The Pro’s And Con’s Of A Portable Air-Conditioning Unit

  • The Pro’s And Con’s Of A Portable Air-Conditioning Unit

    The Pro’s And Con’s Of A Portable Air-Conditioning Unit

    If you have ever experienced the hot muggy days of summer without air-conditioning, chances are you grew used to it. It was normal to suffer for a few weeks in total abject agony with the small relief of some shade and a fan. Air conditioning was a luxury for most families when I was growing up. Few homes and even fewer apartments had the luxury of air conditioning. Especially in this region, where we are more inclined to have brutal winters that require us to be heat heavy. It’s a matter of survival that has been ingrained in our New England DNA. But over time, Comfort cooling has become a requirement, and not a luxury. As air conditioning has become more affordable and efficient, the idea of suffering through another tortuous summer without it seems less and less noble.

    The Homeowner seems to have conquered the issue of Air conditioning at least 20 years ago. Good luck trying to sell a new home without it. Once owners of older homes found out how much it added to resale value of their property, it was promptly considered an investment with an immediate benefit. That still left the apartment dweller out in the cold…well hot. Window units were very expensive. They were large and needed to be stored somewhere in the winter. On a cool day, how could someone open the window to enjoy a nice breeze, as well as save some money on the electric bill? And what about people who live in old Victorians with strange small windows? Not to mention basement apartments. This is where the portable air conditioning unit comes in to save the day. Or does it?

    The portable air-conditioning unit has many advantages over the window unit. One advantage is that itPortable Air Conditioning Unit does not need to be mounted in the window frame. They still however, need to discharge the unwanted heat outside, so the window will still have to be utilized. Most come with an adjustable template which the condenser discharge hose to be mounted into. The benefit to this is that the template can be adjusted horizontally or vertically. This is a big advantage, because now rooms with a basement window, side sliding window, or small odd sized and shaped windows can be fitted with air-conditioning. The template is usually plastic and easily removable if the hot weather breaks and an open window with a fresh breeze is desired. Most models made now have only one hose to vent the condenser discharge, some have two. The models with two draw the outside air across the condenser through one hose, and exhaust the unwanted heat out the other. The models with one hose draw air from inside the room across the condenser and exhaust the heat outside through the hose. Either way, there are a few things about this set up most people never consider. And why should they, when they want cooling right now?

    One issue with the portable air-conditioner is that they have maximum height restriction, usually limited to the length of the supplied exhaust hose provided. Some manufactures list it clearly in their literature, but whoever reads that stuff? And by the time it is read, it’s already out of the box and the owner is now committed. Some do not list it anywhere. I had to call a few manufactures to find out that they indeed have such restrictions. What’s a person to do at this point? Most go back to the home improvement store and make a longer hose. Will it work? Probably. The bigger and far more damaging issue is whether the air inlet to the condenser has a filter. This is the biggest problem with portable air-conditioners period. It is something that would go totally unnoticed by most technicians, and every homeowner.

    Inside a dirty AC unit

    “I think it just needs a little juice” is what my co-worker said to me as he dropped his very expensive portable air-conditioning system off at the school. Everyone in the refrigeration field will be familiar with these words. One of the most common and mis-diagnosed problems with air-conditioning is air flow. This is key in all refrigeration. Upon removing the cover, we quickly found the culprit. The condenser coil was matted with many years of dust and pet hair. Luckily, this was an easy fix for or co-worker, as it didn’t cost anything to clean the hair and dust off. But for the average homeowner, this would have been an expensive soldier lost to the war on summer. In our throw-away society, it would have been more expensive for the average person to fix, than to just buy a new one. This is a very important design flaw that everyone should be on the lookout for. If someone is in the market shopping for a portable air conditioner, make sure the unit chosen has two filters. One for the evaporator, and one for the condenser.

    Steven DaPont

    Steven DaPont

    Steven DaPont is a Lead Instructor for evening classes of HVACR Technology Training at NETTTS in Pawtucket, RI. He has over 20 years of experience in the heating and cooling industry as an HVACR Technician.

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