Are Portable Air Conditioners Worth the Money?

Amy Pawlukiewicz
Written by Amy Pawlukiewicz
Updated March 24, 2022
A mobile air conditioner refreshing a room
Photo: Icy Macload / Moment / Getty Images


  • Portable air conditioners cost around $100 to $500 per unit

  • There are two types of portable AC units: vented and ventless

  • A portable air conditioner is best for smaller spaces

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Portable air conditioners may sound like an easy way to cool a room without the hassle of permanently installing a window unit—or the high cost of installing central air. But are they worth the bucks you’ll shell out? Here’s what’s up.

What is a Portable Air Conditioner?

A portable air conditioner is an AC unit that comes in a standalone unit. They usually cost around $100 to $500, depending on the size and the unit’s features. Unlike a window air conditioner unit, you can move a portable air conditioner from room to room without having to pull it out of a window and reinstall it. There are two types of portable air conditioners:

  • Vented portable air conditioners have an exhaust hose that attaches to a window, “venting” the hot air from the room into the outdoors.

  • Ventless portable air conditioners do not have an exhaust vent to the outside, which means the heat stays trapped in your home somewhere.

Considerations With a Portable Air Conditioner

When deciding whether or not a portable air conditioner would be good for your home, look at a couple of factors.

Room Size

In order for a portable AC unit to work properly, it has to be the correct size for the room it’s going to cool. BTUs are the units of measurement for air conditioners, and the higher the BTUs, the larger the room (or rooms) the unit can cool. 

Outside Temperature

Air conditioners don’t just pump cool air into your home, they remove hot air from it as well. The hotter the temperature outside, the harder your unit is going to have to work to get the hot air from inside your home cooled to the temperature you’d like. Freestanding portable AC units can cool an average-sized room to about 75 degrees on an 85 to 95 degree day.

The Pros and Cons of Portable Air Conditioners

A man fitting hose to ventilation system
Photo: auremar / Adobe Stock

Like any appliance that you bring into your home, portable air conditioners have their strengths and their drawbacks.

Portable Air Conditioner Pros

As their name indicates, the most obvious pro of a portable air conditioner is portability. But these units have several other benefits to consider.

  • They leave you access to your windows, letting in more natural light. This may not be a huge issue if you live in a house, but for smaller apartments where natural light is a hot commodity, window AC units take up a lot of real estate.

  • They’re convenient if you have casement windows. Casement window air conditioners are specially designed to fit these types of windows, but at $400 to $600, they’re more pricey than traditional units and most portable units.

  • Portable air conditioner units are good to go right out of the packaging, you just have to find a window for the hose. Traditional AC units require much more legwork to install, plus you have to lift them to install them and they are not light.

  • Your building management or HOA won’t complain because you don’t have a unit sticking out of your window. Some buildings and HOAs have rules against window AC units, and a portable air conditioner is a way around those rules.

Portable Air Conditioner Cons

While portable AC units are convenient, they do come with a number of negative aspects as well.

  • They’re generally less efficient at cooling, requiring higher BTUs to cool a smaller area, which in turn necessitates more electricity. Portable air conditioners generate heat indoors—instead of outside like window and central units—which is why their energy efficiency is lower.

  • They can be noisy, which is annoying.

  • They create condensation, which falls into a drip tray and requires you to empty it every few hours so it doesn’t overflow.

When is a Portable Air Conditioner the Right Choice?

Getting down to the air conditioner basics, a portable air conditioner is worth the money if you have one of these specific situations. 

  • Your windows are inconvenient, whether that means oddly shaped or hard to reach.

  • Your HOA or building management has rules prohibiting window units.

  • Lifting 50 to 80 pounds and installing a window unit is not possible for you.

  • The space you need to cool is small or your central air conditioner just needs a little boost in a certain part of your home.

  • Natural light is hard to come by in your home or apartment, and you don’t want a window unit blocking your light.

  • Humidity is high in your area—portable AC units help suck the humidity out of the air, making your room less muggy and sticky.

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