Your Guide to Portable Air Conditioners

January 8th, 2018

Appliance News

Summer’s heating up, and if you’re anything like me, coming home to a mild sauna isn’t on your bucket list. The flexibility and convenience of a portable air conditioner could be just what you need for cool comfort.

Portable air conditioners come in different sizes to suit different scenarios and cooling needs, so there’s an option out there for everyone. But with so many conflicting reviews available online, we’ve cleared the confusion and weighed up the main points for you below.

Are portable air cons any good? 

Rather than being a lot of hot air, they’re actually a great choice for your practical cooling comfort.

  • They’re mobile and movable from room to room, making it convenient and flexible to use around the house.
  • Installation is easy and doesn’t require a professional. You just need a window or sealed exhaust point and a bit of spare time. 
  • If you’re renting, unable to install a more permanent unit, or want to take your cooling with you, a portable air con is an ideal cooling alternative.
  • Portability makes it effective as a single-room cooling option, especially in smaller spaces like offices and family rooms.
  • A portable AC often offers plenty of handy features to increase your comfort and lower energy use, such as programmable timers.
  • Many portable units double up as dehumidifiers and reduce the humidity in your home, so there’s less chance of allergens and mildew developing.

How they work

A portable air-conditioner works by pulling the warm air from your room, removing and expelling the heat (and humidity, if it has a dehumidifying function), and filling your room with cooler, drier air. Its built-in thermostat ensures the set temperature in your room is consistently maintained.

Due to its more compact size and one-directional airflow, a portable air conditioner works most efficiently in its immediate area. Your family room or bedroom, for example, is ideally sized for a portable air-con. You’ll need a standard powerpoint nearby, a window or exhaust to vent to, and you’re good to go.

Do all portable air conditioners have to be vented?

Yes. Like other air conditioners, a portable unit needs to release the warm, stuffy heat and humidity from your home somehow. Window-venting is generally the most common and convenient method of ventilation, but a portable air conditioner can also be vented through a ceiling exhaust, sliding door, or wall exhaust.

If you can’t vent, we recommend buying a portable fan

How do I install a portable air conditioner?

Portable units are installed by simply attaching the exhaust hose to the air con and fixing the other end to your window or other exhaust point. Every portable unit comes packaged with its own venting kit and the basic tools required for installation.

Because it does require an exhaust, the portable unit can go as far as the flexible exhaust hose allows, which is generally about 2-3m in length (more than enough in many instances).

Note that the standard window kits provided do not specifically suit crank or casement windows, as they open outwards or inwards rather than up or down. You can however find simple DIY installation solutions online.


Choosing the best portable air conditioner

Buying the right capacity air-conditioner for your home is essential. You want an air conditioner that is powerful enough for your specific needs, but won’t end up costing you a fortune on your power bill.

So we’ve provided a general sizing guide and tips below to help you pick the best possible model for your home.

How do I choose the right size?

To choose the right size air conditioner for your home, you just follow a couple of easy steps.

  1. Calculate the size of your room or living space in square metres (sqm). It’s best to measure the largest room you intend to use the AC in, as you can simply lower the settings should you want to use it in a smaller room.

2. Measure the width and length of the room in metres, then multiply them to get your total room size in sqm. So, a family room 4m wide by 6 metres long equals 24sqm (4m x 6m = 24sqm).

Once you’ve got your room size, have a look at our sizing guide below for size recommendations.


Portable Air Conditioner Sizing Guide

The guide below will help you choose which size air conditioner suits you best. As a basic rule, you’ll need about 1 – 1.5kW of cooling capacity per every 10 square metres.

Note that if you have high ceilings, large windows or live in a hot environment, you should aim for a slightly more powerful model, as these factors mean you’ll need a bit more grunt from your A/C.

Room Size (sqm) A/C Capacity
20sqm 2.5kW
30sqm 3.0kW
40sqm 4.2kW
50sqm 5.6kW


Will a portable air con work for my larger rooms?

If you’re looking to cool a room of 60sqm or more, we recommend using a fan to help circulate the cooled air more effectively. 

To cool a larger living area (70+ sqm), investing in a more permanent air conditioner, such as a split-system or window air conditioner, is your best bet. A portable air conditioner will have to work harder to cool a large room, and will cost you more money for less benefit.

Is it safe to run throughout the day?

