The Best Portable Air Conditioners | Tips & Tricks

The summer’s sweltering in the Northern Hemisphere. If you’re not in a position to install a air conditioner, your options for heat relief in your home are limited. Here are the best portable choices.

“Portable” AC units are called such because, unlike whole-house units or heavy window mounted units, you can easily move them. Compared to their beefier siblings they aren’t ideal; they’re less efficient than a central AC system, and take up more space than a permanent window-mounted system, despite generally costing about the same and still needing a window to exhaust heated air. But if you’re renting your home or you need to rapidly cool down a specific room, they could be the best solution available to you. Just understand the limitations you’re working with: even the most powerful portable AC units won’t be able to cool down much more space than a medium-sized living room (500 square feet). Trying to cool a large house with multiple rooms with one or more portable units is not practical.

A portable AC works on the same principle as a refrigerator, except it’s cooling the outside instead of the inside. The device pulls in hot air from the room and cycles it past a condenser, blowing the chilled air back into the room and exhausting hot air through a hose out the window. Smaller AC units express their capacities with BTU, British Temperature Units. An 8,000 BTU AC can handle a small bedroom or office (150-250 square feet), a 10-12,000 BTU can handle a medium-sized room or a kitchen, and a larger 14,000 BTU unit can handle large open spaces—so long as they’re not too large, and preferably don’t have high ceilings. Of course, using a larger unit in a smaller room will cool it more rapidly. Also note that the more powerful the unit, the more noise it will make in operation.

We’ve chosen the best three options on the market: the best overall model, the best for shoppers on a budget, and the best for those who only need a small supplementary AC unit to cool a bedroom.

Best Overall Portable Air Conditioner: Whynter ARC-14S ($453)

The ARC 14s is the top pick in the portable AC niche and receives high praise across the board. Its 14,000 BTU capacity can handle rooms of up to 500 square feet, and the model includes a digital operation panel, remote control, two integrated air filters (one carbon for allergens, one simple washable filter for dust), and a full window kit. This design uses a dual-hose setup, which both pulls in and exhausts hot exterior air from the window to cycle the condenser. Unlike single-hose designs, this means it won’t create a negative air pressure in the room, drawing in more hot air from the rest of the house and reducing its efficiency. And unlike more basic designs, this model will expel the vast majority of its accumulated humidified water directly through the hose, meaning you’ll only have to drain the reservoir very occasionally when humidity exceeds 70%.

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This Whynter model has three operational modes: the full air conditioner, a simple fan with the condenser disengaged, and a dehumidifier. A slightly upgraded model adds a heating element to its fan, giving it year-round utility. All that tech in one package, with the most power available without upgrading to industrial models, makes the Whynter ARC-14S an easy pick for the best of the bunch.

Best Budget Portable Air Conditioner: Black & Decker BPACT10WT ($288)

If you’re strapped for cash but you need quick, non-permanent heat relief, go for this Black & Decker model. Its 10,000 BTU power should be able to handle a medium-sized room effectively, and at under $300, it won’t break the bank. The same design is offered in higher BTU ratings with comparable prices. Despite the budget nature of the AC, it includes digital controls and a remote, a timer function so it kicks in automatically as your house warms up, and a washable air filter. Its single-hose design isn’t as efficient as the Whynter model above, so be sure to keep doors closed and draft stoppers applied when the unit is in use, but it does exhaust most of its condensation through the hose requiring less frequent draining.

Best Bedroom Portable Air Conditioner: JHS A001-8KR/D ($372)

When all you need is a little extra cooling in your bedroom for those hot nights, and quiet operation is more important than raw power, this JHS design is ideal. It can swap between full AC, dehumidifier, and a simple two-speed fan on the fly. It also includes a full 24-hour timer function and a “sleep mode,” which will allow for a slightly larger range of temperatures in the room to avoid activating the compressor while you’re sleeping. It’s a thoughtful touch. Creature comforts include an automatic evaporation system that should expel humidified water under light conditions, a remote control, and user-washable air filters. At only 44 pounds it’s also one of the lightest models around, for those rare occasions when the included casters aren’t enough to move it around your home.

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