How To Choose A Portable Air Conditioner

How To Choose A Portable Air Conditioner
Image: iStock/Kevin Brine

During Australia’s particularly hotter months, those living without air conditioning can’t just rely on a cold change to sweep through before bedtime, making broken sleep in hot muggy bedrooms annoyingly regular.

A permanent air conditioning solution simply isn’t possible for many people – particularly those who are renting – and pedestal or ceiling fans can only do so much. This makes a portable air conditioner a decent option to consider.

There’s plenty of choices out there when it comes to choosing the right unit for you and if you’re ready to drop between $200 and $1,000 on one, it pays to do your research. Here’s what you need to consider when choosing a portable air conditioner.

How much space can a portable air conditioner cool?

This is the most important question to ask when it comes to choosing the right model. Portable air conditioners are categorised by their power requirements in kW (kilowatts), the amount of heat they’re able to dissipate in BTU (British Thermal Units) or both. Generally speaking, the power requirements for most units will fall between 2.9kW and 5.2kW.

The one you choose really depends on the size of the room you’re trying to cool, so you’ll be best prepared after working out the size of the space in square metres. The smaller the room, the less it’ll need to cool down.

According to Canstar Blue, 20sqm can be cooled by a 2.8kW system, 30sqm by a 4.2kW system and 40sqm by a 5.6kW system. Of course, this is just a general guide and what you actually get will vary slightly, just as each model and brand of air conditioner will.

It’s also worth noting that a portable air conditioner probably won’t be able to cool multiple rooms, but its portability means you can take it from room to room with you providing there’s an adequate space for it to be set up in each. Some even come with wheels to make this easier, like the Kogan 4.4kW Portable Air Conditioner (15,000 BTU).

Do portable air conditioners need to be installed?

You don’t need to hire a professional, but they do require some minor installation before you can start using them. You should be able to do this by yourself quite easily.

The majority of portable air conditioners work by sucking in the hot and humid air in your house and replacing it with cool air, which means it needs somewhere to dump all of that heat. This is generally done via a flexible hose that feeds from the unit and connects to a window.

Window kits are included with your portable air conditioner and are fairly easy to set up. Most will be a hose and slide that fits into horizontal or sliding windows.

It’s important that there’s a good seal at the window to prevent the hot air leaking back into the room you’re trying to cool. The hose should not be obstructed or contain too many bends, as this can make it difficult for the hot air to escape.

Allow for plenty of space around the unit, as any obstructions to the intake vents will affect efficiency.

There are also exhaust kits available for windows that wind out but you may have to purchase these separately.

How much should I spend on a portable air conditioner?

How much you spend will come down to what you want out of a portable air conditioner. If you’re just looking for a bit of relief in your bedroom on those hot, sticky nights, there are decent units like this one that are reasonably priced.

If cooling a larger area of your house is a priority, you’ll likely have to fork out a little more. Anything above the 5kW mark will have the power you need, but be wary that it’ll require more energy to run, which means more on your electricity bill. The Vostok 5.2kW Portable Air Conditioner (18,000 BTU, Reverse Cycle) is a well-priced unit with a lot of power.

Outside of cooling ability, higher-priced units can offer things like quieter fans, better energy efficiency, smartphone connectivity, heating and dehumidifying modes, timers and more. This Dimplex unit, for example, was voted as one of the best by Canstar Blue.

How much do portable air conditioners cost to run?

While the upfront costs are smaller, they generally end up costing more in energy in the long run simply because they have to work harder to cool a space compared to a traditional split system.

The costs will depend on how much your electricity provider charges per kW, how hard your portable air conditioner has to work to cool a room and how efficient it is at doing so. According to Canstar Blue, a 2.1kW unit running at a rate of 30 cents per kW would cost 63 cents per hour to operate.

Over a year, this can certainly add up. Origin Energy estimates the costs of running a portable unit to be between $68 to $201 more per year when compared with a modern split system.

You can minimise running costs by being smart with how you use your system. Origin recommends setting the minimum temperature at 24 degrees Celcius, even if it’s a scorcher outside, as every degree under 24 uses 5% more energy.

Some portable air conditioners are capable of monitoring room temperature and will only turn on to maintain what you’ve set it to, which is another good way to save on usage.

Is there any maintenance involved?

Units that come with dehumidifying functionality either have a drip tray that will need to be emptied or a drainage hose you’ll have to pop into a bucket or container to collect the water. More expensive models might come with a self-evaporative function that removes this maintenance.

You’ll also need to clean or change its filters, so it’s best to check the operating manual to see how often this needs to happen.


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