How a Portable Airconditioner Works

In one of our previous posts, we talked about how much it costs to run a portable air conditioner. We explained the practical sides of owning a portable air conditioner in terms of energy expenditure and its average costs in the US. However, this time, we’ve decided to address all of you tech savvies who would be interested in finding out how a portable air conditioner works.

This information may be helpful in case you are having some troubles with your portable unit and need to make a quick diagnosis of what may be wrong or if you are genuinely interested in knowing how these things operate.

By the time we reach the end of this guide, you should have with a clear understanding of how to use a portable air conditioner and how to cool rooms in your home or office space.

But beware – it’s going to be a long piece, as these are not very simple to comprehend. So, make yourself a cup of coffee, sit in a comfortable position, and let’s get into the mysteries of portable AC units.

How Portable Air Conditioner Works

The main mechanism of a portable air conditioner is drawing in the hot air from the room into the AC unit. Inside each unit, there is a working motor whose role is to cool down the air that circulates through the desired room. As it sucks in the warm air, it also picks up any excess moisture and pushes it out through a window via a hose.

A regular air conditioner has three parts: the compressor, the refrigerator, and the fan.

The compressor literally compresses the refrigerator while the refrigerator is there to cool the air down. Finally, for the cold air to move around, there has to be a fan that would spread it around the space.

When these three parts are fixed together, the portable air conditioner then spins the fan around, and in this process, it sucks the hot air and moist from the air of the indoor space and pulls it into the AC unit.

Inside the unit, this hot air is being cooled by the refrigerator, thanks to its condenser coils. This process also helps extract the moisture from the air and condense the vapor on the condenser’s coils.

While the hot air moves towards the coils, the energy applied to the fridge makes it warm up and change its condition into gas. This gas then moves through the unit’s system.

Water vapor that is collected from the indoor space air is being removed in two ways. Either via collecting it into a bucket which has to be emptied then from time to time or via a self-evaporative system that pushes is it outside.

For everything to work properly, the refrigerator must remain compressed during the entire cooling process. The heat that generates inside has to go out which is why every portable AC has a hose.

One of the things to keep in mind is that the condenser coils need to remain clean at all times, as otherwise, it becomes very difficult for the refrigerator to absorb the heat. The condenser then starts to “struggle” to complete its task, eventually leading to overheating and breakdown.

A good thing to know is that all AC units work in this way. The only difference is that a portable AC actually combines all of these components into a single standing unit. A regular ductless AC usually has two units, the one that is inside the space and the outdoor compressor with a refrigerator cycler.

Common Features of A Portable AC Unit

Now you know a lot more about how a portable AC unit works. With this knowledge in mind, you may be curious to find out what are the possible features that you can expect on the unit.

Portable AC features usually vary depending on different variables. However, there are some universal expectations you can have from your unit, based on the commonly shared features. In fact, if your model of choices doesn’t possess some of these features, you should reconsider your choice.

  1. A timer that allows setting up a delayed initiation or stopping of cooling.
  2. A remote control that allows you to run and operate your unit without interacting with it directly.
  3. Dry mode. This allows the AC to remove any humidity from your indoor space while the temperature remains intact.
  4. Fan mode. This one is necessary for the air to circulate in the room without any significant temperature changes or moisture extraction.
  5. Auto mode that allows you to optimize the temperature. The compressor will switch on and off to keep the temperature at the desired level.
  6. Oscillation is necessary of the air to vents to move from one side so that the room is evenly cooled.

Comparison: Dual Hose and Single Hose System Portable ACs

Now that you know how portable ACs actually cool down the indoor space, you are also aware that hot air ventilation is an essential step of the process.

A portable AC unit usually has one or two hoses at its back that exhaust the hot air outside through the window.

Single-hose AC units usually take the hot air out of the room and cool the system down, which can lead to negative pressure. Negative pressure in terms of room air pressure means that the air pressure within the room is lower than the one outside, which ultimately leads to the air flowing to the room from the outside. While the name and the description may not sound so bad, the problem here is that this can cause hot air to be drawn into the room. This can reduce the effectiveness and increase the cost to run your aircondition..

