Portable air conditioners review 2008

They’re still ugly and noisy, but they’re getting better at keeping you cool.
 
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  • Updated:11 Jul 2008
 

01 .Introduction

Portable air conditioner

Test results for six portable air conditioners priced from $699 to $999

If you’re dreading the thought of sweltering in a rented home this summer, a portable air conditioner may look tempting.

Though you're still better off with a built-in split system — they’re more energy efficient and powerful and can cool down a room faster — if you’re renting or looking for a portable air conditioner for the home office or holiday house, these six units may help you keep cool.

To see whether they’ve improved since we last tested them, we bought six portable, single-unit air conditioners with a claimed cooling capacity of around 3.5 kW, which is suitable to cool a large bedroom or medium-sized living area.

And the good news is they’ve improved significantly compared with the lot we tested last year, which we found generally ugly, noisy, high-maintenance and less effective than their built-in counterparts.

Please note: this information was current as of July 2008 but is still a useful guide to today's market. For more recent information, see our Portable air conditioners review 2011.


Brands tested

  • Convair Supercool TRB
  • Convair Supercool FR
  • Delonghi Pinguino Eco PAC T120
  • Delonghi Pinguino PAC C100
  • Kelvinator KPK35CRA (A)
  • Tecoair TAC1319C

(A) Discontinued, but may still be available in some stores.

 
 

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The following models scored the best results in our test.

What to buy
Brand Price
Kelvinator KPK35CRA (A) $849
Tecoair TAC1319C $879
Convair Supercool TRB $799
Convair Supercool FR $999

Results table

Full results for all models are shown in the table below.

  Performance
Brand / model (in rank order) Overall score (%) Cooling score (%) Ease of use score (%) Claimed cooling capacity (kW) Average measured power consumption (kW) Price
Kelvinator KPK35CRA (C)
www.electrolux.com.au
80 86 67 3.5 1.4 849
Tecoair TAC1319C
www.teco.com.au
76 81 63 3.2 1.6 879
Convair Supercool TRB
www.convair.net.au
75 80 62 3.5 1.3 799
Convair Supercool FR
www.convair net.au
73 78 60 4.1 1.6 999
Delonghi Pinguino Eco PAC T120
www.delonghi.com.au
69 72 63 3.5 0.8 899
Delonghi Pinguino PAC C100
www.delonghi.com.au
65 67 60 2.9 0.7 699
 


  Features Specifications
Brand / model (in rank order) Fan noise (on high) Oscillating louvres Real time clock (on remote) Weight (kg) Dimensions (H x W x D; cm) Length of power cord (m) Max length of duct (m) Length of water drainage hose (m) Max. length of window kit (m)*
Kelvinator KPK35CRA (C)
www.electrolux.com.au
Noisier 40.7 84 x 45 x 36 2.6 1.8 0.6 1.25
Tecoair TAC1319C
www.teco.com.au
Noisier 36.6 62 x 47 x 39 1.7 1.9 (A) 1.25
Convair Supercool TRB
www.convair.net.au
Medium 34.8 86 x 52 x 41 1.8 2 2.4 1.11
Convair Supercool FR
www.convair net.au
Medium 39.2 86 x 53 x 40 1.9 2.1 2.4 1.11
Delonghi Pinguino Eco PAC T120
www.delonghi.com.au
Quieter 38 95 x 50 x 42 1.9 1.2 2.9

0.97

 

Delonghi Pinguino PAC C100
www.delonghi.com.au
Medium 28 78 x 46 x 37 2 1.3 (B) 0.97
 

 

Table notes

* Rounded to the nearest centimeter.
(A) Uses the condensed water for the cooling process, so there’s minimal drainage required.
(B) No water drainage hose; the tank needs to be emptied regularly.
(C) Discontinued, but may still be available in some stores.

Using the table

Scores The overall score is made up of:

  • Cooling (70%)
  • Ease of use (30%)

Claimed cooling capacity Inbuilt air conditioners are more energy-efficient than portable models. The claimed cooling capacity isn’t comparable between the two types. None of the portable air conditioners tested have an energy star rating. CHOICE would like to see them included in the energy rating scheme, so you can meaningfully compare models.

Average measured power consumption This is the average of both cooling tests.

Fan noise These results are comparative only; what you’ll actually hear will depend on the environment you’re in. With the fan on high, all these air conditioners will interfere with normal conversation.

Features See What to look for, for an explanation of these and other features.

Price Recommended retail, as of June 2008.

How we tested

Cooling performance

  • Our testers assessed each air conditioner in a 5 m by 4 m room with a 2.4 m high ceiling. This room was surrounded by another room or ‘shell’, which was kept at a constant temperature and humidity level. The interior room had no windows, furniture or heat sources and its door was closed during testing.
  • When both rooms were at a stable 27ºC and 70% relative humidity, the air conditioners were turned on for an hour at full strength.
  • The testers also assessed the air conditioners’ effectiveness at a starting temperature of 32ºC and 70% humidity.
  • Testers rated the air conditioners’ cooling effectiveness on their ability to reduce the temperature in the test room and lower the humidity. They also assessed how evenly the models cooled the test room.

