portable air con buying guide

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As the UK is in the midst of a heatwave, I thought it would be a good opportunity to do a 2023 update for the best portable air conditioning units available in the UK.

Cost of Electricity and Running Costs of a Portable Air Conditioner

Air con units have always been expensive to run with the typical power draw being 1kW to 1.3kW, and in the recent couple of years, the cost to run them skyrocketed as the price of electricity shot up.

When I did the 2022 update in May last year the variable rate for electricity was £0.34 per KWh. Then as prices were predicted to jump 80%, in October 2022, the government introduced the Energy Price Guarantee (EPG).

The Energy Price Guarantee regional rates from October to December 2022 had an average price of £0.3242 per KWh. The typical dual-fuel household direct debit bill under the Price Cap should have been £3,549/year but the EPG reduced this to £2,500/year.

From January through to March 2023, the typical annual fee should have jumped to £4,279/year but remained locked at £2,500/year.

The April to June 2023 Energy Price Guarantee rates saw an average rate of £0.3162 per KWh for direct debit. The annual fee for this period had a significant reduction down to £3,280/year (which is still ridiculously expensive).

From July 2023, the EPG will end for most people the price cap of £2,074/year will fall below the new EPG rate of £3,000/year.

From July 2023, the Energy unit price for Price Cap will be £0.30 per kWh with a daily standing charge: £0.53.

Therefore to run a portable air-con, you will be looking at around £0.30 to £0.39 per hour. Not too bad when you view it as a single hour, but if you used it for five hours per day that could be £1.95, and if you did that for a full month, that adds £58.50 to your electricity bill.


Original Post (Update for 2023)

Personally, I use a fan to help with sleep, if you buy one with a large number of speed settings, you can normally get it running silently and it helps keep you just cool enough to sleep. I use an Ansio 26-speed fan, and it has been working well for me this year.

Based on the 2023 July price cap, the cost of running a fan will only cost you about 2p to 3p per hour.

Recommended Buys

For the 2023 recommendation, I swapped out the De’Longhi Pinguino PACAN112 Silent which is no longer available with the De’Longhi Pinguino PACEX120 Silent. There is also the well-reviewed De’Longhi Pinguino PACEX100 Silent but there is not much price difference and the PACEX100 is only 10,000 BTU/h vs 11,500 BTU/h.

Types of air conditioner

There are a few types of air conditioners on the market, ranging in price and ease of installation.

In order of worst to best, in my opinion:

  • Evaporative [Swamp Coolers] – These are the cheap options you find. They are basically a fan that blows air over cold water. They are not very effective and will significantly raise the room humidity, which itself can be unpleasant.
  • Portable Air Conditioners – The ones in this post and the option most UK buyers are likely to want. They are a proper air con unit that needs venting outside.
  • Single Unit Wall-Mounted – These work exactly the same as the portable options but are fixed in place. There will be installation costs as you need to bore holes through to the outside, but the overall outcome is more attractive than the portable variety.
  • Wall Split Air Conditioners – The best overall solution for most UK homes that is semi-practical to install in our homes. This has a wall unit similar to the previous option, but the main air conditioning unit is mounted outside the property. You can then have multiple of these wall units all running off the main unit. This will obviously have significant installation costs and may not be practical for a lot of homes, but you should be able to run the piping through your loft quite easily.

That list isn’t exhaustive, window units are popular in the US but our windows are not really designed for it. Then there are various types of split systems, such as central air conditioning, this is a large unit for whole-home air con, but it is only practical if the house is designed around it or maybe a whole home renovation.

The different types of portable air conditioner – evaporative, single hose, dual hose

If you go on Amazon, you will see a significant disparity between the prices some cost as low as £25 while many others cost £300+. The cheaper ones use evaporative cooling, so the fan blows warm air over a  water-soaked filter which increases humidity, produces condensation and only slightly reduces the heat. Increased humidity is often associated with poor sleep as it reduces your body’s ability to evaporate sweat.

The expensive models are more effective, but this is a minefield. Nearly all UK air conditioners are single host units that require you to feed the hose outside.

The single-hose air conditioner pulls warm air from the room, sends it past coils cooled by the refrigerant, and then sends heated air and moisture through the hose and out of the house.

