Portable AC Unit vs. Ductless AC Unit

Is there a room in your house that does not have central air conditioning? Have you noticed hot or cold spots in your home? An extra air conditioner can make all the difference between comfort and unbearable heat. But should you purchase a portable air conditioner or a ductless AC unit? Today, we’re going to cover the advantages and disadvantages of ductless mini-splits and portable air conditioners, which should help you make a decision.

Where to Put an Extra Cooling Unit

The challenge with adding a new addition to your home is that it will lack ductwork, preventing you from getting central heating and cooling (unless you install ductwork). Fortunately, nothing is stopping you from placing or installing an additional cooling unit in it. Bedrooms are another popular place to put an extra cooling unit since many people prefer them to be cooler than the rest of their home. A lot of homeowners add additional cooling units to sheds, basements, and garages for maximum comfort.

Why Do I Need Additional Cooling?

Shouldn’t a central air conditioner be enough to cool your home? In certain cases, it might not be.

Your Central AC Is Oversized or Undersized

This issue is actually more common than you would believe. According to consumer groups and HVAC industry consultants, 90% of HVAC systems are improperly sized and installed, and 70% of ductwork is incorrectly sized. If your AC unit is undersized, it will overwork itself and run continuously without reaching the programmed temperature. On the other hand, if your central air conditioner is oversized, it will short-cycle, or turn on for a few minutes before shutting off. When a central air conditioner short-cycles, the cool and conditioned air does not have enough time to mix with the warm air in your rooms, resulting in hot and cold spots throughout your home.

There Is a Blockage in Your Ductwork

Have you recently finished a home renovation project? During home renovation projects, construction debris can easily become lodged in your ductwork. At Quick Pro Serve, we’ve seen everything from pieces of wood to sawdust! When your ducts are blocked, you won’t receive proper airflow.

None or Insufficient Return Ducts

In older homes, it’s common to only have one central return duct or none at all. And even if you do have a return duct, it may be inadequate. This is a problem because unconditioned air won’t mix with the treated air.

You Added a New Room or Converted an Existing Room into a Living Space

If you added an extra room to your home, your HVAC system may not be large enough to condition the new space. Additionally, if you convert a room into a livable space, such as an attic into a bedroom, it may receive cool air but lack enough insulation. Converting your garage into a workspace? Unfortunately, central air conditioning isn’t an option for garages because of the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Pros of a Portable Air Conditioner


Even the most expensive portable air conditioners cost less than $1,000! For the price of a single ductless AC unit, you can easily buy three or four portable air conditioners.

Can Create a Zoning System

Another benefit to purchasing portable air conditioners is that when you buy a few of them, you can create the perfect zoning system! If you put one portable air conditioner in each of your bedrooms, you and your family can set the temperature to whatever you like.

Uses Less Electricity

Depending on the size of the portable air conditioner, it can use as little as one-eighth of the electricity that your central air conditioner does, translating to around one-eighth of the cost. Keep in mind, however, that a single portable air conditioner can only cool one room and cannot cool your entire house.

They Are Portable

Portable air conditioners, as the name implies, are portable! Feel free to use it in your kitchen during the day and move it to your bedroom at night.

Cons of a Portable Air Conditioner

You May Need to Empty the Water Basin Frequently

On humid days you may need to empty the water basin more often. Fortunately, certain models have a hose that can be connected to a drain.

You Can Only Cool One Room at a Time

You cannot cool your entire home with a single portable air conditioner. Depending on the size of the room that you need to cool, two or three portable air conditioners might be necessary to effectively cool it.

Most Models Only Cool

Most models only cool, and if your air conditioner isn’t properly cooling your home, your furnace isn’t likely to heat it efficiently either. So on top of purchasing portable air conditioners, you’ll need to purchase space heaters as well. However, there are some models that can do both!

They Are Noisy

A portable air conditioner contains everything in a single unit, including the compressor, as compared to a ductless AC unit, which has one unit inside and the compressor outside. Since the compressor is located within the unit, it can create a lot of noise.

