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 9,000 to 10,000 BTU range. Other, less efficient 14,000 BTU models, have a SACC as low as 7,500 BTU.
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 LG LP1419IVSM is one of the most expensive 14,000 BTU units on the market. It normally retails for around $700 with a SACC of 10,000 BTUs.
The LG LP1417GSR is also a 14,000 BTU unit and much cheaper at around $500. But its SACC is only 8,000 BTUs.
At face value, both units are 14,000 BTU units and the LP1417GSR is $200 cheaper.
Taking the analysis a little bit deeper, the cost per BTU (SACC) for the LP1419IVSM is 7 cents ($700/10,000 = 0.07) and the cost per BTU (SACC) for the LP1417GSR is 6 cents ($500/8,000 = 0.06).
Looking at $/SACC the LP1417GSR is still the better value but its advantage is much less than if you were to compare these two units by only considering their price and standard BTU category.
Comparing units in different BTU categories
The same exercise can be done to compare units in different BTU categories.
For example, the 8,000 BTU Frigidaire FFPA0822U1 retails for only about $280. It’s SACC is only 4,400 BTUs. This gives it a $/SACC of 6 cents per BTU (SACC).
Thus, a unit that’s approx. $200 cheaper than the LP1417GSR has exactly the same price to performance ratio – both units have a $/SACC ratio of 6 cents/BTU.
The FFPA0822U1 is approx. $500 cheaper than the LP1419IVSM and has only a 1 cent advantage when comparing each unit’s price to performance ratio – 6 cents/BTU vs 7 cents/BTU.
Using $/SACC ratio 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.
|Greater than or equal to $0.08||poor value|
|Less than or equal to $0.06||good 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 states 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 LP1419IVSM costs approx. $700 which translates into a yearly cost of $70.
This exercise puts a bit of perspective on your purchase.
The LP1417GSR is about $200 cheaper at the cash register. But at a yearly cost of $50, its only about $20 cheaper per year to own than the LP1419IVSM.
Both units and really all portable AC units on the market have very similar durability. Thus, you can expect an approximate life of 10 years no matter which specific model you buy.
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 LG LP1419IVSM and LP1417GSR once again.
Both units draw an equal amount of power – 1370 watts.
However, the LP1419IVSM has a much higher SACC – 10,000 BTU – vs only 8,000 BTU for the LP1417GSR.
Thus, the LP1419IVSM has a much better SACC/watt ratio – 7.3 – vs only 5.8 for the LP1417GSR.
The LP1419IVSM is the much more efficient portable AC unit to run.
Real world application
7.3 is a higher number than 5.8 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 LP1417GSR – 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.
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, there are only two 9,000+ BTU (SACC) models on the market. Either one of these units is a great value purchase despite their high initial cost:
If you absolutely cannot afford a model in this price range, the next best option is the
Its $/SACC ratio is only $0.05, making it one of the best buys on the market, at least in terms of initial price.
But, keep in mind that it, along with every other sub 9,000 SACC unit on the market, will have a much higher run time cooling even reasonably small rooms (150 sq. ft.) and this higher run time will translate into much higher energy costs over time.
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