Window Air Conditioners Better Than Portable? We Find Out

On that hot summer day, you may be wondering what on Earth you can do to stop your home from being so warm. You are doing research and stumble across many things you can do:

  • Drink iced water.
  • Place fans all over your home.
  • Invest in a window or portable AC unit. 

However, you might be wondering which one is best suited for your home. You know both a window air conditioner and portable air conditioner will keep your home cool, but you still need more information. 

Determining what your needs are, you might like one better than the other. However, in a nutshell, a portable air conditioner is best served in terms of installation and portability. On the other hand, window air conditioning units will save you a bit of money, space and be quieter if you prefer these options. 

Both window and portable AC units have their pros and cons for sure, but this article delves into which one will suit your needs best. Keep reading to find out the ultimate guide over the two! 

How Do AC Units Work? 

Your average air conditioning unit functions in four main parts that make the entire process work as a whole. 

1st: The first portion involves taking the heat from inside the house and having the refrigerant absorb it. The evaporator coil inside the unit does this.

2nd: After the refrigerant has absorbed heat from the air it has taken, it recycles said air throughout the house utilizing fans that blow the cold air. This is done with the various systems of ducts you have to get each room back into the desired temperature. 

3rd: The next step in the process is having the compressor raise the refrigerant’s internal temperature. 

This is necessary to prepare it for the condensing process, which occurs after the compressor has done its job by decreasing the gas’ volume enough to become a vapor of sorts.

4th: Now that it is time for the condenser to shine, this little beauty’s entire job is to expose the heated vapors from the compressor to the air that is outside.

The compressor allows heat from the refrigerant to be absorbed and lowers the temperature of the refrigerant in the process. In return, it gives a way to let the cycle repeat itself once the refrigerant has cooled itself once again. 

Takeaway From How AC Units Work

This entire process may sound excessively complicated, especially if you don’t have any previous knowledge of HVAC appliances or how they work. 

Still, the shortest breakdown possible would be hot air is taken from your home, ran through some electrical work in the machine, cooled, and released into your home. 

Right alongside this, the efficiency of this process is measured in a particular unit called a BTU. This measurement is handy for determining what size of unit you need based on its BTU output, but more on that below!

What Is A BTU?

BTU is an acronym that stands short for British Thermal Unit or the essential measurement of the energy required to increase the overall temperature of a pound of water by 1° Fahrenheit. 

This unit of measurement is the gold standard in how efficient an air conditioner is and how large of a room it can handle with the amount of power it can produce. 

So, knowing the size of your space is imperative to getting an air conditioner that can cool it sufficiently. 

There are charts and graphs online that will easily depict how many BTU you require to cover a room online. However, you can go to this BTU calculator to efficiently help you. 

If you wish to have an example, your average space of 400-450 square feet, for example, would need a minimum of 9,900 to 10,500 BTU to sufficiently cool the room.

Bearing this in mind, take time to measure your room (or, in some cases, rooms) and shop accordingly. If you get a unit that is too large or too small, it will not function properly. 

It will have a dramatic effect on whether or not your room is cooled enough, or in extreme cases, not at all. For this purpose alone, you want to measure twice, cut once logic, and replace cutting with purchasing obviously.

What Needs Do You Have? 

Okay, now we have a fundamental idea of how AC itself works. However, you may be wondering what kind of AC would fit best with my family dynamic, or at the very least, meet my needs? 

Well, that question in itself brings us to an essential part of breaking down whether or not a window air conditioning unit would work better for you than a portable one.

If you want to invest in either or, you may be wondering what specific needs you have. Ask yourself these questions beforehand:

1. What Kind Of Storage Do I Have Available?

Whether you go with a window or portable air conditioner, the placement of your air conditioning unit will determine the amount of effect it has on your home and how large of one you will need. 

