Portable air conditioners can provide efficient cooling, only under specific conditions. Here’s what you need to know about portable air conditioners, as well as five recommended models to check out.
With work-from-home continuing to be the default mode in Singapore, many of us are now deprived of the free air-conditioning at our workplaces we used to take for granted.
Trying to work at home without some sort of cooling can range from challenging to downright impossible, depending on how merciless the weather decides to be that day.
Therein lies the dilemma. Do you turn on your home aircon during the day, thereby forcing your system into essentially 24/7 operation, shortening its operational lifespan while spiking your electricity bill and creating the need for more frequent servicing?
Or do you try to sweat your way through the oppressive heat, fighting off vivid fantasies of going diving with the polar bears at the North Pole as you struggle to complete your work?
Between these two extremes lie a compromise: a portable air conditioner that can be trotted out when required, or used to keep your personal workspace cool enough to fend off the fever daydreams and allow you to focus.
In this article, we’ll cover what you need to know about portable air conditioners, and recommend five cheap portable air conditioners in Singapore.
How does a portable air conditioner work?
A portable conditioner works in the exact same way its full-sized cousin does.
It draws in surrounding warm air and passes it over cooling coils, which cools the air and removes humidity in the process. This chilled air is then vented outwards, causing the temperature in the room to come down.
The removed humidity will condense into water form, which is usually gathered in a holding tank. You’ll need to regularly empty this tank as your machine may cease to work if it detects the tank is full.
In the process of cooling the air, the refrigerant in the cooling coils turns from liquid to gas. A compressor then compressors the gas back into liquid – a process that generates heat. This heat needs to be vented outside of the room you’re trying to cool; if this is not done, the room will not get cooled down, and you’ll simply be wasting good electricity in the process.
Hence, portable air conditioners come with a flexible hose, which you need to hang out of a window or sliding door for the hot air to be vented.
Other than this requirement, portable air conditioners mostly come ready to use out of the box. This is an attractive prospect for many users who do not wish to engage in messy installation work.
Are portable air conditioners and air coolers the same?
No, not even a tiny bit.
Portable air conditioners deliver cooled air using the same mechanics as a wall or window-mounted unit. A refrigerant is used, which switches states between liquid and gas to drive down the temperature and continuously keeps it low (or at the temperature you set).
Air coolers (or properly known as evaporative air coolers), on the other hand, make use of water-cooled coils to remove heat from the air and create some cooling. However, the water soon warms up with all that accumulated heat, drastically reducing the air cooler’s ability to create cool air.
As a result, you won’t get very far with an air cooler. Worse, the warmer your surroundings, the less cooling you’ll receive.
Some air coolers are marketed as portable air conditioners so definitely pay attention to what you’re buying. If the device requires filling up of a water tank to operate, know that you’re very likely looking at an evaporative air cooler, and not a proper air conditioner.
Is a portable air conditioner cheaper to run?
With their diminutive size, you’d think that portable air-conditioners are cheaper to run than wall-mounted split systems.
Well, not exactly.
You see, portable air conditioners are generally less efficient at cooling down air, which means they have to work harder to achieve a degree of cooling comparable to your wall-mounted unit or central aircon system.
This means that using a portable aircon the same way you would a full-sized one will likely cost more in electricity charges.
Plus, portable air conditioners aren’t exactly cheap – the more powerful models can cost close to the cost of a low-end wall-mounted system.
You may be better off just spending a bit more to get a split aircon system installed, especially if you’re trying to cool several rooms or the whole house at once.
That’s not to say that portable air conditioners are completely without merit. Under the right circumstances, they can be a pretty efficient cooling solution.
Tips for saving money when using portable air conditioners
Here are some tips to help reduce costs when using portable air conditioners.
Choose the right time to use it
If you’re just trying to get through a humid afternoon to finish up that PowerPoint presentation in the next hour or two, go ahead and turn on your portable aircon.
If however, it’s one of those days when you break out in sweat immediately after stepping out of a cold shower, your portable air conditioner is probably not going to cut it. In that case, you’re better off going with the wall-mounted unit.
Get the right size
As mentioned earlier, portable air conditioners have lower energy efficiency. Hence, you should get a more powerful unit, one that is rated for a slightly larger room than the one you’re planning to use it in. This will ensure adequate cooling when you need it. Besides, you can always use a lower setting.
