Which portable air conditioner is the best bang for your buck?

Portable air conditioners sound like an easy solution for cooling rooms that can't accommodate a window air conditioner – but many of these units are returned by unhappy customers.

To help you avoid wasting your money, our partners at Consumer Reports Magazine tested eight portable devices from Honeywell, Haier, Frigidaire and Sunpentown – ranging in price from $250 to more than $500.

Consumer Reports used a special chamber to test their cooling power. The temperature outside is kept at 90 degrees, the humidity at 70 percent. Inside, each air conditioner is set to 75 degrees. Strings of thermocouples record temperatures throughout the room.

In the end, Consumer Reports experts said their results were disappointing.

The Test Results

"None of these units, not even the biggest ones, could get our test chamber below 80 degrees even after an hour and 40 minutes," said tester Bob Markovich.

That was true even of the most expensive unit tested: the $550 Honeywell MM14CCS, which promises it "cools up to 550 square feet." It struggled to cool the test chamber, which is half that size.

If a portable is your only choice:

Install it right. All portables come with a kit that you install in a window. Make sure all your connections are tight and seal any air gaps.

Get a ceiling fan. Create a cool breeze by running a ceiling fan.

Block the sun. Close the curtains and shades to keep the sun from overheating your room.

A Better Option

Consumer Reports' tests showed window air conditioners are much more effective and tend to cost less.

Consumer Reports recommends the following window air conditioners:

  • For larger rooms (350 to 650 square feet), the $350 LG LW1214ER.
  • For medium-sized rooms (250 to 400 square feet), the LG LW8014ER for $240.
  • For smaller rooms (about 100 to 300 square feet), the $210 GE AEM05LS is a Consumer Reports best buy.

Consumer Reports says be sure to pick the right size air conditioner for your space. If the unit is too small, your room won't get cool enough. But an air conditioner that's too big may make it feel cold and clammy.

As always, don’t waste your money.

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