Window vs Portable Air Conditioners : What are the advantages of each type of AC? How do you decide if you should buy a window model or a portable standing AC that you can move around on wheels? For me, it’s an easy decision to make because I love the flexibility of a stand-up portable air conditioner, but that’s just me. We discuss this topic in detail and give you both sides of the story so you can be informed.
As the temperature begins to rise, we start depending on our air conditioners to keep our homes and offices cool and comfortable. If you’re not sure which type of air conditioner is the best for your needs, we’re going to help you come to get to grips with this. There many things to consider when buying an AC and deciding whether to go for a window or portable air conditioner is a good point of departure when choosing an AC unit for your home or office.
Window vs portable air conditioner is not the only important factor to focus on. But, making this initial decision will narrow your options and make the whole process less complicated. You need to match the air conditioner to the area you wish to cool. There’s no point buying an AC that is not going to get the job done. On the other hand, an air conditioner that is too big for your needs is a waste of money.
This article is going to look at the pros and cons of window vs portable air conditioners and all the other important things to look for. How much should you expect to pay for the type of air conditioner that you decide upon? How many BTUs do you need to cool your room? What are the installation requirements when considering a window vs portable air conditioner?
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How Does an Air Conditioner Work?
Deciding on which is going to your best air conditioner will be made easier if you have a basic understanding of how they work. All air conditioners work on the principle of heat exchange. This means that heat in the air is absorbed by the air conditioner unit. This is achieved by compressing a gas into a liquid form and then allowing it to decompress.
Converting a liquid into a gas requires heat. So, the compressed, liquefied, gas is passed through a radiator that uses the heat in the room for the conversion process. In doing so, the surrounding heat is absorbed, and the radiator fins become cold. A fan then blows air across the radiator, distributing the cooled air into the room.
An electric motor then drives a compressor to pressurize the gas, and whole process starts over again. During the compression stage, heat is generated. This heat has to be dissipated and a heat exchange, usually a cooper probe, is used to direct the excess heat away from the cooling fins. This heat exchange affects the efficiency of the AC. When deciding between a window vs portable air conditioner, this can be a deciding factor.
✓ Learn more by reading our indepth article : How do portable air conditioners work?
Window vs Portable Air Conditioner
Advantages & Disadvantages
There are number of factors you’ll want to consider when deciding whether to buy a window or portable air conditioner. The main points that we’ll be looking at, in terms of the advantages and disadvantages of window vs portable air conditioner are as follows:
- Cost of a window air conditioner vs a portable air conditioner
- Efficiency and electricity cost
- Practicality of a window vs portable air conditioner
— Window Air Conditioners
Window air conditioners are often quite large. The bulk of the air conditioner is placed outside the window, on a windowsill, or mounted to the wall. Only the fan that blows the cool air into the room is on the inside. They will have installation kits that allow you to adapt to the most common window sizes in order to accommodate the AC. Through wall kits are also available for some models. But these are more complicated to install, as you will need to cut through an exterior wall of your home. A window air conditioner installation is permanent or semi-permanent. It is installed to supply a single room and cannot be easily moved. Once installed, a window air conditioner will usually remain there for its lifespan, it isn’t too easy to remove it and take it with you when you relocate.
They look quite good compared to a portable unit | Friedrich CP10G10B
Window air conditioners are generally cheaper than portable units, they also tend to be more efficient. I’ll talk about energy efficiency in more detail, later in the article. The cost-effective aspect to window air conditioners is an obvious advantage. Though, this may not mean that a window air conditioner is going to be your best option.
A window air conditioner has the bulk of the unit outside the room, which does improve the aesthetics of the room. It is more attractive and reduces clutter. However, a large air conditioner hanging on the exterior of your home affects the outward appearance. Some homeowners’ associations forbid the installation of window air conditioners for this reason.
Air conditioners are usually quite noisy, though you can find quiet air conditioners. This is generally more important when considering a portable air conditioner, as the AC is inside the room. The fact that a window air conditioner uses a compressor that is situated outside the room should, in theory, make them quieter. At least, you shouldn’t hear them as much indoors. However, vibrations can cause the window itself to generate additional noise and this can be irritating. So, a window air conditioner can sometimes be disadvantageous in terms of noise. Using a through wall installation will negate this additional noise but is more complicated.
— Portable Air Conditioners
The most obvious advantage to buying a portable air conditioner is that it can be moved from one room to another, depending on where it is needed. Although these are fairly large, heavy machines, portable air conditioners have casters, making it possible to wheel them about.
Portable air conditioners are easy to install. Most have an exhaust pipe that removes the hot air from the room. A window kit is supplied to fit most common window sizes. This slots into place easily, sealing the window around the pipe. Some portable air conditioners have two pipes, one to remove the hot air and another to draw in fresh air from outside the room. Kits are also available for doors and ceiling vent pipes.
Portable units are ugly but versatile & quieter | Whynter Elite ARC-122DS
So, the real advantage to buying a portable air conditioner is their mobility and ease of installation. There are some disadvantages. A portable air conditioner is generally more expensive and can be less efficient, driving up your running cost. This is mainly due to the fact that US regulations don’t require any Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) to be specified for portable air conditioners. Furthermore, a portable air conditioner uses a heat exchange that is inside the room where it is used. The exhaust heat pipe is used to remove the hot air, but there is a nominal heat exchange inside the room which does affect the efficiency, though this is slight and will vary from AC to another. Some portable air conditioners don’t have an exhaust pipe, and these will be noticeably less efficient.
Many portable air conditioners are designed to be silent. Okay, there is no such thing as a silent AC, but some can be quiet enough as not to disturb you. Noisier units can be disturbing, and the noise is concentrated inside the room.