Pair it with an air circulator
To help distribute the cold air throughout the room, try using your portable air conditioner together with an air circulator or ceiling fan. Moving air helps to remove moisture and heat from your body’s surface, and can make you feel cooler.
If you only have a standard desktop or standing fan, be sure to aim it the same direction as the cold air coming out of your portable aircon. If you cross the airstreams, you may not be able to feel the cooling effect properly.
Popular portable air conditioner models to help you work from home in comfort
|Portable aircon||Recommended for||Price|
|Cool Focus||Hose-free, compact operation||S$569 at Lazada|
|Sona Portable Air Conditioner||Powerful, portable cooling||S$449 at Amazon|
|Europace EPAC 12T2||Affordable cooling for small rooms||S$429 at Shopee|
|Honeywell MN10CES||3-in-1 air conditioner, fan and dehumidifier||S$673.56 at Lazada|
|Avolta A007E-10C||Personal cooling in small spaces||S$349 at Avolta|
An Australian invention, the Cool Focus personal air conditioner is the first of its kind that offers true hoseless, stand-alone operation.
All you have to do is to plug it in, flip open the vent covers and point it at the area you want cooled. No need to hang a house out of the window or point it out of the room (and inadvertently heating up another area of your home). The warm air is instead directed upwards towards the ceiling, while a steady flow of chilled air keeps you nice and cool.
Cool Focus is marketed as a person cooler, and not a room cooler. It works by creating a zone of chilled air to keep the heat away from you. Hence, you shouldn’t expect it to cool your entire room, especially since the device vents the heat back into the same environment.
However, if you want an even more powerful cooling effect, the company sells a collapsible igloo, which you can use to create your personal air-conditioned bubble.
You could also try using Cool Focus with an air circulator to help spread the cooling around a larger area.
Sona Portable Air Conditioner
Standing at only 71 cm tall, this compact yet powerful portable air conditioner is capable of up to 10,000 BTU (British Thermal Units) of cooling output.
The unit offers temperature settings as low as 18 degrees Celsius, yet produces less than 54 dD of noise during operation.
It owes its strong cooling ability to the use of R410A, the same refrigerant gas that is found in wall-mounted aircon units.
The machine comes with a five-year warranty on its compressor (arguably the heart of any refrigeration system), assuring you of a long service life.
Europace EPAC 12T2
Rated for up to 12,000 BTU of cooling capacity, this wallet-friendly air conditioner from Europace is a good option if you’re looking to cool a small room.
The EPAC 12T2 features a twin-motor design which helps to achieve faster cooling, so you don’t have to wait too long for the heat to dissipate from your space.
Europace recommends this device for up to 170 sq ft of area coverage. It also has an auto swing function (left and right) to help the cool air reach further (but don’t expect a gale-force airstream).
Noise during operation is measured at between 50 to 54 dB, so light sleepers may find it a bit too noisy for nighttime use.
Because air conditioners work by moving air around and removing humidity from the air, they can also act as a dehumidifier or a fan (although for the latter, you’ll want a reasonably strong motor to be able to move enough air volume).
The Honeywell MN10CES is a portable air conditioner that is robust enough to also deliver effective dehumidifier and fan functions. This makes it a value-for-money option if you’re also seeking these capabilities, on top of just cooling your room.
The machine is rated for 10,000 BTU cooling capacity, with an effective coverage area of up to 140 sq ft. It also has auto-evaporative capabilities when operating in air-conditioning mode, so there’s no need for excess water removal.
However, when switched to dehumidifier mode, the device is capable of removing up to 30 litres of moisture from the air in 24 hours. A water drainage hose is supplied along with the unit to safely and conveniently displace the water during dehumidification.
If you only want to cool a small bedroom or personal workspace, and don’t want to spend too much, the Avolta A007E-10C may be what you’re looking for.
Made for small spaces, this portable air conditioner reaches up to only 68 cm high and 32 cm wide, making it easy to tuck into a corner or under the window.
The device is rated for a full cooling capacity of 10,000 BTU, but will perform at its best in spaces not more than 107 sq ft.
It even comes with fan and dehumidifier modes, which you can easily access via the soft-touch panel or the remote control.
Not too shabby, considering the sub-S$400 price point.
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By Alevin Chan
An ex-Financial Planner with a curiosity about what makes people tick, Alevin’s mission is to help readers understand the psychology of money. He’s also on an ongoing quest to optimise happiness and enjoyment in his life.