Outdoor Portable Air Conditioner Features

A portable air conditioner’s features can minimize operating costs and make it simpler to operate and maintain.


Smaller portable air conditioners may be equipped with casters that make easy work of moving them around small flat areas. The smallest of these usually have lighter duty casters than the larger units.

Unless it has casters you’ll need a dolly handy for the heavier units, especially if you’ll be taking them a distance — say, across a parking lot or field. Look for dollys with wide wheels to help with moving across soft terrain like grass or sand.

The biggest air conditioners — over 60,000 BTUs — can weigh tons and would require a trailer or truck to move them around. They can be permanently mounted so a trailer can be towed in and out of an area without having to unload and load the air conditioner every time you use it.

Timing features

Programmable control panels can help you save energy while keeping your area cool and comfortable. If you know you’ll need your area cooled at certain hours, certain temperatures, simply program that it. This can save energy and costs by running your portable air conditioner only when you need it.

Some units have a knob or button with a general indication of temperature. But digital thermostats can control the target cooling range more precisely and can maintain that range more consistently.

Remote control and cell phone apps can be especially helpful if your portable air conditioner is hard to reach. Some units use only remote control — no controls are actually on the unit. Remote controls are available in hand-held styles or wall mount styles.

If you’re holding an event or involved in a project, it can be hard to balance what you’re doing with keeping control of the climate. Apps help you adjust the air conditioner when you’re away, and can alert you to maintenance issues.

Climate control options – energy saving

One of the advantages of using air conditioners for outdoor cooling is that they lower the humidity of an area. Drier are can, by itself, make the space feel cooler than humid air.

Many styles can be set to dehumidify only, meaning that even with the cooling function off they can work to dehumidify your area. Humidity can be a problem during wet seasons. Lower humidity levels can ease allergies, stop condensation and mold growth. Periodically turning off the air conditioning function and running only the dehumidifier can reduce your energy costs with little impact on cooling.

A heating option can make your portable air conditioner useful all year. Units with this feature can use a lot of electricity and generate a lot of heat simply to operate. But by turning off the cooling function, a unit can heat an area even more easily than it can cool it. This can make your unit invaluable year-round.

Air filtering

Portable air conditioners filter the air of a space as part of the way they cool it. By turning off the cooling function, the fans will still blow air through the filters, allowing air filtering without the cost of running the cooling. Special filters are available for some models to remove pollen, bacteria, animal dander and dust, making them especially helpful for people with allergies.

Since true portable air conditioners need to be vented, they almost all come with some sort of venting system. This helps you fit the hose(s) through a window or other opening, with a fitted piece to hold the hose and cover any gaps around it. Venting system options include different fittings and insulation to close any gaps around the hoses leading into or out of an area. They are often available separately so you only need to get what you need to adapt to your specific setup.

Handling condensation

Air conditioners remove humidity (water) as well as heat from the air. Simpler units have a tank that collects the water. The tank needs to be drained occasionally to keep it from overflowing.

A step up from this is a Gravity Drain — a simple hose attached to the tank that lets the water drain onto the ground or into a drain away from the area being cooled and away from the portable air conditioner.

A Condensate Pump is sometimes used with the drain to move the water up over a wall or through an opening in the structure.

Self-Evaporating units evaporate the water into the hot air exhaust hose. These units require little if any draining of the tank.

Noise level

Portable air conditioners can be noisy. Surprisingly, some of the larger ones make less noise than the smaller ones. If you’ll be using yours at night when you’re trying to sleep, or near other people such as in a temporary office, or in a broadcast booth, you’ll want to be especially aware of noise levels. In fact, some areas may have noise restrictions. If you’ll be using your unit in a public place, check with local authorities before you purchase or rent your portable air conditioner to be sure your unit will be a good fit for your area.

Some styles, like water-cooled air conditioners can be set up with the main unit a distance away from the area that needs to be cooled, and ducts or hoses can carry in the cool air.

If at all possible try to see and hear the unit in operation before your purchase, or read comments from owners. Let your sales person or rental consultant know if you need an especially quiet unit.

The decibel rating (dB) is a common measurement of sound. 0dB is inaudible – it’s below the level of average human hearing. 120-140dB is where sound becomes painful. Some manufacturers list decibel ratings to give you a general idea of how noisy it will be. These may range from 28dB (about as loud as a quiet living room) and up.

The actual noise level your chosen air conditioner will make can vary from the stated rating. The actual level can be affected by how the unit is mounted, what the area is like around it and how close people are to it when it’s operating.

You can see this by simply looking through the chart, below. Consider a heavy truck at 100dB, the loudest listing in the chart. You can imagine it’s noise level would be different if you are close to it or far away from it. High-pitched noises can be more bothersome than low-pitched noises. So decibel ratings are just to give you a general idea of noise levels.

Bottom threshold of human hearing10dB
Recording studio20dB
Quiet living room30dB
Quiet office or library, refrigerator40dB
Quiet conversation50dB
Average office noise, clothes dryer60dB
Average conversation, dishwasher70dB
Average factory80dB
Typical home music volume90dB
Heavy truck100dB
Decibel levels and examples

Adjustable air flow

Adjustable air vents may be as simple as adjustable louvers / shutters that can be nudged to shift the air flow. These work like the adjustable air vents on a car’s air conditioning system. Some can be set to sweep the louvers automatically from side to side, changing or increasing the areas reached with the cool air. Others may have air nozzles that can be rotated or extended to really direct the air where you need it.

Surprisingly, not all portable air conditioners have this feature.

Multiple fan speeds – energy saving

Multiple fan speeds can be tremendously helpful in perfecting the cooling of an area. Especially for outdoor cooling, selecting the best size unit can be a little challenging. Add to that, temperature fluctuations caused by the weather and time of day, among other things that make it challenging. Being able to simple raise or lower the fan speed can help you deal with these challenges in a simple way. Also, lower fan speeds run more quietly and cost less to run than higher speeds.

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.