Portable Air Conditioners

by blackspanielgallery

During unusual heat, or a period when the air conditioner fails, having an inexpensive solution for a small space can be invaluable.

Portable air conditioners can be helpful when the temperatures soar and there is no relief. Perhaps it is a result of living where the temperature rarely gets so high. Perhaps the air conditioner is not working. Solving the problem can not only be a matter of comfort, but it can also be life-saving.

When the situation becomes dire an affordable, inexpensive solution is a real help.

One might ask why anyone needs an air conditioner. There were few buildings air conditioned when I was a child. Certainly, an air conditioned home would have been a luxury, perhaps even opulent. But air movement in homes was different. High ceilings allowed hot air to rise above the people inside the dwelling. Fans moved hot air out of windows. Transoms above the interior doors allowed privacy while air flow was not impeded. Modern homes are not so well suited for heat.

Portable Air Conditioners’ Characteristics

Most portable air conditioners are designed to cool a small space, usually just two or three hundred square feet.  Cooling an entire home would require several units.


A characteristic to look for is wheels.  If a portable air conditioned is designed for a single room, it may be needed in one place in the day and in another at night.  People may gather in a kitchen or in a den while awake, but retire to a bedroom at night.  Wheels make it easier to move the unit, since many are heavy.


Portable air conditioners are designed for temporary relief, so many are less efficient than other units.  The inefficiency is manifest in more energy being consumed than might otherwise happen.  This is probably a necessary to keep the cost down.


Portable air conditioners are more often noisy.  A free standing unit can be subject to vibrating when operating.


Most portable air conditioners require a window that can be opened.  This is not always something available, especially in an office building.


Some portable air conditioners, those that operate using evaporation, may avoid some of these problems, but other things need be considered.  Evaporation air conditioners are covered below.

The Evaporative Option

Some units use ice cubes and evaporate the chilled water.  These have some advantages over units with a compressor.  First, there is no need for a window that opens.  Second, they are more energy efficient, and may cost little to operate.  Finally, they can be quiet.


Before you jump in think.  They require ice cubes.  If there is a power outage, and you have a back-up battery for your air conditioner, will you also be able to make ice cubes?  Do you really want to open the freezer?  And how long will those ice cubes last?  And, do you really want to change the water from melted ice and replace it with ice cubes in the middle of the night?


These units might be right for you, especially in a heat wave where there is no power outage, but do understand the limitations.


Perhaps the one real positive here is the much lower price for an item used on an emergency basis.


So, how do these units work?  When water evaporates it takes some energy to change from liquid to gas.  In fact, it takes a lot of energy.  Additional energy is absorbed by melting ice to the liquid state.  That energy comes from the air, having a chilling effect.  But, dehumidifying to avoid excess humidity releases heat back into the air, so either you will have increased humidity or work against the cooling effect. 

Portable Evaporation Air Conditioners

Portable Air Conditioner, Personal Ai...

Energy Must Be Conserved

Heat is a form of energy.  Basic physics teaches that energy is conserved.  So, if we cool a room where does the heat go?


The cooling process does not destroy the heat.  Instead, it removes the heat from the air that remains in the room.  This is why there must be a window to vent the heat to the outdoors. 


Some small units, those designed for a small personal space, do not vent the heat.  These are not large enough units to do much, and the heat must be considered.  If cool air is forced in one direction, and hot air in another, it is wasted effort after the air mixes. 

If the Power Is Out

During a power failure a portable air conditioner can only work if it has a battery.  It is important to use a compatible energy source.  If your air conditioner requires alternating current, make certain the battery has a way to convert direct current to alternating current.  Fortunately, such batteries do exist.

Be Prepared

As global warming alters the thermal profile of the planet, unusual weather, including unbearable heat, is possible.  Be prepared in advance.  Otherwise, portable air conditioners may be scarce. 

Multiple Uses

Many portable air conditioners also can function as dehumidifiers.  And some can be switched to become heating units.  This makes one device have multiple uses, solving more than one problem.


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The intro image is our Zazzle product.

Updated: 07/01/2021, blackspanielgallery
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blackspanielgallery on 07/04/2021

Some have battery back-up included in the unit. I believe these units normally would be plugged into an outlet, so a large battery is needed only in a power failure. Not only a large battery, but the power must be converted to ac, since batteries use dc. Such batteries are available, and I showed one. I have one myself so I can operate an applience from my solar unit, which is what stores solar at night, since solar power requires the sun. So, when a battery back-up is needed it is a special unit with not only a battery but also a dc to ac converter. As for easy to fnd, they are rather commonplace now. For use in a heat wave or air conditioner failure, just plug into an outlet. Central air conditioners use so much power that they cannot operate from batteries, you need a generator, hence the power failure use for these small devices, with battery support.

DerdriuMarriner on 07/03/2021

blackspanielgallery, Thank you for all the practical information, pretty pictures (of portables and totes ;-D) and product lines.
Do the portables use readily available batteries or special batteries perhaps not so easy to find online or off?

blackspanielgallery on 07/02/2021

Here it is humid and we can reach 98-100 dwgrees at 98 % humidity. Air conditioners are essential, but in many places they are not used. The northwest is having extreme heat, over 100 degrees, with a significant number of people with no air conditioners. I ran into a similar situation years ago visiting Chacago for a training school, temperatures in the mid 90s and humidity in the 90s. It seemed cool and dry to me, but people there were dying from the hear, and taking refuge in supermarkets and stores during the day. But, here when a central air conditioner fails there is a need for back-up.

pateluday on 07/02/2021

Pictures are suggestive of air coolers which comprise of a fan and motor. The latter pumps up water drawn from tank at bottom which fall on sides filled with wood shavings. Incoming air cools as it crosses the wood shavings. The fan blows cool air in the room. These are very popular in India and almost indispensable. They fail in extreme humidity of pre-monsoon. It is then air conditioners with with compressors are used. Indian summers are very hot while monsoon period can be very humid like in coastal areas.

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