The Best Cheap Portable Air Conditioners

If you are unable to install an air conditioner in your home or office then a portable air conditioner is a great alternative cooling (and even heating) option. There are many reasons that people are unable to install an air conditioner in their residence, but the most common reason is renting a property. Renting a house or office building without air conditioning can be uncomfortable during the hottest months and a portable air conditioner really is the best way to solve this problem if you can’t install a split system or central air conditioning system. This guide will help you choose the best portable air conditioning unit for your budget.

Advantages of a Portable AC Unit

A Soleus evaporative portable air conditioner

  • A portable air conditioner requires no installation and is suitable for a rental property/office.
  • A portable air conditioner can be moved around inside your home/office and can be used to cool/heat any area.
  • This type of cooling device is far more effective than a simple fan on a hot summers day.
  • Available with many features such as build in fan and air filer/purifier, which cleans the air for you.
  • Available in reverse cycle, which means they can be used as a heater in winter.


  • Are less efficient and effective at cooling/heating when compared with a fixed air conditioner.
  • Some portable units require constant maintenance and care, such as removing water from a drain bucket or cleaning filters.
  • Portable AC units are usually nosier than a fixed air conditioner.

Types of Portable Air Conditioners

There are three main types of portable air conditioners and each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Evaporative cooling An evaporative cooler draws warm air through a filter into the unit where it is water cooled and then blown back out into the room. These are the cheapest type of portable air conditioning unit.The least effective cooling option. Increase humidity in the air. Must empty the water and clean the filter often (although self evaporating models are available).Between $70-400
CondenserA condenser air conditioner is often mounted in a window frame and works in a similar way to a standard split system.They are efficient at cooling and are the best portable model for cooling.Expensive. They must be placed in a window frame or have a duct that expels the unwanted hot air outside.$400+
Reverse cycleReverse cycle simply means that the unit can be used for heating and cooling.Good for summer and winter. Don't need to purchase a separate heater and air conditioner.More expensive.$500+

Choosing the Right Size Air Conditioner

Understanding kW and BTU

A portable condenser air conditionerIn Australia you will find that most air conditioners are rated in term of kilowatts (kW). However, some sellers still quote a BTU (British Thermal Unit) rating, which is used in Britain and the US. In this case you can convert the figure by following the one watt equals approximately 3.41 BTUs rule.

Calculating the size

It is essential that you choose the right size for the area that you intend to cool. If you air conditioner is underpowered it will have to work harder and will not cool effectively. Alternatively, an air conditioner that is too powerful comes with an unnecessary initial cost and it could leave your room damp and humid. Getting the balance right is essential and you should carefully consider your needs before making a purchase. A larger area will require a more powerful air conditioner and the general rule that you should follow is 80-125 watts per square meter, but this calculation assumes a standard roof height. If you are unsure about the size of air conditioner that you require then you should seek the advice of a specialist.

Considering Energy Efficiency

Delonghi reverse cycle PAC W160HPAs a general rule portable air conditioners are not very efficient, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t consider energy efficiency when making your decision. The government energy rating scheme makes this decision easier and it is a good idea to check the labels for the star rating. Try to choose an energy efficient model that will have enough cooling power for your needs. It is also important to remember that a reverse cycle unit will have two star ratings: one for cooling and one for heating. You can also run your own rough energy calculations by multiplying the kW rating of the air conditioner by the cost of your power per kilowatt hour. This will give you the cost of running the unit for one hour.

Other Factors To Consider


Portable air conditioning units can be quite noisy and, if possible, it is a good idea to test the noise level of the unit before making a purchase. This is especially important if you are going to be sleeping in the same room as a running unit!


Some portable units require constant filter changes or regular cleaning. Other units have air filter/purifier systems that also require cleaning from time to time. With regular use you should inspect the filters once a month.


Do you need a unit that is capable of heating as well? This will cost extra, but save you from buying a separate heater.


You need to know if the unit requires regular maintenance and how easy it is to maintain.


Although the failure rate for portable air conditioners is fairly low, you should always try to find a unit with a 3 year+ warranty.

Drip or non-drip

Condensation is a factor with any type of air conditioner. A drip model expels all of the excess water into a bucket, which you will have to empty each time you use the air conditioner. Non-drip models recycle the moisture and it is evaporated into the air, but they are far more expensive to purchase.

Solar power

Some portable air conditioners are designed to run on solar power, while most models can be adapted to run on solar power if you choose to do this. Always consult with an expert before making any modifications to your unit.