Last updated: February 22, 2023.
Choosing to go with a window or portable air conditioner is simple, when you have the data. Window vs portable AC – which is best? Find out below, based on data from comprehensive studies.
Are window air conditioners better than portable units? You’ll find out here.
In this article you’ll find a comparison of results from comprehensive studies into key performance factors, such as energy efficiency, cooling capacity, power consumption, noise levels, running costs, and more.
First, a quick summary…
- Window AC vs Portable AC
- Window or Portable Air Conditioner – Final Thoughts
Window AC vs Portable AC
Overall, window ACs outperform portable ACs.
Window air conditioners are more energy efficient and more powerful than portable air conditioners, on average. They also offer a wider cooling capacity (BTU) range.
They are generally quieter, cheaper to buy and more cost effective to run.
But portable ACs do have their benefits too, particularly when it comes to convenience.
Let’s take a look at some key differences between window and portable ACs in more detail.
Spoiler: window ACs win out overall due to their higher performance, but for those that need or strongly prefer convenience, portable ACs may be a more suitable option.
Portable vs Window AC Efficiency
Window ACs are more energy efficient than portable ACs.
Window air conditioners offer more cooling capacity per watt compared to portable units.
The average CEER for window ACs is 11.96, which is 38% higher than the average for portable units.
The higher the CEER, the more efficient the unit.
Learn more about CEER and air conditioner energy efficiency in general, check out the Window Air Conditioner Energy Efficiency section, here.
The most common window AC CEER is 12 while the most common portable AC CEER is 7.9.
The lowest recorded CEER in the study of window ACs was 9.1. This is substantially higher than the lowest recorded for portable units, which was just 1.58.
The highest CEER, however, is a closer competition. But window ACs still win out.
The most energy efficient window AC has a CEER of 15.7 (see this unit on geappliances.com, here), while the highest CEER recorded for portable ACs is 14.7 (check it out on Home Depot, here, or Amazon, here).
The table below summarizes window AC vs portable AC energy efficiency results.
|CEER category||Window AC CEER||Portable AC CEER|
Related: see how wall AC energy efficiency compares with these results.
Next, let’s see how window and portable air conditioners compare in terms of wattage.
Window AC vs Portable AC Wattage
Window ACs offer a wider range of wattage options compared to portable ACs.
Window ACs can have both a higher and lower wattage than portable units.
A wider range of options is more beneficial to users.
This is because there are more choices for different use cases.
For example, lower wattage units are better suited to RVs and off-grid power systems. And high wattage units are more suited for larger spaces that have a 230V mains supply.
The table below compares window and portable air conditioner wattage.
|Wattage Category||Window AC Wattage||Portable AC Wattage|
On the other hand, the lowest wattage portable AC unit currently available on Home Depot comes in at 754W (see details on Home Depot, here). That’s nearly twice the power rating of the lowest wattage window unit.
So, window ACs win out in terms of wattage.
Next, let’s take a look at cooling capacity / BTU.
Window AC & Portable AC BTU – Room Size Comparison
Window ACs have a higher BTU / cooling capacity compared to portable ACs.
The highest recorded BTU for a window ACs was 35,000 – more than twice the highest recorded for portable units (i.e. 14,000).
This means that window ACs can cool more than their portable counterparts.
The recommended room size for window ACs can reach up to 2,700 sq. ft., while portable ACs can cool rooms up to 775 sq. ft.
So window ACs win out again.
But what about when it comes to convenience?
Convenience: Window ACs vs Portable ACs
Portable ACs offer more convenience.
Portable air conditioners are generally easier to install. They usually come with kits to clip to most window frames.
Window AC users need to have greater consideration for window frame sizes and installation requirements.
Unlike portable ACs, there’s a risk of injury and considerable damage if a window AC is incorrectly installed.
Portable ACs have the added convenience of being portable, as the name suggests.
Being more portable means that these units can be moved throughout a house and even within a room to help make occupants feel more comfortable.
It’s also particularly useful for those renting. Moving a portable AC to a new home is a lot more convenient compared to a window unit.
On the other hand, however, this portability may result in a trip hazard or, at the very least, a slightly more cluttered room.
Despite this, portable ACs win out in this category.
But overall, unless you need or have a strong preference for convenience, the higher performance delivered by windows ACs will likely make them a more desirable option.
Window AC & Portable AC Noise Level Comparison
Window air conditioners have a wider noise level range than portable ACs.
The quietest window AC is 11 dB quieter than the quietest portable unit. However, the loudest window unit is 3 dB louder than its noisiest portable counterpart.
Interestingly, the most common amount of noise produced by both window and portable units is the same, at 56 dB.
Overall, however, the average window AC noise level is 1.8 dB louder than the average for portable ACs.
Related: Quietest Wall AC Revealed [Latest Noise Level Study Results].
The table below lists how many decibels both window and portable ACs produce.
|Noise Level Category||Window AC noise level (decibels)||Portable AC noise level (decibels)|
|Average||56.4 dB||54.6 dB|
|Most common||56 dB||56 dB|
|Highest||67 dB||64 dB|
|Lowest||33 dB||44 dB|
The results above were sourced from the following ecocostsavings.com studies:
- Quietest Window Air Conditioner [1,037 Studied | 11 Noise Reducing Tips]; and
- Are Portable Air Conditioners Quiet? [Quietest Revealed | 13 Noise Reducing Tips].
