How to install a portable air conditioner
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What You Need:
Portable air conditioner Duct tape or your sealant of choice Bucket or other container (if applicable) Plexiglass panel (optional)
Prep Time Needed:
Total Time Needed:
It’s that time of year again. Temperatures are creeping up, and if past years are any indication, the heat is likely to be extreme and stick around for much longer than is comfortable. So, you’ve reviewed the options available and determined that a portable air conditioner is the best option for you. You’ve shopped around and brought your purchase home—now all that’s left to do is install it.
In this quick guide, we’ll first go over the basics of how your portable air conditioner works, then outline how to properly install it. As long as you follow your portable A/C’s included instructions and make sure to check a few details outlined in this guide, you’ll be cooling down your home in no time.
How do portable air conditioners work?
Before setting up any piece of equipment, it’s a good idea to quickly review how they work: It may help you notice issues during installation that you otherwise might miss.
Credit: Getty Images / normaals
Air conditioners work by drawing in heat from the environment and moving it elsewhere.
A portable air conditioner will take in air from around your room and pass it over coils to extract its heat. The cooled air is blown back into the room, while the heat is exhausted out a nearby window (or door) through its ventilation tube. It’s important to ensure the run of ventilation hose is kept as short as possible: a longer run of hose means more surface area radiating heat back into the room instead of being vented outside.
The cooling process also produces condensation, which is either collected in the unit itself, in a reservoir you’ll need to empty, or pushed out through a hose you’ll need to secure to a nearby drain.
If the portable air conditioner does collect condensation in a reservoir, it will likely alert you when that reservoir needs to be emptied, often shutting off to prevent it from overflowing. This isn’t always the case, however—check your manual for confirmation. In the case your particular model doesn’t have this feature, or if you’ve secured its drainage hose to a container like a bucket, it’s important you empty these vessels frequently to prevent them from overflowing.
How to install your portable air conditioner Step 1: Read through the included instructions. Credit: Getty Images / megaflopp
All portable air conditioners are different—make sure you read and follow your A/C's instruction manual.
What we’re providing here is an overview that’s generally applicable to most portable air conditioners—it’s not meant to replace or supersede your model’s included instructions.
Step 2: Choose a location Credit: De'Longhi
Location is important—make sure to place your portable A/C near both a window and a power outlet, out of direct sunlight. Make sure it's accessible, so you can easily empty its water reservoir.
Your portable air conditioner will need to sit on the floor a few feet away from obstructions, such as furniture or curtains, to ensure adequate air flow and ease of access to the drip pan or water reservoir. The ideal location would be next to a window that’s compatible with the portable A/C’s window adapter kit and near an electrical outlet. If necessary, most portable air conditioners can also be installed in a doorway, though you’ll almost certainly need additional hardware to seal the opening completely (we'll get to that in the next step).
While the included ventilation hose may allow you to span a long distance, the cooling will be most effective with the shortest run between the A/C and the window. The longer the vent hose, the larger its surface area—which means more heat will absorb into the hose and radiate back out into the room, rather than outside, undermining your A/C’s cooling.
Credit: Getty Images / mady70
Regardless of what kind of portable air conditioner you have, you'll need to empty its water reservoir often—more so if the weather is humid.
The final consideration? Drainage. Some portable air conditioners come with a drip pan or reservoir to catch condensation. There might also be a hose to allow for continuous drainage—this will need to be secured to a nearby sink, tub, or floor drain, which can limit your placement options.
Step 3: Determine if the window adapter kit creates a complete seal
Here’s where things might have to get a little DIY. In most cases, the included window adapter kit will be able to create a complete seal with your window without requiring any additional materials or work. In some cases, though, it might not fully cover the window’s opening, need to be trimmed down in order to fit, or otherwise create a seal that isn't flush. Even if the edge fits perfectly against your windowpane, it’s best to use a sealant to ensure your cool air isn’t seeping out (or allowing any insects to enter your home). A strip of duct tape will likely be good enough to finish the seal.
If the adapter kit is slightly too large for your window, you’ll need to cut it down a bit to fit properly. If the adapter kit is made out of thick plastic, we'd recommend using a fine-tooth saw—for lighter materials, a box cutter or scissors might suffice. Try to keep the trimmed edge as even as possible in order to create the best seal once you’re finished. As above, it’s best to finish with a strip of duct tape or other sealant.
If the adapter kit fits in your window, but it isn’t large enough to completely seal (or you’re installing the A/C in a doorway), you’ll need to block the opening. The best solution is to measure the height and width of the extra space, then head to your local hardware store and get a piece of Plexiglass cut to fit those dimensions. If Plexiglass isn’t readily available, you could use plywood or cardboard to fill the gaps, though these options won’t be weather resistant and will likely need to be removed or replaced in areas with a lot of humidity or rainfall. Regardless of material used, you’ll again need to use a sealant on all the seams to keep your cold air contained and prevent an influx of insects.
Step 4: Connect the ventilation hose Credit: Getty Images / Kevin Brine
When installing your portable air conditioner, keep the ventilation hose as short as possible: A longer run of hose means more heat can radiate back into the room, instead of being vented outside.
Once your window adapter kit is installed and the edges are sealed, it’s time to connect its exhaust port to your A/C via the ventilation hose. Both the window adapter kit and your A/C will likely have fairly obvious connection points. In some cases, the hose will come pre-attached to the window adapter kit.
Fit the end of the hose around the window adapter unit first, making sure it fits snugly. If the hose doesn’t create a perfect seal with the window adapter unit, it’s time to break out the sealant: Again, a strip of duct tape wrapped around the junction of the hose and window connector should suffice.
Once the hose is connected to the window adapter unit, it’s time to connect it to the A/C itself. Again, make sure to use a sealant to prevent any leaks at the connection point.
Step 5: Secure the drainage hose
Many portable air conditioners funnel condensation into a pan or reservoir, but in some cases it will feature a continuous drainage system that outputs its condensation via a hose. In this case, you’ll need to make sure it’s secured to a nearby water drain. If a drain isn’t available, make sure you have a bucket on hand.
Once you’ve placed the drainage hose in a sink, tub, or bucket, you’ll want to ensure the hose is secured somehow—you don’t want the hose to pull loose and start leaking water all over your floor. A few strips of tape will likely do the trick. Avoid putting weight on the hose, as that might pinch or collapse it over time.
Step 6: Plug in your portable A/C and power it on
Once the ventilation hose is connected to the window and A/C unit (and the drainage hose is secured to a drain, if applicable), you’re good to plug the unit in and power it on. Enjoy!
Stay cool out there! Credit: Getty Images / diego_cervo
While air conditioners and refrigerators use similar technology, refrigerators won’t cool an area very efficiently—we’d recommend sticking with your portable A/C.
Getting your portable A/C installed is the first big step towards a more comfortable summer and a great tool for taking the edge off a heat wave. Remember, extreme heat is no joke, so we'd recommend reviewing the CDC’s guide to extreme heat to make sure you know how to spot problems such as heat stroke or exhaustion so you deal with them before they become dangerous. Wear sunscreen, stay hydrated, and if you need anything else to help you beat the heat this summer, we’ve got you covered:
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