Are Portable Air Conditioners More Energy Efficient?

When choosing an air conditioner, the energy efficiency rating can be a major deciding factor. There are a number of benefits to them, but, are portable air conditioners more energy efficient than alternatives?

One reason to be concerned with energy efficiency is certainly the environment. A lower efficiency means you are using more electricity and energy, which is less than green. Looking for an energy efficient model will mitigate the effect on the environment.

Another benefit of energy efficiency is the impact on your electric bill. Air conditioners are notoriously expensive to run, so anything that can ease that is a welcome feature.

Many energy efficient air conditioners work by having an auto-shut off when the room has reached the pre-programmed temperature. Additionally, they may have self-timers that allow you to choose the hours you want to the unit to turn on and off.

Portable air conditioners have many benefits, but their energy efficiency is a major question. Much of the energy efficiency of an air conditioner depends on the model you choose, so you should be informed about the options before purchasing.

Other styles of air conditioners

To determine whether portable air conditioners are actually more energy efficient, you have to examine the alternative styles. Since energy efficiency is a big deal, many brands and styles offer energy efficient models in addition to their regular models.

One alternative to a portable air conditioner is a window-mounted unit. Since these units are designed to cool a specific room or amount of space, they can do so fairly efficiently. Having an automatic shut-off also makes some of these models more efficient.

Window air conditioning units come in specifically energy efficient models. These units usually have the automatic shut-off and a timer so that you can set the unit to turn on and off at different times. There is no sense in running the unit in the middle of the night, for instance.

While central air is usually a bit more expensive to run than a window unit, there are ways to make this type of system more energy efficient. One way is to set the fan setting to “auto,” according to the United States Department of Energy.

Setting the fan on your central air system ensures that the fan and cooling compressor turn off at the same time. This way, when your house reaches the desired temperature, the entire system shuts down, thus saving energy.

Why portable air conditioners might be more energy efficient

Like a window air conditioner, portable air conditioners are also designed to cool a specific space. This way, they are not wasting energy on cooling a larger space you do not plan to use.

Another possible way to save on energy with a portable air conditioner is related to the size specificity. Since they are portable, you can move the unit more easily from room to room rather than needing to purchase multiple units for around the house.

Portable air conditioners can also be more energy efficient than a window-mounted unit because they are inside. Since a window air conditioner is exposed to weather and sun all day, it may be working harder than it really needs to. Portable units are protected from weather.

Like window units, portable air conditioners come in a variety of sizes. Buying the correct size for your living space is important for energy efficiency. You do not need a unit to cool 1,000 square feet if your apartment is only 500 square feet. Why pay for it?

Portable air conditioners are also known to cool down a space quicker than alternatives. This allows you to turn the unit off faster and (hopefully) use less energy to achieve the same coolness.

So, is it true?

So, are portable air conditioners more energy efficient? Well, yes and no. While their portability allows you to bring them from room to room and avoid cooling the whole house needlessly, they are not designed as efficiently as window units.

The cooling capacity of a unit is measured in BTU ratings. While a 12,000 BTU portable unit is suggested for a 400 square foot room, a window unit with the same BTU rating is suggested for a 550 square foot room.

Since a higher BTU is needed for a smaller space, the energy used is also going to be higher. This means that you are getting less bang for your buck with a portable unit as opposed to a window unit.

The ability to move a portable air conditioner from room to room with you is certainly a benefit if you only want to cool one room. If you do not want multiple window air conditioner units, they are still a decent choice.

According to the United States Department of Energy, central cooling systems are still the most energy efficient. Newer systems, especially, offer the ability to use automatic shut-offs, which offers more savings.


Overall, it seems that the main appeal of a portable air conditioner has more to do with convenience than it does with energy efficiency. It is largely a toss-up as to if a portable air conditioner is more energy efficient than alternatives.

Although moving the portable air conditioner from room to room with you will save some on energy, the overall design of the unit has more impact on efficiency. Window air conditioners have similar room-specific capabilities but tend to be a bit more efficient.

Regardless of what style of air conditioner you choose, purchasing an Energy Star rated unit will help. Though they are still less energy efficient than many of their compatriots, portable air conditioners can still be purchased with an Energy Star rating.

If you are looking for the convenience of a portable air conditioner, go with an energy efficiency rated model. Although it may not be better than an alternative, it will be at least close in regards to energy efficiency.

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