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Small Portable Air Conditioners

small portable ac image
A 14,000 BTU unit on the left vs. an 8,000 BTU unit on the right.

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.

Here’s why:

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. This hot air is exhausted out of the room via a large diameter plastic exhaust hose.

The hose radiates heat back into the room the AC unit is cooling. 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.

A new 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:

Old standardNew standard (SACC)
14,000 BTUs7,500 to 10,000 BTUs
12,000 BTUs6,500 to 7,200 BTUs
10,000 BTUs5,200 to 6,500 BTUs
8,000 BTUs4,000 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 7,500 to 10,000 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 10,000 BTU model has the same SACC - 6,500 BTU – as the least efficient 12,000 BTU models.

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.

Even the highest BTU portable air conditioners only have about 7,500 to 10,000 BTUs of actual cooling capacity. This is not a lot of cooling power. It is barely sufficient for most applications.

Smaller units – in the 4,000 to 7,200 BTU (SACC) 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)

Otherwise,

  • for larger spaces OR
  • for any space that’s difficult to cool

A 14,000 BTU unit – really, a high SACC 14,000 BTU unit - is your only option.

Our recommendations are

  • LG LP1419IVSM – at 10,000 BTUs (SACC) it’s the highest SACC portable air conditioner currently on the market
  • NewAir NAC14KWH02 – at 9,500 BTUs (SACC) it’s the second highest SACC unit currently on the market

For smaller and non-challenging environments our recommendation is the LG LP1017WSR. At 6,500 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.

Physical size

We’ve established that higher BTU – higher SACC BTU – portable air conditioners are really the only way to go for the majority of applications.

But what does this mean in terms of overall size and portability?

Weight

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).

Size

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 BTU or 14,000 BTU. 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.

Conclusion

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 the majority of applications. 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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