MFA Test Drives the “Muscle Car” of Portable Air Conditioners

As the hot, sticky summer settles in for the long haul, the nice folks at the Air & Water, Inc.,; an independent online appliance retailer, let us test drive their new portable air conditioner.  We assigned the task to our technology and large appliance expert, Andrew. Here’s what he found out.

“I live in a studio apartment on the first floor of an old brownstone building in East Village in New York City. Because my windows are covered with security gates I can’t use a window air conditioner and fans –  no matter how many or how ingeniously configured – simply don’t have much cooling power. So it was a pleasure to welcome the portable NewAir AC-14000H unit into my apartment. (As a bonus, the unit is also a heater, which makes it a nice two-in-one deal.)

The design. A handsome gunmetal-gray unit that resembles the offspring of a laundry hamper and R2D2, the devise stands on four smooth wheels that make for easy portability despite its 72.8 pounds — at least once it’s out of its box. The slightly triangular shape lets it fit nicely into a corner and takes up little floor space.

Installation. Installation is painless except for the exhaust hose, which must be threaded through a special adjustable window unit.  It might be simple to install in a normal window, but because of the security gates on my windows, it got tricky. Fortunately, the hose is pliable enough that I was able to squeeze it through one of the holes in the gate. Then the fun began.

Cooling power. Pressing the power button on the unit’s console (or handy remote control) causes a set of dark gray louvers to dramatically spring up from the top and issue a roaring gust of cold air. Depending on the temperature chosen and the fan speed (there are three), the machine can make a hot room (up to 525 sq.ft.) authentically cold in about ten minutes — enough to make one need to get under the covers. A sleep mode function is available, too, that is set to begin at a crisp temperature and then rise 2 degrees after the first hour, another 2 degrees after the second hour, and then remain stable. Overall, it is impressively powerful and reliable.

Noise level. The downside, however, is the noise. The machine automatically alternates between a full-power mode and a softer mode, firing up to a thunderous rumble and then quieting down to a purr. At full power the air conditioner is terrifically loud, especially when set to colder temperatures — it can be loud enough to make it hard to hear TV dialogue, for instance. I’ve found that the decibel level is most manageable at 76 degrees or higher, and that lower than that can make it too loud to sleep. Luckily, 76 degrees is perfectly comfortable.

Maintenance. Like all portable air conditioner units, the NewAir AC-14000H accumulates water and requires drainage, but here the procedure is fairly hassle free — whenever the water tank fills up the machine alerts you by beeping and ceasing operation (so that there aren’t any leaks on nearby power cords, for instance), and then one has to empty the reservoir from a plug at the base. When in heater mode, the device requires a hose to be affixed to the plug to allow for continual drainage, which is a logistical challenge this review will put aside until winter.

Cost. Air & Water sells the unit online for $499, with free shipping.  It is more expensive than your standard window A/C, but it’s easily transportable if  you move. Plus, if your apartment is  a freezer in the winter, like mine, you’ll have a super space heater as a bonus. (One unknown cost is how much my electric bill will go up. I’ll post a note after my next bill arrives.)

All told, this air conditioner is a bit like a muscle car: its design goes for sheer vroom-vroom brawn over other niceties. But when it comes to creating a cool oasis in your home from the summer heat, that horsepower is something to celebrate. Rev ‘er up!”

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