate the true cost to performance ratio of different models on the market.
For example, the Midea Duo (MAP14S1TBL) is one of the most expensive 14,000 BTU units on the market. It normally retails for about $625 with a SACC of 12,000 BTUs.
The Black + Decker BPACT14WT is also a 14,000 BTU unit and much cheaper at around $450. But its SACC is only 7,700 BTUs.
At face value, both units are 14,000 BTU units and the BPACT14WT is almost $200 cheaper.
Taking the analysis a little bit deeper, the SACC/$ ratio for the Duo is 19.2 (12,000/$625 = 19.2) and the SACC/$ ratio for the BPACT14WT is 17.1 (7,700/$450 = 17.1).
And so, in reality, the Duo is actually a much better value, despite having a much higher purchase price.
Comparing units in different BTU categories
The same exercise demonstrated above can be done to compare units in different BTU categories.
For example, the 8,000 BTU Frigidaire FHPC082AC1 retails for only about $300. Its SACC though is only 5,500 BTUs. This gives it a SACC/$ ratio of 18.3.
And so, it's really not a better value than the top rated Midea Duo, despite being less than half the price of the Midea Duo.
Using SACC/$ ratios to determine which portable air conditioner to buy
Use SACC/$ ratio to determine if you’re getting a good value for the portable AC unit you’re planning on buying.
|less than 15||poor value|
|between 15 and 20||good value|
|more than 20||exceptional value|
Long term cost
Evaluating SACC/$ is a great way to determine if you’re getting a good value on your initial purchase.
But that initial purchase price represents only a fraction of the total cost of long term portable air conditioner ownership.
Long term cost of ownership is heavily impacted by
- reliability and durability
- energy cost
Reliability and Durability
The Department of Energy estimates that the average portable AC unit should last about 10 years.
Thus, we can translate the initial cost of buying a portable AC unit into long term yearly product cost by dividing the purchase price by 10 years.
For example, the Midea Duo costs approx. $625 which translates into a yearly cost of $62.50.
This exercise puts a bit of perspective on your purchase.
The Black + Decker BPACT14WT is about $200 cheaper at the cash register. But at a yearly cost of $45, it's less than $20 cheaper per year to own than the Duo.
Both units and really most portable AC units on the market have very similar build quality and so offer very similar durability. Thus, you can expect an approximate life of 10 years no matter which specific model you buy (there are of course outliers, but this applies to the vast majority of models on the market).
Energy cost can be further subdivided into
- raw energy cost
- energy efficiency
Raw energy cost
All portable AC units are power hungry appliances. The average portable AC unit draws at least 1,000 watts of power.
The average cost of electricity in the US is $0.12 per kilowatt hour.
1,000 watts = 1 kilowatt
So, it costs at least $0.12 to run the average portable AC unit every hour.
$0.12 x 24 hours = $2.88
So, it costs about $3 to run the average portable AC unit per day, assuming it’s underpowered for the room you’re cooling (highly likely) and it’s running most of the day.
We used SACC/$ to determine the initial price to performance ratio of any particular portable AC unit on the market.
We can use SACC/watts to determine energy efficiency.
As an example, let’s compare the Midea Duo and Black + Decker BPACT14WT once again.
The Midea draws 1300 watts of power on its cooling mode. The Black + Decker draws 1450 watts on its cooling mode.
The Midea also has a much higher SACC – 12,000 BTUs – vs only 7,700 BTUs for the Black + Decker.
The end result is that the Midea has a much better SACC/watt ratio – 9.2 – vs only 5.3 for the Black + Decker.
The Midea Duo is the much more efficient portable AC unit to run.
Real world application
9.2 is a higher number than 5.3 so clearly it’s better, but what does this translate to in the real world?
Our testing showed that 9,000+ BTU (SACC) units could cool an approx. 150 sq. ft. room from 90° F down to 75° F in approx. 30 minutes.
Units with a SACC less than 9,000 BTU – this would include the Black + Decker BPACT14WT – took 2 hours to do the same.
Thus, the higher SACC units were 4 times faster in cooling the room under these conditions.
In terms of energy cost, this means that under these conditions you would need to run a low SACC unit 4 times longer compared to a high SACC unit.
Let’s see how this impacts raw energy cost.
To simplify calculations, let's say both units draw approx. 1400 watts of power.
1400 watts = 1.4 kilowatts
$0.12/kwh x 1.4 kw x 2 hrs = $0.34 to cool the room with a low SACC unit
$0.12/kwh x 1.4 kw x 0.5 hrs = $0.08 to cool the room with a high SACC unit
This is only a difference of $0.26, but now multiply that same $0.26 over the hundreds of hours of use over the course of an especially hot summer.
You can see how it’s absolutely critical that you buy as high of a SACC unit as you can afford if keeping long term costs low are a priority for you.
You have several tools at your disposal to determine the best value portable air conditioner for your particular application.
You can use
- SACC instead of BTU to determine the true performance of a particular model
- SACC/$ – to determine how good of a value the unit is when you first buy it
- SACC/watts – to determine how energy efficient the unit will be
Using these tools you’ll find certain models that are a better value – short term and long term – than others.
But we cannot stress enough how long term cost really boils down to one thing: buying a portable AC unit with as high of a SACC as you can afford – preferably with 9,000+ BTU (SACC).
Higher SACC units will have drastically lower run times which will drastically lower your energy bill. This energy cost savings will completely overshadow the initial price of the unit.
Currently, the portable air conditioner with the most actual cooling capacity (SACC) and the highest energy efficiency is the Midea Duo. It's not only a good value when you buy it, initially, but it will also have much lower long term costs (here we're mostly talking about energy costs) than most other portable AC units on the market.
A More Affordable Alternative
The Duo is highly energy efficient and a great value, but it's still quite expensive. The Black + Decker BPP10WTB doesn't have quite as much real world cooling capacity (SACC) and it's not quite as energy efficient as the Duo, but it is a better value (in terms of SACC/$), and it's considerably cheaper. At 10,000 SACC BTUs, it also still clears the 9,000+ SACC BTU threshold we talked about earlier.
The BPP10WTB is our pick as the best most affordable alternative to the Duo.
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