How Do Portable Air Conditioners Work To Provide Fresh Air?

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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Portable air conditioners are convenient cooling devices for spot cooling and small spaces. Many people use them in home offices or small disconnected rooms as they are easy to move around, store and install. In addition, most portable AC units are very effective and can be used all year round. But how do portable air conditioners work?

This post will guide you through how portable AC units work in single and dual-hose units. Hopefully, by the end of this complete guide, you will clearly understand how a portable air conditioner works.

What's On This Page?

What Is A Portable Air Conditioner?

A portable air conditioner is a type of air conditioner which can be carried easily or be moved from one place to another. It is wireless and portable and can be placed in any space near a window or socket. It has wheels at the bottom allowing it to be dragged easily from one place to another.

Image credit: cielowigle.com

Due to their easy movement and placement, portable air conditioners are a great option for people who don't have central air conditioning or who want to cool specific rooms in their homes without needing expensive installation.

Types of Portable Air Conditioners

There are two primary types of portable AC units.

1. Single-Hose Portable AC Unit

Single hose units are the most common ones, and they are cheaper. They come with a single hose installed through a window or sometimes through a wall. This one hose is made to serve as an exhaust vent for hot air. It sucks out the hot room air and vents it outside using a single hose.

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This portable conditioner unit pulls the air from the room without replacing it. The main problem with this is that the result is lower pressure in the room, and although you may not feel the low pressure in your eardrums, it will need to be offset somehow.

The air from those other rooms is sucked into the room that the air conditioning system. It is vital to limit access to other hot air. For example, close the door where the unit is operating from.

2. Double-Hose Portable AC Unit

Double hose conditions are more expensive and difficult to install, but they can achieve a higher energy efficiency rating (EER rating). Unlike single-hose conditioners, replace the indoor air with fresh outdoor air. This AC unit works by using the following;

  • The first hose is used to bring the outside air in.

  • The second hose is used to vent the hot indoor air out.

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With these units, you don't experience negative pressure, which means that the air is conditioned better in the room where the unit is. Here are some other benefits of having a portable air conditioner installed;

  • Quicker cooling as the two hoses can help air condition faster than a single hose unit.

  • Excellent energy efficiency since the unit doesn't need to work against low pressure, and the EER rating can be more than 10.

These double hose units are not easy to find, probably because they are difficult to make. However, with the higher EER rating and eco-friendliness, they are worth every coin.

Common Portable Air Conditioner Components

For portable air conditioning units to work, they should have the following components. However, these may vary according to the brand.

1. Compressor

The compressor is the heart of the portable air conditioner. It is responsible for compressing and circulating refrigerant gas through the system. The compressor is usually located outside the air conditioning unit and can be noisy when operating. The compressor compresses the refrigerant gas, which increases its temperature and pressure. The high-pressure gas then moves to the condenser coil.

2. Condenser

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The condenser is the piece of equipment in which the refrigerant gas is compressed into liquid form. It is positioned away from the air conditioner and works as a heat dissipation unit by releasing the heat extracted from the inside air. The condenser coil is efficient in the cooling process and, therefore, is essential for the condenser coil. It then moves to the evaporator coils as a liquid.

3. Evaporator

The evaporator is where the refrigerant liquid absorbs heat from the indoor air, which is then cooled and circulated back into the room. The evaporator coil is usually located inside the air conditioning unit and is responsible for absorbing the heat from the indoor air. As the refrigerant absorbs the heat, it changes from a liquid to a gas. The cooled air is circulated back into the room through the air conditioning unit.

4. Fan

The fan is responsible for circulating the cooled air throughout the room. The fan draws the warm indoor air into the air conditioning unit and blows the cooled air back into the room. The fan speed can usually be adjusted to increase or decrease the amount of circulated air. The fan can be noisy when operating, but some portable air conditioners have a quiet mode to reduce noise levels.

5. Air Filters

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The air filter is an important component of the portable air conditioner. It helps remove dust, dirt, and other particles from the indoor air, improving indoor air quality. The air filter is usually located behind the air intake grille and can be easily removed for cleaning. It is important to clean the air filter regularly to ensure the air conditioning unit works efficiently.

6. Control Panel

The control panel is where you can adjust the settings of the portable air conditioner. Most portable air conditioners have a digital control panel that allows you to adjust the temperature, fan speed, and mode. Some units also come with a remote control, which allows you to adjust the settings from a distance.

