How Do Portable AC Units Work and Do All Need to Be Vented?

by Lisa Hayden
venting portable ac woman

The recent summers have become more and more brutal for the people living in homes with no central air conditioning systems. If you live in a house, getting them installed should not be complicated, but this may not be so easy for apartment dwellers.

 You might also find investing in a centralized AC does not make sense if you are only renting.

Portable air conditioning (AC) units are the obvious choice if you still want some cool air without the considerable expense and work on the home. 

There is nothing quite like enjoying a bit of AC, especially after being in the hot outdoors.

How Do They Work?

While they look bigger and have wheels, the science behind portable ACs is the same. First of all, they both have to be by the window (even when the unit is not installed on the wall) in order to function properly. Both machines are pretty straightforward.

They suck in hot water from the room and cool it down before being released back into the room. The usual vents ensure that the heat from the air conditioning machine or the room does not get released back into the room but instead, gets vented out.

If you want a much cooler room than outside, then you need to pay close attention to the model you are buying. The BTU (or British Thermal Unit) is a measurement unit, identifying the rate at which the hot air is removed from a room hourly.

The higher the amount, you can ensure the appliance can deliver enough cold air.

Most products have a BTU range of 5000 to 16000, which means it can cool up any room about 150 to 800 square feet. Unless the rooms are attached through a doorway, these cooling devices are mostly designed for smaller rooms.

Man fixing grill to air conditioning unit

Venting Your Portable Air Conditioner

As mentioned above, venting is an integral part of your portable AC unit. As it takes in the warm air and cools it down, the machine itself produces a lot of hot air.

If it is not released in another room or outside, then the room you want to cool down ends up being warmer than it was before.

When you buy a new aircon, it comes with a huge venting hose. This means you need to install it close to a window or a vent where the hot air can escape.

In models that are installed, like the wall AC unit, the heat is quickly released at the back which is outside the building itself. In portable models, you will need to install this vent yourself.

Other than the window, there are other places to install these vents so that they do not make your room hot. You can opt for sliding doors or windows, and even a wall (which still will require making a hole in the wall, so it is not the best option).

Some of them, like a dryer vent in the building, might not be legal or recommended. In the end, the window is your best bet.

When purchasing a unit, look for one that has a venting kit, or you can go to a hardware store to order one. They make it easy for you to install a vent for your AC unit without having to drill or leave the entire window open.

Instead, you get a piece to wedge in your window that has a hole big enough for the venting hose of your AC. This will reduce the risk of hot air from outside coming in.

portable ac unit woman in kitchen

Should You Buy One This Summer?

If you live in a place where installing a window unit is costly or even prohibited, then a portable AC is the only solution. The unit itself might not be as cheap, costing at least a few hundred dollars to well over $700, you do save on not having to pay for the installation of the unit.

Plus, a huge advantage is its portability, which means you can move around one unit to different rooms if needed. You can definitely see some savings compared to buying one aircon for every room.

Just make sure you consider the size of the room when buying your new AC, whether portable or not. Rooms that are too big cannot be successfully cooled down by a unit that was designed for smaller spaces, so you are actually wasting money (including on your electricity bills) without seeing any respite from the heat.

There are AC units for bigger rooms but expect them to be on the expensive side.

What Are Dual-Hose AC Units?

There are some interesting air conditioning units out there with 2 hoses instead of one. Called dual-hose models, they draw air in from outside to cool down from one hose while the other expels the hot air as usual. While they might reduce the pressure from air being sucked into the unit, you might not like this option if the air quality outside is not as good.

woman pushing a ac unit

Can You Buy A Model That Does Not Need To Be Vented Out?

There are interesting products out there that are marketed as “ventless air conditioners“. But while they are called so, they do not actually function like a regular AC.

Instead of really cooling the air and releasing it to the room, they have a different way of refreshing you during a hot summer day.

If your summers are dry and warm, this is the model for you. Basically, these air coolers use water to bring the temperatures down. They suck in the air, which goes through the wet filter pads found on the sides of the machine.

They will add some cool moisture to the warm air as they get released back to the room. Through this evaporative way of cooling, the room temperature starts to sink. All without needing refrigerant. In fact, all you need is a power source and some water.


Portable air conditioning units are not just great for those who find it expensive and difficult to install a wall or a split-type unit, but it is also a good option if you just want to invest in one or two units to be used all around the house. If you find venting difficult, then a ventless model might be the right one for you.

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