Portable Air Conditioner Buying Guide 2020

If you are ready to beat the heat, an air conditioner is one of the easiest ways to cool down a room. We look into the portable air conditioner unit and weigh it up against the split system and ducted models.

Even with the summer months winding down, many Australians are still feeling the heat. With different types of air-conditioning systems on the market, each with their own benefits, it’s hard to know what system is the best to keep your home cool.

In this article, you’ll find out how a portable air conditioner stacks up against the ducted or split system units, including their pricing, energy efficiency and more. You can even find your local air-conditioning specialist right here in this article.

5 Most Frequently Asked Questions About Portable Air Conditioners.

1. How does a portable air conditioner work?

Like any other type of air-conditioning unit, the portable system works by drawing warm air in from a room, cooling this air and then releasing it. A single-ducted portable air conditioner will have a duct attached to a window, which vents the warm air outside.

So, when is it best to use a portable air conditioner? A portable air-con unit is ideal if you are a renter or cannot make modifications to your home, like in some apartment buildings. They allow you to cool a single room without a ducted or split-system air conditioner, and will often come on wheels to make them easy to move.

However, a portable unit can weigh up to 40 kilograms, so they can be tricky to move up and down stairs, if needed.


2. What is the difference between a portable air conditioner and split-system or ducted units?

The biggest difference between the three main types of air conditioner is what they can cool. A portable unit is designed to cool a single room in most cases, while split-system or ducted air conditioning is often installed and used to cool different zones throughout a house.

Many people will place a portable air conditioner in rooms where there is not good airflow, such as a smaller bedroom or home office.

3. Where can a portable air-conditioning unit be installed?

Like any other type of air conditioning unit, a portable air conditioner will need a way to vent the warm air they draw in. This means that it will need to be set up close to a window or external door in the home.


4. What should you look for when choosing a portable air conditioner?

Noise level.

If noise is a concern for you, you should know a portable air conditioner tends to be louder than most built-in systems. The compressor, which helps vent out the warm air, is usually the component producing the most noise, however, this can be placed in a window to help muffle this a bit.

While your average portable model may not sound like an airplane taking off in your living room, it can produce some noise so this is something to keep in mind when choosing between different types.

Operating modes.

Look for a unit that provides multiple operating modes, such as cooling, heating and dehumidifying modes.

Energy efficiency.

All portable air conditioners will display a British Thermal Unit, or BTU, number. This reflects the space it can cool. Here are the common numbers you will find:

  • 10,000 BTU: Can cool a space of 300 square feet or less. Most household units will fall under this number.
  • 10,000 to 14,000 BTU: Can cool a space between 300-500 square feet.
  • 14,000 BUT: Can cool a space of over 500 square feet.

When compared to the ducted or split-system unit, a portable air conditioner uses a considerable amount more energy to run. This is because the unit simply requires more energy to cool a space. Other factors such as how large or  well insulated a room is can also impact the air conditioners ability to effectively cool down a room.

It’s currently hard to evaluate and compare portable units or see how efficient they are, as they have been exempt from showing energy star ratings. The good news is, as of 1 April  2020, there will be more transparency and regulation when it comes to displaying the energy star rating. This will provide consumers with more information when it comes to comparing and buying an air conditioner. 


The cost for a portable air conditioning unit will greatly depend on what you need. Smaller basic units, which are perfect for the home, can cost as little as $100 from most major Australian retailers. Once you begin to factor in additional features, size and brand, you can be looking at up to $500, on average.

While this is considerably cheaper to purchase than the split system or ducted system air conditioning units, you will need to factor in the cost of running the machines over time. As we touched on before, the lower efficiency of the unit may end up costing you more in the long run to operate.

Additional features.

Your higher-end models will generally come with more features such as inbuilt timers, remote controls and even wifi connection and a dedicated mobile app. This allows you to control the temperature or mode of the unit from any room in the house, or easily turn it off if you are not at home.


5. Do portable air conditioning units need to be serviced?

We’ve previously talked about just how important it is to book your air conditioning unit in for a service at least once a year. Having a professional air-conditioning technician clean out debris and dust buildup from the filters will help keep your unit working as efficiently as possible, saving you money. It will also stop the unit and its parts from breaking down faster.

Portable units will also usually require drainage. It’s common for units to have a built in water reservoir which captures condensation during use. The frequency you will need to drain your machine will depend on the model. Some models will require draining every 8 hours of use and others can last several weeks without needing to be drained. 

More modern units will often include a warning symbol or noise, alerting you to drain the compartment. Your model will include instructions on how to drain, but it is often as simple as removing the compartment and draining.

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      Brit McDowell

      Lifestyle Specialist & Subject Matter Expert

      Brit McDowell is a Product Specialist at Localsearch with a background in marketing, business and tourism management. Aside from her specialisation in technical processes, Brit is known for her green thumb and growing succulent collection, love of dogs (especially Dalmatians), eye for home interior and fervour for travel. Brit is also a Lifestyle Specialist on the Localsearch Blog and enjoys sharing her research and knowledge in home and gardening services, food, beauty and general lifestyle tips and tricks.