This creates a negative air pressure situation as air is pushed out of the room. The result is that any cracks around doors and windows will allow hot outside air to leak into the room

There are no dual-hose portable air conditioners in the UK (with one exception in 2023)

The other type of portable air conditioning unit is the dual hose unit. This style has an intake and an outtake hose. Through the intake, the air is drawn into the unit, where it is cooled and then sent back into the living area. The machine heats up through the process, and an intake hose pulls air from outside the home to cool the air conditioner down.

A second hose sends all of the warmed air outside of the home. With this efficient exchange of air, the dual hose system doesn’t have to work nearly as hard as the single hose option.

These systems don’t appear to exist in the UK market in general. There is one exception and that is the EcoFlow Wave 2 Portable AC. This has dual vents and a drainage pipe for the moisture that it collects through condensation.

I have personally been using the EcoFlow Wave 2, and it has been effective in my small bedroom, but I am not specifically recommending anyone buy it for home use. It only has a 5100 BTU cooling capacity so it is only suitable for small rooms. It also costs £1,049 without the optional £800 battery. This AC unit is more designed for cooling campervans, caravans and other small off-grid living spaces.

The issue appears to be cost-effectiveness. You can pick up a Wall Split Air Conditioner for around £500. These will provide significantly better performance than any portable air con. The problem is they are static and will typically require professional installation, including drilling a large hole through to the outside (and mounting the cooling unit externally).

Considerations for a single hose air con?

Delonghi air conditioner

The single hose unit has some fundamental flaws that cause it to drawback in hot air, so when you use one of these units some considerations need to be taken into account.

As the unit pulls in the warm air from your room, it causes negative pressure, drawing in more warm air from any window cracks or through doors.

So with these units, if you want it to be effective, you need to use a proper window seal, which you can buy quite cheaply online. You will also need to keep the doors closed in your room.

Are they loud?

There is no way to sugarcoat this, yes they are very loud. Typically, they run at around 38-48db in the quiet modes for some of the quieter models and up to 65dB at max. 49dB-54dB for general usage is quite common. To put that into perspective, a washing machine normally runs at about 55dB or it is like someone in the room talking or the noise of light traffic while you are on the street.

The multi-split air conditioning systems I mentioned earlier, will be much quieter as the air con unit is outside.

Buy the right size

You need to be careful of is to buy the proper size air con for your room. Too small and it won’t be able to cool the air down fast enough for it to make much or any difference.

They are typically measured in BTU or British thermal units, and due to the inefficiency of a single hose system, you are better off sizing up if possible.

There are plenty of air-con calculators online and this is the best place to start for a room of around 5m in length and 5m in width you will find the recommendation to be around 9000BTU.

Power consumption: How much does it cost to run?

The last thing to worry about is how much do they actually cost to run?

They were expensive to run last year, this year it is more than double the price.

The higher the BTU, the higher the kW/h a 12000BTU air con, which can cool a moderately large room will typically use around 1.35Kw per hour.

Based on a variable rate of 30p per kWh (which is accurate for July 2023) this will cost about 40p per hour to run (up 6p per hour since I last updated this review, but lower than it would have been October through to July).

That doesn’t really sound like a lot, and you may find that the quality of life from improved comfort is worth it. If you have a well-insulated house and a well-sealed window, it is possible that you can keep the run time down to a minimum.

From my experience, it can take a couple of hours to reach the desired temperature, if you then switch it off, it doesn’t take that long to warm up again. I mainly used mine to cool a bedroom to a comfortable level before switching it off when I go to sleep. They are too noisy to run while sleeping anwyay.

So, what are some good Portable Air Conditioning Units to buy?

I am not just an Amazon affiliate shill, but due to these being a bit hit or miss on how effective they will be or at least how good they are for the money, anything I buy will be via Amazon on Prime, so I can return it easily.

Filtering out the results down to 4 star and above leaves us some of the following options. I have included a few evaporative options, these will not be as effective, however, I appreciate most people don’t have £300+ just lying around (me included).

Out of the ones listed, I would be inclined to go for the Inventor Chilly 9000 BTU for small rooms or the De’Longhi Pinguino PACEX100 Silent for medium rooms. You would also need the window seal for effective cooling.

