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Keep cool affordably with a portable air conditioner

Q: I keep my central air-conditioning thermostat set higher to reduce my electric bills, but I would like extra cooling in some rooms at times. Are the new lightweight portable air conditioners effective! - B. G.

A: The new lightweight portable air conditioners on casters are effective in houses with or without central air-conditioning. If you cannot afford central air-conditioning, these units provide a lower-cost alternative. You can cool just the room or area that you are using at the time. All the portable models plug into standard 110-voltwall outlets.

Even with central air-conditioning, what house doesn't have a room or two that is always a little too warm or uncomfortably sticky. If you set the central thermostat lower to keep that problem room comfortable, the rest of the house is too cool. This is not only uncomfortable, but it pushes up your electric bills.

Using a portable air conditioner often allows you to set your central thermostat a few degrees higher. Keep in mind that each degree that you set your thermostat higher in the summer provides a much greater percentage energy savings than setting it back in the winter. You can save from 2 percent to 3 percent for each degree thermostat set-up and lower the peak electricity demand.

Some of the portable air conditioners weigh less than 40 pounds and have easy-to-carry handles. They are often used in the kitchen to offset the heat from cooking dinner. After dinner, you can roll it into your living room while you watch TV. When you go to bed, move it to the bedroom that is always a little too warm.

Rotary compressors are used in most small portable air conditioners. These are efficient and the most quiet compressor design. Portable air conditioners also act as efficient room dehumidifiers as they cool your room, drawing up to four gallons of humidity out of the air every day. This also helps to keep the rest of your house more comfortable.

There are many models and features to choose from. The best models have thermostats, three fan speeds and oscillating louvers. These are designed to distribute the cool air evenly throughout the room. If you have a problem with allergies, select a model with a built-in washable filter. The dehumidification also helps reduce mold and dust mite allergies. To remove odors, some models have charcoal filter elements.

If you plan to use one in a bedroom at night, select a model with a time-delay shut-off. You can set it to turn itself off an hour or so after you go to sleep. This allows you to go to bed while the bedroom is comfortably cool. After it stops, the room slowly warms up again while you sleep.

Most portable air conditioners operate somewhat like a dehumidifier except that the cold air is blown out the front. Instead of warm air blowing out into the room, it is ducted out a window or door through a small clothes dryer-type duct. All models include adjustable window and door adapters that can be moved quickly from window to window.

On most models, you empty a small water condensation tray every several days, just like with a typical dehumidifier. One model series, the Pinquino, has a sophisticated design that does not require emptying a water tray. The water is used to help cool the condenser coils for higher efficiency and cooling output. The water vapor blows outdoors with the hot air.

Another model uses two sets of condenser coils. With this unique, high-output design, you fill a water tank. It uses this water to super-cool one set of condenser coils. When it runs out of water, it self adjusts and cools using the other air-only set of coils.

The most powerful and quiet portable design is a mini-split system. The quiet cooling coil and multi-speed fan unit sets indoors on the floor up to 10 feet from a window. A small separate compressor unit is placed outside the window and is attached with a small hose. It is easy to move the system from room to room.

In some houses, like mine, that are too humid, but stay cool from shade trees, using a dehumidifier can improve comfort, help allergy problems and improve overall cooling efficiency. Keep in mind that dehumidifiers by themselves do not produce any net cooling effect. Small room models help some, but whole-house and ducted models, like the Sahara brand, dehumidify many times more efficiently.

Write for Utility Bills Update No. 935 - a buyer's guide of 11 manufacturers of portable air conditioners, room and whole-house dehumidifiers, outputs, sizes, features, prices and a cost-to-use chart. Please include $2 (with check payable to Jim Dulley) and a business-size SASE. Mail to: Jim Dulley, Illinois Country Living, P.O. Box 3787, Springfield, IL 62708. For instant download, go to http://

James Dulley is a mechanical engineer who writes on a wide variety of energy and utility topics. His column appear in a large number of daily newspapers.

Copyright 1998 James Uulley



Why shouldn't you tell secrets in a garden?
The potatoes have eyes, the corn has ears and the beans talk.


A five-year-old boy was helping his grandpa dig potatoes on the farm. After 20 minutes of digging and picking up potatoes, the lad sighed and asked, "Grandpa, why did you bury so many?"


A few days before my second wedding, I asked my six-year-old son if he would do me the honor of giving me away.

He got a very serious look on his face and replied, "No, Mommy, I think I'll keep you!"


The little boy's sign said, "Dog for sale one cent" But his dad said one cent was too low a price.

The next day the boy changed the sign. It said, "Dog for sale - $10,000."

When his dad came home, he saw the sign was gone. "Did you sell your $10,000 dog?" he asked.

"Sure did," the boy replied, "got two $5,000 kittens for him."


A mother and her young daughter were at church. A man in the seat behind them leaned forward and asked the little girl, "Where did you get that beautiful hair?"

The little girl replied, "From my daddy, because my mommy still has hers."


Timmy didn't like the school lunches. One day the school served peanut butter sandwiches and Timmy said, "That's more like it. At last, a home-cooked meal."


Teacher; "Johnny, you copied Joan's answers yesterday, didn't you?"
Johnny: "Yes, but how did you find out?"

Teacher: "Joan's answer to number 10 was, 'I don't know." and yours said, 'I don't either.'

Pauline Thomason, Flora

Is there a joke in YOUR family (that's proper for a family magazine)? Illinois Country Living pays $5.00 for each joke chosen for Illinois Funnybone. Send your humorous story to Illinois Funnybone, P.O. Box 3787, Springfield, IL 62708-3787.


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