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Portable Air Conditioners: How They Work, Pros/Cons, and More

Portable air conditioners, also called room air conditioners, can be a cost-effective way to cool a small room or area or temporarily supplement a struggling AC, but aren't a great long-term solution to cool large or multiple areas.

To help you weigh your air conditioning options, we'll go over:

  • How portable air conditioners work

  • Pros and cons of portable air conditioners

  • Alternatives to portable air conditioners

Want to hear your options for better air conditioning? Call Badger Bob's Services at (941) 225-2775 or schedule an appointment.

Our HVAC experts will inspect your AC system, then recommend the best course of action for your home. Whether you just need an AC tune-up to help your system run more efficiently or should supplement your AC with a ductless system, you'll get the same dependable service our Sarasota customers have been getting for the past 30 years.

How portable ACs work

A portable AC has the system compressor, condenser and evaporator coils, and blower fan inside a small unit (usually 2-3 feet tall) that has 1-2 exhaust hoses to expel the warm air out of a window.

Here's how portable ACs work:

  1. The unit pulls in warm air. Single-hose portable ACs will pull in air from inside the room. Dual-hose portable AC models will have 1 hose for pulling air from outside, and a separate hose for expelling air.

  2. The air gets cooled and dehumidified (through a water reservoir inside the unit) and blown into the room.

  3. The warm air gets expelled through a hose that attaches to a window vent, similar to how a dryer vent works.

Pros and cons of portable ACs


Pros of portable air conditioners include:

  • Good for small spaces. Portable ACs are a good solution if you temporarily need a small room or area cooled in Sarasota summers. The larger the area you need to cool, the less efficient they become. You can find portable AC units that are rated to cool areas up to 700-1,000 sq. ft., but their low energy efficiency usually isn't worth the extra cost and size.

  • Easy to transport. Most portable AC units are relatively small and have wheels, which makes them easy to transport from room to room. That said, they need access to a window for venting, which limits the areas you can use them in.

  • Affordable. Portable air conditioners run between $250 and $500, making them an affordable option if you need a small space cooled only for a few sweltering days in the summer.


Cons of portable air conditioners include:

  • Inefficient cooling. Single-hose portable ACs will be more efficient than dual-hose portable ACs, but both models are less efficient than traditional ducted HVAC systems, ductless systems, and even window-mounted AC units.

  • Low cooling capacity. Portable AC units can only cool a single room at a time and, depending on the size of the room, may struggle to do so. The larger the room, the more likely you'll end up with hot and cold spots that create a less-than-comfortable environment.

  • Maintenance. With portable ACs, you need to empty the water reservoir that fills up when the unit dehumidifies the room. Other HVAC systems have a condensate pipe that drains itself. You also need to change the filter on room air conditioners every 2 weeks, where other AC filters can be changed monthly.

  • Loud noise. Since the unit and its blower motor is inside the room you're cooling, you'll get a lot of noise when the unit is running. With ducted ACs, the noise is either muffled by an attic, crawlspace, or even outside if you have a packaged HVAC system.

  • Take up floor and window space. Portable AC units are meant to be temporary sources of cooling, so they're designed to sit on the floor within 5-7 feet (the length of the hose) of the window you choose to vent it through. This takes up valuable floor space in whichever room you need the extra cooling.

Alternatives to portable ACs

Instead of sinking the $250-500 into a portable AC unit, you're usually better off investing in a better, more reliable HVAC solution.

The solution you need will depend on why your AC isn't working as well as it should, which will require a professional inspection. For example, an HVAC expert may recommend:

  • Upgrading your AC. When traditional ducted ACs can't keep some parts of your home cool, the culprit is often an undersized unit. If the technician that installed your system didn't properly size it with a heat load calculation—a measurement of many factors to determine how quickly your home loses heat—you'd have ended up with a unit that can't keep up with your home's cooling needs.

  • Installing a ductless HVAC system. If you recently remodeled or now need to cool a space that wasn't cooled before (like a garage, workshop or sunroom), a ductless HVAC system is a highly efficient solution for cooling smaller areas. Ductless ACs are installed on a wall or ceiling, but don't require ductwork installation or expansion.

  • Extending your home's ductwork. Extending your ductwork is another option to cool a new area. This option is more labor intensive, and may also require upgrading your AC system, depending on the size and heat loss of the area that needs ducted. That said, it's also the more aesthetically pleasing option if you don't want a ductless unit taking up space on your wall.

  • Regular maintenance. The best way to keep your air conditioner running smoothly and efficiently is annual maintenance. AC tune-ups are a check-up on your system that include a full system inspection, and cleaning and testing of various components. Tune-ups help you save money on utilities, prevent expensive repairs, and help your system last as long as possible.

Need help staying cool? Call Badger Bob's Services.

Call us today at (941) 225-2775 or schedule an appointment for a free in-home estimate.

For more than 30 years, our HVAC techs have been offering the most dependable AC services in the greater Sarasota area. We'll figure out why your AC isn't cooling as well as it should, then recommend the best option for your home. You'll be back to being comfortable in no time.