Portable Air Conditioners

Image Credit: Dimplex (www.dimplex.com.au)

Image Credit: Dimplex (www.dimplex.com.au)

Portable air conditioners are a great, affordable alternative to installing an AC system in your house. They are particularly handy if you live in an apartment or a property you do not own. However, there are many considerations you should familiarise yourself with before going out to make your purchase. This guide is designed to give you a general overview of what to look for in a portable air conditioner.

Portable vs. fixed air conditioners

Because portable air conditioners aren't permanently fixed to your wall or window, they can be moved around from room to room. They don't need to be installed by an electrician, which may help you save money. However, due to their small size and lower power output compared to fixed air conditioners they won't be as effective at cooling your environment. This is an important consideration if you live in an area that experiences long periods of high temperatures in summer. A portable air conditioner will still beat the heat better than a pedestal or ceiling fan.

It's also important to note that portable air conditioners will produce more noise than a fixed air conditioner, as the condenser (which expels heat from the system) will be located inside the dwelling or office. Fixed air conditioners locate the condenser outside the building, so you cannot easily hear the sound it makes while you are inside. Some portable air conditioners require you to manually remove the water they produce from a drain bucket, instead of dripping the water directly outdoors. This may be an important consideration, in terms of ongoing maintenance.

Room size vs. power consumption When buying a portable air conditioner, it's important to choose the correct power consumption (or cooling capacity) to suit the size of your house or room. Like most household appliances, a portable air conditioner's power output is rated in kilowatts (kW). Generally, the bigger the area that you need to cool or heat, the more kilowatts you'll need to service it.

However, bigger is not always better. If you choose an overpowered unit for a small room, you will feel damp and humid instead of cool and refreshed. This is because the fanning system will create too much refrigerated air for the space required. Conversely, a unit that's too small will need to run constantly to cool the area, wasting energy and money.

It's important to strike the right balance between room size and cooling capacity. To work out the type of portable air conditioner you require, you'll need to measure the intended floor space in cubic metres (multiply the length by width). As a general rule, you'll require 80 watts (0.080kW) per square metre for an average sized bedroom, and 125 watts (0.125kW) per square metre for an averaged sized living area. (If unsure, ask a store representative or check the packaging for a list of suitable room sizes.)

Evaporative coolers Evaporative coolers are similar in design to portable air conditioners, but they do not use refrigerant technology. Instead, warm air is drawn through a special filter, where it is cooled and then blown through the house. Evaporative coolers are significantly cheaper to purchase than portable air conditioners, but they are a lot less effective at cooling your house. The units also need to be regularly topped up with water, and they create extra humidity in the air.

Condenser type The condenser is the part of a portable air conditioner that removes excess heat. They come in two basic varieties: remote and ducted. A remote condenser can be hung out of a window in the same way as a split-system air conditioner (see our air conditioning guide for more information). Ducted condensers blow conditioned air out of a rear-mounted duct. It is important to place the ducted air conditioners on or near a window, so they can expel the hot air out the window.

Drip vs. non-drip air conditioning Part of the air conditioning process involves the creation of condensation. Naturally, this moisture needs to be removed from the air conditioner before it builds up. Portable air conditioners combat this problem in two ways, depending on whether they're drip or non-drip models. Drip models expel excess water into a drain bucket, which needs to be periodically emptied (depending on how often you use the air conditioner).

Non-drip models, on the other hand, recycle excess moisture by evaporating it back into the air. This has the added benefit of providing extra cooling. Naturally, non-drip models are usually more expensive than the drip counterparts.

Reverse-cycle Some portable air conditioning units come with reverse-cycle, which means they can both cool down and warm you the air. These models are more expensive than simple cooling models, but it may mean you don't have to buy a separate heater for the winter months. Some hybrid models also offer a de-humidifier, which, as its name suggests, reduces the amount of humidity in the air.

Costs and energy efficiency To make sure you are getting the most cost-effective and energy-efficient air conditioner, check the energy rating label on the unit. It's always a good idea to look for one with as many stars as possible - it will help you save money on your energy bills. Reverse-cycle air conditioners have two separate star ratings on the packaging: red for heating and blue for cooling efficiency.

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Chris Jager

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