Last edited: September 7th 2023
A portable air conditioning unit is designed to be exactly what the name suggests, a portable device producing conditioned air in a set environment.
These devices go by many names, often referred to as Single-Unit, Mobile Unit, Standalone Units but we (like most) like to keep things simple with the preferred name of Portable Units.
The main thing to be aware of regarding a portable air conditioning unit is that although they are portable (usually on wheels) these units will need to have a hose coming from the back of the unit and exiting a nearby window, during operation. This is because of the way that an air conditioning system operates. It is simply not possible to achieve a desired set temperature in cooling mode, without somehow getting rid of the excess heat caused by the system itself. The purpose of the extract hose is to achieve exactly this, to expel the heat generated from the unit to atmosphere, outside of the area that has just had cool air recycled within. On most modern units, the extract hose is also used to dispense water vapour, which comes from the system generated condensate, saving you from having to empty a water tank when used in cooling mode.
With the development of heat pump technology, many of these items are capable nowadays of operating in both cooling and heating modes, making them an ideal solution for climate control on a budget. That said, not all units work as both coolers and heaters, so it’s best to read the specific products description thoroughly.
As explained above, these units are used to cool a desired environment to a set temperature, but if you also purchase a Heat Pump version, the unit will operate as a heater also.
You’ll get the ability to set the temperature in cooling mode (usually) in the range of 18°c to 30°c and then the same temperature range in heating mode, if the unit has this function.
Some brands also incorporate ‘Dehumidifier’ and ‘Fan Only’ modes into their products.
These units are designed to be as portable as possible, with castors or wheels attached to the base to assist rolling the unit across a flat surface.
Due to the fact that these units are in essence a very small Split System, built and squeezed into a compact casing, there is a certain amount of weight that cannot be discarded during manufacture. This means that no matter which brand or model you choose, these units will never be classed as ‘lightweight’. The smaller models aimed at the domestic market weigh approximately 30kg (and upwards), while some of the much larger units aimed at the commercial market can weigh in excess of 95kg!
This should most certainly be considered when thinking about the usage of this product. If you are thinking of using one unit in a ground floor living room in the daytime and then carrying the unit upstairs to a first floor bedroom for use over night, this information may make you think twice...
Most models will come with a control panel attached to the unit and usually an IR remote, giving the ability to switch the machine on/off, change functional modes, adjust temperatures, adjust fan speeds and operate the air deflecting louvres.
If you decide upon a higher spec model, you will often also get Wi-Fi compatibility, enabling you to control the unit remotely. This is often accompanied with the ability to control with a smart speaker or a manufacturer specific app. Just the same as having this function on an installed system, this can allow you to switch the unit on/off without being present in the room where the unit is located.
With modern technologies being incorporated by manufacturers, even the cheaper products on the market are managing to achieve high efficiency levels nowadays. Most products aimed at the domestic market achieve a COP (Co-efficient Of Performance) of 3 or higher.
When compared to a split system, this may seem low, but if you consider that the purchase price of the unit is usually lower than a split system and you won’t have to employ the services of an FGAS registered engineer to install the unit, they can save you a great deal in the long run.
When being used in heating mode, if you compare a portable heat pump to an electric plug in heater, you get approximately 3 times as much output, making them a very economical source of heating!
Some models (usually aimed more at the commercial market) are capable of being used as spot coolers. This means that the units utilise the use of a second hose (they still require the original hose to extract hot air and water vapour) which can be directed to cool a specific area, making them ideal to use for server rooms (and similar areas) where cool air is required to reach specific locations.
These units are normally designed to run 24/7, with a more robust compressor being incorporated to aid eliminating stoppage issues, which could be catastrophic in the use or a server room.
The downside of having a complex system compacted into a small shell is that because the compressor is located inside the unit, the units will never be as quiet as alternative air conditioning (or heat pump) products, and usually have a decibel level somewhere around 56db.
This may be a point to consider when thinking about where the product will be used within your property, as some people find the units too noisy for use overnight in a bedroom.
Warranty and Servicing
Just like the DIY category of products, most portable units only come with a warranty period of 12 months (although some do come with an impressive 3 year warranty). This can sometimes be extended by a further 6 months by speaking with the manufacturer directly.
Again, similar to the products in the DIY category, there is no service schedule for portable air conditioning units. They merely have a user friendly mesh filer attached, which should be cleaned regularly to ensure correct operation of the unit.