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How to buy a portable air conditioner and save on electricity

Let's start with a big disclaimer: we would not recommend that you buy an air conditioner. With the British weather the way it is, there is no point. But sometimes - even though it may seem incredible to believe - it does get unbearably hot in this country. And when you have young children, or are looking after the elderly, an air conditioner is an effective weapon of last resort to beat the heat.

So read on if you have never bought an air conditioner, are worried about getting ripped off and are asking yourself any of the following questions:

- When should I buy a portable air conditioner?

- How powerful does my portable air conditioner need to be?

- Should I buy a single unit or a split unit portable air conditioner?

- How loud are portable air conditioners?

- How much should a portable air conditioner cost?

- What kind of maintenance does a portable air conditioner need?


Here is how you can get value for money when you are buying an air conditioner:

The first rule of buying an air conditioning unit is to not wait until it gets hot. Air Conditioners sell out fast when you need them most and chances are that by the time you get your hands on a unit, temperatures will have come down. Retailers know this of course and will charge what they want when you stumble through their shop entrance in the middle of a summer heat wave.

So give yourself time to shop around. You don't want to get stuck with an overpriced and inadequate no-brand air conditioner from your local hardware store that does not last beyond a season, simply because everything decent was sold out on the hottest day of the year.

The second rule is that even a good air conditioner will use quite a bit of electricity, so make sure that you switch to the cheapest gas and electricity supplier before you buy. You could save up to £450 from switching your supplier. You know where we are coming from if you consider that a reasonably powerful portable air conditioner will cost around £200 to run around the clock for a month.

Here are some simple pointers to getting value for money:

Which Type?

Integrated units work by housing the compressor unit (the bit that pumps the heat out of the air and that makes all the noise) inside the main control unit. This makes the unit more compact, and easier to move from room to room. On the downside, integrated units can be irritatingly noisy and tend to have less power, but they also cost less, with a decent unit priced around the £400 mark.

Split air conditioners house the noisy bits in an external box, which you will have to find space for outside your window. The outside unit is attached to the inside control unit by a rubber hose pipe. This type of air conditioner has the advantage of keeping the noise down. However, if you want to move your air conditioner from room to room, you need to consider that half of it sits outside. Split mobile units are also a bit more expensive, typically starting at £600.

What Size?

Buy an air conditioner with a cooling capacity that matches your property. Measure the room you wish to cool, and make sure that it corresponds with the stated capacity of the unit, which is printed on the packaging. An underpowered unit will have to run constantly without providing enough cooling, while an overly powerful machine can make the air feel clammy.

How important is noise?

Air conditioners can be quite noisy. If you cannot demo a unit, ask for its noise performance in decibel - this is particularly important if you are buying an integrated unit. 36 to 40 decibel is considered a good performance. Noise is a really important consideration if you wish to place the device in a bedroom.

How do I know if my air conditioner is efficient?

All air conditioners are sold with the already familiar energy efficiency ratings printed on the packaging. Needless to say, an A or B performance-rated unit consumes less electricity and will be cheaper to run. Also consider that you will want to use the air conditioner every summer, and high energy efficiency is a good indication that your unit is better built.

How will I fit the air conditioner?

Fitting the unit is something you should plan before you buy. You will in all likelihood need to run a pipe through an open window to expel the heat, and without sealing the window properly you'll just be letting hot air back in. If you buy a split unit you will also need to place the compressor unit outside.

Is condensation an issue?

Cooling involves removing moisture from the air. The moisture is captured in an internal water tank, which will need to be emptied regularly. Ease of access is therefore a watchword, because on humid days you will need to do this quite often. With split units you can get around this issue if you manage to place the compressor below the control unit (the water will be forced into the compressor, which typically will expel the water via a drip). The problem here can be that a downstairs neighbour might not be impressed with a near constant drip.

Maintenance:

All filters, air intakes, grilles and radiators need to be kept clean at all times to maintain peak performance. Check that your unit allows easy access to all maintainable parts. You'll be surprised how quickly the filters get dirty, and keeping them clean is really important, because this affects the unit's performance and the air that you breathe.

Usage:

Most new units have a timer facility - before you leave your home, you can set the timer to start the machine 30 minutes before your return. You will enter into a nicely cooled home without wasting energy in your absence. Don't make your home too cold, set the temperature to around 22 Celsius for a comfortable environment.

Also use a fan:

Circulate the cold air with an extra standard fan to ensure efficient temperature distribution.

We are great fans (pardon the pun) of buying portable air conditioners that are first and foremost efficient. They will do a better job, won't make excessive noise, minimise daily maintenance (emptying the water being the core chore), last longer and use less electricity. When it comes to the air in your home, it probably is worthwhile spending the extra money.

Ok, so what are you waiting for now - warm weather perhaps?