Portable Air Conditioner Or Mini Split? Which Is Best?

Your outside heat is still cranking up, and in some places, it may be getting to nearly lava cave levels. You may be wanting to invest in a portable AC unit or mini-split, but which one is better?

There are many differences between a mini-split and a portable AC unit. A mini-split is designed more like an air conditioning unit. In contrast, a mobile AC unit will be a substitution and bonus to make your living lifestyle more comfortable. 

This article aims to inform you which of these two can best suit your individual needs and give you the information required to make a sound decision with your family.

What Is A Mini Split?

Starting with the basics, a mini-split system links two separate rooms to a compressor that is located outside. The warm air inside the room runs over several coils and is absorbed. Finally, the refrigerant inside the unit transfers the excess heat outdoors.

Essentially, it filters the heat inside and pushes it out, thus reducing the room’s temperature. When you purchase a portable air conditioner or a mini-split, both measure its ability to heat room sizes in BTUs.

It is essential to know how many BTUs are required to cool your room, so you buy a strong unit for your needs, but let’s dig deeper into BTUs in general.

What Is A BTU?

By definition, a BTU is a British Thermal Unit, which effectively measures the heat required to raise the temperature of precisely one pound of water by one degree in Fahrenheit.

Suppose we were to boil this down (no pun intended); the more significant the room, the more BTUs your unit would need to generate to cool said room down effectively.

Thankfully this measurement is universal for both the portable AC, and mini-split so you won’t need any excess information, but what you will need is the approximate size of the room.

In this case, if we ran with the smallest room size supported by most units, it would be 400 to 450 square feet, and to cool that room, you would need a system that produces a bare minimum of 10,000 BTUs.

Bearing this in mind, operate on the measure twice, buy once the rule of thumb to save yourself some money and time, as purchasing a far too big unit or too small could cost you in the long term on heating and cooling costs.

The Difference Between Portable AC Units & Mini Split

Portable AC UnitMini Split
CostBetween $200-600Between $3500-8500
AppearanceEither plain and modern or sci-fi looking.Very plain looking & not appealing to the eye.
ConvenienceCan be moved between rooms with less of a hassle & is easy to install.Better in one room, but provides much-needed comfort by what temperature it brings to the room.
FunctionalityCools quickly & potentially dehumidifiers the area (depending on the type you get.)Controlling your room’s temperature year-round according to the room’s needs (hot & cold function.)

Now that we have the fundamentals out of the way, you are probably wondering what the primary differences between these two types of units are and why one could potentially be better than the other.

Reason To Use A Portable AC Unit

The answer to this lies entirely in how you plan on using the units themselves; you use a portable AC unit as a temporary arrangement to overcome a heating issue or a compliment on top of an existing AC system.

Reason To Use A Mini Split System

A mini-split is a precise AC system that allows for a single room to have a unique temperature instead of the temperature of the entire house. This system comprises multiple “split” units installed in various house rooms, without the con of having to pay for duct installation at that. 

Not only this, but mini-split units can heat and cool a room, where portable AC units only cool in almost every case.

Saving Money

1. Initial Costs

Facts in hand, it’s time to go over your average costs on the units and where the expenses for these investments are going. It’s worth keeping in mind there is a dramatic price difference between these two because one is an alternative AC method.

In contrast, the other is meant to cool a room down on top of existing AC installation, so comparing them is hard, to begin with. Bearing this in mind, let’s go over some price estimates and see which option will work best with that understanding in place.

Portable Air Conditioner Cost

As with all cooling options, the size of the room you attempt to get to a comfortable temperature will entirely dictate how much the unit itself will cost, never mind the excess features on top of that. 

A bottom-of-the-barrel portable AC unit will run you roughly $200 and, on average, will only cover 5,000 BTU, with specific settings on the model allowing it to substitute at most 8,000 BTU.

The higher-end models with dehumidifier, fan, and cooling options can offer BTUs of up to 14,000 BTU sitting at that price tag of $600.

For more information on energy cost per hour, refer to this BTU calculator

Suppose we were to be even more considerate of what portable AC units can provide in terms of cosmetic appeal. In that case, you might say you can find more interest in them than mini-split units.

This is primarily because they typically only come in white or beige choices, where portable AC units offer a bit more flair. 

Mini Split AC Unit Cost

Time for a massive price hike, and a good reason. As we said above, mini-split units are a proper AC solution. As such, they will have labor fees and more attached and designed to perform in ways that portable AC units cannot.

Your lowest figure for a mini-split AC installation would be around $3500 from a licensed and reputable company. This is considering the following:

  • Electrical needs that might have to be built.
  • The line set length, which governs how the refrigerant travels from the outside to the inside.
  • How many zones or rooms are covered.