Features of Portable Air Conditioners

Below are the features of a portable air conditioner and why they're a great choice for anyone looking to cool down their living space.

1. Energy Efficiency

Portable air conditioners also consume significantly fewer units of electricity than other traditional air conditioning systems, making them useful energy savers. What makes portable air conditioners different from central air conditioning units is that they’re designed to cool only the room in which the portable conditioner is placed. This means you can save more on energy if you only cool the rooms you are occupying instead of cooling the entire house.

Portable air conditioners are also more energy efficient than the typical models constructed with windows. They have features like programmable thermostats and energy-saving modes to enable you to adjust the cooling preference you want while at the same time helping you to save on energy levels.

2. Easy Installation

Another endearing feature of portable air conditioning systems is that they are easy to install. Conventional air conditioning systems need installation, which may be costly and take time to access professional services. But the same cannot be said about portable air conditioners, which are very easy to install by anyone with little knowledge of DIY stuff.

Although most portable ACs' installation process is pretty straightforward, and there is often an installation kit that contains a window exhaust kit and a user guide, it is fast, easy, and very simple to operate if you follow the instructions that are already provided.

3. Compact Design

Portable air conditioners are made to be sleek and do not take up a lot of space, making them ideal for smaller apartments. They are sleek and modern and fit easily into your living environment, as opposed to traditional air conditioning systems that belong in the back rooms.

Portable air conditioners are also compact units that are easy to stow away in cupboards after use. Fold the unit and put it in a closet or storeroom, and you'll have some extra space in your house.

4. Window Exhaust Kit

Window exhaust helps extract hot air from the room by enabling the portable air conditioner to be vented through the window. The kit also contains a vent hose and an adapter that easily fits most standard-sized window frames.

The window exhaust kit is convenient and ensures that your unit works at optimal condition. Exhausting hot air allows the air conditioner to decrease the room's temperature better and faster.

5. Quiet Operation

These air conditioners are produced to function at lower noise levels. They are designed to help reduce the amount of noise produced and are thus effective for bedrooms and office rooms.

6. Environmental Friendliness

Portable air conditioners are designed to be environmentally friendly. They use refrigerants that do not deplete the ozone layer, and most of the time, they are even Energy Star certified. This certification helps to identify them as air conditioners that conform to strict energy efficiency standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

That said, let's now look at how a portable air conditioner keeps blowing cool air into the room.

How Do Portable Air Conditioners Work?

The main function of a portable air conditioner is to remove heat and transfer heat outside. These devices pull hot air into the unit, and the motor cools the air for circulation. It also pulls the excess moisture and warm air and pushes it out of the window through the hose.

Here are the steps as to how most portable air conditioners work;

Step 1: Air Intake

The portable air conditioner draws in warm air from the room through a vent on the back of the unit. The warm air is then passed over the evaporator coils.

Step 2: Cooling

The evaporator coils contain a cold refrigerant that absorbs the heat and moisture from the warm air. As the refrigerant absorbs heat, it changes from a liquid to a gas.

Step 3: Condensation

The warm air is now cooler and drier and is blown back into the room through the front of the unit. The moisture removed from the air during the cooling process collects on the evaporator coils and drips into a collection tray or tank.

Step 4: Compression

The gaseous refrigerant is then compressed by the compressor, which raises its temperature and pressure.

Step 5: Heat Dissipation

The hot, compressed refrigerant then flows to the condenser coils, releasing the heat absorbed from the room. The heat is dissipated into the outside air, and the refrigerant returns to its liquid state.

Step 6: Expansion

The liquid refrigerant then flows through the expansion valve, which reduces its pressure and temperature. This allows the refrigerant to evaporate and absorb more heat from the warm air in the room.

Step 7: Repeat

The refrigerant then flows back to the evaporator coils to repeat the cycle.

Using A Portable AC Unit To Cool Hot Air In More Than One Room

A portable AC unit may be able to cool hot air from several rooms, depending on its size. These devices will be able to cool the immediate room, but the cool air won't be able to travel along with the doorways or hallways that are not connected to the space, just like regular window air conditioners.

If you're hoping to cool two rooms that have large openings between them, then the portable unit can work to cool the two areas. However, this hot air cooling may not be even, depending on the unit size and the distance between the rooms.

You need to ensure the two rooms are connected and the doors open to allow the cold air to flow. For two small rooms, you may not need a very large unit. However, it is crucial to understand that no cooling devices can simultaneously cater to two closed rooms except for a central air conditioning system. Still, they are useful when your central air system requires some help.

