As the days warm up, you may be looking for some effective ways of cooling you and your house back down. So if central air conditioning is too expensive, and soaking your socks in water and tossing them in the freezer is a little to messy, it may be time to consider one of the many affordable and practical portable air conditioners now on the market.

Portable air conditioners actually take two basic forms – air coolers, and actual air conditioners. Each have some advantages and disadvantages, and it pays to consider both carefully before heading out on a shopping spree.

Air Coolers: Also called evaporative coolers and swamp coolers, air coolers are very simple, and have only three basic parts: a reservoir for storing water; a wick made from a moisture-absorbent material, and a fan. The wick hangs down into the reservoir, and water is absorbed up into the material. The fan then blows a stream of air over the moisture-laden wick, evaporating moisture and blowing the cooled air out into the room. Louvers on the front of the unit allow you to direct the air as desired.

The process of evaporation is called an “endothermic reaction,” meaning that it absorbs heat. Therefore, some of the heat is being removed from the air, so the resulting air being blown out into the room is cooler than the air being drawn into the unit. At the same time, moisture vapor is being blown into the room as well, which can be a real plus in a dry climate, and a real negative in a humid one.

Air coolers are not air conditioners. They do not have a compressor, refrigerant and other components found in a true air conditioner, and they are only capable of cooling the air approximately 12 to 15 degrees. On the other hand, they are simple to set up and maintain, do not require any kind of exterior vent, and are less expensive to purchase than a portable air conditioner.

Air Conditioners: Not all that long ago, air conditioners were only available as large central units or ones that required installation through a wall or in a window. Portable air conditioners typically do not offer the cooling capacity of a window unit, but they do have the advantage of portability so you can move it to whatever room needs cooling. It can sit in the living room while you watch TV, then it can move to the bedroom to help cool you down while you sleep.

Portable air conditioners are contained in sleek and attractive caster-mounted cabinets for easy transport, and average about 28 to 34 inches tall. Most have multi-speed fans and adjustable air-direction louvers, and many also feature timers and thermostats for easier and more effective control.

While a portable air conditioner has more cooling capacity than an air cooler, it has the disadvantage of needing to be vented to the outside. The air conditioning process removes heat from the air, and if the vent is not connected and the air conditioner cannot push the hot exhaust air out of the house, it will be virtually impossible for the unit to cool the room it’s in.

For this purpose, portable air conditioners come with a flexible exhaust hose and some type of window venting kit. The vent panel is installed in the window, the window is closed against the panel, and the hose is then connected between the air conditioner and the panel. To simplify moving between rooms, additional window panels are available as well.

Unlike air coolers that put moisture into the air, air conditioners actually remove moisture, so they are a plus in humid climates and a minus in dry ones. As the moisture is removed from the air, it collects in a tray inside the air conditioner, and needs to be emptied periodically. Most units have some type of automatic shutoff feature that will shut the air conditioner off when the tray is full in order to prevent overfilling and the possibility of leakage. Some of the higher-end models have a self-evaporating mechanism built in to the unit, which can greatly reduce the amount of moisture being removed from the air.

When you’re ready to start shopping, check out a few different models of air conditioners and air coolers and discuss your particular needs with a reputable dealer before making your decision.

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