Watt's Happening

Are Portable Air Conditioners Worth It? What You Need to Know

Fact: In most Florida homes, air conditioning accounts for approximately 50% or more of your electric bill each year. Yep, we’re shuddering at the thought of that, too.

How can homes save a pretty penny while still staying cool from that spicy Florida heat?

The right portable air conditioner (PAC) can help you cool down your high-traffic rooms without making your central air system work harder than it needs to — and that leads to summer energy savings!

To help you make these savings a reality, the Watt’s Team is sharing everything you need to know about these mini air conditioners, from how to find the right unit to the many benefits they offer in meeting your cooling needs … and how they save you green!

What are portable air conditioners?

Portable air conditioners are standalone units that resemble a tower fan or air purifier and can sit easily in the corner of a room. They typically come with an installation kit that includes a power cord and a water reservoir or vent hose to dehumidify the air as it circulates.

Like dryer vents that release warm humidified air via a nearby window or wall, portable air conditioners use the hose to send that extra exhaust and moisture out of your home. Your installation kit will come with everything you may need to attach it to your window and seal off the gaps.

You can find one of these bad boys dwelling in common home areas, such as dens, garages, bedrooms, sunrooms, etc. They even come with wheels so you can move them around as needed, living up to their name.

Portable air conditioners are great cooling solutions for single rooms and can assist a struggling central HVAC system. Homeowners use them to help cool rooms that are not climate-controlled or lack airflow (and if you’re a Floridian, to add an extra line of defense against 90-degree weather).

Portable air conditioners are great at lowering the temp in your home, but these mini a/c units have their limitations. One major issue they can’t solve is when a home has improper insulation in the attic. Good insulation is important for reducing heat infiltration and improving A/C cooling efficiency and overall comfort. FPL’s residential Ceiling Insulation Program gives homeowners a $95-$190 rebate towards the cost for qualifying homes, so you can get started on beating the heat this summer.

What are the benefits of mini air conditioners?

If you’re considering purchasing a small portable air conditioner this summer, we don’t blame you. There are ample benefits associated with ownership, including:

1. Cost cutting

Your HVAC works hard to cool your home, especially in the summer. If you’re hanging out in a certain part of the house, such as a bedroom or office, you can turn on your mini air conditioner and tick up your thermostat a few degrees to save energy. FPL recommends you adjust your A/C to 78 degrees or higher in the summer with your fan set to auto.

Pro tip: As we return to our regular schedules, you can program a smart thermostat to lower the temperature setting back to your preferred comfort level around 30 minutes before returning home or before a family member comes home for the day. This way, the central air conditioning system isn’t spending extra energy to cool parts of the home nobody is currently using — and your energy bill will thank you for it.

2. Simple setup

When it comes to portable air conditioners, setup is typically painless and inexpensive. Just assemble your window kit or wall vent, plug in your A/C and start cooling!

3. No restrictions

Apartment owners know the struggle of living within certain restrictions set in place by their building association, and the window air conditioner is one of the most common. Portable air conditioners are a great alternative since they don’t stick out of windows the same way.

4. Cooling convenience 

Mini air conditioners are portable, so you can switch them between rooms or even take them on your next RV camping trip. They are also easy to maintain compared to an HVAC, needing only occasional filter changes. What’s more, they act as humidifiers for allergies, keeping the air dry and your sinuses in check.

Portable air conditioners are convenient when no other cooling appliance is available, and they are great for personal comfort. You can cool the area you’re in or even a small room without making your HVAC system work too hard.

Still, it’s important not to get too comfortable with your new portable little friend — or it’ll cost you. Like ceiling fans, they are most effective when you are in the room they are cooling. Once you leave the room for extended periods (two hours or more), you should turn them off to continue saving energy.     

What features do the best portable air conditioners offer?

If you’re sold on the idea of your very own portable air conditioner, here are a few things you should consider while perusing the market.