How Do You Remove Moisture Portable Air Conditioners Collect?

The main difference between how different portable air conditioners work is the way they remove water from the unit. Most devices don't require a dehumidification unit, as all portable AC units are dehumidifiers. As the air cools down, they tend to remove moisture.

When it comes to portable ACs, dehumidification is essential because of several reasons;

  • The dehumidified air is easier to breathe.
  • The summer air is quite humid, which might cause mildew or mold growth.
  • When the humidity of the air is high, the energy effectiveness of the AC units lowers.

Portable AC units will perform great when it comes to dehumidification, as a single can remove over 30 pints of water daily. However, this water needs to go somewhere, and there are four main ways how the water is disposed of;

1. Self Evaporation

This is considered the best and most convenient method. The moisture is evaporated and flushed out using the hot air exhaust vent.

2. Gravity Drain

Many portable air conditioners also come with a gravity drain option. This involves attaching a hose to the unit's drain port and directing it to a nearby drain or bucket. Ensure the hose is securely attached, and the hose's end is lower than the drain port to allow for proper drainage.

3. Manual Drainage

Some portable air conditioners come with a drain pan or a removable water tank that needs to be manually emptied when full. This can be done by removing the drain pan or tank and pouring the collected water.

4. Pump Drainage

Gravity drainage may be impossible if the portable air conditioner is in a basement or other low-lying area. In this case, a pump can lift and drain the collected water through a hose. Some portable air conditioners come with built-in pumps, while others require a separate pump to be purchased.

How to Install Portable Air Conditioning Units

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Here is a step-by-step guide to installing a portable air conditioner:

1. Choose a Location

The first step in installing a portable air conditioner is to select a location for the unit. Ideally, the unit should be placed close to a window, as most portable air conditioners require a window kit for installation. The window kit allows the hot air to vent outside while the cool air is circulated indoors.

2. Prepare the Window

Before installing the window kit, you need to prepare the window. Remove any curtains or blinds, and clean the window frame and sill.

3. Install the Window Kit

The window kit is usually included with the portable air conditioner, consisting of two panels that fit into the window opening. The first panel is inserted into the window opening and secured with screws or adhesive strips. The second panel is then inserted into the first panel and adjusted to fit the window's width. Once the window kit is installed, it is important to seal any gaps with foam insulation or weather stripping to prevent hot air from entering the room.

4. Connect the Exhaust Hose

The next step is to connect the exhaust hose to the back of the portable air conditioner. The unit typically includes the exhaust hose and is designed to fit into the window kit. Once the hose is connected, it should be run through the window opening and secured with the window kit.

5. Plug in the Unit

After installing the window kit and exhaust hose, the unit can be plugged into an electrical outlet. Use a grounded outlet to handle the unit's electrical load.

6. Set Up the Unit

Once the portable air conditioner is plugged in, it can be turned on and set up to cool the room. Most units have a control panel that allows you to set the temperature, fan speed, and other features. Following the manufacturer's instructions for setting up and using the unit is important, as different models may have different features and requirements.

Portable Air Conditioner Requirements

Generally, different models of AC units will have different requirements to help remove hot exhaust air and moisture from a room.

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Here are some requirements for every portable AC unit;

  • A space beside an opening or window to help connect the exhaust hose.
  • A power outlet of 115 or 120 watts, depending on the unit. However, portable units which require 14,000 BTUs or more may need a circuit with a different outlet size.

As you may already know, most air conditioners are designed to use high energy. So, keeping it on a separate circuit, far from other high-energy devices, is advisable to avoid overloading one circuit. Always review the instruction manual to determine if additional requirements exist for the specific model and brand.

Difference Between Portable Air Conditioners and Window Air Conditioners

Portable and window air conditioners are two common types of air conditioning systems. Here are some differences between them:

1. Installation

Portable air conditioners are freestanding units that can be moved from room to room, while window air conditioners are installed in a window or a wall. Window air conditioners require a more permanent installation, while portable air conditioners can easily move around.

2. Cooling Capacity

Window air conditioners are generally more powerful than portable air conditioners and can quickly cool larger areas. Portable air conditioners are best suited for small rooms or spaces.

3. Energy Efficiency

Window air conditioners are generally more energy efficient than portable air conditioners, designed to fit snugly in a window or wall and have less air leakage. However, this can vary depending on the specific models.