Yes, portable air conditioners are generally safe. You do need to ensure however that you have some clearance around the unit (don’t park it right next to walls or furniture!). We also recommend you use them on a dedicated powerpoint, as they occasionally draw higher power when used in peak heat conditions.

Are they loud?

Like many appliances, a portable A/C features a compressor motor and a fan, so it will make some sound while running. Factors like fan speed and decibel rating will make a difference, but on the whole they’re designed to be suitable for small spaces.

People that experience a very noisy portable A/C have often purchased the wrong size for their room or home. The air-conditioner is thus working at maximum capacity constantly, making it less efficient  and costing you more money for less comfort.

One tip is to place the unit on a carpet or rug to deaden noise from vibrations, or to run the portable air-conditioner in the morning to avoid having it at maximum power for long periods during the day.


Portable air-conditioners vs. other air-conditioners: how do they compare?

Every air-conditioner style has its pros and cons. It all depends on how and where you want to use it.

While more permanent options, such as split-system air conditioners, are generally the most powerful and efficient option, they can be costly and inconvenient to install because they require an indoor and outdoor unit. This can make them quite impractical, especially if you’re renting or living in an apartment or other smaller-space living. Window air conditioners, while being effective in individual rooms, are also much larger and aren’t as mobile, as they have to be installed into the window itself rather than simply attaching to it.

Portable air conditioners, on the other hand, are designed for convenience. They are flexible, practical and easy to install, and go wherever you need them. You may pay a little more for the convenience in the short-term, but for short, effective bursts of comfort, you can’t go past them.

Like any appliance, portable air-conditioners do also have their limitations. They’re not generally going to be as effective as a more permanent split-system in larger rooms, for example, and their running costs will be a little higher if used over long periods.

How much does it cost to run?

The running costs of your portable air con per hour will depend on your location, energy provider, room temperature, time of use and length of use.

Based on trusted market research results, Canstar Blue, an Australian consumer appliance comparison website, estimates that the average Aussie pays approximately $0.40 (40c) – $0.70 (70c) an hour in a medium sized room (30-40sqm). Running the air con at full power on a hot day will bring the average cost up, and vice versa.

TIP: We recommend keeping the temperature steady when using the portable, as fluctuations can dramatically increase your energy bill and force the A/C to work harder.

How can I make my air con more energy-efficient?

To keep your costs lower and your home cooler, follow these simple tips.

  • If you have blinds, keep them closed during the day. A lot of unwanted heat comes through windows and can dramatically increase the temperature in your house. If you don’t have blinds, invest in some light-coloured ones, as they reflect sunlight.
  • Keep windows and doors closed while using your A/C to contain cooling.
  • When not using the A/C, keep doors open to ensure good air flow.
  • Run your major household appliances at night, if possible. Appliances put out more residual heat than many of us think!
  • If leaving the house for over an hour, turn your A/C off.
  • Use High Efficiency (HE) Lighting, such as LEDs, rather than incandescent or traditional light bulbs, which give off significant amounts of heat.


Also think about…

Many portable air conditioners offer handy features that help save you money and keep your home more efficiently cooled.

Programmable timer and sleep settings

A programmable thermostat saves you time and money by allowing you to pre-program your air conditioner to turn on and off when you want it to.

Many portable units allow you to set a precise temperature and have the machine turn off once it’s been reached, or have the air con start cooling at preferred times or duration throughout the day. Some models even offer sleep settings, which quietly and intelligently maintain an ideal temperature in your home as you sleep.

Reverse cycle

Much like split-system air conditioners, you can also find portable units in reverse-cycle – meaning they can cool your home in Summer and heat your home in Winter.


The self-evaporator feature ensures collected humidity and moisture from your room is simply evaporated, so you won’t have to constantly empty the collected water out.


Excess humidity and vapour makes a room stuffy and uncomfortable, and can also lead to the growth of mould and mildew. The dehumidifying feature removes this dampness from the air. This feature is an especially good option for people with respiratory issues and allergies.

Air purification and odour removal

Air purifiers use a filtration system to remove harmful pollutants (such as dust, bacteria, and other fine debris), to create a cleaner, healthier and more comfortable environment, especially for anyone with allergies or other sensitivities.

Some models also feature odour removal, which can also be helpful in removing the smell of mildew and other unpleasant odours such as cigarette smoke and pet odours.

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