Window Air Conditioners vs. Portable Air Conditioners: Which One Is Right for You?
Learn the main differences between window and portable AC units.
Erin Gobler is a personal finance writer based in Madison, Wisconsin. She writes about topics including budgeting, student loans, credit, mortgages, investing and insurance. Her work has been published in financial publications and startups such as NextAdvisor, The Simple Dollar, LendingTree, Robinhood and more.
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.
A window air conditioner is a small appliance that fits into an open window to cool your home. Its primary purpose is to draw in air from the room, cool it and recirculate that air into your home. The reason the unit sits in the window is for easy access to the air outside, which it uses to expel the heat and humidity (in the form of condensation).
To install this type of air conditioner, you'll have to measure your window and ensure you find a unit that will fit. Most window AC units include side panels to fill any excess space on either side of the unit, so a unit narrower than the window is no problem. The actual installation will require you to lift the unit into the window and secure it in place. It is worth noting that these units can be quite heavy, and securing the unit to the outside of the structure also presents challenges. Consult a professional installer if you have any questions.
A 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 inside your home.
Portable air conditioners come with a hose and a window kit. The kit seals off most of your window while leaving a shaped space to insert the hose, allowing heat and moisture to be vented outside. More expensive models come with two hoses, using one to handle heat and moisture while the other allows outdoor air to cool the internal components.
At a glance, the basic function of these units is the same as the Window variant: they take in air from your home, cool it, and recirculate back into the space. However, portable air conditioners are much lighter and designed to be moved around rather than fixed in one window. Some units offer battery power as an additional option.
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.
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.
Additionally, window units will generally include mounting hardware to secure them in place. Even if you can lift the unit, and easily access the outside of your window to install the hardware, positioning the unit while attaching it to the mounting brackets is a challenging prospect for the solo-installer.
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. Keep in mind that you WILL still need to set up the hose(s) and window kit each time, but this pales in comparison to the effort of moving a window unit.
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.