Like normal air conditioners, portable air conditioners pull in warm air, cool it and circulate it back into the room. Unlike normal air conditioners, all of the mechanical parts of a portable air conditioner operate inside the room.
Using a traditional air conditioner requires installing the unit through a window, allowing the bulk of the unit to project outside. By contrast, the portable air conditioner is an enclosed unit. It sits on the floor of the room and houses the compressor and circuitry.
Traditional air conditioners vent hot air outside of the room to provide cooling, whereas portable air conditioners use an exhaust hose attached to an exterior window. The exhaust hose creates negative pressure in the room, drawing warm air from surrounding rooms into the unit. The unit then cools the warm air and releases it directly into the room.
Despite their portability, portable air conditioners are generally large and bulky. A typical unit weighs 50 to 80 pounds and must operate near a window for exhaust purposes. Many portable air conditioners feature wheels for easy repositioning. The hose of a unit is 5 to 7 feet long and requires plenty of space to prevent the blockage of airflow.