1. Location

Portable room air conditioners are popular for their versatility, but it’s still a good idea to plan where you want to use them before you buy. Make sure you have nearby access to an outlet and window that opens.

2. Price

The price of a portable air conditioner depends on the size, which equates to more power. Small portable air conditioners can cost around $50, but for a unit that will cool an entire room, you're likely to spend anywhere between $200-$600.

Pro tip: Portable air conditioners are considered seasonal items, so if you want the best deal on one, wait for the off season such as fall or winter.

3. Size

Yes, size matters. Once you know where you’re going to be using your new portable air conditioner, be sure to measure the size of your room(s) to determine the right circulating power that best fits your needs.

The size of the unit directly correlates with its British Thermal Unit (BTU) number, a measurement of how much heat can be removed from a certain space by an air conditioning unit per hour. When shopping, you’ll refer to BTU rating to measure an air conditioning unit’s cooling power. Higher BTUs indicate they can cool larger spaces.

Here’s a general breakdown of room size and BTU rating:

  • Less than 200 square feet: 5,000-6,000 BTUs
  • Less than 300 square feet: 6,000-7,000 BTUs
  • Less than 400 square feet: 9,000-10,000 BTUs
  • Less than 450 square feet: 10,000-12,000 BTUs

You can also consult this handy BTU calculator to figure out your exact specs.

4. Features

How cool can your portable air conditioning unit be? Aside from the whole cooling your room aspect, additional features can make your unit extra convenient. These include timers, remote controls and even smart programming, such as voice command and mobile app control via Wi-Fi.

Think about what’s important to you and find out whether the unit you’re considering has the features that will make you feel like the coolest homeowner on the block.

5. Energy usage

The higher your portable air conditioner’s BTUs, the more energy it will use, so be sure to take that into account.

Pro tip: While shopping around, always consider the unit’s electric demand by looking at the manufacturer’s label for the number of watts (W) or KW (kilowatts or 1,000 watts). The higher the wattage, the more energy the air conditioning unit will use up.

What types of portable air conditioners are available?

So, you’ve decided you want to save some money this summer and a mini air conditioner is the way you want to do it. What’s next? Choosing the right unit for your needs! There are two main types of portable room air conditioners available for purchase — single-hose and dual-hose — and each works differently. Below, we’ve broken down the differences, so you can make the right choice.

A single-hose portable air conditioner is typically more energy efficient than dual-hose. It takes in the warm air in your room and circulates it into cool air. Additionally warm, humid air is released through the unit’s venting hose.

A dual-hose portable air conditioner takes fresh air from outside via a venting hose, turns it into cool air and circulates it throughout the room. The second hose releases the excess warm air by venting it through the window.

Small portable air conditioners also vary in how they drain water. See below:

  • Fully self-evaporative models: These small A/C units automatically evaporate moisture and warm air through the exhaust hose. This lessens the need to dispose of collected condensed water.
  • Gravity drain and condensate pump: Portable room air conditioners like this make it easy to get rid of collected moisture. Simply attach the drain hose to the drain port to direct the water into a drain or another location.
  • Manual removal: This standard small portable air conditioner has a bucket that needs to be emptied periodically. Depending on the humidity of the room and how often you use the unit, you could have to empty it anytime between 8 hours to just once a month. Monitor the bucket often until you know where yours falls on that timeline. You’ll need to turn off the unit, empty the bucket and replace it before cooling starts again.

What are the best portable air conditioners out there?

Now that you know what to look for logistically, check out these rankings for the best portable air conditioners to find the right unit for your home. The top picks are based on consumer reviews and highlight the best small A/C unit for categories, such as smarts, quietness, best value, etc.

Since our mission is to save you money, the Watt’s Team particularly likes this guide from LearnMetrics.com, which gives you the most energy-efficient portable air conditioning units out there.

Ready to keep the savings coming? From more ways cut costs during high bill season to tips on how to stay cool this summer, the Watt’s Happening blog has you covered.

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