Are you trying to keep cool during the hot months, but you don’t have central air conditioning in your home?
Or, do you have a central AC unit, but are tired of paying the high monthly bills it costs to run it?
Either way, you don’t have to settle for baking inside of a hot house. A portable AC unit is the best way to keep you cool, while giving you the freedom to move the device from room to room.
In this post, we’ll explain everything you need to know about compact air conditioners, so you can make the best buying decision possible.
We’ll also show you what the best portable AC unit is for each size room and how to pick the right one for your needs.
Let’s get started!
- Why Portable AC Units Are a Great Choice
- A Crucial Difference: Portable vs. Ventless Air Conditioners
- How to Choose The Right Size Air Conditioner
- List of the The Best Portable AC Units (Product Reviews and Ratings)
Why Portable AC Units Are a Great Choice
Cheap to Use
One of the major benefits to owning a portable AC device is that it drastically cuts down on monthly energy costs for cooling your home.
With a central AC unit, you have to pay for it to run throughout the entire house even if you just want to cool down one specific room. The average homeowner spends $100-200 per month for this type of cooling system.
By comparison, a compact portable air conditioner use one-eighth of the electricity required to run central AC, which comes out to about $6-15 per month to cool a room.
The biggest competitor for portable AC devices are window mounted air conditioning units. If interested, we have an entire guide dedicated to this topic.
However, window units don’t comply with most building codes and HOA regulations. If you rent an apartment or live in an HOA zone, you can’t use them.
Portable units don’t have this restriction, since they don’t protrude from the outside. This makes these devices one of the best investments you can make to cool a home.
Non-Permanent and Easy Installation
Most portable units are very lightweight, and as long as there’s an electrical outlet and a place to vent the hot air, you’re good to use it.
A Crucial Difference: Portable Vs. Ventless Air Conditioners
Not many people know this, but there are actually two different types of compact air conditioners you can buy.
If you confuse the two, you could end up making a costly and inconvenient mistake.
The two terms you need to familiarize yourself with are:
- and Ventless (also referred to as “evaporative”)
A product that carries just the label “portable” is outfitted with a hose that transfers hot air from inside a room to the outdoors. This means that it has to be installed next to a window, so the hose can be vented to the outside.
A product that includes the word “ventless” or “evaporative” doesn’t use a hose for ventilation. Instead, it uses a tank of water and the natural process of water evaporation to cool incoming hot air and a fan to expel the newly, cooled air into the room.
Oddly, a “ventless portable air condtioner” is much more portable than a “portable air conditioner.” You can effortlessly move it from room to room, just like a rolling chair, whereas the latter requires extra work to take down and set up.
So, Which Type Should You Get?
It may seem like an obvious choice to buy a ventless or evaporative air cooler because it’s a lot more mobile. However, there’s actually a more important factor you need to take into consideration.
And that is, the humidity levels of where you live.
As you just learned, portable and ventless air coolers work in different ways and if you don’t buy the right one for your area, you won’t get the best results.
Here’s what you need to know…
- Portable AC units are best for humid climates, because they cool the air by removing moisture from it. That’s why it must be connected to a window.
- Ventless AC units are best for dry climates, because they add moisture back into the air to help cool it. However, there must be a constant supply of fresh air (like an open window or door) to avoid overly-saturating the air inside the room.
Take a look at the map below to quickly determine what the best portable air conditioner type is best for your region.
How to Choose The Right Size Air Conditioner
Now that you know how to pick the right kind of air conditioner for your home, the next step is choosing a model that’s properly sized for its location.
When you’re shopping for an AC unit, you’ll find two different numbers depending on the type of device you get:
- BTU, which is for portable air conditioners (i.e. 8,000 BTU or 14,000 BTU)
- CFM, which is for ventless air conditioners (i.e. 700 CFM or 2000 CFM)
While these numbers may seem complex, they’re actually quite easy to understand.
Each one pertains to a maximum square footage that the air conditioner can handle.
These numbers are important because you don’t want a device that’s rated too high or too low for the room you want to use it in.
- For example, you don’t want to buy a product that’s too weak to cool down a large room. This will increase your monthly energy costs and leave the room feeling hotter than you desire.
- On the flip side, you also don’t want a unit that puts out too much power for a small room. You’ll spend to much money on the initial purchase and the smaller than intended space will cause it to overwork itself and eventually break down.
What you do want is for the AC unit to be sized just right for maximum efficiency and energy use.
Here’s How Figure Out What BTU and CFM Numbers to Look for When Comparing Product Models
Measure the Square Footage of the Room
Using a tape measure, measure the length and width of the room you want to put the portable AC unit in.
