A Comparison of the 3 Main Types of Single Room Air Conditioners



As the months heat up, air conditioners across the nation are beginning to surge back to life. For two thirds of U.S. homes, these are part of their HVAC system; but what if your residence doesn’t have central air conditioning? Or perhaps you have a central unit but are loathe to turn it on and watch your energy bills skyrocket? As much as 5% of the nation’s electricity is used by air conditioners.

If you’re in the latter category of people with expensive central AC units, you could always upgrade to a more efficient model. High-efficiency ACs, when coupled with other activities for cooling your home, can cut energy costs by 20% to 50%. If installing a new unit sounds expensive and time-consuming, though, there is another option: room air conditioners.

There are three major types of single room ACs available. We’ll cover the benefits and cons of each one in turn below.

Portable Air Conditioners

These are freestanding units that can be moved throughout your home to cool different areas. They operate by taking in the natural air in your room, removing heat and moisture from it, then putting out cool air. That warmth and moisture has to go somewhere, however. Portable AC units need a way of venting the heat and moisture they remove, which is often accomplished through a window kit included with the unit. However, venting can also occur through a wall hole or drop ceiling.

Benefits to Portable ACs

  • Low installation: they’re easy to set up and simple to use
  • Portability: you can move them from room to room
  • Removable: installation isn’t permanent
  • Affordable: costs vary, but it’s possible to find affordable options
  • Dual-purpose: you can find models which also have a heating function for year-round use

Cons to Portable ACs

  • Noisy: some find them to be noisy, particularly if used in a small space
  • Inefficient: portable ACs are generally less efficient than other room AC units

Window Air Conditioners

Window ACs are perhaps the most recognized room AC units available. They can be used in standard windows that slide up and down, slider windows which slide side to side, or casement windows that swing outwards. You’ll want to buy a unit that’s designed to fit in the window type your home has. Window ACs are self-contained and operate like portable ACs by exhausting heat and moisture from inside and returning cool air. They contain coils which are cooled using a refrigerant and use a compressor to funnel the cooled air into the room.

Benefits to Window ACs

  • Easy installation: you can typically install window AC units yourself
  • Energy-efficient: they can be used to cool small or large rooms
  • Dual-use: some units have a heat option
  • Tech friendly: you can find units with digital control boards and programmable timers

Cons to Window ACs

  • Noisy: most are quiet, but since they are self-contained in a single unit, they may be louder than other room AC options
  • Obstruct your view: whatever window you choose, you’ll have to give up at least part of your view
  • Removal during cold months: unless you buy a dual-purpose unit, you’ll likely want to remove the unit or winterize it during the cold months

Through-the-wall Air Conditioners

These ACs are like window ACs that have been designed to be installed through a wall instead of a window. They are installed through a chassis sleeve and differ from window ACs primarily in their installation design, cooling capacity, and weight. Through-the-wall units don’t vent through both sides because the wall-side vent would be blocked, lowering its efficiency. Installation is permanent, but doesn’t generally require a specialist. Just make sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Benefits to Window ACs

  • Streamlined installation: many can be installed flush with the wall, creating a
  • more streamlined look
  • Higher cooling capacity: through-the-wall models that offer higher cooling capacity than window ACs are available
  • Efficient: these are also efficient cooling options

Cons to Through-the-wall ACs

  • Heavy: these units weigh more than window ACs
  • Permanent: unlike portable ACs and window ACs these units are fixed because they rely on their wall sleeve for support
  • One-way venting: these units can typically only vent hot air through the back, unlike window ACs which have side and rear venting options