With spring in full swing and summer on the way, you might be in the market for some supplementary air conditioning to help you survive the Texas heat during our warmest seasons. And whether you’re looking to add to your own home’s existing cooling power or bring some AC to a place that doesn’t have it, portable AC can be a tempting choice. But are these small wonders of climate control worth the time, energy, and expense needed to operate them?
Portable AC Units: How They Work
Like the popular window units of yore, portable AC units are used to bring cool, dry air to rooms where there is no (or not enough) cooling for comfort. They consist of a single, portable unit, with a built-in compressor and refrigerant system to cool and dry air in a small space (as compared to ductless or traditional HVAC systems, which are designed to cool large areas or whole buildings).
Many models have wheels for maximum portability and use an exhaust hose that carries the heat and wet extracted from the air out the nearest window.
The Costs and Benefits of Portable AC
Like any home appliance, your typical portable AC system has its pros and cons. Depending on your needs, and budget, portable AC can be a godsend, but it’s important to be aware of the costs as well as the benefits.
- Portability As it says on the tin, portable AC systems are very easy to pack up and take with you. This makes them extremely appealing for use during a trip to locations that have electricity, but no air conditioning (like your summer rental, a hotel, or your garage/workshop). Many varieties have handles and wheels to make moving a snap, and they don’t require professional installation, so if you’re using one while you’re main system is repaired, they can go out as easily as they came in.
- Purchase Price Generally priced at only a few hundred dollars, these mini marvels are a compelling alternative to simply adding more fans or simply trying to tough things out, especially when some folks, such as seniors and those with breathing issues, may actually find their lives at risk without AC during a roasting Texas summer.
- Size Small but (potentially) mighty, portable cooling systems don’t command a lot of floor space, and generally need only a small window to allow venting.
- Noise Because the hardest working components are inside the unit (as opposed to outside, such as with a ductless/split system or traditional HVAC unit), portable air conditioners can be noisy little beasts.
- Operating Costs They may have a lower initial sticker price than traditional cooling solutions, but their much lower efficiency, and potential issues such as negative room pressure (venting with the hose can lower the air pressure in a room to the point that hot air from other rooms comes rushing in, raising the temperature and reducing the unit’s overall efficiency), means you’ll likely end up paying more to use it in the long run.
- Reduced Range and Efficiency Built for travel and versatility rather than power and budget-friendliness, even the most efficient and potent portable unit can’t hold a candle to larger, more traditional solutions. Whereas split/ductless systems or traditional HVAC can cool large zones or your entire home, a portable unit is probably best for single rooms or smaller spaces. You’ll also be likely to replace it long before you would a more powerful centralized or split system.
A portable AC unit is probably best for travel or as an emergency supplementary cooling while your main system is repaired. If you find your home’s existing system just isn’t up to handling the Texas heat like it should, your best bet is, as always, to consult your local HVAC expert. They can help you identify the best possible solution for your space, budget, and aesthetic requirements, and help keep you from paying more than you have to when the mercury climbs.