They Only Dehumidify the Air When They Are Running

Unfortunately, once the unit shuts off, the humidity control also turns off. Since the portable air conditioner won’t be running all the time, you’ll have intermittent humidity control.

They Usually Run at One Speed

This means when your unit is on, it will run at 100% and when it is off, it will run at 0%, with no in-between speeds. This is not only inefficient but also means that the unit will wear down quickly. Portable air conditioners can last up to 10 years, whereas central air conditioners typically have a 20-year lifespan, and ductless mini-splits last up to 30 years.

Pros of a Ductless Mini-Split

Energy Efficiency

SEER ratings (or Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratios) for ductless mini-splits can reach as high as 42! An air conditioner or heat pump’s SEER rating refers to its energy efficiency; the higher the number, the more efficient the system. In comparison, a standard split system has a maximum rating of 25.

Quiet Operation

Since ductless mini-splits are split systems, they contain two units: an outdoor compressor and an indoor air-handling unit. The compressor produces a lot of noise, however, the indoor unit is incredibly quiet.

Heats and Cools With Equal Efficiency

Unlike a portable air conditioner, a ductless AC unit can both heat and cool your home. But the advantages don’t end there! According to the United States Department of Energy, a ductless mini-split with a zoning system can save you up to 30% on energy bills while keeping you comfortable all year long.

You Can Create a Zoning System

One of the greatest advantages of purchasing several ductless mini-splits is that they can be used to create a zoning system. For example, you can program one ductless AC unit to reach 68 degrees, a second to 70 degrees, and a third to 72 degrees! This is extremely beneficial since you can avoid cooling your entire home when you’re only using part of it.

You Can Mount Them on the Wall, Ceiling, or Floor

When you purchase a ductless AC unit, you have the option of installing it on the wall, ceiling, or floor. However, floor and ceiling mounts are smaller but less flexible.

They Use Variable Speed Compressors

Unlike portable air conditioners, ductless mini-splits use variable speed compressors, which means that they can use as little or much power as required to reach the programmed temperature. This will save you a lot of money on utilities since a ductless AC unit will run for longer periods of time without operating at full power, rather than turning on and off frequently (which uses more electricity).

They Constantly Dehumidify the Air

Even while running at their lowest setting, ductless mini-splits dehumidify the air!

Cons of a Ductless Mini-Split

They Are Not Portable

Once installed, your ductless AC unit is not going anywhere, which is why placement is so important.

The Indoor Unit Occupies a Lot of Wall Space

Most homeowners are surprised when they find out that ductless mini-splits take up so much wall space. You'll get used to it eventually, but it will take some time, much like getting used to a new poster or painting.

Visible Line

Another issue that many homeowners are unaware of is that ductless mini-splits contain a line that runs from the inside unit to the outside unit and often runs down the side or around the corners of homes. Even when you use a line hide, this line is visible from a distance. While you can install a ductless AC unit on the ceiling or floor, the line will have to run beneath the flooring or ceiling, increasing installation costs.

Maintenance Is Required

Aside from emptying the water basin, portable air conditioners don’t require much maintenance. However, a ductless AC unit must be maintained regularly. Ductless AC units contain air filters that need to be replaced every few months to keep the air pure and clean from allergens. We recommend scheduling routine maintenance check-ups with a reputable HVAC company at least twice a year (once in the fall and once in the spring). Your HVAC technician will not only be able to change the air filter for you, but they will also inspect your ductless AC unit to determine if any repairs are required. Repairs are often performed on-site the same day, depending on the severity of the damage.

Which AC Unit Should You Choose?

When deciding between buying a portable air conditioner and a ductless AC unit it’s important that you consider your budget, your comfort concerns, and how many rooms you’re trying to cool. Another factor to consider is how long you plan to live in your current home. For example, if you’re moving out soon, you may want to opt for a portable air conditioner instead of a ductless AC unit. If you have any questions or need help making the decision, don’t hesitate to reach out to Quick Pro Serve. We’d be more than happy to evaluate your home and give you our advice!

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