Costs for Portable Air Conditioners
OWNING, RENTING, OPERATING, AND MAINTAINING
Small units are usually best to purchase. For larger units, shop for price, service, and warranty or rental agreement to determine whether to buy or rent.
Portable Air Conditioner Cost to Own or Rent
Owning a portable air conditioner would be better than renting if
- you’re cooling a small area
- if you can handle installation on your own or
- if you’ll only need a one-time professional installation of any sized unit.
Rental companies generally don’t rent units smaller than 1-ton.
The smallest portable air conditioners are much more cost effective to purchase than to rent. A one-hose unit (the simplest and least expensive technology) with 7,000 to 12,000 BTUs of cooling capacity can be purchased for under $300 USD.
With an average of 100 square feet per ton of air conditioning (12,000 Btus = 1 ton), this small unit could work for a small shed or 10×10 tent with sidewalls. Units around this size are relatively easy to transport and set up yourself or with a friend. Pricing is based largely on cooling capacity, but more durability, more features and better warranties will naturally increase the price as well. Learn what to consider in choosing a size for your air conditioner.
If you have a large area to cool, especially if installation is complicated, and only need it cooled for a limited time, consider renting. Rental companies can design, install and remove equipment for events lasting from one hour to one year, or longer. They typically maintain their own units, saving you headaches, and some are on call in case you have any problems with your rental.
Prices to rent start about the same as purchasing – $300 USD for a 1-ton portable air conditioner for a weekend. Allow another $300 to cover delivery, basic set-up and pick-up. Sizes for rentals range all the way up to 400-tons. Many units can be rented indefinitely.
Packages are also available. For example, Reventals.com in Austin, Texas offers enclosed tent + air conditioning packages starting at $2,000 for a 10×30 tent and a 3-5 ton air conditioner. A package for a tent that’s up to 40×60 and a 25-30 ton air conditioner is about $5,500. These prices include a generator but do not include fuel for the generator, delivery, set up, or tear down.
Some air conditioner dealers and rental companies have trained specialists who will design a custom cooling solution tailored to your special needs – multiple structures, for example. These solutions can simplify installation and reduce costs. With the wide variety of out areas that need to be cooled, and the many other variable – degree of enclosure and insulation, climate and weather, and number of people expected in the area, these dealers and rental companies can be extremely helpful.
For the best advice, look for companies with experience in outdoor cooling or event cooling.
The cost to operate your unit may be a deciding factor in your choice of a portable air conditioner. You can get this estimate by figuring the unit’s electricity use.
Electricity use is determined by the amount of watts (“wattage”) your portable air conditioner uses. When you buy electricity you are charged by the kilowatt-hour (kWh). Using 1,000 watts for 1 hour equals one kilowatt-hour.
You can use this formula to estimate any electrical appliance’s energy use: Wattage × Hours Used Per Day ÷ 1000 ≡ Daily Kilowatt-hour (kWh) consumption.
You can work through it yourself, or you can use an energy cost calculator, like the one at the US Department of Energy’s website, energy.gov.
Here’s an example:
- One portable air conditioner I saw uses 1,400 watts of electricity. This is about the same as central air conditioning. If I wanted to use it for four hours a day I would be using 5,600 watts (1,400 × 4 ≡ 5,600), which is the same as 5.6 Kilowatt-hours (5,600 watts divided by 1,000 ≡ 5.6 kilowatts).
- I then need to learn how much my local electric company charges me for each kilowatt-hour. My electric company charges me $.30 US per kilowatt-hour. This is easy to find online by searching for your electric company’s rates.
- 5.6 kilowatt-hours multiplied by $.30 tells me this pump will cost me $1.68 in electricity each 4-hour day I use it or $.42 per hour.
- My estimated electricity cost to use this pump for 4 hours each day for a month would be $27.00
To recap, you would need to use the wattage for the unit you are considering, estimate how many hours a day you will use it and multiply those numbers together. Divide by 1,000 to get kilowatt-hours, then multiply the number you get by how much your electric company charges per kilowatt-hour. Or just go to energy.gov.
Typical maintenance on a portable air conditioner is usually little more than changing filters occasionally and draining the tank or pan if it’s not done automatically by the unit. Check the cord, plug, and hoses regularly for signs of wear. Ice may build up on the coils from time to time. If so, simply leave the unit off until it is completely defrosted.
If there will be long periods of time when you won’t be using it (such as through the winter), you may need to drain it of any fluids. Put a cover over it or bring it inside to store it through the cool season. If the unit is UL rated for WET locations, it is fine to leave it out for the year, but covering it may prolong its life.
Your owner’s manual will give you complete instructions on how to care for your particular unit.
As for rentals, no maintenance is required for the short-term rentals, and maintenance contracts are available for long term rentals.
Warranties and repairs
Generally, a longer warranty that covers more parts often indicates a better quality portable air conditioner. A typical warranty might cover different areas of the unit differently. For example the whole thing may be covered for a certain length of time against defects in materials and / or workmanship. But then the compressor motor may be covered for a different length of time.
These warranties require that you install, maintain and operate your air conditioner according to its manual / instructions. Be careful to take care of the unit according to the manual in case you need to make use of its warranty.
A portable air conditioner’s warranty won’t cover damages from “abuse”, “improper” installation, maintenance or operation. Some companies exclude “defects due to acts of God or natural disaster”. Many companies won’t honor the warranty if you try to fix it yourself, or if someone other than “authorized trained personnel” attempt to fix it. Authorized, trained personnel can be more expensive than other repair services, so you need to weigh the importance of specific knowledge and parts and being able to use a warranty versus cost savings.
Damages or losses are usually limited to the purchase price of the defective components and may not cover the cost of labor or shipping.
If a defect develops, contact your portable air conditioner’s manufacturer. They can advise you if repair or replacement is covered. They will likely want you to take it in to a repair facility or send in the parts you think are defective. On one hand, if you take apart the unit to separate the part in question you may void the warranty on another part of the unit. On the other hand, shipping a unit that weighs over a hundred pounds can be expensive and troublesome, especially if you are not sure the repair will be covered by the warranty.
Warranties and repairs may require taking the unit in to a service center. This is easier and more cost-effective to do with the smaller units. If your unit is permanently installed, you’ll need to have a technician repair it on site.
Consider buying your portable air conditioner from a supplier that has approved repair facilities near you. It can be much easier to take the unit in than to ship it, or they may have technicians they can send out to examine and / or repair your unit on site. You may need repairs after the warranty is expired anyway, and it would be good to know there is someone reliable nearby to fix it.
You will need to show or send a receipt to make a warranty claim. Don’t rely on your supplier for a record of the sale — keep your receipt in a safe place.
Don’t hesitate to contact the supplier and get all of your questions answered before you make the purchase or sign the rental agreement. The more informed your decision, the happier you’ll be with it.
Other Outdoor Cooling Methods
Swamp coolers (desert coolers) use a similar technology as misting systems (evaporation cooling), but in a contained unit. They are sometimes called air conditioners, but use a different technology than true air conditioners.
Outdoor shades are a nearly universal solution that combine well with every other cooling option.
Take a look at our comparison page to learn which outdoor cooling solutions may be best for you.