Portable Air Conditioner – A Good Choice For A Healthy Home?
This summer we are likely to spend more time in our homes than ever and with temperatures rising, it’s time to tackle any issues with our air conditioning. Living in a space that is too hot and sticky can be difficult. Tempers fray, sleep suffers, babies and small children get cranky. But it’s not just our mood that is impacted. Our health is effected too.
Air Conditioning and Health
Heat is the primary weather-related cause of death in the United States. In the U.S., an average of 658 people died per year from 1999 to 2009 due to exposure to excessive natural heat. Thankfully according to David Hondula, a professor at the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning at Arizona State University1, the number of people that die from heat related causes has decreased over the last decades and this is primarily due to increased use of air conditioning and improved health care.
Our awareness of the importance of indoor air quality has exploded since the corona virus pandemic but for those who have asthma and allergies, indoor air has always been a priority. Indoor air quality has a significant impact on asthma, allergies and other atopic conditions and every year poor indoor air causes more hospital admissions for those with asthma. Both asthma and eczema episodes can flare with changes in temperature and humidity so health experts recommend maintaining a comfortable indoor environment with fairly constant temperature and humidity levels. This is where air conditioning comes in and can significantly improve asthma and allergies.
Interestingly, it has been shown that on those days when outdoor air pollution is high, the cities that have more air conditioner use have less hospital admissions for lung and heart problems. Other studies have shown that children that sleep in non-air conditioned rooms have more asthma and allergy symptoms.
The positive impact of air conditioning on health is even greater when the air conditioning is combined with air filtration. Air filtration with an effective filter can remove VOCs, cigarette smoke, some viruses and allergens such as pet dander and dust mite allergen from the air.
From the benefits to our mood to the improvements to our health, the decision to invest in an air conditioning system may be a no-brainer. Now its time to consider your options . It could be that you don’t want the hassle of installing a central unit. Or the cost. It could be that your existing central system is struggling to maintain a comfortable temperature and needs a little help, particularly in one or two rooms. Or maybe a window unit isn’t an option for you due to building regulations or design limitations. A portable air conditioner is therefore an attractive option.
What is a Portable Air Conditioner?
A Portable Air Conditioner (PAC) is a standalone air conditioning unit that looks like mini fridge or tower fan. It usually has wheels to allow it to be moved from room to room. A PAC has a hose, much like a dryer, that must be vented out a nearby window (though some models can also be vented into a drop ceiling or through a wall). And it needs to be plugged into a power point.
A portable air-conditioner works by removing the warm air from your room, cooling it using a refrigerant and pushing this cool air into the room. It has a built-in thermostat to ensure a consistent temperature. Many also dehumidify the air, by either a second vent hose or using a water reservoir
What do I need to consider?
Size of your room
This a good starting point because if your room is very large, then maybe a portable air conditioner isn’t the best choice for you. You may be able to find a unit capable of cooling your large area, but the cost may be prohibitive. Instead, if you have the ability to window mount, consider a window unit.
Choosing the right size unit for your space is critical to success. The cooling capacity of an air conditioner is generally measured in British thermal units (BTUs), a measurement of how much heat a unit can remove from a space per hour. Portable air conditioners use this unit to measure their cooling power, so the higher the BTU rating, the larger the room an air conditioner can cool. On average, an AC unit needs about 20 BTUs per square foot of living space to keep things cool. Don’t be tempted to just choose the most powerful unit, as this can lead to its own problems. An oversized unit will reach the demanded temperature too quickly, and will lead to short-cycling and premature breakdowns. On the other hand, if you choose too small a unit, it will have to be run on full power to keep up with demands and your energy bill is not going to be pleasant.
Use the following guidelines to determine the portable air conditioner capacity that your space requires. These calculations assume that you have standard 8-foot ceilings.
7,500 BTUs will cover 150 sq. ft. x 8-ft. ceiling = 1,200 cubic feet
9,000 BTUs will cover 200 sq. ft. x 8-ft. ceiling = 1,600 cubic feet
10,000 BTUs will cover 300 sq. ft. x 8-ft. ceiling = 2,400 cubic feet
12,000 BTUs will cover 400 sq. ft. x 8-ft. ceiling = 3,200 cubic feet
Then, factor in some other variables
- Climate: hotter climates need more cooling
- Number of windows: a lot of windows means a space will need more cooling
- Occupancy: if there a lot of people, temperature will rise
- Heat generating appliances: does your room have many other appliances in it that generate heat?