4. Noise Level

Portable air conditioners tend to be noisier than window air conditioners, as the compressor and other components are housed in the same unit as the fan. Window air conditioners can be quieter, as the compressor and fan are outside the room.

5. Price

Portable air conditioners are generally more expensive than window air conditioners of similar cooling capacity as they are more versatile and portable. However, this can vary depending on the specific models and features.

How Do You Properly Maintain A Portable Air Conditioner?


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When it comes to portable air conditioner maintenance, several things need to be considered, including;

  1. Clean the exterior of the AC unit using mild dishwashing soap and a lint-free and damp cloth. Unplug the device before cleaning it to avoid fire hazards and shocks.
  2. Store your portable air conditioning unit in a dry and cool area.
  3. Clean the air filter at least once in two weeks. The dirt and debris collected may clog up AC unit filters. Use warm water and a dishwashing detergent to wash the filter, rinse it thoroughly, and shake it to remove all the excess. Give the filter a few minutes to dry before returning it to the air conditioner.
  4. Empty the water collection basket or tray weekly, especially if your unit is not self-evaporating. This helps to keep the unit clean and prevent mold growth.
  5. Always wipe the air vent grill to prevent blocked airflow caused by trapped hair particles.

Tips To Improve The Efficiency Of AC Units

To improve the efficiency of any portable AC unit, here are some tips you should consider:

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  • Avoid any sources of humidity by ensuring all the doors and windows are closed whenever the portable AC is on.
  • Place your unit correctly for optimum results. Ideally, this depends on the arena and capacity of the unit.
  • Vent the portable unit correctly to ensure it works properly
  • Clean regularly to keep it free from dust and other particles. You can always use a smart AC controller to determine when to clean the unit.

Pros:

  • Easy installation.
  • Easy maintenance.
  • Increased mobility.
  • Low, upfront costs.
  • Great for small spaces.

Cons:

  • Not energy efficient.
  • Noisy.

Frequently Asked Questions On Portable Air Conditioners

a) How do you vent a portable air conditioner?

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The most common way to vent a portable air conditioner exhaust hose is out a window. Therefore, a window-mounted air conditioner will come with a window kit that fits traditional size windows. Using a sliding glass door or sliding window to vent the exhaust hose is more challenging and complicated than using the window kit.

The standard window kits usually are not long enough to extend to fit the entire height of a sliding glass window or sliding glass doors. Exhaust hose lengths vary, and you can always purchase an extension kit for your cooling system.

b) Can you have a portable air conditioner in a room without windows?

Although a portable is similar to a window air conditioner, it can work in a room without windows. This is because there are other ways to vent the air, including through a door, a wall, or a ceiling. Also, since the unit is portable, you can always move it around for spot-efficiency cooling.

c) Can a portable AC work without venting?

No. It is impossible for portable air conditioners to work with an air vent. As much as it will normally run when you turn it on, it won't be able to produce cooler air, improve the air quality, or lower the temperature of the room. Portable AC units work by releasing hot air through the vents.

d) What are the disadvantages of portable air conditioners?

There are several disadvantages to portable air conditioners, including limited cooling capacity, noisy operations, requiring venting, may increase humidity, may be expensive to run, taking up space, and not being as durable.

e) Is it worth buying a portable air conditioner?

If you live in a hot and humid climate, have a small to medium-sized room to cool, value mobility and flexibility, and are willing to pay a higher upfront cost and potentially higher energy bills, a portable air conditioner may be worth buying.

f) When should I use a portable air conditioner?

You might want to consider using a portable air conditioner if you live in a rental property where you cannot install a permanent air conditioning unit. If you want to cool down a specific room or area in your home instead of cooling the entire house.

If you have a room that gets hotter than the rest of your home, such as an upstairs bedroom or a sunroom. If you want to save money on your energy bill by only cooling the rooms you're using. And lastly, if you live in a climate where you only need air conditioning for a few months out of the year.

g) What is the difference between a window AC and a portable AC?

A window air conditioner is installed in a window or a hole in the wall, while a portable air conditioner sits on the floor and is vented through a window or a specially designed hole in the wall. Window air conditioners are generally more powerful and have a higher cooling capacity than portable air conditioners. This makes them better suited for larger rooms.

Portable air conditioners are designed to be easily moved from one room to another, while window air conditioners are typically fixed in one location. Portable air conditioners are generally less energy efficient than window air conditioners, as they need extra energy to move hot air outside through the vent hose.

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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