Do you struggle to sleep when it’s too hot? Or, do you have an office where it’s too muggy to get anything done? A portable air conditioner (PAC) can keep a single room cool in the hot summer months, with no disruptive installation required and at a much lower cost than house-wide systems.
Most models feature a built-in timer, so they run only when you’re using the room, without wasting energy. You can even move them around, with some limitations, so the same unit that cools your home office in the day can also keep your bedroom chilled at night.
How to buy the best portable air conditioner for you
How much do I need to spend?
PACs aren’t cheap: most cost somewhere between £300 and £1,000. Below this price you tend to find evaporative air coolers rather than true air conditioners, which aren’t as effective.
How much you need to spend depends on your cooling requirements. PACs are rated in BTU (British Thermal Units): one BTU is the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree. A higher rating means an air conditioner can cool a larger space, which normally means the unit itself will be larger and more expensive. A 9,000 BTU unit will handle a space of approximately 45 cubic metres, while a 12,000 BTU unit could go up to 90 cubic metres. Measure your room before you buy to make sure you choose an air conditioner that’s up to the job.
Where can I put a portable air conditioner?
Positioning is another issue: all units need to vent hot air through a window, and most will include some kind of window fixing kit to handle the job. If you don’t want your air conditioner right next to the window, you’ll either need to put a permanent vent through your wall or find a model with a hose extender.
Hot air isn’t the only thing your air conditioner needs to expel. As the air cools, moisture condenses out of it, which is collected inside the PAC. Some units can evaporate this internally and exhaust it through the hose or the back of the unit; in other models it’s kept in an internal reservoir which needs to be emptied manually.
Aren’t they going to be noisy and expensive to run?
All PACs incorporate a compressor and one or more fans, so they’re never going to be totally silent. Some are quieter than others, however: you should find the minimum and maximum noise pressure levels in the specification.
As for running costs, a higher BTU rating generally means the PAC will be doing more work and consuming more energy, but not all units are created equal. Your air conditioner should have an energy efficiency class, from A++ down to G, just like your fridge or cooker. The higher the class, the more efficient the unit will be.
Are there any other features I should look out for?
Like most big appliances, PACs come with an environmental cost. You can help cut that down by picking an energy-efficient A++ model, but some manufacturers are also boosting their green credentials by using refrigerant gases, like R290, that have a lower environmental impact and don’t create greenhouse gases during the product lifecycle.
READ NEXT: The best fans to buy
The best portable air conditioners to buy
1. Igenix IG9901WiFi: The best smart PAC for under £350
Price: £345 | Buy now from Amazon
Igenix already had a great compact, budget PAC in the IG9901, but the new Wi-Fi version takes it to another level. It’s still a tiny air conditioner, just 32cm wide and 68cm tall, which slips neatly into even a small bedroom or living room. But while it has the same simple design, touch control panel and remote control, you can also now control it through the free Igenix app or Alexa voice commands. You can set the temperature, switch modes or set the timer using hands-free controls.
With 9,000BTU cooling capabilities, it’s only suitable for relatively small rooms with a maximum floor area of around 20m2, and the noise output of 65dB might be hard to get a good night’s sleepover. And while it’s self-evaporating and comes with a 1.5m exhaust hose, there’s no window kit to go with it. Overall, though, this is the best option if you want a PAC you can control through your Echo or an app. And if that’s not so important? Well, the original IG9901 is £50 cheaper and still a great low-cost PAC.
Key specs – BTU rating: 9,000; Functions: AC, dehumidifier, fan; Energy rating: A; Noise: 50dB; Extra features: Remote control, timer, three-speed fan; Hose length:1.5m; Dimensions: 320 x 680 x 348mm; Weight: 23kg
2. AEG ChillFlex Pro AXP26U338CW: A premium PAC for small to mid-sized rooms
Price: £440 | Buy now from AO.com
AEG’s compact PAC combines the streamlined looks and top build quality the manufacturer’s known for with effective, energy-efficient cooling, creating one of the best PACs out there. With a 9,000BTU cooling capacity, it can handle rooms of up to 18㎥ and it still has an A energy rating. It’s relatively loud on the highest of the three fan settings but quiet when on the lowest, and it does a great job of getting the temperature down quickly. What’s more, it uses R290 as a refrigerant, making it a more eco-friendly option than some low-cost conditioners. It also doubles as a fan, heater and dehumidifier, collecting 1.2 litres of water per hour into the tank or, in fan and heater modes, a separate outlet hose.
It’s easy to use, either via the top-mounted controls or the bundled remote, and you can quickly set the desired temperature or timers for start-up and shutdown. Any issues it has are mostly practical – the hose is short and AEG doesn’t supply a window kit – making this a cool, compact PAC with a smidgeon of style and a luxury feel.