Double-hose units work a bit differently as one hose usually brings the air in from outside and cools the unit’s compressor and coils down, while the other hose just vents it outside. This system makes it impossible for the dual-hose unit to create any negative pressure, unlike the units with a single hose.

Exhaust Hose Venting System

The exhaust hose usually vents through a window. This is the safest and most common way of getting rid of the hot indoor air.

This is why most portable AC units have a kit for fitting the hose to the window at the standard window size.

A much harder and more complicated way to vent the exhaust hose is to use a sliding glass door, as the window kits are usually not long enough to reach the sliding glass door height. But if you want to try to do this, there are two ways:

  1. Use styrofoam or plywood to fill the empty hole and cover the open space;
  2. Buy an expansion kit.

Regardless of the installation route you pick, you should always make sure that you read the manual so that all of the most important guidelines are being met.

Hose Extension on Portable Units: Is It Possible/Recommended?

While most experts on ACs would disagree that extending the hose on a portable AC is a good practice, as the hose is designed to operate with the highest efficiency at a certain length, you can still do it. However, this should be your last resort, and you shouldn’t over-extend it, as that might be dangerous. The hose extension can cause the unit to overheat, and then you won’t be able to use the warranty provided by the manufacturer.

Do You Have to Let Water Out from the Portable AC?

Some portable AC models don’t require water draining, but some do. If your portable AC units require water drainage, there are a couple of ways you can do it.

As we mentioned before, one of the main tasks of the portable AC is to make the air less humid by de-moisturizing it. You can deal with moisture and condensation on portable AC units in several different ways.

The Model with Full-On Self-Evaporation

Air conditioners with the full-on self-evaporation system are probably the most convenient ones to have as they evaporate all of the moisture completely automatically out of the window via their hose at the same time as they blow the hot air outside.

This means you won’t need to bother emptying the water from an inner tank or bucket.

The most well-known brands that produce this type of AC unit are Whynter, Avallon, and DeLonghi.

Gravity Drain AC Unit: With and Without a Condensate Pump

There are other ways to get rid of water when it comes to portable air conditioners. One of them is via a draining hose that is attached to the unit and usually comes together with the purchased AC.

The whole system operates by the gravity force pulling the water down and then draining it out of the unit. It then slowly drips out.

This is possible if you successfully attach the hose to the unit and then place the hose to the nearest floor drain hole.

Another solution is to use the condensate pump. This is necessary if there is no drain hole in the floor or you want to relocate the collected moisture. You need to attach the pump to the drain hose in such a case. The pump will then pull the water inside the unit and pump it up. You can then throw the collected liquid manually through the window or into the sewer system.

Tank – the Collection Bucket

The last draining option is the inner collection bucket. It is also known as the tank. The moisture will be collected and routed to this internal tank every time you run the unit. Eventually, you will have to empty the tank manually.

To do that properly, you need to switch off the unit first. Then, you take the tank and manually empty it out. Of course, don’t forget to place the bucket back onto the unit before you switch it back on.

Using the Portable AC Unit to Cool Down More than One Room

If you have an AC unit that is big enough, you might succeed at cooling more rooms simultaneously. Similar to window AC, portable units can also cool the area you place them into, but they might also be able to reach further and cool down hallways and spaces disconnected to the primary area.

Having two rooms with a large opening in between might work the best. However, you shouldn’t expect exactly the same temperature levels.

The cooling quality in this kind of setup usually depends on how distant the two rooms are, their size, and AC unit strength. Larger units (8000 UTS and above) have a greater potential of reaching further than the primary indoor area. All you need to care about then is that the rooms are connected and that you leave the doors open so that the cool air can spread. If possible, it would be best if the unit could be positioned near the connecting area.

In the case of small rooms, all you need is a small portable AC unit.

Is Buying a Portable AC Unit a Good Investment?

Buying a portable AC unit can be a money well-spent in several cases:

  • If you need a cooling unit that you can move around the space;
  • If you need a cooling unit that doesn’t require heavy physical work and is simple to install;
  • If you need a cooling unit that doesn’t have to be by the window at all times.

