Portable Air Conditioner Costs for Outdoor Cooling

For cooling outdoor areas with a portable air conditioner, enclose the areas as much as possible. Shop for capacity (size), costs, features, and how it will be set up. Small units are usually best to purchase rather than rent.

Portable air conditioner costs to consider

  • Does it cost more to rent or own a portable air conditioner for keeping cool outdoors? What are the costs of renting and owning?
  • Typical operating costs
  • Maintenance costs
  • What can you do to keep costs down?
  • How do warranties and repairs affect the cost?

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.

Rental companies generally don’t rent units smaller than 1-ton.

Why buy a portable air conditioner?

The smallest portable air conditioners are more cost-effective to purchase than to rent. A one-hose unit (the simplest and least expensive technology) with about 1 Ton (7,000 to 12,000 BTUs) of cooling capacity can be purchased for under $300 USD.

This small portable air conditioner could work for an enclosed shed or 10×10 tent with sidewalls. Portable air conditioners average 100 square feet per ton of air conditioning (12,000 Btus = 1 ton). Units around this size are relatively easy to transport and set up by yourself or with a friend. Pricing is based largely on cooling capacity. More durability, more features, and better warranties will naturally increase the price.

How to

for outdoor cooling.

Why rent a portable air conditioner?

Consider renting a portable air conditioner

  • if you have a large area to cool
  • if installation is complicated
  • and you only need it cooled for a limited time.

Rentals are especially great for special events. Rental companies can design setups, 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. But for that price, the rental may be just for a weekend. Do your own pick-up and delivery, set-up and tear-down, or have them do it for about $300.

Renting starts to make financial sense when you need larger units to cool larger spaces for short stretches of time. Units up to 400 tons are available for rent.

You don’t have to store or maintain the unit when you rent it. This is a serious consideration for larger units. If you need it again,you’ll get a unit that is in top condition. With a rental, you can get a different size and setup each time – customized to your needs

REntal packages are also available. For example, Reventals.com in Austin, Texas offers weekend 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, which is critical for many outdoor setups. Fuel for the generator, delivery, set up, and tear down are additional, or you might be able to handle these things with some friends and a truck or van.

Most air conditioner dealers and rental companies have trained specialists. They can design a custom cooling solution tailored to your needs. These solutions can simplify installation and reduce your costs.

There is a wider variety of outdoor versus indoor areas that can benefit from outdoor cooling solutions. Considering the degree of enclosure and insulation, climate and weather, and number of people expected in the area, portable air conditioner dealers and rental companies can be very helpful.

For the best advice, look for companies with experience in outdoor cooling or event cooling.

Operating costs for portable air conditioners

The cost to run a portable A/C depends on how much electricity it uses for however long you run it. To estimate this, you need to know

  • the wattage of the unit
  • your cost of electricity
  • for how long you will run the unit.

The wattage is the amount of electricity a unit uses. The manufacturer estimates this for you.

You can get your cost of electricity from your electric utility company. Electric companies charge by the kilowatt-hour (kWh). One kilowatt-hour is the same as using 1,000 watts for one hour.

To estimate the kilowatt-hour consumption of any electrical appliance, you can use the following formula:

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 free one at calculator.net.

Keep in mind that air conditioners don’t run 100% of the time. Ideally, they run for 15-20 minutes per hour – 25%-30% capacity, so your actual costs would be less.

But outdoor areas are often poorly enclosed. A poorly enclosed outdoor area may well run for more than 15-20 minutes per hour. You can compensate for this by using a unit with larger capacity – say 2 tons instead of 1 ton. Your air conditioner dealer can advise you on this.

Here’s an example:

  • How much electricity it uses:
    if your portable air conditioner has a wattage of 1,400 and you use it for four hours a day, it will use 5,600 watts (1,400 × 4 = 5,600). This is the same as 5.6 kilowatt-hours (5,600 watts divided by 1,000 = 5.6 kilowatts).
  • How much the electricity costs:
    Multiply the kilowatt-hours you came up with in the first step by your cost of electricity. This cost varies by location, so check with your electric company to find out how much you pay per kilowatt-hour.
  • For example, one electric company charges the United States average of $.12 per kilowatt-hour.
    5.6 kilowatt-hours multiplied by $.12 per hour tells me this unit would cost about $.67 in electricity each hour I use it IF it ran constantly.
  • Again, keep in mind that running an air conditioner 100% of the time puts a lot of strain on the unit. Ideally, they run for 15-20 minutes per hour and then shut off until the area warms back up. Running at 25-30% capacity like this, your actual cost would be about $.17 – $.20 per hour. Units cooling poorly enclosed areas will run for more and cost more than this.
  • Result:
    For this example, you can estimate the electricity for this 1,400-watt portable air conditioner to cost from $.17 to $.67 per hour, depending on how long you run the A/C each hour.

Or just go to calculator.net.

Tips to save money on running your portable air conditioner

  • Use your portable air conditioner only when necessary.
  • Set the temperature to a comfortable level, but not too low.
  • Enclose the area as much as possible.
  • Install the unit where it will get as much shade as possible.
  • Use an outdoor fan to circulate the air.
  • Clean the air filter regularly – follow dealer instructions.

Portable air conditioner maintenance

Typical maintenance on a portable air conditioner is fairly simple. Just change the filters occasionally and drain 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 any fluids. Put a cover over it or bring a small unit 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.
The owner’s manual will give you complete instructions on how to care for your particular unit.

Short-term rentals generally need no maintenance. 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 manufacturer may cover the whole unit against defects in materials and/or workmanship for a certain length of time. But the compressor motor may be covered for a different length of time.

These warranties require you to install, maintain, and operate your air conditioner according to its manual / instructions. 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”, or “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” attempts to fix it. Authorized, trained personnel can be more expensive than other repair services. So, you need to weigh the importance of their knowledge, parts, and the use of a warranty versus cost savings.

Damages or losses are usually limited to the purchase price of the defective components. Warranties may not cover the cost of labor or shipping.

If a defect develops, contact your portable air conditioner’s manufacturer. They can tell you if they cover repair or replacement. If the unit is large, they will likely send out a technician. You may need to take smaller units to a repair facility or send in the parts you think are defective.

Warranties and repairs may require taking the unit to a service center. This is easier and more cost-effective to do with the smaller units. If your unit is large or has involved installation, 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 inspect and / or repair your unit on-site. You may need repairs after the warranty expires anyway, and it would be good to know there is someone reliable nearby to fix it.

You’ll 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.


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

If you have a more open outdoor area that needs cooling, consider outdoor fans, misting systems, or misting fans which combine misting systems and outdoor fans into a single unit.

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.