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If you’re a summer hater, or if you just run hot through all year long, a working air conditioning unit is essential for making indoor spaces comfortable. If you don’t have central air conditioning, a window AC unit — like this Midea AC unit that Select editor Justin Krajeski loves — might be a solid solution. But if you live in a small space and don’t want to (or are unable to) use window space, you might consider a portable AC unit. These units, which sit by a window, work by intaking warm indoor air, cooling it, and returning the chilled air to the room. The leftover, hot air, travels through a tube out the window, never to be seen again. Summer chilling commences.
While portable AC units are easier to install, they tend to be more expensive than window units, according to the experts we spoke to. To help guide your search and help you stay cool without emptying your wallet, we rounded up some highly rated portable air conditioners for under $400.
How to shop for a portable air conditioning unit
Before you buy a portable AC, you may want to grab your tape measure. An AC’s cooling power is measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs): the higher the BTUs, the larger the space the AC can cool, in square footage. Measure the room you intend to keep cool and take a look around. Which window should the portable AC sit near? These measurements will tell you how much cooling power you will need.
To help you find the right model for your space, EnergyStar, a federal program promoting energy-efficient products, offers the below cooling capacity guidelines on its website:
- 5,000 BTUs: 100 to 150 square feet
- 6,000 BTUs: 150 to 250 square feet
- 7,000 BTUs: 250 to 300 square feet
- 8,000 BTUs: 300 to 350 square feet
- 9,000 BTUs: 350 to 400 square feet
- 10,000 BTUs: 400 to 450 square feet
- 12,000 BTUs: 450 to 550 square feet
- 14,000 BTUs: 550 to 700 square feet
Top-rated affordable portable air conditioners
We rounded up some affordable models based on previous expert advice in our guide to portable air conditioners — each option clocked in at less than $400 and received high ratings from shoppers.
This Shinco unit, the top-rated option in our portable AC units guide, offers 8,000 BTUs of cooling power. The machine comes with a remote control and LED display and also works as a dehumidifier or fan for those hot, but not-too-hot days. It has an average rating of 4.3 stars from over 1,800 reviews on Amazon.
This SereneLife AC model has 8,000 BTUs of cooling power and also works as a dehumidifier or simple fan. You can find the unit in a variety of cooling capacities, including 10,000-BTU and 12,000-BTU versions, both of which are less than $400 and come with a remote. It has an average rating of 4.4 stars from over 14,000 reviews on Amazon.
This Black+Decker option has 10,000 BTUs of cooling power and offers a regular fan and dehumidifying mode. It has an average rating of 4.4 stars from over 34,000 reviews on Amazon.
You can control this AC unit with a smartphone app, or pair it with Alexa or Google Assistant to access voice commands, the brand says. In addition to being an air conditioner, it also has a fan mode and dehumidifying mode and comes with a washable filter. It’s also available in 12,000 BTU and 14,000 BTU versions. It has an average rating of 4.2 stars from over 1,900 reviews on Amazon.
This portable AC unit is equipped with 10,000 BTUs and four different modes — cool, dry, fan and sleep. The unit has a remote control, a 24-hour timer, an LED display and it can cool a room to between temperatures of 64 degrees and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the company. It has an average rating of 4.3 stars from over 4,200 reviews on Amazon.