Type of window
Most portable air conditioners can be easily vented through traditional sash windows (double-hung windows), using the window kit accessories that are provided with the unit. These same accessories can usually be used for venting some models of portable air conditioners through a sliding window as well.
Venting portable air conditioners through sliding glass doors is much more complicated than simple window installations. If this is what you intend to do, get some advice as you may need to use two kits and screw them together.
Though some people have gotten creative and fashioned their own invention, unfortunately, there are no portable air conditioner units with a window kit that will fit a casement window. If you are determined to have a portable air conditioner but cannot vent it through a window, then there is an option to buy an evaporative model that uses a reservoir of water instead of a hose. They tend to be bulkier so less portable so consider your needs carefully.
More and more of our home appliances are becoming smart. If your portable air conditioner is smart it will have Wi-Fi to connect to a mobile app, allowing you to control it remotely. Very handy if your routine isn’t a routine at all and you regularly arrive home unexpectedly and want the luxury of an already cooled room.
- Timer: will let you set cooling to start or stop when you need it.
- Remote Control: allows you change the settings from the comfort of your sofa
- Auto: this has the option to set the unit to cool on its own according to desired temperature.
- Oscillation/Fan: Some portable air conditioners also oscillate like a room fan, helping move the cool air around the room.
- Sleep/Night mode: This reduces noise by running the compressor and fan more slowly. Often the target temperature will increase automatically across the night so that you don’t wake up freezing cold.
- Reverse cycle: you can also find portable units in reverse-cycle – meaning they can cool your home in summer and heat your home in winter.
Some portable air conditioners double up as a dehumidifier. This could be useful if you want to dehumidify a damp cold room in winter as well as cool down a hot room in summer. If you’re primarily after a dehumidifier though, best to stick with purely a dehumidifier because a combined unit can work out expensive. 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, not only raising the comfort factor, but improving the indoor air quality. This feature is an especially good option for people with respiratory issues and allergies.
Air purification and air filtration
We are all now very aware of how important indoor air is to our health. Breathing in clean air is about as fundamental as we can get when it comes to health. Harmful particles in our indoor air include bacteria, viruses, allergenic particles such as animal dander, pollen, mold and dust mite, particles released by cooking and burning fuel, cigarette smoke, volatile chemicals emitted from paint and cleaning products and particulate matter from outside. Poor indoor air quality can be particularly harmful to vulnerable groups such as the very young and old, and those suffering from chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma. By investing in a unit that also cleans the air, you’ll be making a wellness-focused change.
Almost all portable air conditioners come with a pre-filter, which reduces large microbes, dust and pet hair but the cleaning effect is fairly minimal as it will only capture the largest particles. For effective air purification, the unit must have a filter such as an ionising filter or use other methods such as electrostatic purification or UV purification. Filtration is the process of removing particles – like allergen, pollutants, dust – from the air using, for example, a carbon filter or best of all to remove allergens and tiny particles, a HEPA filter.
If your portable air conditioner has a water collection tray or also functions as a dehumidifier, it is important to ensure that this does not lead to mold growth, which can then be spread to the air in the room by the air conditioner. Check that your portable air conditioner is designed to prevent this, and follow all cleaning instructions that come with the product.
What are the advantages of a portable air conditioner?
Compared to other systems, a portable unit is very affordable. Small, personal models can cost as little as $50, but be careful – for a unit that will cool an entire room, you will need to spend at least $200. The large and more powerful the unit, the more you’ll pay.
Easy to Install
You will be able to install the unit yourself, no professional needed so no extra cost. All units will come with a venting kit and the tools you will require.
Great to have the flexibility to move it from room to room or even room to RV or to a second home.
Excellent option if renting
If you are renting your home and can’t install an alternative system, a portable unit is great. They are also perfect for student accommodation or an RV.
