The cost of portable air conditioners ranges from around $250 to more than $500, depending on the cooling capacity and features. Generally, a portable air conditioner is costlier than a window AC of the same size. Naturally, you may wonder why portable air conditioners are so expensive.
Portable air conditioners are so expensive due to the compact design and extra features compared to traditional ACs. The small components make it harder to design and assemble an efficient model. Plus, market dynamics and regulations have an impact on retail prices.
Portable air conditioners have become popular in recent years, but they have also received a lot of mixed reviews from customers. Hence, the steep price tags of many portable ACs may baffle some buyers. So, let me explain why portable air conditioners continue to be so expensive.
Why Portable Air Conditioners Are So Expensive
Portable air conditioners use the same cooling technology as a central, mini-split, or window AC. Of course, the design and features are different. However, all portable ACs still need the same main components that make them work, which are:
I mention only these four components because they are the costliest parts of any air conditioner, irrespective of the type, size, and additional features.
Once you factor in these components’ costs, you’ll realize how the compact design of a portable air conditioner and its indoor operation increases the cost of a household appliance that is already expensive, to begin with.
The AC Compressor Is a Costly Component
The AC compressor is the single most expensive component of a portable air conditioner. I’ll not cite the enormous costs of a central or mini-split air conditioner’s compressor because those types are not used in portable ACs. The comparison should be with a window AC compressor.
A window AC compressor costs around $150 to $700 based on its type, size, and refrigerant.
Consider the possibility that the smallest variant of a particular portable air conditioner uses a ~$100 compressor. Now you have the first major figure that explains its steep cost.
The Evaporator and Condenser Coils Are Costly
All portable ACs have evaporator and condenser coils. These copper coils are rather pricey.
An evaporator coil can cost from ~$80 (uncased) to ~$170 (cased) for a 1-ton (12,000 BTU) AC.
A condenser coil can cost several hundred dollars in central and mini-split systems, but it’s much shorter in a portable AC. The condenser coil is within the compact design of a portable AC, not running to the outdoor unit.
So, instead of ~$200 per ton (12,000 BTU), a portable air conditioner’s condenser coil will cost significantly less.
Considering the sizes and specifications, the least possible cost of a portable air conditioner’s evaporator and condenser coils is approximately $100 or more.
The Refrigerant or Coolant Is Expensive
Like all air conditioners, a portable AC uses a refrigerant or coolant. Generally, this refrigerant is R-22 in older air conditioners and R-410A in newer models.
R-22 or Freon costs around $90 to $150 per pound (0.45 kg) if you have to refill the coolant. If you buy an R-22 tank or bottle wholesale, the cost is around $13 to $21 per pound. But you will have to buy 20 to 25 lbs (9 to ~11 kg) of R-22.
A 1-ton (12,000 BTU) air conditioner typically requires 1 to 2 lbs (0.45 to 0.9 kg) of R-22 or other refrigerants. So, the quantity of coolant your portable AC needs will cost $26 to $42 even if you buy wholesale. Otherwise, you are looking at more than $100 for a refill.
Freon has become increasingly expensive because it’s being phased out. In contrast, R-410A has a somewhat reasonable cost.
R-410A is also known by several trademarks:
- Forane 410A
- Genetron R410A
- Suva 410A
- EcoFluor R410
The cost of R-410A is $50 to $80 per pound (0.45 kg) if you have to refill. The wholesale cost is around $4 to $8 per pound (0.45 kg). However, only technicians or service centers require large quantities of these refrigerants. Nonetheless, these costs contribute to a portable AC’s price tag.
Portable Air Conditioners Have To Be Compact
The compact design of a portable air conditioner makes the appliance maneuverable. However, the compactness also demands a fundamental overhaul of the design compared to a traditional AC. Again, I’ll only factor in the differences with a window AC.
- The average weight of a window air conditioner is 64 lbs (29 kg).
- A portable air conditioner weighs around 66 lbs (30 kg).
The average weight shows us that a regular AC is technically lighter than a portable one. But most customers don’t even imagine a window AC as a portable appliance. So, why is a substantially heavy portable air conditioner considered maneuverable? The answer lies in the design.
A window AC is essentially a large, unwieldy box. In contrast, a portable air conditioner isn’t very different from the dehumidifiers or coolers that many people are familiar with. However, this portability comes at a cost as the manufacturers have to design for convenient portability.
Not only is the external casing distinct from window ACs, but a portable air conditioner’s coils, compressor, and all the main parts are aligned more compactly than the other styles. Therefore, companies charge a premium for their efforts to offer a bit more convenience to their customers.
Portable Air Conditioners Have Extra Features
Portable ACs bring some additional features to the table, such as exhaust hoses. Some models have a second hose for air intake. Plus, these variants have wheels for portability.
Also, portable air conditioners have a condensate tank or drain pan. And some models have a condensate pump inside the unit. In contrast, a window AC uses a regular hose to drain the condensate through the spout. Thus, such extra features spike the cost of a portable AC.
Furthermore, a portable air conditioner is quieter than a window AC. Most window ACs make a loud noise while working. Hence, manufacturers have to use different design principles and materials to at least reduce a portable air conditioner’s noise, if not dampen it completely.
Transitioning Market Dynamics and Government Regulations
Last but not least, the market dynamics and government regulations influence the price tag. Supply and demand aside, the ongoing transition from ASHRAE to SACC has quite a few interesting developments.
Consider the example of the Honeywell Classic Portable Air Conditioner. The unit is rated 14,000 BTU (~1.16 tons) per ASHRAE. However, the same unit is rated 9,000 BTU (0.75 ton) per SACC.
So, the Honeywell portable air conditioner costs just a bit more than the Frigidaire 15,100 BTU (1.25 ton) Window-Mounted Room Air Conditioner. However, the Honeywell portable AC is almost twice the price of a Frigidaire 8,000 BTU (0.66 ton) Window Air Conditioner.
The price comparison has to be of identical or similar cooling capacities. So, the fitting contest is between the 9,000 BTU (0.75 ton) Honeywell portable air conditioner and the 8,000 BTU (0.66 ton) Frigidaire window AC, not the latter’s 15,100 BTU (~1.25 ton) model.
Of course, not all portable air conditioners are twice the cost of a window AC with an equivalent or similar rated capacity. However, this example is not a rarity.
Portable air conditioners have been and are likely to remain expensive for the reasons I have shared in this article. However, whether or not the prices will be at par with window ACs in the future is for the market and time to reveal. Until then, high prices may be the norm.