There are a substantial number of reasons why the exact location of your unit matters. Still, the largest would be making sure it has ample room to function correctly and is not obscured by other furniture. This could complicate the device taking in enough air and, by association, not cooling the space as intended.

2. Is My Home Big Enough To Fit A Portable AC Unit?

This question goes hand in hand with the last bit provided above. If your room is too crowded and it blocks or hinders the intake, your money isn’t working for you as intended. 

You are going to wind up being just as hot and miserable as you were before. However, now you have a charming decoration on display, hogging more room. 

Try to find a unit that will comfortably cool the room you are installing by measuring the said room. You will want to be cross-referencing that size with how many BTU (British Thermal Units) are required to sufficiently cool said room. 

There are many graphs and comparisons online to make this portion of the purchase a breeze. Doing your due diligence here and providing ample space for the unit to function will make all the difference in the world.

3. Do I Want Something That Will Do Well In One Specific Room Or Multiple?

After you riddle yourself with the above question about BTU, you have to decide whether or not you will want to have multiple units or if one will do the job. 

This boils down to the amount of time you spend in that room. Another reason to determine is the size of your house in general.

If you are working from home or spending vast amounts of time in your living room, becoming a steamed lobster would not be the prime choice. 

As such, a unit for either of those rooms would make perfect sense. However, having one in the guest room installed may not be an exceptional choice due to the expense of the machine and lack of utility.

Take your time and consider how your daily life plays out and purchase based on that decision. 

Even more so, if you do not live alone and have to take your family’s needs and comfort into consideration, be sure to go by the BTU guide for their rooms for maximum efficiency and comfort.

Are Window Air Conditioners Better Than Portable?

If one is better than the other, the more viable choice here boils down to need specifications. We will dive into a few examples and provide you with enough information to be confident in your decision by the end of this article! 

  • Example 1: If you cannot abide by having excess clutter in your home, the portable air conditioner will not work for you. This is because it will sit in the open and be annoying to stare at. Your best bet would be a window AC unit at this point. 
  • Example 2: For those of you who would not want to have the neighbors staring at something jutting out of your windows, then a portable air conditioning unit would be your best bet.
  • Example 3: If you are concerned with codes and regulations in play regarding that new addition to your home, a window unit will also not work for you in that situation.

While portable air conditioning units are extremely easy to install and operational, window units have a distinct advantage. The advantage is making the most of the energy consumed and typically offering a better BTU rating by association. 

Be sure to weigh these options out while making your choice, but view the graphs below for a more transparent breakdown.

Simply comparing information blindly here won’t do any justice, so the happy medium we will use for the chart below would be based on what’s considered a staple among the BTU measurement, the 10,000 BTU size room. 

The information listed below will run between comparable units that would cool a room fitting of that size.

Portable AC UnitWindow AC Unit
Price$300-400$150-550
InstallationEasyDifficult
PortabilityEasyDifficult
Noise VolumeLouderQuieter
Saving SpaceWider, and on the floorPrimarily Outside
Saving Money

1. Price

Unfortunately, your average pricing metric for both units has many deviations depending on the number of features available and the size covered. 

In most cases, you can see a variance of roughly $100 for a 300 square foot coverage in a portable AC unit. 

Still, the same size for a window unit might show you a price difference ranging from $150 to over $550. 

On the other hand, for a portable air conditioner, you are looking at a price range of $300-400. 

So what is the better of the two? Well, the price of a window AC unit would be a bit more on the expensive side, but that does not mean a window AC unit could outshine the portable AC unit in terms of price. So, this will all depend on what you prefer. 

For a bit more information, the price ranges usually mean the difference between being quieter, offering more luxury options like digital thermostats, remotes for those devices, and Wi-Fi capability. 

As always, check and see what meets your needs and make an informed decision based on that. In most cases, the price range itself won’t be an incredibly significant part of the equation.

