With Britain in a prolonged period of heat, and the nation basking in the much-needed sun, we're all struggling to keep cool.
Fear not, however, as a portable air conditioner unit will help you remain fresh and unflustered this summer. Whether you find sleeping impossible in warm muggy temperatures, or your office has become an insufferable sauna, your portable friend will make hot summer days much more bearable.
But mobile air conditioners aren't cheap. One of the best models will set you back a few hundred pounds - but that's surely a price worth paying for your comfort.
Portable air conditioners (PACs) are rated in British Thermal Units (BTU). A higher BTU number means a larger room can be cooled, although this also makes the device bigger, pricier and, in some cases, less eco-friendly. For example, a 9,000 BTU air conditioner will cool a room of 45 cubic metres, so it's worth checking what size room you'll be cooling before buying.
Aside from power, you need to consider noise. Most portable air conditioners range from 50-56 decibels – with 56 decibels equivalent to background chatter in a restaurant.
Taking the above into consideration, we have assessed devices’ efficiency, price, portability and durability, and sought advice from multiple experts. The following are, in our opinion, some of the best portable air conditioners on the market – starting with our favourite.
Both Paul Wood, managing director of online retailer Andrews Sykes, and Ryan Kandola, commercial director at airconcentre.co.uk, recommend renowned Italian brand De’Longhi. “They are good compressor manufacturers, and the compressor is the heart of the unit,” Wood says. Kandola agrees that “they’ve got good quality to them” as well as “good style”.
The PAC AN112 is more than just style and an impressive compressor. Its stand-out feature is that it is so quiet. At just 47-50 decibels, it’s certainly not silent but it’s one of the quietest on the market – which is reflected in the glowing reviews you see posted by users online.
There is a remote controlled three-speed fan and a sleep mode for a lower noise level. It’s a fairly expensive model, but you get a lot of ‘bang for your buck’: this powerful device has 11,000 BTU, so can cool a 42 squared metre room. Even with such horsepower, it’s energy efficient, with a rating of A+, and uses environmentally-friendly, EU-approved R290 gas.
2. De'Longhi PAC AN98 ECO Real Feel Portable Air Conditioner
The De’Longhi AN98 is the slightly less impressive little brother of the AN112. It’s less energy efficient (rating of A) yet also has a lower energy output (10,700 BTU) so cools down a smaller space of up to 100 cubed metres. However, this model steps out of its sibling’s shadow because of its dehumidifying feature.
Furthermore, it is a fairly quiet machine - 47-50 decibels - and runs on R290, an eco-friendly gas. This is typical of De’Longhi models, according to Kandola. “They’re more energy-efficient and the gases are more environmentally-friendly.”
This model isn’t cheap (although it is significantly cheaper than the AN112) but the multi-functional and environmentally-friendly device is built to last.
3. Honeywell MN12CES Portable Air Conditioner
First, let’s address the elephant in the room: this model is expensive. However, it may be worth the cost as it’s a brand you can trust. “With the likes of Honeywell and De’Longhi, you will 100 per cent get the quality,” Kandola says.
This particular unit is different to the previous two De’Longhi models because it has more power, at 12,000 BTU. This means it can be used in a conservatory or a south-facing room with large windows. Surprisingly, this large power output does not affect its energy efficiency (it’s A-rated), but it does impact the noise levels, as it’s 53 decibels.
Despite the noise, the air conditioner has an impressive repertoire. It has three functions: fan, air conditioner and dehumidifier. There is a programmable timer and remote control for ease of use. Furthermore, the water inside the machine auto-evaporates, meaning you don’t need to empty a bucket, as is typical with most air conditioners. It’s a practical device and it’s portable, as it comes on wheels.
EcoAir are renowned for their air conditioning units. “You may not instantly recognise Ecoair as a brand but you know that it has come from one of the best manufacturing factories in China,” Kandola says.
Kandola particularly recommends the EcoAir Crystal - although this is currently out of stock. The EcoAir ARTICA MK2 is a good replacement, however, because of its functions and reasonable price. It is Wi-Fi enabled, meaning you can change the settings remotely. There is also a programmable timer and remote-controlled fan and dehumidifier, where you can adjust the temperature from 10 to 35 degrees.
At just 8000 BTU, it is more suited to smaller rooms of up to 21 squared metres. This smaller output means it’s slightly less noisy than other models (47-51 decibels) and more energy efficient, with an A rating.
5. Meaco MeacoCool 10000 BTU
Kandola recommends this device because “it’s a decent unit at a decent price”. True, this is one of the more affordable models on the market, but Kandola says Meaco is a trusted brand with “a very good reputation in terms of their after-sales”.
The model itself is multi-functional, with a cooler, dehumidifier and even a heater - which will be particularly useful in colder months. There is a remote control, programmable timer and sleep mode, where the machine will gradually power down throughout the night to save energy.
That said, this is the least energy-efficient device on the list, with an energy rating of B. Online reviewers have also noted that it is difficult to put the exhaust hose out of the window, so it perhaps works better on sliding windows or patio doors. It is also the loudest product on the list, at 56 decibels. However, for its range of functions, powerful output and affordable price, it still does a good job.
How long should a portable air conditioner last?
The durability of the machine depends on the model and how well you look after it. However, according to Kandola, they can last a long time. “If you buy a good quality unit and you look after it, it should last you up to five years.”
How can you spot a top-quality unit? The outer casing should be made from sturdy plastic, according to CAS-Hire sales manager Dan Savoury, as this insulates the compressor and makes it less noisy. If you press down on the plastic casing and it moves, it is probably too flimsy - which, he says, is typical of cheaper models.
How much does a portable air conditioner cost?
Portable air conditioners can cost anything from £300 to £700. Despite such varying prices, all three experts agree that most portable models are quite similar, but branded differently.
“Most of these air conditioners are made in the same factory and they’re just labelled in each country,” Wood says. “There are various types of models which are brought in from Asia which are just stamped up,” Savoury adds. “They share equipment across different mainstream brand names.”
What type of air conditioner should I buy?
Once you start to browse online for a portable air conditioner, you notice there are three main types: exhaust pipe (or “ducted”) conditioners, split air conditioners and evaporative coolers.
The one you'll probably be interested in is the exhaust pipe conditioner, which is the most common portable model. As this device cools down a room, it creates warm exhaust gases – which is why it is attached to an exhaust pipe. The pipe needs to go out a window – preferably one that will close over it, to keep the room as sealed as possible.
An evaporative air cooler is not technically an air conditioner, but is instead “a glorified fan”, according to Ryan Kandola, commercial director at airconcentre.co.uk. A split-type air conditioner, on the other hand, is a permanent installation. If you're looking for a portable air conditioner, it's best to ignore both of these.
How to look after your portable air conditioner
When air conditioners cool down a room, they typically produce water, which is collected inside the machine in a bucket. To ensure the longevity of the product, you need to empty this bucket every few weeks.
It’s also essential to clean the filters in a portable air conditioner. “Filters pick up a lot of the microfibres and dust that’s generated within properties, and they can get stuck inside the unit,” Savoury warns. This makes the compressor need to work harder, so the machine cools less effectively.
To combat clogged filters, Savoury suggests you vacuum them weekly, as well as the grills around the back of the unit. He also suggests washing the filters once a month with lukewarm water and a soft, low-grade decontaminate. This breaks down the residue of any hairspray or cooking oils that are clogging up the system.
When the weather (inevitably) cools down and you are ready to put the air conditioner in the cupboard under the stairs, be sure to pack it away neatly. This increases the machine’s lifespan, so it will be ready the next time your room turns into a sauna.