Portable air conditioner sizes vary, but they can be quite bulky. The fact that the entire unit is situated inside the room can be inconvenient, causing unwanted clutter.
How to Choose the Best Air Conditioner for Your Needs
We’ve just looked at the basic pros and cons of window vs portable air conditioners, providing you with an overview of how to choose between the two. Whether you prefer a window or portable air conditioner, there is more to consider. The advantages and disadvantages of either type will become clearer as you take a more detailed approach to your individual needs.
— Air Conditioner Prices
It’s never easy to say how much an air conditioner costs. The size of the unit and the brand will make all the difference. With that said, we all have a budget and, whether it’s 5,000 or 10,000 BTU air conditioner you’re considering, your budget will determine what you can afford. You should also consider your long-term costs, and this will be affected by the energy efficiency of the air conditioner that you buy. Saving a $100 on a cheaper air conditioner, may well end up costing a lot more in electricity over the years.
With that said, we have to start somewhere. I did a basic comparison of air conditioner prices on Amazon to give you an idea of the price difference, when considering a window vs portable air conditioner. Prices for a 10,000 BTU portable air conditioner range (Amazon) from about $300 – $450. I’d say that you should budget at around 350 bucks for a decent 10,000 BTU portable air conditioner. Similar window air conditioners are around $60 – $100 cheaper. So, when it comes to purchase price, window air conditioners are significantly cheaper. [see real-time price examples below]
— Energy Efficiency
I take energy efficiency very seriously when considering any air conditioner. They will use more electricity than most of the electric appliances in your home and will, therefore, have a noticeable impact on your electricity bills. Notwithstanding, energy efficient appliances are better for the environment.
It is not that easy to determine how energy efficient portable air conditioners are as the there are no US federal EER regulations pertaining to these appliances. It is mandatory for window air conditioners to be rated for energy efficiency, and this means that you can look for an Energy Star rating for these air conditioners.
Be that as it may, most manufacturers supply EER information for their air conditioners. This will apply to both window and portable air conditioners. If this information is not available, you need to ask yourself why. A favorable EER rating is a good selling point. So, you’d expect manufacturers to proudly advertise this fact.
The Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) for air conditioners is calculated by determining the wattage required per BTU-Hour. So, the BTU rating is divided by the rated watts for the air conditioner. If a 10,000 BTU AC uses 1,000 watts of electricity (10,000 / 1,000), it will have an EER rating of 10. This can be considered as being a good rating. No air conditioner sold in US (including portable air conditioner), is permitted to have an EER rating lower than 8. A high EER rating means lower electricity consumption. If we compare a rating of 8 to an AC with a 10 EER rating, your electricity cost for the EER 10 air conditioner will be 25% lower than one with an 8 rating. In just one summer, this could amount to quite a substantial sum of money.
VIDEO | Air Conditioner Buying Guide
What size air conditioner do I need? How many BTUs?
Air conditioners are sized according to their BTU rating. British Thermal Units (BTU) are used to measure heat transfer and is equivalent to the amount of energy required to heat 1-pound of water by 1°F at sea level. Of course, when talking about air conditioners, we’re looking at cooling, not heating, But the same principle applies, just in reverse.
The BTUs per hour that your air conditioner can handle will affect its purchase price and efficiency. However, more importantly, it will affect how effectively the air conditioner cools the room. A smaller (lower BTU) air conditioner may cost less and use less electricity, but if does not effectively cool the room, it serves little purpose.
When calculating your BTU requirement, you need to account for the following:
- Area needed to be cooled, measured in square feet.
- Level of insulation
- Heat generated inside the room
- Sunlight entering the room
Most BTU calculation charts specify the BTUs required per square foot of area. This would be using a standard ceiling height of approximately 8’. A higher ceiling will mean a greater volume and, therefore, more BTUs. You’ll need to adjust your BTU requirement by a percentage if your ceiling is higher than 8’. This is a simple calculation. Divide the actual height of your ceiling by 8 (average ceiling height). Then multiply the square meters of the room by the answer to this sum, giving the recommended area. If your ceiling is 10’ then: 10 / 8 = 1.25. You’ll multiply the square meters of the room by 1.25, and use this to find the corresponding recommended BTUs.
You calculate the area of the room by multiplying the width of the room by its length. If you measure the room as being 18’ X 20’, the area is 360 sq. Ft. If your ceiling height is 10’, you need to multiply the calculated square feet by 1.25: 360 * 1.25 = 450 sq. Ft. Under normal conditions, this room would require at least 13,000 BTU.
Additional Heat in the Room
Typical air conditioner BTU specifications are calculated assuming the room is occupied by two people. Electrical appliances also generate heat and a room like a kitchen will need much more cooling.
If you expect more than two people to be in the room on a regular basis, you need to add 600 BTU per person to your final BTU requirement. Normal electrical appliances would include a TV and few lights. Though if you’re using several computers (like an office) or any electrical machinery, you need to factor this in. Multiply the wattage of the electrical equipment by 3.4 to determine your additional BTU requirement EG. For a 100W light: 100 X 3.4 = 340 additional BTUs.
An air conditioner used to cool a kitchen will typically require around 4,000 extra BTUs. Rooms with several windows receiving direct sunlight will require an additional 10% BTU rating. For poor insulation add 15 – 25 % depending on the level of insulation in the walls and ceilings.
Typical BTU for Room Air Conditioners
Below I’ve listed the air conditioner sizes for rooms rated by the area of the room with up to 2 people, good insulation, and low watt electrical appliances. This is assuming a ceiling height of 8’. Any variations can be adjusted according to the criteria listed above.