When temperatures are soaring and humidity levels are almost unbearable, a portable air conditioner can be an absolute lifesaver. But did you know that not all portable air conditioners are created equally? The best portable air conditioners are ones that will be able to keep up with the demands of the climate (is it hot and dry, or hot and humid?), runs at a respectable decibel level (so you can sleep well even on those hot summer nights), is a suitable size in relation to the room you need to cool and is both economical to buy and run.
Broadly speaking, there are two main types of portable air conditioners available on the market. The first are evaporative coolers, which are often cheap to buy and run (starting at about $150). The second are refrigerated portable air conditioners, which are more expensive to buy upfront but are simply more effective at cooling the air, especially in humid climates. Each type has its own set of pros and cons.
Evaporative portable air conditioners
Evaporative portable air conditioners or evaporative coolers are a great budget option for those who live in an area with hot, dry summers. We won’t get into the technical nitty-gritty about how they work, but essentially, they turn hot, dry air into cool, humid air. Because they add moisture to the air, they are less effective in humid environments and could make a room feel stuffier than it was to begin with.
According to a 2023 market report, 13 per cent of Australian homes use evaporative coolers. Evaporative coolers are attractive because of their low running costs, low up-front costs and the fact that it’s a relatively eco-friendly way to cool your home. They are recommended for use in hot, arid climates, including, for example Carnarvon, WA, Alice Springs, NT and the Queensland hinterland.
Portable evaporative air conditioners often have a water tank that needs to be filled regularly to remain functional. Some portable coolers, including Devanti’s portable air cooler come with ice crystals to help cool the air.
Best evaporative portable air conditioners 2024
Honeywell evaporative cooler, Bing Lee
Cool a room inexpensively with Honeywell’s environmentally-friendly evaporative cooler. Has an automatic timer function, sleep mode, anti-dust filter and is remote-control operated.
- Evaporative cooling system
- Anti-dust filter
- Sleep mode available
- Remote-control operation
Dimplex Electric 6L evaporative cooler with air purifier, Kogan
Dimplex’s evaporative air conditioner will cool your home and purify the air while it’s at it. You can cool your home just the way you like it with a selection of three cooling settings and three purification settings. Remote-control operated.
- 3 cooling settings
- 3 purification settings
- 24-hour timer
- Remote-control operation
- Evaporative cooling system with air purification
Devanti Evaporative portable air cooler, Catch
Harness the natural cooling properties of water with this affordable evaporative cooler by Devanti. The machine comes with ice crystals to help cool hot, dry air and can also be used as a humidifier. It comes with a detachable dust filter and remote control and has three-speed settings.
- Air cooler and dehumidifier in one
- Ice crystals to enhance cooling performance
- Adjustable louvres
- Remote-control system
- 3 speed settings
- 3 modes – normal, natural and sleep
- 8L water tank capacity
- Detachable dust filter
Refrigerated portable air conditioners
Refrigerated air conditioners transfer heat from inside your home to the outdoors via a refrigerant. Refrigerated air conditioners can cool a room regardless of humidity levels or the temperature outside. While this process is extremely energy efficient, the unit will eventually begin to pull hot air from elsewhere in the house, which makes portable units less energy-efficient than their permanent two-part reverse cycle units.
Refrigerated air conditioners often come with a window kit, which allows the unit to expel hot air outdoors.
Best refrigerated portable air conditioners
Omega Altise 2.6kW portable air conditioner, The Good Guys
This popular, affordable portable air conditioner has hundreds of positive reviews. It features a touch control panel, 24 hour timer and Aqua Chill technology for an efficient cooling experience.
- 24-hour timer
- AQUACHILL technology for greater efficiency
- 2 fan speeds
- Dehumidifying mode available
Olimpia Splendid 4.7kW portable air conditioner, The Good Guys
With a sleek perforated profile, Olympia’s splendid refrigerated air conditioner looks cool and makes your home cool too. Not only does it have 3 cooling speeds, it also has sleep and eco settings to help you ensure it functions as efficiently and quietly as possible.
- Remote-control system
- 3 speed options
- Sleep and Eco modes available for additional comfort
Are portable air conditioners worth buying?
A portable air conditioner is worth buying if you are a renter living in a home without a built-in cooling system.
If, however, you own your home, you may find more value in forking out for a permanent air conditioning unit. Here’s why. The average cost of a portable refrigerated air conditioner is $600-$1500. According to HiPages, the average cost to install a permanent reverse cycle air conditioning unit ranges from $600 to $1500 depending on the size of the room you need to cool and the type of unit you select.
In 2021, Choice reported that portable air conditioners can cost twice as much to run as a split-system air conditioner of the same size. Then there’s the fact that portable air conditioners are designed to do one thing: cool. Reverse cycle air conditioners have year-round value, with the ability to cool in summer and warm in winter – all while keeping running costs low.
If you are a landlord, installing an air conditioner may improve the rental yield of your property, as many tenants are willing to fork out for a home with air conditioning.
Pros of a portable air conditioner
- Renter-friendly as they can be used right out of the box and require minimal installation
- Can be moved from room to room as required
- Some units are relatively cheap to buy upfront
- Many have smart capabilities or WiFi connectivity that allows you to control the unit remotely or from a phone app
Cons of a portable air conditioner
- Are not as energy-efficient to run as a permanent reverse-cycle air conditioning unit
- Are often loud to run and may not be suitable for light sleepers
- Some portable air conditioners need to be positioned close to a window to allow hot air to be expelled from the room. If you have an externally vented portable unit, you will forfeit some or all functionality of that window.
- May only have the ability to cool a room (as opposed to reverse cycle units that can both heat and cool).
- Evaporative coolers have a water tank that needs to be refilled regularly
- Evaporative coolers don’t function well in climates with high humidity levels