For odd lengths, round up or down to the nearest whole foot number. Then multiple these two numbers together. This will give you the square footage for the room.
For example, a room that is 29 ft. 8 in. long by 21 ft. 4 in. wide, would round up to 30 ft. by 21 ft. Multiplying these numbers together gives you 630 sq. ft.
30 x 21 = 630 sq. ft.
This is the maximum amount of space you want your compact air conditioner to cover.
BTU Reference Chart
Below is a quick reference chart to find the right BTU capacity for your needs.
Take the square footage of the room you measured and find the associated BTU number. Then, look for a portable air conditioner that has this rating in order to get the best value.
Using our previous example of a large 630 sq. ft. room, the correct portable air conditioner would be one with a 14,000 BTU rating. In contrast, a small room air conditioner for 200 sq. ft. would only require an 8,000 BTU rating.
|Room Area To Be Cooled||Capacity Needed|
|up to 350 sq. ft.||8,000 BTU|
|350 to 400 sq. ft.||9,000 BTU|
|400 to 450 sq. ft.||10,000 BTU|
|450 to 550 sq. ft.||12,000 BTU|
|550 to 700 sq. ft.||14,000 BTU|
Determining The Right CFM Rating
Unfortunately, CFM ratings don’t always match up as perfectly as BTU ratings do for square footage measurements.
For example, our recommendation for a ventless portable air conditioner below for large rooms has a 1650 CFM rating and covers up to 650 sq. ft.
Another product, not listed here, has lower 1540 CFM rating yet covers 800 sq. ft.
That’s quite a difference.
So, you really don’t have to worry about getting the CFM number wrong when shopping for an evaporative cooler.
The Best Portable Air Conditioner for Each Room Size
Now that you know what to look for when choosing the best portable AC unit for your home, we can move onto showing you what the top products are for each size room.
The list below will save you countless hours of research, because we’ve done all of the hard work for you of narrowing down the best choices for portable and ventless AC units.
No matter which product you pick, you know that you’re getting the most value for your money.
FOR SMALL ROOMS
If you’re looking for the best portable air conditioner for a small size room, this is it.
This product is perfect for bedrooms, dens and office spaces.
It can handle up to 250 sq. ft., has three cooling settings and a 24 hour timer. The push button controls and LCD screen make it a snap to operate, but also comes with a convenient remote control.
If you’re in the market for a ventless air conditioner, this is the most cost effective small room air conditioner you can buy.
It can cool a room up to 250 sq. ft., has three cooling modes, oscillation and a 7.5 hour timer. Everything can be operated by a remote control and the wheels casters make it easy to move from room to room.
The water tank holds 1.76 gallons, which can last up to 8.5 hours of continuous use before refilling.
FOR MEDIUM SIZE ROOMS
If you’re trying to cool a medium sized room, like a living room or apartment space, this is your best option.
This compact air conditioner has more than 1,800 positive reviews, and can cool and dehumidify a space up to 350 sq. ft. It also has a fan-only mode if you’re just looking for a cool breeze without the chill.
Easy operation is controlled by buttons on the device or through a remote control.
This evaporative cooler is the best in its class for use in areas with low humidity (1,000+ positive reviews).
It covers up to 320 sq. ft., which makes it ideal for most home applications. Additional perks include four cooling speeds, oscillation mode and an LED control panel.
Under normal use, the 7.9 gallon water tank only needs to be replenished every 48 hours.
FOR LARGE ROOMS
If you want a super stylish portable AC unit that covers a ton of space, then you’ve found it in this machine.
No other product on the market looks this good and can handle a room up to 500 sq. ft.
It’s perfect for large living rooms, office spaces and single levels in a town home.
With digital controls, three cooling speeds and a 24 hour timer, you’ve got the best of everything. Plus, it also includes a carbon air filter, which purifies the air and leaves your home smelling fresh and clean while it cools.
Rating: 4 stars
Hands down, this the biggest and baddest evaporative air cooler around. For home use it can’t be beat.
It covers up to 650 sq. ft. (which is HUGE) and offers three cooling speeds,, as well as an oscillation feature.
What’s also great is that it has a direct line input for water, which means you can use it outside and continuously without having the refill the water tank.
For indoor use, the 10.6 gallon water tank can last three or four days before you even have to think about refilling it.
If we have to give this product one critique, it would be that it uses old school rotary dials, as opposed to modern digital controls, but given all of its power, it’s not that big of a deal for most people.