Key specs – BTU rating: 9,000; Functions: AC, dehumidifier, heater, fan; Energy rating: A; Noise: 64dB; Features: Remote control, timer, three-speed fan, heat pump; Hose length: 1.5m; Dimensions: 476 x 710 x 385mm; Weight: 31.5kg
3. DeLonghi Pinguino PAC AN98 ECO: A great air conditioner for medium-sized rooms
Price: £640 | Buy now from Amazon
The PAC AN98 ECO improves on the excellent PAX AN97 ECO by switching refrigerants to the more eco-friendly R290 and reducing the sound levels slightly to an average 47 to 50dB(A). Cooling capacity drops slightly from 10,800BTU to 10,700BTU, but this still delivers more than enough cooling to cope with a room of 95㎥. It features DeLonghi’s Real Feel technology, reducing temperature and humidity quickly and then keeping the room at a comfortable level, and there’s a ‘comfort light indicator’ on the touch control panel that tracks the journey down from too hot to nice and cool. If you don’t need full air conditioning, you can switch to the fan or dehumidifier mode.
The short 1.2m hose limits where you can position the AN98 ECO, and there’s no fitting kit provided. Further, while the switch to R290 buffs its eco credentials, its A energy rating isn’t quite up there with the best. Otherwise, this is one mighty air conditioner for mid-sized rooms.
Key specs – BTU rating: 10,700; Functions: AC, heater, fan; Energy rating: A; Noise: 47-64dB; Features: Remote control, timer, three-speed fan, heat pump; Hose length: 1.2m; Dimensions: 750 x 350 x 310mm; Weight: 30kg
4. AEG PX71-265WT: The most elegant PAC
Price: £699 | Buy now from AO.com
It’s near-impossible to design a portable air conditioner that doesn’t look ugly and intrusive, but AEG just about manages it. Where most are big, industrial-looking blocks, this one’s a tapered, cylindrical effort roughly the size of a compact kitchen bin. Despite this, it still provides 9000BTU of cooling, which is enough for most small to mid-sized rooms, along with heating and dehumidifying. It does this quickly and effectively through a clever spiral airflow, although with a noise level of 64dB it’s not exactly whisper-quiet.
Style isn’t the AEG’s only selling point, either. It has easy-to-use controls with a dimmable display and a clever, magnetic remote. You can also set the temperature, mode and timer settings from a smartphone app. And if you’re looking for an energy-efficient PAC, this one has an A+ energy rating. Throw in a 1.8m hose and a bundled window kit, and you have what’s arguably the smartest compact PAC around.
Key specs – BTU rating: 9,000; Functions: AC, heater, fan; Energy rating: A+; Noise: 64dB; Features: Remote control, timer, three-speed fan; Hose length: 1.8m; Dimensions: 112 x 53 x 46cm; Weight: 35.3Kg
5. DeLonghi Pinguino PAC EX100 Silent: The best air conditioner for medium-sized rooms
Price: £800 | Buy now from Amazon
Calling this a “Silent” air conditioner is pushing it; at its maximum sound level of 64dB, it’s definitely audible, although in-use noise levels are normally lower than many rival PACs. It’s A++ energy-efficient, and dishes out 10,000 BTU of cooling power, which is enough to chill a medium-sized room with impressive speed. Like the PAC AN97, the EX100 has a glowing indicator to tell you when the room is uncomfortable (orange), acceptable (green) or perfect (blue), and it’s easy to switch modes and adjust settings using the controls at the front or the bundled LCD remote control. There’s even a convenient space to hold the latter in the pop-up oscillation flap. Make no mistake, this is a bigger, heavier unit than the average, measuring over 90cm tall and 445cm wide, but a sleek design means it’s not too intrusive, and it’s hard to complain when it’s so effective. A great, if pricey, portable air conditioner.
Key specs – BTU rating: 10,000; Functions: AC, dehumidifier, cooler, filter; Energy rating: A++; Noise: 53dB; Features: Remote control, timer, three-speed fan, air filter, Real Feel technology; Hose length: 1.2m; Dimensions: 445 x 905 x 390mm; Weight: 30kg
6. Amcor SF8000E: An affordable portable air conditioner for small rooms
Price: £330 | Buy now from Appliances Direct
Looking to cool a small living room, home office or bedroom? The Amcor SF8000E is one of the smallest and cheapest PACs around. At 34.5 x 37.8cm, it has a tiny footprint and stands less than a metre high, yet it can still dish out 7,000BTU of cooling, bringing down the temperatures in small-sized rooms of up to 18 square metres in size. At 21kg, it’s just about movable on its caster wheels, though you’re restricted by the 1.5m hose and sliding window kit.
Obviously, the relatively low BTU rating puts it out of contention for larger rooms, let alone open-plan living spaces, but for the average UK living room or bedroom it should be fine. You can control it using the top-mounted touch controls or bundled remote, and there’s a 24-hour stop/start timer to cool your bedroom before you go to sleep. The only problem with that might be sleeping, given the 33-48dB sound output which most users describe as ‘pretty noisy’. You might not want to leave this one running overnight.
Key specs – BTU rating: 7,000; Functions: AC, dehumidifier, fan; Energy rating: A; Noise: 48dB; Extra features: Remote control, timer, two-speed fan; Hose length:1.5m; Dimensions: 345 x 870 x 378mm; Weight: 21kg