Inventor Chilly 9000BTU Portable Air Conditioner

Reviews: 4.3 / 5 from 1132 ratings

Type: Hosed

Cooling Capacity: 9000 Btu/h

Features: 24h electronic timer and thermostat, Remote control

Noise: 52dB

De’Longhi Pinguino PACEX100 Silent

Reviews: 4.2 / 5 from 370 ratings

Type: Hosed

Cooling Capacity: 10000 Btu/h

Features: Expandable exhaust hose that fits to any Standard Slider or Double Hung Window.
Remote Control with Led Display to switch between Modes, Set Temperature & View °F & °C.

Noise: 47-50dB

PreviewProductRatingPrice
De'Longhi Pinguino PACEX100 Silent | Portable Air... De'Longhi Pinguino PACEX100 Silent | Portable Air... No ratings yet £799.98

De’Longhi PAC N82 ECO Real Feel Portable

Reviews: 4.3 / 5 from 1291 ratings

Type: Hosed

Cooling Capacity: 9,400 Btu/h

Features: 3 speed fan: to select the maximum power or minimum noise.

Noise: 50-52dB

Pro Breeze 4-in-1 Portable Air Conditioner

Reviews: 4 / 5 from 204 ratings

Type: Hosed

Cooling Capacity: 9000 Btu/h

Features: This portable air conditioning unit features 4 multi-purpose operating modes including auto, air cooling, dehumidifying, fan only and energy-saving sleep modes. Use the automatic oscillation mode to direct airflow across a wide area or in a precise direction.

Noise: Not stated

PreviewProductRatingPrice
Pro Breeze 4-in-1 Portable Air Conditioner 9000 BTU –... Pro Breeze 4-in-1 Portable Air Conditioner 9000 BTU –... No ratings yet £349.99Amazon Prime

Princess Mobile Air Conditioner

Reviews: 4.2 / 5 from 229 ratings

Type: Hosed

Cooling Capacity: 7000BTU

Features: This portable air conditioning unit features 4 multi-purpose operating modes including auto, air cooling, dehumidifying, fan only and energy-saving sleep modes. Use the automatic oscillation mode to direct airflow across a wide area or in a precise direction.

Noise: 65dB 

PreviewProductRatingPrice
Princess 3-in-1 Portable Air Conditioner - Cooling,... Princess 3-in-1 Portable Air Conditioner - Cooling,... No ratings yet £294.69

Overall Recommendation

De’Longhi PAC N82 ECO Real Feel Portable

James Smythe

DeLonghi PAC N82 ECO
Overall

Summary

This is obviously not cheap, but it is by far the best-reviewed option from a big brand name and a couple of hundred less than the Pinguino Silent branded models

5
  • [Original Post: 22nd May 2020]
  • [1st update: 17 July 2021]
  • [Updated 22-May-2022] This year, things are more complex. Air conditioning was always expensive to run, it is now a lot more expensive to run. I have a dedicated post on how much it costs to run an aircon. Last year it cost me about 17p per hour, now it is double that at 34p. Running it at a conservative three hours per day will add over £30 to your electricity bill.
  • [Updated 14-June-2023] Content has been updated with accurate electricity price cap figures from July 2023, and the product recommendations have been updated.

Last update on 2024-06-13 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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3 Comments

  1. You missed some major points.
    Not all portables expel the moisture. – they all produce moisture as they convert latent heat to patent heat when the dew point is reached. Some collect it and they need emptying – worse – can spill if moved when full.

    Second – the built in systems get a tax break and can also be used for heating. With a COP of 4.6 it competes economically with gas.

    Third – the air leakage issue is only if the leakage is concentrated in the cooled area. Don’t seal the door – you need to replace removed air. Indeed you want air change always. Ideally you should draw air in from a shaded area. passive house style.

    Finally – they all have temperature control and humidity control. Improving your ability to sweat will cool you too. But don’t wear creams or oils. Otherwise – once the room is cooled the air is moved like a fan and the unit only operates the heat pump to maintain. So running costs per hour do get lower through the night.

  2. Single hose units are really a pain. I do not know why we only have single hose in the UK!?!

    It’s wrong to try and seal the room with a single hose though, the unit needs a vented room to operate, if you completely seal the room the unit can no longer blow out the hot air and you end up with an overheating unit and a hot room! Such a stupid design. I have always thought about converting my unit to dual hose but never quite sure how to go about it.

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