If any of these reasons are yours, you should consider buying a portable air conditioner, rather than any other type of cooler. If you need more flexibility from your cooling unit than the one you stick to a wall next to the window, this is the best possible option for you.

Can a Portable AC Unit Work Without a Window?

One of the most popular methods of placing the portable AC unit is near the window so that it can vent through it, as the hot air needs to go out somewhere.

It’s usually impossible to run this type of unit without venting the hot air outside. However, it doesn’t have to be through a window. There are other options.

For example, you can use a drop ceiling, chimney, or a hole in the wall to let the air out. You can also connect the hose to existing ventilation in the exterior wall.

All this just means that a portable AC unit can work without a window, but to achieve efficiency and allow it to fulfill its function, you will need to make some modifications.

Do I Need to Put Water Inside of My Portable AC Unit?

In most cases, you do not need to do this. Sometimes people think this is necessary because there is a special type of portable AC that does require this. It’s called a ‘ventless air conditioner’ and it is actually a huge fan system that draws the water out from the tank and lets it into the air. This way, it’s cooling down the room. These can also work without water, but it’s less efficient. You may have seen these in commercial/open spaces.

Regular portable AC units do not require adding water. They actually extract the humidity from the air and blow it outside. They do this via self-evaporation, by collecting the water into a bucket, or by letting it through the hose and into a drain. They don’t require additional water.

Why Are Portable AC Units Bad?

While portable AC units are usually considered a good investment, especially if you require some of the above-mentioned conditions from your cooling unit, there are specific reasons and situations in which these can be seen as a not-so-good deal. Primarily since there are certain flaws in how they work.

First, portable AC units consume a lot of space on the floor. They are not implemented inside the window, which means they need to be placed in its nearby proximity, which takes up space on the floor. This is one of the main reasons why some people criticize it.

Second, these units can be pretty noisy. They do not switch off and change to a silent mode like the air conditioners connected to a window. Even if they are not cooling at the moment, the fan keeps on running.

Yet, no other cooling unit except the central cooling system can provide cooling more than one room at the same time but this one.

Finally, portable ACs are often criticized for their efficiency. They seem to have a less efficient performance than other types of units. This means that their monthly cost may exceed other types of air conditioners.

How to Maintain a Portable AC Unit

Maintaining a portable AC unit in good condition and for a long time demands some additional work, but we are confident that you can complete it without any effort.

If you want your AC unit running smoothly and serving you through many years, you need to maintain it properly and with care. To help you succeed with that, we’ve prepared some of these basic maintenance tips for you to follow.

  1. Clean the vent grill on regular notice by wiping it. This way, you are ensuring that no trapped particles block the airflow.
  2. Every two or three weeks, clean your air filter. If you only use the unit occasionally, the interval between two cleanings can be even longer. However, if you are an excessive AC user, make the filter cleaning your two-week routine. You need to clean your filter because dirt from the air can easily clog it. The filter should be washed with a mild detergent and warm water, thoroughly rinsed, and dried of any excess water. It needs to be fully dry before you return it to the unit.
  3. Keep the exterior of your AC clean by wiping it regularly with a cloth and a bit of soap. Since this is an electrical appliance, you should make sure that it’s unplugged before wiping it with a wet cloth to prevent any potential hazards.
  4. If you want to store your unit, make sure that it’s in a dry and cool place, covered with a cotton sheet, or packed in its carton box, as you don’t want it to collect dust.
  5. If you are not using a self-evaporate unit, you should empty your bucket regularly. The speed at which it fills up with water will greatly depend on how much you use the unit, so make sure that you are checking on it regularly during the first week. When you empty the tray, make sure to clean it up before putting it back in. Especially if you live in a polluted area or smoke inside.

Final Word

We hope you found our guide on how portable airconditioner works useful and insightful. We gave our best to address all of the most important questions on the topic and provide the simplest yet comprehensive explanations of the mechanisms of this appliance.

As mentioned in the article, there are several components to these units that extract hot air and moist from the indoor air, and this is the process of cooling down a room.

There are so many different models on the market today, produced by many different brands, so it’s hard to address each and every detail of each possible model. However, in this article, we tried to stick to universal rules that hold for all portable AC units.