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Is a Portable AC a Good Solution for a Hot Room?

When Austin starts to turn extra steamy, problems with your air conditioner can become more apparent. That’s especially true during a global pandemic as we spend much more of our time inside of our homes. A very common problem we see all the time in Austin homes is a room that is warmer than all the others; we call it a hot spot. Internet searches may lead you to a portable AC to deal with that hot room, but is it really the best option?

What is a Portable AC and How Does it Work? 

A portable air conditioner is an all-in-one AC device that can provide cooling to a single area. Most units are about the size of a small chair or floor lamp. The device plugs into any wall outlet and provides cooling to the space. Because it is portable, you can move it from room to room as needed. Portable AC units usually have less than 1 Ton or 12,000 BTUs of capacity, which is enough for a single space.

Portable air conditioners work just like traditional air conditioners. Air conditioners use a refrigeration cycle to cool air. A chemical refrigerant continuously cycles through a series of pipes, valves, and other components that adjust the pressure and temperature of the fluid. 

This technology relies on the surrounding (or ambient) air to help the process along. On the inside, heat is transferred from the air in your home to the refrigerant inside the pipes. As heat leaves the air, it cools, and a fan inside the unit pushes the cooler air to the space. And viola! You feel more comfortable. 

But there’s still the other side of the refrigerant cycle. In a traditional air conditioner, the ambient air outside absorbs the heat from the refrigerant. That’s why if you put your hand over the fan on your outdoor unit, the air is even hotter than the surrounding area. For a portable air conditioner, this process still happens, except it happens inside. But no one would want that extra hot air dispersing in the space you are trying to cool. That’s why portable ACs require an exhaust duct that is connected to a window. This window vent allows that hot air to escape outside, helping to maintain the cool indoor space.  

Pros and Cons of Portable AC

For many Austinites, a portable air conditioner sounds like the perfect fix to a hot spot problem. It can cool a single space, it plugs into the wall, and it’s DIY – no expert installation required. And as a bonus – it’s portable! So when you host that big birthday bash, you can keep your guests comfortable. Or when Uncle Jimmy comes to visit, he can keep the guest bedroom as cold as he wants without freezing out the family. 

Unfortunately, portable air conditioners often turn out to be too good to be true. Most homeowners that purchase a portable AC discover a wide array of frustrations with it. Some of the most common problems include: 

  • Window Access and Install Required – that hot air must expel outside, which means a window must be nearby to your new portable air conditioner. And not only does your unit need to be near a window, most units have a special window plate to install. This makes the portable AC… well, not so portable. The window vent may not work well with window treatments like plantation shutters or curtains.
  • Floor Space Required – although many newer units have a sleek look, they still take up floor space. A portable AC is probably not what you had in mind when you put together that rustic farmhouse look. 
  • Cooling Only – if you have a hot spot, it is most likely also a cold spot in the winter. Keep in mind that portable ACs only provide cooling and not heating. So if you’re buying a portable AC for a hot spot, you might also need to buy a space heater for the same room. 
  • It Can Make You Even Less Comfortable – this may sound counterintuitive, but hear us out. Your central air conditioning system is controlling your entire home’s comfort based on indoor temperature – not how hot it is outside.  Adding extra cooling to a single space changes the balance of space temperature in your home. In other words, your central air conditioning system may not turn on as frequently as it used to. The result? Rooms that were previously comfortable can become hot and uncomfortable. So while you may feel comfortable in the room with the portable AC, now the rest of your home is too hot. 

Alternatives to Portable AC

A portable air conditioner is not the only solution to a hot space. Here at McCullough, we get calls from Austin homeowners all the time about hot spots. Every home and space is different, so our recommendations will vary depending on your specific needs. But some of the most common solutions are: 

  • AC Tuneup – yes, it’s true. A simple air conditioner tuneup could solve your hot spot problem. If you haven’t had your air conditioner serviced recently (…or ever), a hot spot could just be a symptom of an air conditioner in need of some TLC. 
  • AC Repair – another likely cause for a hot spot is that your air conditioner needs repair. Even if your A/C seems to run fine, a room that’s too warm shows that something isn’t right. This is especially true if this room hasn’t always been stifling hot. Our team can take a look at your unit and see if a repair is in order. 
  • Ductless mini-split – If the hot spot has always been a problem in your house, consider installing a ductless mini split unit. A mini-split is a smaller air conditioner that serves a single space, just like a portable AC. The difference is that you won’t need a window or floor space. Many ductless units are heat pumps which means they can cool AND heat. Our team can expertly design your mini-split system so it doesn’t interfere with the comfort of the rest of your home. Plus – mini-splits are extremely energy efficient. 

Call McCullough for Hot Room Troubleshooting

If you’re considering purchasing a portable air conditioning unit, call McCullough first. A portable AC is just treating a symptom, rather than solving the problem. We can evaluate what is wrong with your central AC, and fix the root cause. Call us anytime at (512) 280-0011.