What is a Portable Air Conditioner?

Does your office get a little too hot in some rooms? Or do you have the wrong windows for a window AC unit? Portable air conditioners, also called PACs, provide a convenient way to keep cool during the scorching summer heat. These self-contained air conditioners plug into a nearby socket, cooling the immediate area and venting the warm air out.

How does a portable AC unit work?

Similar to traditional air conditioners, portable air conditioners work by pulling warm air from the room into the unit, extracting the heat, and then releasing the cool air back into the room. Almost every model includes a venting kit that allows you to vent the excess warm air outside, keeping your space cool. Beyond that, many models also extract humidity and moisture from the air. They usually include wheels or casters to let you move the unit from room to room if needed.

While they can’t cool multiple rooms, PACs work well in rooms needing supplemental cooling where you can’t install permanent AC systems or in rooms where you can’t use a window unit. They often see use in offices, garages, classrooms, or attics. Because they can be more expensive and less efficient than window air conditioners, they work best in areas that don’t have the right windows for a window AC unit or in areas where you cannot properly open the windows.

Portable AC units cool only the immediate area around them, but you can circulate the cool air using a fan.

How do portable air conditioners drain water?

Portable units collect moisture in a few ways, including:

Self-evaporative - many new models evaporate moisture out of the exhaust vent along with the warm air. This means you don’t have to empty the water yourself.

Gravity drain and condensate pump - use a hose attached to the drain port and directs water into the drain or other location.

Internal bucket - used mostly in older units, an internal bucket requires you to manually empty the bucket, sometimes as frequently as every eight hours.

What benefits do they offer?

Portable AC units can come with a variety of benefits, such as:

  • Timer - allows you to set a timer to turn the AC unit on or off at certain times of day.
  • Fan - circulates the air without affecting the temperature.
  • Remote - allows you to control the AC unit remotely.

Additionally, you can find single or dual-hose units.

  • A single-hose unit pulls warm air from the room and exhausts it outside. These options work well cooling smaller spaces. They also offer a cheaper upfront cost and provide a quieter operation than dual-hose portable air conditioners. However, they can create negative pressure in the home since they dispose of air without supplying any new. Negative pressure can cause warm outdoor air to leak through cracks in window and door seals, leading to inefficiency.
  • Dual-hose units use two hoses: an intake hose and an exhaust hose. The intake hose pulls in warm air from outside to cool. Excess warm air and moisture exhaust through the other hose. These units typically cool more efficiently and can cool larger spaces than single-hose units. However, they also cost more than single-hose options.

Do all portable air conditioners have to be vented out a window?

Short answer: no, portable air conditioning units don’t need to vent out a window. But they do need to vent somewhere. To feel the effects of the air conditioner, the warm air needs to go somewhere. Otherwise, the heat stays trapped in the room, which means the room doesn’t feel cool and you end up wasting money.

However, not all rooms that need cooling have a window to vent the air out of. Most venting kits install horizontally, working with windows that slide up and down. But they may work with windows and doors that slide vertically, though the kits might require slight modifications or different brackets.

Unfortunately, the venting kits don’t usually work with casement windows. Casement windows include hinges on the side and swing out to the left or right. If you have casement windows or need an alternate way of venting, you have options. Instead of venting through a window, try venting through a sliding door or, in some cases, a ceiling or wall. However, installing in these locations can pose their own risks, including mold growth.

When venting, make sure to tightly seal the area so the warm air can’t come back in and to keep out dirt and insects.


Find the portable air conditioner you need for your space here at HomElectrical! We carry a wide selection of portable AC units from brands like Whynter!

Avery Dietzen
Avery Dietzen

Originally from Wisconsin, Avery earned her degree in English before making the trip down to the Atlanta, GA area. Writer by day, reader by night, she prides herself on having a creative outlook and tries to instill that in everything she writes. As a content writer for HomElectrical, she uses her skills to share tips and tricks about lighting, HVAC, and going green. If she’s not writing, she’s reading, painting, hanging out with her dog, or spending time with family and friends.

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