Portable Air Conditioners vs. Ductless Mini-Splits: Pros and Cons

Have you noticed hot and cold spots in your home? Are there areas you avoid because they aren’t as comfortable as other rooms in the house? If that’s the case, you may want to consider investing in a small-area air conditioning system so that you can enjoy every square foot of your home. From home offices to new additions and sunrooms, there are many systems that could work for what you need. But which is best when it comes to portable air conditioners vs. ductless mini-splits? While both have pros and cons, it’s important to weigh all factors before deciding.

Ductless Mini-Splits

Ductless mini-splits are heating and cooling systems that can operate without the use of complicated ductwork. Rather, they have an outdoor compressor and one or more indoor ductless units that transfer refrigerant via refrigerant lines. Ductless mini-splits are a popular choice for home and business owners who want the benefits of air conditioning and heating without the hassle and expense of installing ductwork.

In addition to taking up very little space, ductless systems are ultra efficient. They use powerful inverter technology to keep the temperature consistent in your home. Rather than turn on at full blast until the temperature reaches the thermostat setting, inverter technology delivers the optimum amount of refrigerant to distribute the right-temperature air evenly throughout the room. This allows them to avoid inconsistent temperature variations that occur with conventional heating systems, and also eliminates excess energy waste. 

Portable Air Conditioners

Portable Air Conditioners (PACs) are another option for cooling a small space. They are small, lightweight, and are meant to be moved from room to room as needed. Most portable air conditioners have a flexible duct connected to the back of the unit, which needs to be hooked up to a window.

Portable air conditioners remove moist and hot air indoors by drawing in warm, humid air from the room, then drying and cooling it before circulating fresh air back into the area. During the cold winter, most portable air conditioners do not provide heating.  

Pros of Ductless Mini-Splits

There are several pros to using ductless mini-splits over portable air conditioners. 


Mini-splits have a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) rating that indicates how energy-efficient a system is. The higher the number, the more efficient it is. Mini-splits are highly efficient with a SEER of up to 33 or more. Portable air conditioners, on the other hand, typically use EER ratings. The average EER of a portable air conditioner is 9 (which would equate to about ~10 SEER). 

Quiet Operation

One of the great things about split systems is that the noisiest part of the system is outside. Enjoy a quiet and pleasant atmosphere indoors. The average noise level reaches 32 decibels, which is comparable to a whisper.

Flexibility in Zoning

You can control the temperature in different areas or zones of your home with mini-splits. This means that you can have different temperatures in different rooms or areas, and you don’t have to waste energy cooling or heating areas that are not being used.

Cons of Ductless Mini-Splits

There are a few potential downsides to ductless mini-split installations.

Higher Upfront Cost 

Ductless mini-split installation typically costs more upfront than portable air conditioners. This is because ductless mini-splits require professional installation, while portable air conditioners can simply be plugged into an outlet. That said, mini-splits are a long-term solution for a space, and become a fixture of the home. There are also many rebates, tax credits, and financing options available, which can greatly reduce the overall cost. 

More Difficult to Install 

For best results, ductless mini-splits should be installed by knowledgeable, professional heating and cooling experts. It’s not a wise idea to DIY a ductless mini-split, as it can void the system’s warranty and cause potential problems down the road. Also, it is often difficult to find an HVAC contractor that would be willing to do the final step of “firing off” the unit on a system that they didn’t install.

Pros of Portable Air Conditioners

Here are some of the pros of portable air conditioners.


Portable air conditioners are a great option for anyone with a limited amount of space or for when the system needs to move from one area to another. These devices are moveable, making them perfect for cooling one room separately from the rest of the house. The best thing about portable air conditioners is that they can be put away when not in use, giving you more usable room. That said, they tend to be rather heavy, so they may need two people to help maneuver. 

One of the perks of a portable air conditioner is taking it with you when you move. With a split system air conditioner, it’s not very feasible since they’re usually mounted on the wall or ceiling.


Portable air conditioners are also less expensive than ductless mini-splits, both in terms of the initial purchase price and installation costs. A portable air conditioner will generally cost less than a split system unit, as portable air conditioners typically cost between $500 and $1,000.

Easy Installation

Portable air conditioners come fully assembled and ready to use as opposed to split system units that require professional installation. This saves you money and means you can use the air conditioner immediately.

Cons of Portable Air Conditioners

There are several potential disadvantages to portable air conditioners that should be considered before purchasing.

They can be noisy

Unlike a split system with the compressor outside, a portable air conditioning unit has everything in one unit. The noise it produces can be a lot louder, as there is no separation between the compressor and the occupied room.

Low Power

Portable air conditioners, while powerful enough to cool small spaces, are usually around 2k watts. That’s much less than a split system unit, typically 2.5k-9k watts, which means that portable air conditioners can’t effectively cool rooms larger than 20 sq meters.

Low Efficiency 

The downside of portable air conditioners is that they are much less efficient than mini-split system units. When they are on, they run at full speed, whereas a mini-split adjusts accordingly. This means it will wear out quickly, whereas a ductless system will last for up to 20 years or more. In addition, portable air conditioners have high operating costs compared to the low cost of operating a ductless system. 

Portable Air Conditioners vs. Ductless Mini-Splits – Which Is Better for You?

Between portable air conditioners vs. ductless mini-splits, it can be tough to decide which is the better option for you. Both have pros and cons to consider before making a decision.

Portable air conditioners are a great option if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to cool down a small space in your home. They’re also relatively affordable, making them a great option for those on a budget. However, portable air conditioners can be loud and bulky and need to be vented out of a window to work properly.

Ductless mini-splits, on the other hand, are more expensive up front but offer many advantages over time. They’re quieter, more energy-efficient, and can save you on your monthly energy bills. They can also provide both heating and cooling, so you won’t need to purchase a separate space heater for your area. 

So, which is better for you? It depends on your specific needs and budget. A portable air conditioner may be the way to go if you need a quick and easy solution that doesn’t break the bank. But a ductless mini-split installation may be worth the investment if you want a quieter, more permanent solution.

Ductless Mini-Split Installation With Alpine Ductless Heating and Air Conditioning

One of the hardest things to determine when purchasing a new air conditioner is if it’ll be more efficient than your current one. Split system air conditioners are typically a better option than comparable portable units due to their energy efficiency and high cooling power. Portable air conditioners are a great option for renters who want the flexibility to take their air conditioner with them if they decide to move in the future.

If you need more information about which air conditioning is right for you, contact Alpine Ductless and Heating in Olympia, WA. We are certified ductless installers and can provide all of your ductless heating and cooling needs. We serve the Thurston, Pierce, Mason, Lewis, and South King county areas. Our goal is to help you find the perfect system for heating and cooling your home.

Want to learn more about ductless mini-splits? Check our Ultimate Guide to Ductless Heating & Cooling

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