How Does a Portable Air Conditioner Work?

Portable air conditioners can cool a space up to 500 square feet without the added difficulty of installation. But, how does a portable air conditioner work? The simplest answer is that it works basically like any other air conditioner style.

A traditional window air conditioner works by sucking air over an evaporator and expelling the hot air outside. While this is a fairly efficient cooling system, the installation and removal of the unit can be a hassle.

Central air systems work by using a refrigerant such as Freon to cool the inside air. While central air is a definite luxury, many apartments and older homes simply do not have them installed. Additionally, they cost a large amount to install.

If you are looking for a fairly affordable option that will not be a headache to install, a portable air conditioner is great. While they work the same basic way as any other style, portable air conditioners have slightly different strengths and weakness with regards to their design.

How does a portable air conditioner cool a room?

As with all forms of air conditioners, a portable unit uses a refrigerant to cool the air in the house. The coolant goes through a cycle during which it converts from high to low temperatures and from liquid to gas forms.

Hot air is drawn into the unit from inside and passes over the (usually) copper coils containing the refrigerant. This process is what actually cools the air. The cool air is then pushed back into the room using an internal fan.

Both a benefit and a possible downside to a portable air conditioner is that it will continue to draw warm air from the rest of the house into the room to cool it. While this may bring the overall temperature down in the house, it will dull its cooling capacity in the particular room.

One of the ways to remedy this is by simply shutting the door the room you are trying to cool. While this will result in the rest of the house being a bit warmer, it will ensure that the room you are trying to cool actually does just that.

The portable air conditioner is designed to continue to pull warm air over the copper coils until the room temperature hits the preset level. Most, if not all, portable air conditioners allow you to set the desired room temperature in advance.

How does a portable air conditioner vent the hot air?

Although portable air conditioners do not need to be installed in a window like a window unit, they do need to vent the hot air somewhere. The air conditioner would be totally useless if it just vented the hot air right back into the room you were trying to cool.

It is true that portable air conditioners do not need to be installed officially, but they do need to reside next to a window. The vent hose – which looks similar to a dryer vent – needs to have window access.

There are some portable air conditioning units that allow you to vent air into a drop ceiling. This is probably the most practical if you are using the unit in a more industrial space as many homes do not have drop ceilings installed.

The need for a window may be a bit of an inconvenience for some people. At least, however, the install process is simpler than a window unit. Plus, portable units can more easily be hidden behind furniture, minimizing the impact on the room setup.

How to move a portable air conditioner?

Though they are technically portable, moving one of these units can still be a process. Since the entire mechanism is enclosed within the in-house unit, portable air conditioners typically weight between 50 and 70 pounds.

The way that the units counteract this weight is by having wheels on the bottom. Most units have heavy duty castors on the bottom, which means they can take the weight and repeated moving.

Some units also have locking castors, which is a definite draw. If you have children or animals, the locking castors are a great idea. You do not want a small child or animal bumping the unit and rolling it out of place, especially since it is hooked up to a window vent.

Many units also come complete with easy to grab handles to make them even more moveable. The handles are especially helpful when you want to move the unit into storage for the winter. You can simply drag it into a closet without too much sweat equity.

One thing to remember when you go to move your portable air conditioner is that its new location needs to have access to an outlet and a window. While these are not particular strenuous requirements to meet, it does limit where you can move the unit a bit.


Overall, a portable air conditioner works mechanically in the same way as a widow unit or central air conditioning system. Because of their portable nature, however, they come with their own sets of strengths and weaknesses.

One of the main things to keep in mind regarding their functionality is that they have to be placed near a window for ventilation. For some buyers, this can seriously hinder the portability factor.

Since portable air conditioners work by drawing the warm air over the copper coils, they work best in enclosed rooms. Otherwise, they will need to work harder and less efficiently as they try to cool all the air in the house.

Portable air conditioners are also not super lightweight, so having wheels is a must. Locking castors available are also very helpful if you have animals of small children.

In short, their portability is both a positive and a negative. Portable air conditioners, however, work in basically the same way as any other unit but without the hassle of installation and with added mobility.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 0 comments

Leave a Reply: