Portable AC - help me stop sweating
July 10, 2006 9:54 AM   Subscribe

Portable air conditioning - I am completely clueless and not very mechanically savvy - what should I consider, be on the lookout for, drawbacks, etc - plenty of details inside...

Renting and moving into a 3 level 100-year-old converted carriage house. There is a semi-finished basement (which I will be getting a dehumidifier for), a main level, and a loft bedroom. No doors at all, except for a bathroom door. Ceiling fans on the main floor and the loft bedroom, basement is nice and cool as is. No central AC, and I have electric baseboard heat augmented by a wood burning stove located on the main floor.

I don't understand why, but it is crazy hot in there - and I have resigned myself to the idea of getting a portable AC unit. Window units are not an option, since the windows slide horizontally to open and the window frames don't look all that sturdy anyway. I have never *not* had central AC, so I am truly clueless here.

I am looking at this from the Home Depot - (this TinyURL link goes to a really long Home depot link) http://tinyurl.com/q3dey

Obviously, I'd like to spend the least money possible while still getting decent results (and I'd love to try the $30 fan and bucket of ice water solution, but I'm not that brave). $500 is pricey for me, but I don't want to spend $200 (if that's even an option) and get something that doesn't work.

So if I get the portable unit and put it in the loft, will it cool the main level at all? The differences in temerature (with both ceiling fans running) are noticable (very) as one moves from level to level in the house, so I don't know how well the air circulates.

Are there hoses and things that come out of the back of a portable unit, and if so, do they just hang out of a window?

Can I move the unit from the main level to the loft without a big hassle (i.e., move it up there at bedtime)?

Any and all help is appreciated - I have read the past threads on here, and checked Wikipedia, but I still feel like I need more info. I feel like I don't even know enough to know what questions to ask...
posted by KAS to Home & Garden (9 answers total)
First thing to look at in an old house is if there is even somewhere you can plug in a power chugging air conditioner without blowing a fuse...
posted by GleepGlop at 10:40 AM on July 10, 2006

Look at Lowe's and BestBuy's sites. Their prices are lower (or just more accurate?).

If you have low humidity where you are you could get a cheaper, more efficient "evaporative cooler." Either way, don't expect tobe carrying these things up and down stairs frequently.

You can do some math to see how many BTUs you need to cool your whole space. More BTUs usually means more weight, and purchase cost. But no matter how big you go it's probably optimistic to think you can heat your downstairs from the loft. (My 12k BTU window unit can hardly cool adjacent rooms, with an extra fan blowing from one to the other.) I think I would just go with a small unit upstairs and sweat it out during the day.
posted by Doctor Barnett at 11:04 AM on July 10, 2006

I just bought portable air conditioner unit for the same reason, I have casement windows in the location I need it and cannot use a window air conditioner. The one problem with portable air conditioners is they are not “truly portable”. They have hoses that still need to be vented, which will either need to be done through a window or some sort of hole cut through the side of the house (like a dryer vent). Sure you can move it around…but just remember you have to still vent it, so it needs to be close to a window or a location where it can vent. The portable ones, which I found, are significantly more expensive than regular window air conditioners but, I think they look a little nicer.

Anyhow good luck!
posted by lutzla23 at 11:42 AM on July 10, 2006


To follow up on my original reply, we sold our portable AC unit a few months back. It really wasn't worth the hassle for us any more, but YMMV. The hose that comes out of the unit looks like a clothes drier vent hose. In theory the portable unit pulls hot air out of the your room, the heat exits through the hose and cool air gets blown out through the front of the unit. No matter what kind of windows you have, you will need to close the window on the vent.

What we found is a portable AC never quite works as well as you'd hope. We had the vent hose stretched to its full length, about 4 feet, and the hose itself would get very hot, which made the AC unit work harder to cool the atmosphere. There were a few nights that it would seem to work fairly well, but this year we'll get by with fans in the room.

The unit we had wasn't terribly heavy, but it was awkward enough that I wouldn't have wanted to carry it up stairs on a regular basis.

In my opinion, if you have sideways sliding windows you should get one of these.
posted by SteveInMaine at 11:43 AM on July 10, 2006

I have a portable air conditioner (I believe it's a Fedder's, can't recall now). It works fine, but with the following drawbacks:

- It doesn't provide the stated BTU heat removal. It's probably close, but I don't think it's accurate.
- They don't give anywhere near the $/BTU performance a good window unit will.
- It likes to leak a lot because...
- It likes to be drained of water a LOT. Like every few days. Mostly because I live in Ontario and summers are incredibly humid. And I'm lazy. Leading to the above.
- You get to run a big fat air hose hose outside! FUN. No, you cannot just run it in place, an A/C will just make the place hotter if you try that.

Yes, this A/C unit is also a dehumidifier.

I've installed window A/Cs into horizontal sliding windows (when they weren't meant to fit). With some effort and not caring about the ghetto look of plywood, it can be made to fit well. The way the window is designed will affect this. And yes, if the window is weak, forget about it.
posted by shepd at 12:16 PM on July 10, 2006

It is highly unlikely that a portable A/C will cool anything other than the immediate room it's in.

My experience with portable A/C units is that they are great for cooling, but they will never make a room cold.
Obviously your situation (insulation, location, weather, etc) makes a huge difference, but I've never had much success in getting a room below 78 or so in any sort of weather that I'd run the A/C.

That said, there are a few things that can make them work much better:
Get a dripless, running a water line or emptying a pan is a huge hassle.
Keep the exhaust run as short as possible, and get an insulated vent line.
If you can, exhaust the air into an attic/crawl space, but make sure it's a well-ventilated space.
If you can stand the noise (some portable A/C units are very loud), use it as a "fan that blows cold air) and direct the air across you while you sleep as opposed to viewing it as a traditional A/C unit.
For use as a tradition A/C unit, if the space you plan to run it isn't sealed, you are probably wasting your time.

I've seen them succesfully used to keep an entire spare bedroom full of servers coolish, so they can work if you get the right setup.
posted by madajb at 12:56 PM on July 10, 2006

SteveInMain, (or anyone)
Can you explain how the casement window ACs work? I don't quite understand. The ACs shown in your link, are they only made for specific sizes of windows? What is done to "screen" in the space that is not used by the AC?
posted by lutzla23 at 2:52 PM on July 10, 2006

This PDF file explains the installation for a particular model. Installation starts at page 13 or so. Briefly, there's a piece of plastic that you need to cut to fit between the air conditioner and the top of the window. I'd imagine that most brands of casement air conditioners work the same way. If you're not terribly handy, you might want to go to a local appliance store. They can either give you tips on installation or they'll refer you to somebody who could install it for you.
posted by SteveInMaine at 4:24 PM on July 10, 2006

I use a 6,000 BTU Danby portable in my 500sq.ft basement apartment in Toronto. All of the complaints above are perfectly accurate. Nonetheless, it works great for me! I couldn't live without it. With it, summers are quite comfortable, even in the afternoon heat, and even when there are two people and four computers running in the room being cooled (although that really does push the limits of the machine).

Emptying water is a pain, and when it is running all out, you have to empty the big bucket (9L?) at least once a day.

Your basement won't be comfortably cool if you run a dehumidifier in it all the time, and spend a significant amount of time down there. The energy put out by you and your equipment will quickly heat the space up.

I also have a Danby counter top dishwasher, and it has had a lot of problems, Danby isn't a great company in general..
posted by Chuckles at 4:50 PM on July 10, 2006

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