Air conditioning can really come in handy for cooling down your home, and the people in it. You might only need it for a few months out of the year, or potentially longer, depending on where you live in Canada. But when you need it, you really need it. However, when it comes to purchasing an air conditioner (AC) unit, you’re presented with a dilemma: should you go window or portable?
Here’s an outline of both to help you make your decision.
Window-based AC unit
A window AC unit fastens to a standard-sized window (or even a cut-out in the wall) and provides cool air within a room.
These models are typically more affordable than portable AC units, and sometimes less noisy, too. They can also, in most cases, cool a larger room than a portable AC unit: figures vary depending on the model, but it usually ranges from 300-1,600 square-feet for the ideal cooling space. They can be removed and stored for the winter, though perhaps not as quickly and easily as a portable unit.
That’s because window AC units typically involve a lengthier and more long-term installation process than a portable model, and they can (usually) only fit standard-sized windows. If you live in an apartment, or if you’re renting, you might not be able to install a window-based AC unit at all, leaving portable as your only option.
Portable AC Unit
A portable air conditioning unit is, as the name implies, a portable unit that uses a hose to exhaust air from the room, then run that air out through a window or wall. There are also dual-hose models, with one hose that can bring in air from outside to cool the condenser, and a second hose to exhaust the heated air out.
Some experts say that a portable model isn’t as effective as a window AC unit in cooling large spaces, and in cooling as well, and using as little energy. Estimates for the average room size hover around the 300-400 square-foot range. So you might want to opt for these only if you’re looking to cool relatively small spaces. Keep in mind, as well, that, as outlined in our comprehensive Air Conditioners Buying Guide, you need to factor in the heat generated by the AC unit itself in order to determine how effectively it will cool a room. When choosing based on BTUs for a portable air conditioner, you will either need to look for the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Seasonally Adjusted Cooling Capacity (SACC) number, or scale up based on your needs. A portable air conditioner with an American Society of Heating Refrigerator and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) BTU rating of 10,000, for example, might only actually cool to a rating of about 6,500 BTUs based on SACC. This doesn’t mean portable ACs are less effective at cooling than window ACs, but rather just that you have to be more mindful of getting the right one to suit your room and checking the label.
Portable AC units can also be noisier. Again, this will vary from unit to unit, and depends on the space you’re using it in as well. Because of the convenience factors noted above, portable AC units can also be more expensive.
The key advantage with a portable AC unit, however, is in the portability: you can move a portable AC unit easily from one room to another, chilling the room(s) you’re in as needed. This also means you can easily wheel it away and store it once the chilly cold temps return. One person can easily tend to the small appliance without calling a friend to help with installation. As noted, if you live in an apartment, a portable AC unit might be your only choice.
What to look for
Regardless of whether you decide to go window or portable, look for a model that offers a relatively easy installation process, and has easy to clean filters and a simple process for water drainage (even better if the design eliminates the need to empty a bucket altogether). You can save on energy by looking for a model with multiple settings so you can adjust how cool the room gets, and especially if you opt for one with a dedicated energy savings mode. Even better if you can set times when it goes on and off. For example, you might want to have it kick in every day a half hour before you arrive home from work, then shut off first thing in the morning. And, with a portable AC unit, look for, as noted, the SACC BTU rating or, if it isn’t on the product just yet (labeling might take time), choose a model with a higher rating than you’ll need to ensure sufficient cooling.
On the window side, models like the Danby Window Air Conditioner with Wireless Connect offers 8,000 BTUs of cooling for a space up to 350 square feet in size along with three fan speeds, four-way directional airflow, a 24-hour timer, and sleep mode so you can have it effortlessly run (and stop) when you want it to. And with wireless connect, you can operate it from anywhere using the included remote.
The Insignia Window Air Conditioner offers more cooling for a larger up to 550 square foot room at 12,000 BTU, and has the same three adjustable speeds and 24-timer as well as an included remote. A neat “follow me” function will ensure that cooling is always directed towards you, no matter where you are in the room.
If a portable air conditioner is more suitable, there are great ones like the Danby 3-in-1 Portable Air Conditioner, which comes with the same wireless connect feature as the aforementioned window model. Offering 14,000 BTU (8,600 SACC), it can cool a room up to 700 square feet in size while also helping purify the air through O2 Clean Air Purification technology. And it’s super quiet, operating at just 50-51dB.
Another option is the De’longhi Pinguino DeLuxe Portable Air Conditioner, which boasts a 12,000 BTU rating (scale this down for SACC) and offers 3-in-1 functionality so it also works as a fan and a dehumidifier.
Once you’ve selected the right type of air conditioner and the perfect models to meet your needs, sit back and enjoy the cool breeze and comfort.
Best Buy offers a wide selection of both window and portable air conditioners.