The more steps required to get your unit functioning at the end of the day, the more costly it will be, with a house operating over three zones or more topping off at $8500 in some cases.

2. Difference In Appearance

Looks aren’t everything, but that phrasing doesn’t apply when it comes to meeting an aesthetic in your household. Portable AC’s are much smaller and don’t have nearly the kind of installation required to get up and run. The tubes running outside and inside your home will not be as apparent with a portable AC as a mini-split. 

Portable Air Conditioner Appearance

In most cases, portable AC units are relatively small. Some top over two feet tall and come in various colors and designs to meet the interior decorator in you, ranging from plain and modest to very modern and almost sci-fi looking.

The sleek shapes offered by these kinds of systems will always provide more variety than a mini-split. If you were so inclined, you could decorate it yourself.

Still, any paint or other kind of spillage into your unit after personal modification may void any warranties you have on the product and should be considered before doing.

Mini-Split AC Unit Appearance

Split units are designed to meet a specific need and not much else. The style and color scheme on these units often comes off extremely basic and is not very appealing.

This is speaking directly from a head unit perspective as well. The outside of your home will also suffer from venting hoses and electrical panels that may need to be installed to get your mini-split system working.

Thankfully for the tubes, most installation companies offer ducts that can cover these up to make them less intrusive looking, but at an additional cost. 

3. Convenience Of Window & Portable AC Units Vs. Mini Split Units

You would think convenience would come at a higher price, but the opposite is almost the case between these two. With portable AC units sometimes costing roughly a tenth of the price of a mini-split installation, you may be left to wonder why that is or what the benefits to these may be.

Portable AC Unit Convenience

If you were looking for a quick solution to a simple cooling problem, you can’t do better than a portable AC unit. They are easy to install, come relatively cheap, and can be moved from room to room if you don’t need to utilize different rooms simultaneously.

Doing so would require you to do a modest amount of work to pull them back and forth, setting up the ventilation hose in the process. However, if you were attempting to save the most money, this would be the best bet. 

However, buying multiple units would still be cheaper than installing a mini-split AC, assuming it was strictly cooling your home.

Mini Split AC Units Convenience

While the price tag is heavier on these units, you will be getting more versatility out of them. With convenience being the game’s name here, you won’t do better than the mini-split because this is their entire function.

Mini-splits are meant to give you complete control over a single room’s temperature outside of the temperature set by your central AC system. As such, you can make the room meet whatever heating or cooling needs you may have.

The mini-split is functional year-round, where the portable AC is only beneficial during the hotter portions of the year unless you want to freeze yourself out by getting colder in the winter. This may make the portable AC let you live your winter wonderland dreams for pennies on the dollar.

4. Difference In Functionality

There is a primary difference in how these units perform and be used, with both fitting a particular niche daily. Not only that, but one is only viable for half of the year, where the other is not only year-round but designed to keep you comfortable in your favorite portions of the house.

Portable AC Unit Functionality

The primary function of the portable AC is to cool, and in that endeavor, it does so admirably and cheaply. You don’t need to do a lot of work to make it happen. If you went with a costlier unit, you would benefit by having access to a dehumidifier or a fan of the need to arise.

The dehumidifier would be the bread and butter of excess functionality, though. It reduces moisture in a basement would function not only as a deterrent for poor comfortability but a deterrent for most common pests that need water to thrive.

Mini Split AC Unit Functionality

A mini-split functionality comes in controlling a room’s temperature to your specific needs year-round, hot or cold, and without the con of making your family suffer from you being hot or cold-blooded to boot.

You won’t be keeping bugs out of your basement with one of these bad boys, but your family also won’t be bugging you to turn the temperature up or down constantly, and that is a boon you can count on.

Conclusion

In short, a portable AC is genuinely only a viable solution during the summer months. It even then will only be cooling one room, with bonuses of pest control depending, where the mini-split has you covered year-round, with a considerable price hike for that exact purpose.

These needs would change depending on where you lived and your preferences, but you can make a more sound decision with the information provided herewith any luck.

Photo of author

Hubert Miles

I've been conducting home inspections for 17 years. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and FHA 203k Consultant. I started HomeInspectionInsider.com to help people better understand the home inspection process and answer questions about homeownership and home maintenance.
DISCLAIMER: The content published on HomeInspectionInsider.com is not professional advice. You should consult with a licensed professional and check local permit requirements before starting any project.
HomeInspectionInsider.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. We also participate in other affiliate programs with other affiliate sites. We are compensated for referring traffic and business to these companies.