Portable AC units are easy to install, but they require some maintenance.
Window AC units are efficient and save space, but are difficult to install.
Typically, the costs for these units are very similar.
When the summer months roll in, there’s often no way around the stifling heat, especially if you don’t have central air. This is where an air conditioner alternative comes in, and it’s important to understand which type of AC—portable or window—is right for you.
When it comes to portable versus window AC units, there are several key differences to keep in mind. Consider all these factors before you commit.
Portable AC Pros and Cons
Like everything, a portable air conditioner unit comes with both benefits and drawbacks.
Portable ACs cost about $90–$500 and are a cost-effective alternative to central AC
Easy to install
You can move them from room to room
You can hide or store them during cool weather (in turn, you’ll save space)
Tend to be noisy
Because they sit on the floor, they make your space more cluttered
Tend to produce condensation because they pull humidity from the air
Only cool a small space (ex. one room)
Window AC Unit Pros and Cons
A window unit doesn’t take up floor space, but it’s a bit more difficult to install.
Window AC units save floor space because they go directly into your window
Can cool larger rooms
Tend to be quieter than portable AC units
Though they cost more than portable AC units, window units are still affordable at $150–$500
You won’t be able to open your window or let natural light in
When on the ground level, they can pose security risks
Installation is difficult and involves heavy lifting
Portable AC vs. Window AC Units
When it comes to picking your ideal AC unit, you’ll want to consider each major difference before making the final decision.
With any air conditioner, noise is going to be a factor. You’re likely to hear a hum when the air conditioner is running. In many cases, though, a portable air conditioner may seem louder than a window unit, since the noise from a window AC is directed outdoors.
Quietest: Window AC unit
Typically, a window air conditioner has more cooling power compared to a portable unit, which means lower costs for you. Plus, your air conditioner’s efficiency means more and faster cool air blowing through your home.
Most efficient: Window AC unit
As its name implies, the portable AC is portable—which means you can move it from room to room. Meanwhile, you’ll install a window AC unit in one room and it usually stays there.
But take note: Although they’re not called “portable” units, you still can choose to uninstall and reinstall a window unit if you need to move it—it just requires a bit more labor.
Most mobile: Portable AC
When it comes to the cost of an air conditioner, window units and portable units are usually very similar. On average, a window AC unit costs roughly $150 to $500, while you can expect a portable AC unit to cost around $90 to $500.
Most cost-effective: Tie
Ease of Installation/DIY-ability
While both portable units and window units can be DIY installations, portable ACs are a bit easier to install. Usually, you’ll simply need to plug them in and press “on.” In addition, most models come with exhaust hoses, which you’ll place next to a window to allow the air to escape.
Window AC units require more grunt work. These units tend to weigh over 50 pounds and, unlike the portable units, they don’t come on wheels.
You’ll need to install these units into the window, and some buildings do require that you work with a professional to install these. If you have any questions, consult a professional who can make sure you properly install the unit.
Easiest installation: Portable AC unit
Although appearance likely isn’t what most homeowners are prioritizing in an air conditioner, it’s important to consider everything before making an investment.
Window AC units can really block off a good portion of your window, which may eliminate your prized natural light and also prevents you from opening the window and taking in that fresh air. Meanwhile, portable units don't block out any natural light or air. However, they do take up more floor space and may make the area seem more cluttered.
Most visually appealing: Tie
As noted, a portable AC unit will take up floor space, which may even require that you rearrange your furniture to make more space. Plus, you’ll need to make space to run the hose through the window.
On the contrary, a window unit will be entirely out of your living area, which means you don’t have to worry about it adding clutter to your home.
Best for saving space: Window AC unit