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Are small portable air conditioners any good?

Author Rod Marchant-Smith | Peninsula Air Conditioning

Seaforth resident, Diane asks

“Are portable air conditioners any good? We’ve just moved into a small unit and were thinking of buying one instead of having a split system unit installed”

Perhaps you are weighing up whether or not to choose a portable air conditioner over an installed system.  To understand the portable air conditioner’s output potential, we need to look at how they work.

How Does Portable Air Conditioners Work?

In basic terms, an air conditioner is a heat exchanger.  With a portable air conditioner one end gets hot, one end gets cold.  If it is on a cooling cycle, it will be producing cold air on one side, but at the back, it will be making hot hair.  With a portable air conditioner, you will need a tube of some sort to direct the heat away, which likely will be through a window.  For this reason, and others, they are never very effective.

Firstly, the tube that is designed to remove hot air gets hot.  This means it produces heat that goes straight back into the environment that you’re trying to cool down.  Secondly, because you have to leave a window open you’re going to have warm air leaking back in.  It’s also going to let humidity in, which is one of the main things that makes you feel hot or cold.

Portable air conditioners are also noisy, and not very user friendly or convenient.  For example, a unit’s condensation tray could fill up in just a few hours.  So while you’re sleeping, it fills and then sets off an alarm to alert you that the tray needs emptying.  You not only have to wake up, but the system stops working because the tray is full.  They also come with cords which can prove to be a hazard for small children and pets.

These portable systems are best used as a backup for emergencies such as for a retail shop, or a garage when the fitted air conditioner is down for some reason.  They have their limits as they can’t be made big enough to make much of an impact on hot days.

There are tubeless systems that we refer to as ‘evacuative coolers’, which are different types of portable air conditioners.  These blow air over water in the system and that cools the air.  These also need to be refilled and aren’t a practical or long-term solution for climate control in the home.

Then there’s the question of affordability.  While there are setups that rent out portable air conditioners, their rates tend to be hiked in summer when you really need them.

Portable air conditioners are popular with renters because landlords often agree to installations based on the agreement that they are not removed when the renter leaves the property.  This isn’t legal.  Our experience is that customers buy a portable air conditioner and eventually tire of them and choose a split system air conditioner after all.

The benefits of installing a split system air conditioner, over using a portable one, are many. They are quieter, more efficient, operate by themselves without needing any intervention and generally give a better experience to the homeowner.  The only downside, because it is an installed unit, it’s immovable.

Need advice about a fixed air conditioner system?

We recommend fixed air conditioning systems over portable air conditioners.  Even if you live in a rental, you should be able to reach a sensible agreement with your landlord.  Get in touch with us, and we can talk you through your options.

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