How do Portable Air Conditioners Work & Other Frequently Asked Questions (2022)

How do Portable Air Conditioners Work & Other Frequently Asked Questions (1) Cielo

Updated January 20, 2022

11 mins read

How do Portable Air Conditioners Work & Other Frequently Asked Questions (2)

Portable air conditioners are very convenient to use in small spaces or for spot cooling. Many people are tempted to buy one for their space, especially for an attic, small disconnected rooms, and home-offices. They are easy to install, move around, and store. They are also quite effective, and in the case of portable heat pumps, they can be used all year round!

In this article, we’ll run through how do portable air conditioners work, also considering single and dual-hose units. In addition, we’ll answer other frequently asked questions such as if portable ACs can work without a window or if draining is necessary.

What Are Portable Air Conditioners?

A portable air conditioner, also known as a stand-up air conditioner, is a type of AC that can be moved around very easily. It is a self-contained device that can be set up anywhere besides a window and a socket. Portable models have wheels attached at the bottom that make them easy to move around as per your needs. It is considered one of the most convenient air conditioners because of its easy placement and movement.

How Do Portable Air Conditioners Work?

The working of portable air conditioning units is similar to any other air conditioner. The primary function is to pull in the room’s air, condition it to your set temperature by extracting the heat, and releasing the cooled air back into your room.

The basic components involved in working a portable air conditioner include:

  • Evaporator coil and the refrigerant: Responsible for cooling the air.
  • Condenser coil: To cool down the hot refrigerant.
  • Compressor: Raises the refrigerant temperature for the condensation process.
  • Fan: Moves the air around as needed.

The fan pulls in hot, humid air from the room into the portable air conditioner. The coils present inside the unit bring down the air’s temperature as well as extract water from it through condensation. The cooled air is transferred back indoors.

The refrigerant plays an essential role in the whole process. It is what cools down the room air and is used as a heat exchange medium. It is compressed and then rapidly expanded, cooling it down.

This cooled refrigerant absorbs the heat from the indoor air. As the refrigerant is compressed, heat is generated as a result which needs to be exhausted out. Therefore, portable units have an exhaust hose that is used to vent the heat outside the room.

A portable air conditioner can remove moisture collected from the air in three ways:

  • Self-evaporation: Portable ACs remove moisture via an exhaust vent along with warm air. New models mostly use this feature.
  • Gravity drain: The moisture collected is pumped out via a hose.
  • Internal bucket: The water is collected in a bucket that you would have to drain out manually. Only old models use this feature.

The main difference between portable and other types of air conditioners is that it combines all the processing units together in one stand-alone device. The smallest of portable ACs work in the same way by grouping the refrigeration cycle as closely as possible.

How Do Single-Hose vs. Dual-Hose Portable Air Conditioners Work?

There are two types of portable room air conditioners: single-hose and dual-hose. Let’s see the difference between the two types, and how do these portable air conditioners work?

How Do Single-Hose Portable ACs Work?

How do Portable Air Conditioners Work & Other Frequently Asked Questions (3)

Single-hose portable aircon has a single exhaust vent. This makes them easier to install, cheaper, and thus more popular.

The unit pulls in air from inside the room and cools it. The moisture and heat generated as a result of the cooling process are exhausted outside through the single hose.

Since the unit is constantly pulling in the room’s air and not replacing it, a negative pressure is created inside the room. As a result, air can seep through door gaps, windows, or other leaks to replace the missing air. This allows hot air from other areas in your house to seep in, causing your air conditioner to work harder to cool the room. This can be prevented by proper insulation and keeping your doors closed to increase the efficiency of your unit.

How Do Dual-Hose Portable ACs Work?

Dual-hose portable aircon consists of two separate hoses. This makes them slightly trickier to install and expensive. Their energy efficiency, though, is much higher, and they can bring in fresh air from the outdoors rather than recycling indoor air.

One hose is used to exhaust the heat and moisture generated in the air conditioning process, just like in the single-hose AC. The other hose is used to draw in fresh air from the outside to tackle the negative pressure problem. The outdoor air is released into the room after it is conditioned as per the set temperature.

It requires less work for the dual-hose air conditioner to cool the room, increasing its efficiency. Also, it can bring in fresh air and move out indoor air faster, making the overall process quick with two hoses.

Maintenance of Portable Air Conditioners

To keep your portable AC running in top condition, it is important to look after its maintenance. This will not only help your unit last longer but also keep it running efficiently.

The first step in maintaining any ductless air conditioner is the cleaning and changing of air filters. It is recommended to clean the air filters bi-weekly or monthly, depending on your usage. If you have pets at home, then you might have to clean the vents and filters frequently as pet hair and dander can block the airflow. You can use a smart AC controller to receive timely notifications when it is time to clean the air filters.

The water reservoir should be drained before it starts messing up your room. If your portable aircon isn’t reversible or you don’t plan to use it in winter, it must be stored properly. Clean the device and dry out the water tray to prevent the growth of mold.