Based on 10,000 BTU coverage (300 square feet), these two prices down below will be around what you will budget out for the unit of your choice: 

  • Window Air Conditioner Price: Roughly $294
  • Portable Air Conditioner Price: Roughly $329

2. Installation 

Portable Air Conditioner Installation

Your standard install on a window unit will be much more cumbersome as compared to a portable unit. This is assuming you are capable of the most normalized lifting and bending without health complications being involved. 

Why would it be more brutal, you might ask? Because it is due to the window panel installation method being made easy with a window kit. 

On the contrary, all you have to do with a portable air conditioner is pop the gear in, link the hose, secure it to the window panel, and that is pretty much the job done. 

The only issue with a portable air conditioner is a water tank you will constantly have to be draining out. If you have some DIY method to avoid this issue, it may not be much of a problem.

However, it is essential to ensure you do not do anything the manufacturer’s label does not say. It could void the warranty if any issues occur later. 

Window Air Conditioning Unit

Alternatively, a window installation requires much more effort by association and is considerably heavier to boot. With most units weighing in at over 50 pounds, it is easy to see why this could get annoying fast.

Other than getting frustrated, if your health is not the greatest, or you do not have anyone to lend you a hand, the window AC unit might not be the choice for you. 

In this case, the better of the two would be the portable AC unit instead of the window AC unit due to the complications during the installation process. 

However, make sure you note that once the window AC is installed, you will not have to do anything else with it for quite a while, at least until you are in the summer. 

Not to mention you will not have any water tank to take in and out continuously. Having no water tank to drain may be more appealing to you than a window AC unit, which you do not have to do so. 

3. Portability

Portable Air Conditioner Portability

In today’s modern age, how easily something can fit into a myriad of locations and having flexibility in usage is the name of the game, and AC units are exceptions. 

A standard portable AC unit has an extreme advantage in portability due to its easy installation and lightweight accessibility. Most portable air conditioners come with wheels that allow you to maneuver them around freely. This lends itself to be much more helpful in other rooms by association. 

Window Air Conditioner Portability

On the other hand, our windowed friend suffers from not only being perimeter and hard to maneuver but having a delayed and exhausting installation process not suitable for everyone’s physical capabilities. 

As such, the portable unit has a distinct and decisive win here.\

4. Noise

Overall functionality aside, now we get into more choices and are based on personal desires, thus entering noise levels. 

Here the sky’s the limit, or we suppose decibels (dB rating) might be the better measurement. Still, regardless, noise pollution will be an expected problem for the portable AC unit, but much less so coming from Window AC units.

Portable Air Conditioning Unit Noise

Portable AC units function entirely in your home, meaning whatever sounds created during the operation of the unit will be ambient throughout the entire time it is on.

Truthfully, it may be a bit hard to hear your household members at times while turned on, especially if you already have a noisy home. In this case, the noise may not bother you as much. On the contrary, if your home is relatively quiet, then it may not be your best option. 

Window Air Conditioning Unit Noise

Going into window units, most of the sound that is made is outside of your home, which lends favor to you enjoying it on the inside with sound reduction from the loud end. 

Even though the window unit might be more pleasant on your ears, it will not be the case for neighbors or anyone who spends time outside the home on hot days. 

Finally, most AC units offer a decibel rating. If noise is an issue you cannot abide by, purchase one with a lower dB rating.

Portable AC Unit

5. Saving Space

Having room to play, or better store your belongings is something to cherish indeed, but not a commodity you will have excessive amounts of if you purchase multiple portable AC’s. 

Portable Air Conditioning Units Space Saving

Portable units have to be stationed in your home and take up a considerable amount of space by that same logic.

Not only do they eat some room from your living space, they usually do not fit in comfortably anywhere without losing functionality, which means you can find yourself in some very awkward furniture alignments in getting one.

Window AC Units Space Saving

Window AC units are much larger, but most people do not store things on their walls or windows. Due to this, a window unit would have a concise advantage over a portable unit. 

