Galaxy Watch 5 Review Specialty Foods Online 'She-Hulk' Review Disney Streaming Price Hike Raspberry Girl Scout Cookie $60 Off Lenovo Chromebook 3 Fantasy Movies on HBO Max Frontier Internet Review
Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?
No, thank you
Why You Can Trust CNET
We handpick the products and services we write about. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

Window Air Conditioners vs. Portable Air Conditioners: Which One Is Right for You?

Learn the main differences between window and portable AC units.

An air conditioning unit under the window of a residential apartment building in Barcelona, Spain, on Thursday, July 29, 2021
Does a window or portable AC unit make more sense for you?
Angel Garcia/Bloomberg via Getty Images

If you don't already have an AC unit at home, it's time to think about how to cool your home. Many people have central air, which vents air conditioning around the house through ductwork. But others have to rely on a different type of air conditioner to keep their homes comfortable.

Window air conditioners and portable air conditioners are two of the most popular options on the market. Each one has its own selling points, and it's important to consider your budget, the size of your home and your physical ability to install a unit. Let's explore the key differences so you can decide which one makes the most sense in your home. 

Read more: Best Portable AC Units of 2022 | Best Window AC Units of 2022

Marius Hepp/EyeEm/Getty Images

Window air conditioner

window air conditioner is a small appliance that fits into an open window to cool your home. These units work by pulling air from outside your window, cooling it and circulating it into your home. It also works to pull the hot air and humidity from your room and push it outside while it cools the room with the cold air.

To install this type of air conditioner, you'll have to measure your window and ensure you find one that's just the right size. To install it, you lift it into the window and properly secure it. Be aware that these units can be quite heavy. They can be tricky to install safely since much of the unit actually sits outside of your home. Consult a professional installer if you have any questions.

Read our Window AC unit buying guide.


Douglas Sacha/Moment/Getty Images

Portable air conditioner

portable air conditioner is a freestanding unit that you can set up anywhere in your home. Unlike window air conditioners, these portable units remain entirely in your home, plugged into a power source.

Portable air conditioners come with a hose and a window kit. The kit seals off most of your window while leaving a small open space to insert the hose, allowing any moisture to escape.

These units work by taking in air from your home, cooling it and circulating it throughout your home. More expensive models come with two hoses -- one pulls in fresh air from outside and the other vents the moisture and warm air from the room.

Portable units are particularly useful for those with multiple rooms in your home who don't want to buy multiple air conditioners. You can move the unit around throughout the day, keeping whichever room you're in cool.

Read our portable air conditioner buying guide.


Window air conditioners vs. portable air conditioners


For both window and portable air conditioners, prices are all across the board. It depends quite a bit on the particular brand you choose, the BTU rating, and the square footage it's good for. For example, portable air conditioners designed to cool small rooms ranging from 100 to 300 square feet tend to cost between $300 to $400. Window air conditioners that cover the same square footage range more widely from around $150 to over $550.

Winner: No clear winner


Portable air conditioners don't require much installation. You can place them in any room, and there's a window kit to vent moisture and exhaust.

Window air conditioners, on the other hand, require a bit more heavy lifting (literally). First, these units often weigh 50 pounds or more. For someone who lives alone and isn't used to lifting heavy items, it could be difficult -- or even dangerous -- to install on your own.

Even if you can easily lift the unit, installing it securely can be challenging because these units hang out of your window.

Winner: Portable air conditioner


When it comes to portability, the window air conditioner is no match for the portable unit. Window air conditioners are meant to be installed and then kept in the same place. Once you install them, they aren't particularly easy to pick up and install in a different window for a few hours.

The portable air conditioner, on the other hand, is meant to be easily portable. This is beneficial for people with multiple rooms in their home who don't want to install a separate unit in each room. For example, you could put the portable air conditioner in your bedroom to keep you cool overnight, but then move it into your office as you're working from home during the day.

Winner: Portable air conditioner

Saving space

The portability and ease of installation are a huge win for the portable air conditioner, but when it comes to space, window air conditioners have the advantage.

One of the real benefits of window air conditioners is that they don't take up any of your floor space. While this might not be a problem for those with spacious living areas, it could be an issue in smaller homes. Therefore, those living in small apartments might be better off with a window air conditioner.

Winner: Window air conditioner


No matter what type of air conditioner you choose, you can expect it to make some noise. But when comparing the two, window air conditioners have an edge.

It's not necessarily that window air conditioners are quieter. In fact, that may not be the case at all for some units. But the noise from a window air conditioner is directed outside, meaning you don't hear most of it in your home. Portable air conditioners, on the other hand, have nowhere else to direct the noise. As a result, they'll sound louder.

It's also important to know that each air conditioner, whether it's a window or portable unit, should have a decibel rating on it, which rates the amount of noise it makes -- the lower the dB, the quieter the unit. If noise is a significant concern for you, opt for a unit with a lower decibel.

Winner: Window air conditioner


When you're choosing between a window and a portable air conditioner, the most important factor to consider is the size of your home. If your home is larger than one room and you expect you'll need to cool different rooms at different times of the day, choose the portable air conditioner. If you live in a small space such as a studio apartment, the window air conditioner is likely the better choice. The window unit will cool your entire home, and you won't have to worry about losing important space.

Read more: 7 Quick Tips to Save Money on Your Gas, Electric and Water Bills

Now playing: Watch this: Easy Ways to Lower Your Utility Bills and Save Money