Portable vs. window vs. mini split AC unit: which should you choose?

When it comes to purchasing an air conditioner (AC) unit, you’re presented with a dilemma: should you go with a window, portable, or even a mini split AC? Air conditioning is the perfect way to cool down your home, and the people in it—especially useful during the hot and humid summer months. But which type of AC unit should you get? Let’s go over the differences between the types, as well as the pros and cons for each so you can pick the model that suits you best.

A window AC unit fastens to a standard-sized window (or even a cut-out in the wall) and provides cool air within a room. They exhaust hot air outside and bring cool air in.

If you own your home and are looking to cool a large room, a window air conditioner can be a good investment. It will cool a large room and won’t take up any valuable floor space. If you live where it tends to be hot for more than just a few months out of the year, you might appreciate a window AC as a more permanent installation solution. If you’re on a tight budget, and only looking to cool a single room, it might be worth trying out a window AC to see how it works for you.

A portable air conditioning unit is, as the name implies, a portable, floorstanding unit that uses a hose to exhaust air from the room, then run that air out through a window or wall. There are also dual-hose models, with one hose that can bring in air from outside to cool the condenser, and a second hose to exhaust the heated air out. The house typically vents through a window. Some are self-evaporating and can recycle condensation back into the air, most require water drainage from time to time.

If you’re looking to cool different rooms at different times of the day, like a home office or living room during working hours and bedroom or nursery at night, a portable AC night is the best option. They are easy to move around, often on castors or with a built-in or recessed handle. Installation is simple, typically just involving plugging the unit in and mounting the exhaust hose to your open window. If you live in a rented apartment or house, a portable AC might be the only option if the landlord does not permit window AC installation. Finally, portable AC units are ideal for smaller rooms. They take up some floor space, but if you have a suitable corner to place it in, it will work well.

A mini split AC is a unique AC unit that includes both cooling and heating, allowing you to seamlessly switch between the two based on your needs. Like the others, it controls the temperature in a specific space or room of the home. Mini split air conditioners are especially good for larger spaces. They consist of an indoor, usually long and rectangular unit to handle air (i.e. an evaporator) and an outdoor compressor or condenser that looks similar to a traditional window AC, though it’s much larger and typically sits flat on the ground (or you can get a mounting bracket to mount it to the side of the house). The two need to connect to one another via conduit through the wall. This requires the help of a professional.

If you own your home, you can safely install a mini split AC with the help of a professional. These are more of a permanent solution and ideal for those who live where weather can fluctuate often. If you find you’re often needing to cool down a particular room one day then heat it up the following week because of an unexpected cold front, you’ll appreciate the versatility with a mini split AC. They are ideal for houses that don’t have ducted heating systems as well, like if you live in a rural area with a hot water heater, radiant panels, or space heaters. For larger spaces and homes, you may find mini split AC to offer the best coverage as well.

Regardless of whether you decide to go window or portable, there are a few key things to look for with the model you choose.

Look for a model that offers a relatively easy installation process, and has easy to clean filters and a simple process for water drainage (even better if the design eliminates the need to empty a bucket altogether).

You can save on energy by looking for a model with multiple settings so you can adjust how cool the room gets, and especially if you opt for one with a dedicated energy savings mode. Even better if you can set times when it goes on and off. For example, you might want to have it kick in every day a half hour before you arrive home from work, then shut off first thing in the morning. Some also have sleep modes so they’ll automatically turn off after a set period of time so you don’t accidentally leave it running while you’re gone for the day.

For portable air conditioners, look for the SACC BTU rating or, if it isn’t on the product just yet (labeling might take time), choose a model with a higher rating than you’ll need to ensure sufficient cooling. We discuss what these measurements mean in the air conditioners buying guide. For window it conditioners, look at how big a space it is rated to cool to ensure it will be sufficient for your space.

A handy remote will make it easy to control the unit from the comfort of the couch or bed. Some might even include Wi-Fi so you can control them alongside other smart home devices, or even by voice.

Make sure you can adjust the direction of the cooling so it isn’t blasting right at you, for example, or ideally, oscillating to keep the entire space evenly cooled. Some models even have a follow feature that will keep the cool air directed at you at all times, no matter where you are in the room.

Some air conditioners, especially portable models, have dual functions, like the ability to emit hot air as well during the winter months. Some also come with built-in air purification so you can not only keep the room cool but clean the air as well. Others work as fans and dehumidifiers, so look at what else models you’re considering can do, and if those secondary features would be useful.

Depending on where you live in Canada, you might only need an air conditioner for a few months out of the year. But when you need it, you really need it. Once you’ve selected the right type of air conditioner and the perfect model to meet your needs, you can sit back and enjoy the cool breeze and comfort. And if you decide to go with a mini split AC, you can use it all year ’round.

Best Buy offers a wide selection of window, portable, and mini split air conditioners. Need more help deciding? Learn everything you need to know about air conditioners to help you make the right decision in the air conditioners buying guide.

Portable would be handier. But our current home has old windows that open outward and unable to find plexiglass to fit window with matching hole in it for the ac…sigh.

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