Use mild soapy water and a soft cloth to clean the exterior of your portable AC unit. Avoid putting it in direct sunlight, or otherwise, its color will start to fade over time.

Pros and Cons of Portable Air Conditioners

How do Portable Air Conditioners Work & Other Frequently Asked Questions (4)

Now that you know how do portable air conditioning units work, let’s focus on their pros and cons to help you decide if they are the best unit for you.

Pros of portable air conditionerCons of portable air conditioner
A portable unit is easy to install. You don’t even need to call a professional and can do it all yourself. You need to find an exit for the hose and install it using the toolkit that comes with the unit.Since all of the conditioning is done only in one unit, portable units are really noisy as compared to their alternates.
Most portable air conditioning units have wheels attached at the bottom. Also, they are lightweight and can be easily moved from one room to another as per your needs.Portable air conditioners are generally less energy efficient. The reason is they take more time to condition a room than any other type of AC of the same capacity. Portable ACs tend to generate some heat during the whole process. It is not noticeable but slows down the overall cooling process.
Portable ACs are the best air conditioner for small rooms. If you don’t have a permanent residence and move a lot, it is your best go-to option.The water extracted from the air has to be drained out. While some portable aircon have hoses, others have a water tank. The water tank needs to be drained regularly for the unit to function properly.
Portable aircons have a low upfront cost and are increasingly becoming more affordable.The long-term operational cost of portable room air conditioners does not make them an economical option.

FAQs About Portable Air Conditioners

You may still have some questions left in your mind that need more clarification. Read on to find answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about portable air conditioning units to help you make the final decision.

Do Portable Air Conditioners Work Without a Window?

A portable air conditioner that comes with an exhaust hose and you have to vent it out. However, it is not necessary to vent the exhaust through a window. Depending upon the availability and space, you can vent it through a wall, door, or roof as well.

Do All Portable Air Conditioners Have to Be Vented Out a Window?

Some portable conditioners also come without any exhaust vents. They cool the air by removing the moisture. They have a water reservoir that you need drain frequently. These are only suitable for rooms without windows.

Do You Have to Put Water in a Portable Air Conditioner?

You don’t have to fill in a standard portable AC. However, if you have an evaporative portable room air conditioner or otherwise known as a swamp cooler, you’ll have to refill the reservoir with ice and water. Since it does not have an exhaust vent, instead of condensation, it cools down the air through the process of evaporation. It works differently than an air conditioner.

What Happens if You Don’t Drain Your Portable Air Conditioner?

If you have a self-evaporative or gravity-drained portable AC, then you don’t have to worry about draining the water. Both these types take care of it by evaporating or draining it respectively. But if you have a model that has a water bucket, then you’d have to keep an eye on it. If not emptied when required, the water can spill out of the reservoir, ruining your furniture. If you’re not using your portable air conditioning unit daily and let the water sit in the bucket for days, then there is a risk of mold growth.

Do Thermostats Work With Portable Air Conditioners?

How do Portable Air Conditioners Work & Other Frequently Asked Questions (5)

Yes! If your portable air conditioner comes with an IR remote, you can pair it with a smart AC controller like Cielo Breez Plus. Using a mini-stat, you’ll be able to automate your home’s environment. In addition to that, it helps you save money on electric bills by allowing you to set schedules and monitor usage reports. It makes a good add-on accessory to your smart home and is compatible with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri Shortcuts, and Samsung Smart Things.

Is It Ok to Leave Portable AC on All Day?

Even though you can do this if you don’t have to worry about the water drainage problem, it’s still not a good idea. Leaving your portable air conditioning unit on all day means you’re also running it for times when you don’t need it. It’s best to pair it with a smart AC controller like Cielo Breez and set schedules. You can also set location-based triggers so that your AC turns on before you reach home and turns off when you leave.

Are Portable Air Conditioners Noisy?

One of the disadvantages that portable units have is that they are very noisy. If you’ve just bought a portable aircon, you may have trouble sleeping beside a loud device. Since they’re usually placed on solid floors, the area for vibration is increased, increasing the noise. Try to place a rug under your portable AC to minimize this noise. Additionally, you can check the decibels rating of the model before making your purchase. Go for a model that has a lower decibel rating.

Are Portable Air Conditioners Energy-Efficient?

Generally speaking, portable air conditioning units are not an energy-efficient solution. As mentioned above, portable ACs constantly generate heat while conditioning the room, making the cooling process longer. This results in increased energy usage and also leaves a significant impact on your bills.

However, if you only have to condition a small/single room, then a portable aircon would be a better option than the central heating system.

What Should I Look for When Buying a Portable Air Conditioner?

Before buying a portable room air conditioner, set aside a budget. Then filter out the choices that fall in your budget. After that, check what should be the right size for your room. Depending upon the space in your room, give preference to dual-hose units. Lastly, choose the model that also offers the heating option for year-round usage.

After reading this article, we hope you’ve all your questions answered about how does a portable AC work and everything else you needed to know about portable units!


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