Ease of use

The testers looked at:

  • Stability
  • Portability and installation of window kit
  • Removing and refitting the air filter
  • Water drainage
  • The controls (including remote controls)
  • Instruction manuals

Profiles - the best

Kelvinator KPK35CRA

Kelvinator KPK35CRA Price: $849

Good points

  • Very good overall.
  • Very good cooling performance.
  • Good installation aids: the window kit has foam for sealing and a grille to cover the exhaust, and there’s a duct cap for wall installation.
  • Easy to drain: the water tank is removable and the bottom drain plugs are secured by straps.

Bad points

  • The heaviest in the test, and awkward to lift.
  • One of the noisier ones with the fan on high.
  • (A) Discontinued, but may still be available in some stores.

Tecoair TAC1319C

Tecoair TAC1319C Price: $879

Good points

  • Very good cooling performance.
  • The condensed water is used in the cooling process, so there’s minimal drainage required (no hose is supplied).
  • Duct cap for wall installation.
  • Automatic mode and sleep mode (but no information about the latter).

Bad points

  • Low handles make it difficult to lift.
  • Back wheels make it difficult to manoeuvre into a small space.
  • One of the noisier ones with the fan on high.
  • The remote control has no display and is difficult to use.
  • Failed the cord anchorage test.

Convair SUPERCOOL TRB

Convair SUPERCOOL TRB Price: $799

Good points

  • Very good cooling performance.
  • Automatic mode.
  • Good installation aids: the window kit includes a rubber grommet for the water drain, a wing nut to hold the extension and a grille for the exhaust.
  • Well secured lower drain.

Bad points

  • Heavy and awkward to lift.
  • Removing the filter requires excess force.
  • Problems with the remote control: the labelling is confusing, the display is difficult to read and its compartment on top of the unit is difficult to open.
  • The drain plug is positioned too close to the ground, making it difficult to fit a container underneath for drainage.

Convair SUPERCOOL FR

Convair SUPER COOL FR Price: $999

Good points

  • Automatic mode.
  • Good installation aids: the window kit includes a rubber grommet for the water drain, a wing nut to hold the extension and a grille for the exhaust.
  • Well secured lower drain.

Bad points

  • Heavy and awkward to lift.
  • Removing the filter requires excess force.
  • Problems with the remote control: the labelling is confusing, the display is difficult to read and its compartment on top of the unit is difficult to open.
  • The drain plug is positioned too close to the ground, making it difficult to fit a container underneath for drainage.

 

Profiles - the rest

Delonghi Pinguino ECO PAC T120

DeLonghi Pinguino ECO PAC T120 Price: $899

Good points

  • The filter is easy to remove, and it has a spare filter element.
  • Removable water tank.
  • Duct cap for wall installation.
  • Good remote control.
  • Automatic mode and sleep timer with auto temperature adjustment.
  • Five-year warranty for compressor parts.

Bad points

  • Awkward to lift due to its weight, bulk and low handle position.
  • Window kit has no grille and the hole for the retaining pin is in the wrong position.

Delonghi Pinguino PAC C100

DeLonghi Pinguino PAC C100Price: $699

Good points

  • The most lightweight unit in the test.
  • Duct cap for wall installation.
  • Five-year warranty for compressor parts.

Bad points

  • No drain hose outlet, so the tank needs to be emptied regularly at the drain — the tank is non-removable.
  • Removing the filter through a narrow opening could lead to dirt spilling into the unit.
  • Window kit has no grille.

Installation

  • Window kit This usually consists of a 10 cm-wide piece of plastic (the Tecoair’s is aluminium) with a sliding extension inside and an elongated hole for the air conditioner’s exhaust hose. The piece is about 1 m long (the table gives the exact maximum length) to fit horizontally or vertically into a window opening.
  • Duct cap This allows more permanent installation through a wall. The Kelvinator, Tecoair and both Delonghi units have one.

Drainage

  • Drain hose This can lead to the outside via the venting kit or into a container to catch the extracted water. Only two models tested have no drain hose: the Tecoair doesn’t need one because it uses the condensed water in the cooling process and the Delonghi Pinguino PAC C100 only has a bottom drain to empty the tank.
  • Water tank A removable water tank (as on the Kelvinator and Delonghi Pinguino Eco) makes drainage easier. None of the air conditioners in the test had an indication of the size of the water tank.

Operation

All the air conditioners tested have:

  • A remote control — particularly well- or poorly-designed ones are mentioned in the profiles.
  • Operating modes — cool (none has reverse cycle heating), dehumidify (dry) or fan only (the Tecoair has four fan speeds, the others have three). The Tecoair, both Convair units and the Delonghi Pinguino Eco also have an automatic mode.
  • On/off timers — the Delonghi Pinguino Eco also has a sleep timer (with automatic temperature adjustment) and the Tecoair has a sleep mode, but no information is provided about this.
  • Louvres to direct the airflow. On the Delonghi Pinguino they’re fixed; on all other models tested they’re adjustable for vertical and/or horizontal airflow.
  • Oscillating louvres enable the cool air to be directed more widely, rather than just one direction.