Needless to say, window AC units will save your floor some space, but not so much in terms of the walls due to their bulkiness. 

What Are The Advantages & Disadvantages Of Each?

There are going to be pros and cons to each of the units, which will make a clear winner for your lifestyle evident based upon your unique needs. As such, let’s dive in so we can get a detailed look at which combination of perks fits you and your family’s lives best.

Window Air Conditioner Pros & Cons

Assuming we were to remove window regulations and aesthetics aside, the window air condition might come to this battle very heavy-handed, being more energy efficient and cheaper are considerable perks to take into consideration, even more so coupled with saving room for your more essential furnishings and being less noisy, but not all that glitters is gold.

The perks of the window AC unit are also more or less the same things that give it problems, not taking up floor space means it has to stick out of your window like a sore thumb and depending on if you spring for a model with a lower dB level, can make outside parties, barbeques or generally walking by annoying due to the rattling noise of operation. 

Not only this but the window AC unit is a hefty piece of equipment for some people, and if you are alone and not exactly at the pinnacle of health, just installing one can be difficult or outright dangerous. Below you will find a quick summary of this information for visual purposes.

PROSCONS
It takes up no floor spaceIt can be ugly outside the window
Most of the sound is outsideNoisey for patio/outdoor festivities
More BTU efficientMuch heavier to work with
Cheaper on average for BTU coverageIt cannot be moved around easily 
Gain more accessories for the same costDifficult installation
Codes and regulations may not allow one
Having several can make the home clunky

Portable Air Conditioner Pros & Cons

Ah yes, the fast and the frozen, well, at least short on installation. At any rate, the portable AC has a lot of credibilities just from its namesake. It is portable and easy to deal with in most regards. 

Its compact size and weight make installing one easy. Portable AC units can be placed just about anywhere, assuming you don’t mind undoing the short installation process to put it into another room. 

Another perk from the portable AC comes from that same installation. Depending on the situation, you can vent the unit upwards and through a roof or ceiling, making more secured rooms like storage for servers a need. 

Almost all of the above make the portable AC unit a nice piece of equipment, but it also has its drawbacks.

Starting with the obvious, all the portability in the world doesn’t change what it is, a unit that sits directly on the floor. While this might not raise an eye in most situations, there are circumstances where this can be a problem. 

If you value your space and have a particular cosmetic design of your home you are looking for, adding a portable unit can very well ruin that. 

There are quite a few design pallets to work with, and more enterprising DIY experts can paint theirs and make it mesh more fluidly. 

The DIY method is an investment of time, money. It can void any warranties the unit has, and as such, isn’t exactly a boon.

More to the point, from a cost-efficient perspective, you are spending more money to cool the room’s exact size compared to a window unit. For those who pride themselves on efficiency, this can stem the tide. 

One final thing to be wary of is interaction from other sources. Small children and animals tend to be more rambunctious than cautious. They will have the chance to run directly into this unit or tamper with it in the form of chewing or clawing at the system, to outright running into it and knocking it over. 

Just like the window AC unit, below is a quick and easy view of the pros and cons of the portable AC unit.

PROSCONS
Easily moves from room to roomTakes up room for furniture
Installation is quick and easyPollutes room with constant noise
Most come with remotesLess BTU efficient overall
Having multiple rooms makes life comfyCostlier for same BTU coverage
It can fit well with modern designsChildren and animals can tamper with them

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, the information provided here will be sufficient enough to allow you to make an informed decision on which air conditioner will fit better in your life than the other. 

Unfortunately, you can’t have a clear-cut winner in this comparison because the differences only matter based upon your own specific needs. 

Family function, housing decor, safety, and other concerns should be considered even after the usual price factor rears its head.

Being comfortable and happy in the summer alongside your family is something everyone desires. Doing so in a way that keeps an argument from arising in your home is the goal of this article. Take your time, discuss the information here with those in your home and enjoy the summer with a cool head!

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.
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