Jumping onto a bit of a hobby horse of mine as summer is coming, and that’s the vexed issue of air conditioning in the domestic home.
The UK is not generally considered to be hot enough to need air conditioning in houses as a routine thing to be included by builders or home improvers, and the need for air-con in the home is reduced by the fact that in the “before times”, people spent so much time in someone else’s building while working.
Yet, the domestic home, especially when well insulated, can be really uncomfortably hot for several months of the year.
Now that many more people are working from home, most of the time at the moment, if less in the near future, and on a hot stuffy day are probably wishing they were back in the air-conditioned office again.
I find it very difficult to concentrate on hot muggy days, and many years ago when living in a sun-facing flat that turned into a solar cooker in the afternoons, I bought a portable air-conditioner. I was slightly lucky, as many years previously, I used to sell them when working for a certain high street chain of electrical goods retailers, so I was already familiar with the concept of the device.
I have often told friends about these things and still spent summers listening to them complain about the heat, and so, I am going to tell you to see if you can afford to buy one.
A reasonable portable air-conditioner can cost £300-£400, which is a big upfront cost, but if you assume it lasts a decade, then that’s £30-£40 a year for the comfort of a cool home to live in every summer.
The portable units are rarely powerful enough to do more than cool down a single large room, so living rooms tend to be the best place for them for most people. They are also somewhat noisy, so bedrooms are pretty much out of consideration anyway.
(professionally installed air conditioners put the big noisy bit outside the building)
The key constraint but also the most important benefit to look for though is to buy one that has a large hose to hang out of the window.
While the hose is a nuisance, it’s vitally important that you buy one with a hose.
The cheap air cooler units that don’t need a hose cool the air by cooling water or being filled with ice cubes – evaporative coolers. Yes, it’s nice while in front of the fan, but the room itself doesn’t get noticeably cooler.
A hose based air conditioner extracts heat from the room and dumps it outside, so the amount of latent heat in the room drops considerably. It also dehumidifies the room, and that’s the big difference between air-conditioning and air-cooling. For many people, the humidity is as bad a problem as the heat.
You can hang the hose out of the window, but I found that a window plate that can be attached to the end of the hose makes putting it in the gap of an open window very convenient, and now I have a flat with balcony doors, it slots into the door gap instead.
Most units these days come with timers, so you can set it to come on automatically an hour or so before you come home in the evenings if needed.
Undeniably, they’re NOISY. You’re not going to watch the telly and have the air conditioner switched on at the same time. But if you’ve cooled the room down already, even on a really hot day it can take a few hours to warm back up, so ideal for evening telly watching.
I have to turn it off if taking a phone call.
They’re going to raise your electricity bill, and depending on how your electricity is generated, there’s an environmental impact.
The fat hose limits where they can be placed – they have to be next to a window/door, which can be inconvenient.
You’ll probably want to put it away somewhere in winter.
It feels lovely!
You can think clearly in the middle of a hot day.
I find the noise of the air-con unit can be oddly relaxing as it’s a constant white noise compared to intermittent noises from outside.
Many units include a dehumidifier only option so they can be of use to people with damp problems in the winter months.
There are plenty of companies that sell portable air conditioners, and I can’t readily recommend this unit or that unit, as while I’ve owned two, that’s not enough to compare with what’s on the market today.
Candidly, most of the ones you can find online seem pretty much the same, some vary a bit in cooling capability (BTU) and noise levels, but I really wouldn’t stress too much over minor differences.
These are the sorts of things you want to be looking for (affiliate link), and comes with the extractor hose and the window plate attachment in the price. Your local electrical retailer may have one, but try to get it delivered, as they’re quite heavy.
I made the mistake of collecting one from a shop once, never again.
It is, however, no exaggeration to say that it’s probably the best £400 I’ve ever spent.