Before you buy

For efficient cooling, a portable air conditioner needs to be vented outside, so make sure:

  • You have the space for the unit near a window (or sliding door).
  • There’s a power point close by — an extension cord means more clutter.
  • The venting kit is long enough. None of the models we tested was long enough for a sliding door opening, and if it can’t cover the entire opening, hot outside air will consistently enter the room and reduce the cooling effect.
  • You can live with the look. The ads rarely show you the unit fully installed, with the big, white exhaust hose leading into the window kit.
  • You understand their concept of ‘portability’. While you can install these units without modification to the building, you wouldn’t want to lug one from room to room the way you do with a fan — they’re heavy, not always easy to manoeuvre and require installation via a window kit.

Portable air conditioners work the same way as built-in systems: sucking in warm and humid air, cooling and dehumidifying it and blowing it back into the room.

The excess heat from the heat exchange is vented through an air duct that you install in an open window — a venting kit is included so you can seal the gap around the duct to stop the cool air escaping. Built-in models differ in that they have an external component to dispose of the hot air and condensed water they generate.

Portable models generate condensed water, which is collected inside them and needs to be emptied from time to time. With continuous use it could be necessary to empty them every two hours, otherwise the machines will automatically shut down. On top of that, some water drainage mechanisms may be difficult to use. The plugs may be difficult to reach because they’re located at the bottom rear of the units, and some may require a prying tool to lever them out.

It’s a good idea to inspect the controls, window ducting kits and water drainage systems of the different models in a shop. This will give you the best sense of whether you'll be able to tolerate the effort involved in setting up and running these machines.

Installation can be relatively simple. You need to adjust the length of the venting kit to fit your window (or sliding door opening - none of the ones tested will fit a sliding door opening, others may), connect the air duct to the air conditioner at one end and to the hole in the venting kit at the other, and then close the window onto the venting kit.

Some units expel the condensed water through a hose in the window kit, others collect it in a tank you need to empty. The manufacturer’s instructions should have all the details.

Do you need one?

Portable air conditioners are mostly ugly, noisy, high-maintenance and nowhere near as effective as their built-in counterparts. That said, they’ve improved a bit since our last test.

If you’re renting and don’t want to fork out for a fixed air conditioner, or you’re looking for one that can be wheeled from room to room, they may tick your box. Otherwise consider other cooling options first.

Also think about the size of the area you want to cool. If you have a large open-plan living area and kitchen, it’s unlikely one of these machines will have much impact other than as a personal cooling device.

  • Before you buy anything, it’s a good idea to heatproof your home as much as possible. Even if you’re a renter, simple measures like sealing up all the gaps around your windows and doors and installing blinds or curtains over the inside of windows will help. You may then find that portable fans are enough. If you own your own home, you could look at installing external window shading or double-glazing your windows. This is something you can do without major rebuilding work. Roof insulation will also make a big difference.
  • If you live in a dry climate, an evaporative cooler is a good cooling option, and is more energy-efficient than an air conditioner.
  • If you live in a humid climate, built-in air conditioning will always cool and dehumidify a room more effectively and efficiently than a portable model with the same kilowatt capacity.
  • But if you think a portable air conditioner is the only option in your situation, look for a model that delivers on its cooling promise and is easy to use.

Air conditioners can hardly be considered ‘green’ appliances. They’re responsible for creating large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions — mainly at our mostly fossil fuel-fired power plants, but also to a lesser extent from the refrigerants they use.

Most of the air conditioners on test use R-410a (Kelvinator) or R-407c (Tecoair, both Convair's and the Delonghi Pinguino PAC) as refrigerant. These commonly-used hydrofluorocarbon blends won’t deplete the ozone layer like the chlorofluorocarbons used in the past, but they can still release greenhouse gases if there’s a leak, during servicing, or at the end of their life.

What’s ‘green’ about the Pinguino Eco?

While R-407c has a lower global warming potential (GWP) than R-410a, pure hydrocarbon refrigerants have a much lower GWP and pose a lower environmental risk. But they’re still less commonly used in air conditioning — in our test only the Delonghi Pinguino Eco uses one (propane R-290). Its energy consumption is markedly lower than that of the other brands tested, but its cooling performance suffered accordingly, so it’s not in our What to buy list.

If you want to take the most environmentally-responsible stance, do without an air conditioner altogether and heatproof your home as much as possible. Home owners have many options to choose from, like planting shade trees outside windows, installing roof insulation, window shading and drapes or blinds.

Even the simplest measures such as using cooling fans, sealing the gaps around windows and doors and blocking out the midday heat (closing curtains or blinds or rolling out an awning) can help keep temperatures down.

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