Small Portable Air Conditioners
Size in terms of performance
Portable air conditioners are available in four major size classes:
- 8,000 BTU
- 10,000 BTU
- 12,000 BTU
- 14,000 BTU
Generally, the higher the BTU, the better the unit cools.
This would seem to indicate: the higher the BTU, the larger the room that the unit can accommodate.
However, this is simply not the case.
Our own research and testing revealed that there’s only one size category you should be considering regardless of room size: 14,000 BTU.
Portable AC units are inherently inefficient appliances. They use the air in the same room they’re cooling to cool off their own internal parts. The resulting hot air is exhausted out of the room via a hose .
The removal of air from the room creates an area of low pressure inside the room which causes higher pressure hot outdoor air to get sucked into the room. This adds heat back into the room.
The large diameter plastic exhaust hose also gets hot from being a conduit for warm air, and so it also radiates heat back into the room the AC unit is actively working to cool.
The latest standard for measuring portable air conditioner cooling capacity – seasonally adjusted cooling capacity (SACC) – takes into account these inefficiencies when giving the total BTUs for a particular model.
Here’s what happens when you account for heat added by ducting and outdoor air getting sucked into the room:
|New standard (SACC)
|7,700 to 12,000 BTUs
|6,500 to 10,000 BTUs
|5,500 to 7,000 BTUs
|4,000 to 5,500 BTUs
The table above indicates the following:
1. there’s a wide range of actual cooling capacity among models in the same size category. For example, in the 14,000 BTU category models range from 7,700 to 12,000 BTU (SACC).
2. interestingly, there’s overlap between the most efficient models in one category vs the least efficient models in another. For example, the most efficient 8,000 BTU model has the same SACC - 5,500 BTUs – as the least efficient 10,000 BTU model.
The most important take away, however, is this:
3. there’s a substantial drop off in actual cooling capacity after you account for heat added by ducting and hot outdoor air getting sucked into the room, no matter which size category you’re looking at.
And so the actual cooling capacity of smaller units - i.e. 8,000 and 10,000 traditional BTU units - is especially low.
Our testing has shown that smaller units – in the 4,000 to 7,000 SACC BTU range – will only work
- in very small spaces (under 150 sq. ft.) and
- only if the space is not especially difficult to cool (e.g. it’s not in a climate where it frequently gets over 90° F)
- for larger spaces OR
- for any space that’s difficult to cool
A larger unit - i.e. a 14,000 traditional BTU or at least a really efficient 12,000 traditional BTU unit is your only option.
For smaller and non-challenging environments our recommendation is the Whynter ARC-102CS. At 7,000 BTUs of seasonally adjusted cooling capacity (SACC) it provides the best compromise between SACC and price among sub 14,000 BTU models currently on the market.
For larger and/or challenging (hard to cool) environments our recommendation is the Midea Duo. At 12,000 SACC BTUs it’s the highest SACC portable air conditioner currently on the market.
Another good option is the Black + Decker BPP10WTB. At 10,000 SACC BTUs it doesn't have quite the cooling capacity of the Duo, but it still has sufficient cooling capacity for large and/or challenging environments, and it's usually priced much lower than the Duo.
Due to their inherent inefficiencies we’ve established that higher BTU – higher SACC BTU – portable air conditioners are really your only option unless the room you're trying to cool is especially small and not difficult to cool.
If you have to buy a higher SACC unit, what does this mean in terms of overall size and portability?
All portable AC units are heavy appliances. The average weight for an 8,000 BTU unit is about 55 lb. That’s very heavy.
14,000 BTU units are heavier – about 65 to 75 lb. on average. That’s also very heavy.
So, no matter which portable air conditioner you buy, regardless of size class, it’s going to be very heavy.
Note that all portable AC units do come pre-installed with casters. So while they are very heavy to lift – to take up stairs, for example – they’re actually quite easy to move around on the same floor (by rolling them around on their casters).
All portable AC units are also large appliances.
First of all, they all come with a very large 5 inch diameter hose. It doesn’t matter if the unit’s capacity is 8,000 BTUs or 14,000 BTUs. It will come with an eyesore of a 5 inch diameter hose.
The body of the portable AC unit is also very large, no matter the size class.
8,000 BTU units may be a few inches shorter than 14,000 BTU units, on average. But they’re still very large appliances – about 2.5 ft. tall and well over a foot wide and deep.
There are, of course, outliers in each size category. And, higher BTU size categories do tend to have the most extreme outliers. For example, the 14,000 BTU Whynter ARC-14S is over 80 lb. Both the ARC-14S and the 12,000 BTU Frigidaire FGPC1244T1 are over 3 ft. tall.
As a whole though, all portable AC units are approximately the same large size – about 2 to 3 ft. tall and between 1 and 2 ft. wide and deep.
A portable air conditioner is large and heavy no matter its size class, so make your purchase decision according to cooling capacity, not size or weight.
Again, we recommend only the highest SACC units on the market for large or challenging environments. Only buy a lower SACC unit if the room you’re cooling is very small and isn’t especially difficult to cool.
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