Portable Air Conditioning Units Versus Evaporative Coolers - Which to Buy?

Need a quick fix to stay cool with the summer heat but don't know your options? There are two ways of keeping cool during the summer without having a centralized air conditioning unit installed at your home. Portable air conditioning units may be a more affordable way to cool down specific rooms in a house during the hot summer months. However, there are disadvantages (expensive to buy/run, need to vent outdoors). An evaporative cooler may make more sense and cents (cheaper to buy/run, no venting necessary), but they're not for everyone and every climate.

So how do you know which is the best option for you? Let's start by discussing each option.

Portable Air Conditioning Unit

Photo Credit:  yourbestdigs  via  Compfight   cc

Photo Credit: yourbestdigs via Compfight cc

Portable air conditioning unit function similarly to a central air conditioning system. It releases fresh air and expels hot air from an indoor space. The difference is portable air conditioning unit cools one room and requires an opening, such as a window, doorway, or mail slot, to expel the hot air via a tube connected to the portable air conditioning unit.

What's Great About Portable Air Conditioning Units:

  • No Installation Required. Portable air conditioning units require absolutely no installation.
  • Mobility.  Portable air conditioning units can be used wherever needed in the house and can easily be moved from one room to another.
  • Operate on 120 Volts. Portable air conditioning units can be plugged into a regular outlet in your home, unlike air conditioning units that require special high amperage circuits to operate.
  • Convenient. No permanent installation. If you move, you can take your portable air conditioning unit with you.
  • Energy Efficient. Small areas in a home can be cooled without using the amount of energy required to cool the entire house.
  • No Duct Work Needed. 

What's Not-So-Great About Portable Air Conditioning Units:

  • Generates noise. Portable air conditioning units are not quite the quietest way to stay cool.
  • Not Economical. Portable air conditioning units blow in hot air along with cool air.
  • Moisture Collection. The unit pulls in moisture that will eventually need to be discarded by the user or drained with another hose to an opening.
  • Large rooms will not be able to cool adequately.
  • Refrigeration Chemicals. Just like central air conditioning units, it contains refrigeration chemicals.
  • Openings. The tube that releases hot air requires an opening, such as a window, doorway, or mail slot. Dust and pollen will be able to get inside and may affect those with allergies. This can also bring up safety issues, such as a home burglary. 
  • Maintenance Costs. Since portable air conditioning units are a complex technology, maintenance costs will be high.

Evaporative Cooler AKA Swamp Cooler

Photo Credit:  insomnix  via  Compfight   cc

Photo Credit: insomnix via Compfight cc

Evaporative coolers, which are also known as swamp coolers, take in fresh outside air and send the air through moist pads where it is cooled by evaporation and circulated through a house or building by a large blower. As this happens, the temperature of the outside air can be lowered as much as 30 degrees. The outside air must be dry and desert-like for the cooler to work effectively. Luckily in California, this won't be too much of a problem, so it can still be considered as an option to stay cool.

What's Great About Evaporative Coolers:

  • No Installation Required. Evaporative coolers require absolutely no installation.
  • Energy Efficient. Evaporative coolers use as much as 75% less electricity as air conditioning units do. Some California utility services offer rebates for purchasing evaporative coolers.
  • Simpler Technology. Simple technology means lower costs. Evaporative coolers cost a lot less than air conditioning units.
  • Operate on 120 Volts. Evaporative coolers can be plugged into a regular outlet in your home, unlike air conditioning units that require special high amperage circuits to operate.
  • Efficient Air Filters. The moisture pads located inside the evaporative cooler traps some dust and pollen, which it will then flush out and traps at the bottom of the cooler.
  • Complete Air Change. Since at least one window must be opened to operate, complete air change in a home occurs every 1 to 3 minutes.
  • No Duct Work Needed. 
  • Good for the Environment.

What's Not-So-Great About Evaporative Coolers:

  • Dependent on Dry Air. To operate efficiently, evaporative coolers depend on dry air. Humid air does not work well with the cooler. If used during high humidity, moisture pads will begin to smell and will output that smell to the house.
  • Requires Water. The moisture pads in the cooler require water. For drought sensitive locations this cooler might not be the best option. Depending on how long the cooler is used each day, water consumption can run from 3-15 gallons of water a day.
  • Warmer Air. If the cooler is connected to an air duct, the air will be warmer than the air supplied by an air conditioning unit.
  • Ventilation. Since at least one window must be open for the cooler to work efficiently, dust and pollen will be able to get inside and may affect those with allergies.

Taking these pros and cons of each, you can determine whether the portable air conditioning unit or the evaporative cooler would be a fit for you.