Outdoor Portable Air Conditioner
Features and Options

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A portable air conditioner's features can minimize operating costs and make it simpler to operate and maintain.

You may find some features listed here you hadn't thought of, but might be great additions to a unit you were planning to buy.

Smaller portable air conditioners may be equipped with casters that make easy work of moving them around small flat areas. The smallest of these usually have lighter duty casters than the larger units.

Unless it has casters you'll need a dolly handy for the heavier units, especially if you'll be taking them a distance — say, across a parking lot or field. The biggest of these — over 60,000 BTUs — can weigh several hundred pounds and would require a trailer or truck to move them around. They can be permanently mounted so a trailer can be towed in and out of an area without having to unload and load the air conditioner every time you use it.

Programmable control panels can help you save energy while keeping your area cool and comfortable. If you know you'll need your area cooled at certain hours, certain temperatures, simply program that it. This can save energy and costs by running your portable air conditioner only when you need it.

Some units will have a knob or button with a general indication of temperature. But digital thermostats can control the target cooling range more precisely and can maintain that range more consistently.

Remote control is especially helpful if your portable air conditioner is hard to reach. Some units use only remote control — no controls are actually on the unit. Remote controls are available in hand-held styles or wall mount styles.

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One of the advantages of using portable air conditioners for outdoor cooling is that they lower the humidity of an area. Many can be set to dehumidify only, meaning that even with the cooling function off they can work to dehumidify your area. Humidity can be a problem during wet seasons. Lower humidity levels can ease allergies, stop condensation and mold growth. This can make your unit invaluable year-round.

A heating option can also make your portable air conditioner useful all year. These units can use a lot of electricity and generate a lot of heat simply to operate. By turning off the cooling function, a unit can heat an area even more easily than it can cool it.

Air filtering
Portable air conditioners filter the air of a space as part of the way they cool it. By turning off the cooling function, the fans will still blow air through the filters, allowing air filtering without the cost of running the cooling. Special filters are available for some models to remove pollen, bacteria, animal dander and dust, making them especially helpful for people with allergies.

Since all portable air conditioners need to be vented, they almost all come with some sort of venting system. This helps you fit the hose(s) through a window or other opening, with a fitted piece to hold the hose and cover any gaps around it. Venting system options may include different fittings and insulation to close any gaps around the hoses leading into or out of an area.

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Handling Condensation
Air conditioners remove humidity (water) as well as heat from the air. Simpler units have a tank that collects the water. The tank needs to be drained occasionally to keep it from overflowing.

A step up from this is a Gravity Drain — a simple hose attached to the tank that lets the water drain onto the ground away from the area being cooled and away from the portable air conditioner.

A Condensate Pump is sometimes used with the drain to move the water up over a wall or through an opening in the structure.

Self-Evaporating units evaporate the water into the hot air exhaust hose. These units require little if any draining of the tank.

Bottom threshold of human hearing10dB
Recording studio20dB
Quiet living room30dB
Quiet office or library, refrigerator40dB
Quiet conversation50dB
Average office noise, clothes dryer60dB
Average conversation, dishwasher70dB
Average factory80dB
Typical home stereo volume90dB
Heavy truck100dB

Noise Level
Portable air conditioners can be noisy. Surprisingly, some of the larger ones make less noise than the smaller ones. If you'll be using yours at night when you're trying to sleep, or near other people such as in a temporary office, or in a broadcast booth, you'll want to be especially aware of noise levels. In fact, some areas may have noise restrictions. If you'll be using your unit in a public place, check with local authorities before you purchase or rent your portable air conditioner to be sure your unit will be in compliance.

Most units list decibel ratings which will give you an idea of how noisy they will be. The decibel rating (dB) is a common measurement of sound. These typically range from 50dB (about as loud as a quiet conversation) up to 70dB (about as loud as a dishwasher).

  • The actual noise level a portable air conditioner will make can vary from what the actual rating is. The actual level can be affected by:
  • how the unit is installed — installation on a solid base of packed earth or concrete will be quieter than on a raised metal base that allows the unit to vibrate; installation on a soft pad will keep vibration noise to a minimum.
  • what the area is like around it -- setting it up where there be plants or walls around it can muffle its noise
  • and how close people are to it when it's operating — Putting the main unit outside of your tent or structure may make it quieter for you inside, but it also may make it noisier for those around you outside.

Keep in mind noise ratings usually refer to the general long-running noise of the fans in the unit. Lower fan speeds run more quietly than higher fan speeds. There is often an additional noise when the compressor turns on to boost the cold air. This noise can be quite noticeable, especially in a normally quiet environment.

If at all possible try to see and hear the unit in operation before your purchase, or read comments from owners. It might be helpful to let your sales person or rental consultant know if you need an especially quiet unit.

Adjustable Air Vents may be as simple as adjustable louvers / shutters that can be nudged to shift the air flow. These work like the adjustable air vents on a car's air conditioning system. Surprisingly, not all portable air conditioners have this feature. Others may have air nozzles that can be rotated or extended to really direct the air where you need it.

Multiple fan speeds can be tremendously helpful in perfecting the cooling of an area. Especially for outdoor cooling, selecting the best size unit can be a little challenging. Add to that temperature fluctuations caused by the weather and time of day, among other things. Being able to simple raise or lower the fan speed can help you deal with these challenges in a simple way. Also, lower fan speeds run more quietly than higher speeds.

Interested in learning even more?

Visit our other pages on using portable air conditioners outdoors:

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