Portable Air Conditioner Buyer’s Guide for Homeowners

Portable Air Conditioner Buyer's Guide for Homeowners

Are you shopping for a portable air conditioner?

If so, you’re in the right place!

Below I’ll walk you through everything you should know when it comes to shopping for a portable air conditioner.

And don’t worry. I’ve got nothing to sell you.

Our website is based around helping our readers solve issues with their appliances and air conditioners, so I’m only writing this guide to help you choose the best model for your home.

Don’t be one of those people who rush out and make a purchase only to find out that they need to return it. Take advantage of my years of expertise and make the right choice the first time.

Types of Portable Air Conditioners

Already Installed Portable Air Conditioner
Portable Air Conditioner

Once you’ve narrowed down your choice to a portable air conditioner, there are three different types you can choose from. Two of them need to exhaust to the outside and one does not.

Single Hose Portable Air Conditioners

This is the most common type of portable air conditioner, so you’ll also find the best selection.

These units pull hot air from your indoor environment and cool it. Air that isn’t cooled is released outside by means of a single hose, typically connected to a window.

Dual-Hose Portable Air Conditioners

Instead of sharing a single hose that works double duty for both intake and exhaust purposes, a dual hose system uses one hose for exhaust and another for intake. This type of air conditioner is typically more efficient than the single-hose version.

Additionally, the intake hose is used to prevent negative pressure while also cooling down the air conditioner itself.

Evaporative Coolers

For renters or condo owners who can’t vent to the outside, this is an alternative type that does not require venting. Meaning that it has neither intake or exhaust hoses.

As the name suggests, this type of air conditioner uses an evaporative cooling process to drop the indoor temperature. They do this by means of a water reservoir and cooling pads. The cooling pads absorb the water, which slowly evaporates as hot air is fanned across it. This process cools the air and then releases it back into the room.

Portable Air Conditioner Considerations

Based on the three types of portable air conditioners available, you may have already decided which type is best suited for your home. However, you’re not done. There are more things for you to take into account before making a purchase.

To some extent, these considerations will be the same regardless of your intent to buy a window air conditioner or a central air conditioner. But to keep things simple, we’ll discuss all considerations in this article.


Unless you are opting for a ventless evaporative cooler, you have two important things to consider with regards to placement. A nearby window and a nearby electrical outlet.

But not just any window and any electrical outlet.

Ideally, you’ll situate your air conditioner close to a window with an opening and to an electrical outlet that has enough voltage to run your unit. More on that later.

There are a few workarounds if you don’t have a window close by.

  • Window hose extension kits. The typical hose length is between 5 and 7 feet but you can buy an extension. However, it’s best to keep the hose length under 12 feet and be sure to avoid any 90° bends in it.
  • Use the dryer vent. Your dryer vent can double as a vent hole for your air conditioner.
  • You can find installation kits that allow you to exhaust your air conditioner through your sliding patio doors.

Room Size

One of the most basic considerations will be determining the size of the room or the area that you want to cool. This is one of the biggest factors in calculating the cooling capacity size — BTUs — of an air conditioner.

You calculate square feet by multiplying length times width.

However, for a basic breakdown, you can use the table below.

Room SizeApproximate BTUs
200 sq ft8,000 BTUs
300 sq ft10,000 BTUs
400 sq ft12,000 BTUs
450 sq ft13,000 BTUs
500 sq ft14,000 BTUs

Once you have the size calculated, there are a few other things to keep in mind.

Environmental Considerations

The more heat gain in a room or area, the more cooling power is necessary.

Take into consideration the following things that add heat to your room.

  • Direct sun on windows — and the number of hours a day you get direct sun
  • The higher your ceilings the more air volume in the room. The more air volume, the more cooling capacity.

Additionally, there are a few things that can decrease the amount of heat a room gets. If you’re looking to add an air conditioner to a room where the outside is heavily shaded, you can deduct some BTUs from your calculations.

For specifics on how many BTUs to add or subtract in different situations, please refer to the Energy Star site.

Electrical Requirements

As mentioned above, any old electrical outlet may not be sufficient.

Depending on the capacity of your portable air conditioner, you may be able to get away with a regular outlet. However the bigger the size — capacity-wise — the greater the chance you’ll need a dedicated circuit.

Be sure to check the specifications for any unit you’re looking at but generally speaking a standard 120-volt circuit will be sufficient to run a 12,000 BTU air conditioner. Once you get up to 13,000 or 14,000 BTUs, you should probably be using a dedicated, 220-volt circuit.


The above considerations cover the necessities you need to think about before making a purchase. But it doesn’t end there.

Take some time to think about the different features offered. Are there things that you may need or want in your portable air conditioner?

Here are a few typical features — plus a little more detail on a few of them below.

  • Dehumidifier
  • Energy Star
  • Fan only
  • Low decibel rating
  • Oscillation
  • Remote control
  • Thermostat
  • Timer

Dehumidifier. On humid days, you may opt to simply dehumidify without cooling your air. A portable air conditioner with this additional feature will allow you to do just that.

Fan only. There may be days you simply want to circulate air without cooling it. Fan only mode makes that possible.

Low decibel rating. Unlike central air or window air conditioners, where the compressor is outside, all components of a portable air conditioner are in the room with you. I strongly recommend looking for something with the lowest decibel reading possible.

Oscillation. Just like some floor fans will oscillate, there are portable air conditioners that oscillate while in use as well.

Choosing the Right Portable Air Conditioner

Only you know your needs and your budget, so choosing the right air conditioner is on you.

When it involves things like placement, size, and electrical requirements you don’t have much leeway — if any. When it comes to features, you have a bit more wiggle room and again, focus on what’s important to you.

Having said that, in my opinion, a few of the most important features you should consider are the following.

Energy Star rating. With rising energy costs buying an air conditioner was that good efficiency rating just makes the most sense. It may cost you a bit more upfront but will likely save you money down the line.

Low decibel reading. Portable air conditioners are inherently loud so it’s important to look for one with the lowest possible decibel rating. Otherwise, your aggravation over yelling to be heard may heat up the room you’re trying to cool.

And there you have it. If you’ve read through, you’re now armed with most of the information you need to make a wise choice on a portable air conditioner. But you may have a few more questions.

Portable Air Conditioner FAQs

Is it cheaper to leave a portable air conditioner on all day?

Yes. This applies to any type of air conditioner.

What is the life expectancy of a portable air conditioner?

5 to 10 years.

How long will it take a portable air conditioner to cool a room?

About the same amount of time that a window unit will take. However, a dual-hose portable air conditioner is more efficient and will cool your room quicker. To be more precise, as long as you have a unit with the correct cooling capacity, it should take about 20 minutes to cool a room.

Hi there! I’m Craig, and I’m the founder of Appliance Analysts. When it comes to appliances and anything electrical, I’ve always loved opening things up, figuring out how they work, and fixing them. This website is where I share free advice from myself and our experts to help our readers solve their appliance/HVAC problems and save money. Read more