Want to see how wall ACs compare? Check out the consolidated study results comparing all air conditioner decibel ratings.
Coming in with just 33 dB, the quietest window air conditioner Danby – DAC080B6IWDB-6 (see details on danby.com, here).
With a noise level of 44 dB, the quietest portable air conditioner is the LG LP1419IVSM (check it out on Amazon, here).
So, if noise level is your sole concern, window air conditioners provide a wider range of options.
As a result, window air conditioners win this category.
Additional factors, such as the ability to easily increase the distance from the AC, along with other noise reducing opportunities, should also be considered.
So, check out the links above to get noise reducing tips, see the quietest models, and the noise levels of the most energy efficient window and portable air conditioners.
Next, let’s take a look at amperage.
Window AC Amps vs Portable AC Amps
On average, window AC units draw less amps than portable units (specifically, averaging 2.62A less).
The most common window AC amp draw is 11A – that’s 1A less than the most common portable AC amp draw of 12A.
Typical domestic and standard commercial window ACs (not including large industrial units) can reach 20A, while 12.8A is the highest portable amperage recorded in the study.
The lowest portable air conditioner amperage is 3.1A, while the lowest recorded for window ACs is 3.8A.
The table below compares (across several categories) the amperage of window and portable air conditioners.
|Amp Category||Window AC Amps (A)||Portable AC Amps (A)|
The table above does not include startup amps. For this level of detail, check out:
- Window AC Amps [Lowest Amp & Most Efficient Revealed]; and
- Portable AC Amps Study [Lowest Amp Unit Revealed].
So which units draw the least amount of amps?
At just 3.1A, the portable AC that draws the least amount of amps while running is the Costway EP24041 – check it out on Amazon, here.
The lowest amp window AC is the 3.8A, Frigidaire – FFRE053WAE, check it out on Amazon, here. Off-grid users might be interested to know that this unit offers a “Low Voltage Start-up” option.
Now that we’ve compared window and portable AC power consumption, energy efficiency, cooling capacity and noise levels, let’s see how their running costs compare.
Cost To Run Window ACs vs Portable ACs
Window air conditioners are cheaper to run than portable ACs. On average, assuming continuous max power draw, it costs 5 cents more per hour to run a portable air conditioner compared to a window unit.
Running a window AC with the average wattage costs $0.09 cents less per hour compared to its portable counterpart.
Note: as mentioned above, portable ACs have a higher average wattage compared to window ACs.
Overall, due to the wider power range, window air conditioners can cost more or less to run than portable ACs.
This wider range is a plus for those seeking more control over their electricity bills.
As a result, window ACs win again.
The table below compares the cost to run both window and portable ACs, across various result categories.
|Running Cost Category||Window AC cost per hour (assuming continuous max power draw)||Portable AC cost per hour (assuming continuous max power draw)|
These costs are based on the manufacturer’s listed wattage, and assume continuous max power draw, in order to simplify the comparison. However, doing this inflates the hourly running costs.
Air conditioners cycle on and off, go through different cooling stages, and consume different levels of power depending on the settings and surroundings, among many other factors.
For more insights into the running costs, including some key nuances, check out:
- Cost To Run Window ACs [1,037+ Studied | Cheapest Revealed | W/ Calculator]; and
- Cost To Run Portable Air Conditioners [Cheapest To Run + Calculator].
These studies reveal that the cheapest window air conditioner to run costs a maximum of $0.06 per hour (i.e., the Frigidaire – FFRE053WAE, check it out on Amazon, here), which is 5 cents less than its cheapest running portable counterpart.
Window or Portable Air Conditioner – Final Thoughts
The “window or portable air conditioner” choice does not have a one-size-fits-all answer.
But, to help inform the decision, it’s clear that in terms of energy efficiency, noise levels, and performance in general, window air conditioners deliver better results.
However, the movability and convenience offered by portable air conditioners make them a good choice for many.
The best option will depend on the user’s circumstances and preferences.
But if you’re trying to keep your electricity bills and carbon footprint low then window air conditioners will be the best option in most cases.
You might also be interested to see how through-the-wall AC units compare. If so, check out Wall AC vs Window AC for a snapshot of performance results.
I hope that, by compiling and comparing key factors for both window and portable ACs, you’re now better equipped to make a more informed decision.
But before you go, don’t miss this 6 Quick Wins Cheat Sheet that’ll help you reduce your bills and carbon footprint quickly and easily:
What is a good SEER rating for a heat pump, & what’s the highest? Find out here, based on a comprehensive study of 2,126 of the most energy efficient heat pumps.
Which is the quietest through-the-wall air conditioner? Find out here, based on a comprehensive study. Plus, see the average & most common decibel ratings, and see how loud the most efficient wall ACs are.
See the most efficient wall AC unit, energy efficient wall air conditioners by room size, & get insights into wall AC wattage, amperage, running costs & BTU. Plus, see how wall & window ACs compare.
James, Eco Cost Savings co-founder and Editor-in-Chief, is also our experienced in-house energy management and sustainability expert, and manager of our network of sustainability consultants.
Before his journey into sustainability, James studied engineering. Additionally, he has experience in HVAC installation, and data analysis. A self-proclaimed practical environmentalist, and avid penny pincher, James established Eco Cost Savings to share his and his colleague’s expertise with the aim of helping to reduce energy bills and carbon footprints at scale.