One question I get a lot in this business has to do with figuring out how you can best work around a house that doesn’t have central air, but needs some climate control. I know as well as you do that a lot of portable air conditioners are bulky and awkward to use, so we’ve spent a lot of time trying to help people find the smallest options on the market.
It’s a tough nut to crack because like a lot of appliances, the larger the air conditioner, the more power it’s going to put out. You can downsize to something that’s appropriate to your space but eventually there’s a threshold where the compact a/c unit just can’t keep up with the air in the room and it’ll struggle to make a difference. The other problem I know I’ve run into from the installation side of the picture is that we’ve had more than a few buyers call us back because their compact machines stopped working pretty shortly after we’d gotten them set up. So, trust me, I know it’s a struggle to find the small machines that actually work well.
In my experience, the smallest of these portable a/c units that actually works well is made by Edgestar. They have a range of air conditioning equipment out, but I’ve actually found that the smallest ones are the best, since their larger units are a bit iffy in the quality department. Somehow, it seems like they’ve got it right with the smallest one. The one I like the best is called the Ultra Compact, specifically the 8000 BTU model. It’s good up to about 200 square feet, so it’s enough to easily tackle your average bedroom. That’s the most common application I’ve seen for one of these, but it would also be good if you’ve got a home office that gets too hot. I was also pleased to find that they integrated a dehumidifier into the design. As an HVAC guy, I’m used to explaining to people that what’s making them uncomfortable isn’t always the heat by itself, it’s usually to do with the humidity as well. This is one of the only small machines I’ve seen that does both and does them well.
The one caveat I would make as far as this Edgestar machine is that it’s really small, and you have to know what to expect from it. It can’t handle anything more than 200 square feet, and you should probably round down further if you’re expecting it to make a drastic difference (like taking things from 90 down to 70). But for what it is, I think it’s really great, and I’ve heard mostly good things from clients who’ve had me install one.
For larger spaces, the best compact unit I’ve seen is Friedrich’s P12B from their ZoneAir series. It’s a bit bigger than the Edgestar but it’s still relatively compact, about the size of a drinks cooler or something like that. The major difference is this one has two hoses, which makes it more effective, but it also takes up more hose space and it needs more room in the window. I would still say it’s worth it, though, because it’s a great machine. It dehumidifies like the Edgestar and this one even evaporates all the moisture so you don’t have to empty a bucket. You should be good for about twice the range on this one, up to 400 square feet. Buyers who’ve gone with these are really impressed with the reliability–which is even better than the Edgestars and definitely better than Frigidaire’s, who make the other common A/C’s at this size class.
If course, those are just the portable ones. You can go a lot smaller with a/c units for an HVAC system, probably to the tune of about half the size, since the unit doesn’t have to have its own fan power onboard. You also don’t notice the size as much on an HVAC system because you’re almost certainly going to be installing all the equipment in the basement. I know HVAC a/c’s are more pricey, but as a professional who installs these things for a living, I can tell you that it’s always a smarter move to upgrade your HVAC than to go for the portable route.
For everyone else, I’d recommend either the Edgestar or the Friedrich as the best, smallest air conditioner you can use to make a real difference in a room or two, or in an apartment size space. Give me a shout if you have any questions about which one to go for, or what you need to do for you windows to get the exhaust hoses hooked up.