Cooler, drier air means less mold and damp in your home and a better, healthier indoor environment. If you opt for a unit with an effective air cleaner, then the benefit increases as pollutants and allergens will also be removed. Look for independent certification for the most effective filters and purifiers.
What are the disadvantages of a portable air conditioner?
A portable air conditioner has a compressor motor and a fan, so it will make some sound while running. They are designed for small spaces so usually this noise isn’t overly intrusive. People that experience a very noisy portable air conditioner have often chosen the wrong size for their room and as a result the unit is being forced to work at maximum capacity at all times.
Positioning the unit on a carpet or rug to deaden noise from vibrations will help. Or run the portable air-conditioner in the morning to avoid having it at maximum power for long periods during the day. No air conditioner will be completely silent though, even in sleep mode, so manufacturers often recommend pre-cooling rooms before you go to bed, rather than attempting to sleep with an air conditioner running.
Relatively speaking, portable air conditioners do use a lot of energy. The combined energy efficiency ratio (CEER) is the standard rating for air conditioners. It’s based on the amount of energy used while the unit runs, as well as when the air conditioner is on standby. Generally, the higher the rating, the better efficiency and this also means lower energy bills. The sleep/timer/auto modes available on some units will help reduce energy requirements and running costs.
Energy usage and refrigerants are the two area of concern when it comes to the environment and climate change. Refrigerants are liquids used in air conditioning to absorb the heat. They damage the earth’s ozone layer as well as contribute greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. A properly maintained unit shouldn’t release harmful substances into the atmosphere, though some are released when the unit is manufactured and when it is disposed of. Proper maintenance of the A/C units, EPA-certified reclamation or recycling of the refrigerants, and use of energy efficient units can help reduce the harmful impact of air conditioning on the environment.
Bulky and heavy
Although the units are designed to be portable, some of the bigger models are heavy and bulky and do take up space. If you are planning on moving your unit a lot, opt for a lighter model and avoid the heavy duty ones that can weigh up to 100lbs.
The unit will need some space around it so the circulation of the cool air isn’t blocked, so best not to place them pushed against a wall or furniture. Generally, 50cm is a good distance. Also, for optimal efficiency, the exhaust hose can be up to 7ft long and as straight as possible because kinks can reduce the effectiveness.
One room only
Due to its one directional air flow, only one room will be cooled and in general portable air conditioners work best in smaller areas. The cooled air will not travel down the hallway or through narrow doorways. To cool a larger area, say 70-80sqm and above, investing in a more permanent air conditioner, such as a split-system or window air conditioner, is your best option.
Portable air conditioners have air filters to keep circulating air clean and ideally this should be cleaned out every two weeks to maintain the best performance. The filters are easily washed with warm water and detergent.
If it has one, you’ll also need to drain your unit’s water collection tray fairly often. This prevents the growth of mold. Dual-hose models may not collect water if they vent most of the humidity out a second hose, so check the unit’s care instructions to find out for sure.
That’s it really. A general dusting and wiping down with a damp cloth will keep your unit looking new and working well. Find somewhere cool and dry to store it when you don’t need it.
So it seems that, pretty much like all things in life, portable air conditioners have their pluses and minuses. A quick assessment of your individual needs will help you make the right decision for you. If you require cooling of a relatively small space, want the freedom to move your appliance to another room and don’t want any installation hassles, then a portable air conditioner is for you. All you need to do is sit back and enjoy the cooled, drier air that has the added benefit of contributing to a healthy home.
About Dr. Anna O’Donovan – Medical & Lifestyle Author
Anna is a mum of three children, one with allergies, and she suffers from allergies and asthma herself. She is a qualified doctor and worked as a General Practitioner and as a dentist for a number of years. She is also an award-winning author.
portable air conditioner, air conditioning, air quality, indoor air quality, asthma, coronavirus, healthy, allergies, dust mite, allergens, air purifiers, air filters, dehumidifier, mold, respiratory disease, healthy home
References and further reading
Indoor air quality becomes a bigger issue Click here
Is your air conditioner keeping you safe from COVID? Click here
Covid-19 Catapults Indoor Air Quality To Top Of The List Click here
Related Internal Links