What Are Portable Heat Pumps?

Portable heat pump

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A portable heat pump can both heat and cool a room, so you can replace an air conditioner and a space heater with a single unit. Portable heat pumps—sometimes marketed as "portable air conditioners"—need minimal installation and can be moved from room to room. They’re perfect for year-round use in a tiny house, a summer cabin, a studio apartment, or a single room.

How Does a Portable Heat Pump Work?

The keys to a heat pump, portable or otherwise, are its refrigerant and its condenser. To heat an indoor space, a fan draws warm air from outdoors and blows it over a set of coils that contain a refrigerant. Since the refrigerant has a very low boiling point, it quickly turns to vapor, which passes through the coils into a condenser.

When the vapor is condensed, its temperature increases more. The vapor then passes through another set of coils, whose own refrigerant then heats up. A fan blows air across the coils, circulating heat into the room. As the refrigerant cools, it passes through an expander, returns to its liquid state, and is sent back through the coils to restart the process.

Portable heat pumps can either sit in a window like a standard window air conditioner or come with a single or double exhaust hose to vent air outdoors.

How Portable is “Portable”?

Large portable heat pumps, capable of cooling or heating a home office or large bedroom, can weigh up to 90 pounds and may require two people to move. Many brands come with caster wheels and handles, making them easier to move around. A smaller floor unit, fine for a room of up to 350 square feet, might weigh 35 pounds.

Cooling/Heating Power

The capacity of heat pumps is measured in British thermal units (BTUs). The more BTUs, the larger the room it can heat/cool. It takes fewer BTUs to heat a room than to cool it. The specifications on a portable heat pump will usually mention both the heating capacity and cooling capacity; just make sure you buy a unit that has the BTUs capable of doing both.

Sample Capacities of Portable Heat Pumps
Room Size (sq. ft.) Heating (BTUs) Cooling (BTUs)
500 13,000 14,000
450 10,000 12,000
350  9,000 10,000


Heat pumps are extremely efficient, consuming roughly a third of the energy used by a natural gas heater. Look for SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) and HSPF (Heating Seasonal Performance Factor) ratings for the heat pump’s cooling and heating efficiency, respectively, measured by how much electricity the heat pump uses to cool or heat a room.

In the United States, SEER ratings must be a minimum of 14 in southern states and 15 in northern states, while HSPF ratings must be a minimum of 8.8 as of 2023. Energy Star-certified heat pumps must have a SEER of 15 or more. Energy Star-certified heat pumps use 20% to 50% less energy than other units.

Benefits of Portable Heat Pumps

air conditioner portable
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Aside from the easy maneuvering from room to room, there are plenty of benefits to using a portable heat pump in your home.


Heat pumps are a more sustainable option for space heating since they do not burn fossil fuels. Plus, as the electrical grid relies more on renewable energy, the electricity they use keeps getting cleaner.

Low Maintenance

Heat pumps of all types are easy to clean and maintain. Heat pumps filter the air of dust, bacteria, and viruses (depending on the model) and need only a quick clean with a vacuum once a month.

Also, portable heat pumps require little installation or ductwork compared to whole-house heat pumps. They run on regular household electricity. For RVs, 12-volt heat pumps exist.


Portable heat pumps have a minor burn or fire risk compared to furnaces and radiators. Nothing is being combusted and there are no metal radiators that become too hot to touch.


Heat pumps are generally quieter than traditional air conditioners or furnaces. Rather than going on and off to maintain proper room temperature, heat pumps are most efficient at maintaining a regular stream of cool or warm air.

You can still expect some noise from a fan running, the gurgling of refrigerant passing through the coils, or vibration on uneven floors. Since they have all their functions boxed into a single unit, look for a model that is known to be quiet. Compare the rated decibel levels in the product literature before making any purchase.


Many heat pumps have internet-enabled controllers that allow you to use an app on your phone. You can, for example, pre-heat your studio apartment before you leave work so that you come home to a warm or cool house.

Installing a Portable Heat Pump

Exhaust hose on a portable heat pump

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One of the major benefits of a portable heat pump is its ease of installation.

Find a suitable location for the heat pump, making sure that nothing blocks any vents. For good airflow, place the unit at least 20 inches away from any wall or large furniture. Make sure it is not hidden behind plants, furniture, or blinds, and is out of the sunlight. A heat pump sitting in the sun will have to work harder to cool a room.

The only assembly required in installing a portable heat pump is in the window kit. The window kit creates an opening for the exhaust to the outdoors without you having to make permanent changes to your windows, doors, or walls. The kit is usually installed using the following steps:

  1. Slide open a window.
  2. Insert two sliding panels to fill that space.
  3. Insert the exhaust hose (or hoses) into the available slots in the panel(s).
  4. Insert a drain hose through one of the panels.
  5. Seal the gaps with foam seal tape and/or duct tape.
  6. Insert the other end of the hose(s) into the heat pump.
  7. Plug in the unit to a standard household outlet.

For dehumidifying, you will need to install a gravity-flow drainage setup using a garden hose, usually not included.

Are Portable Heat Pumps Worth It?

The average American household spent $2,120.00 on energy consumption in 2021. In a 2015 Residential Energy Consumption Survey conducted by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, about half of home energy consumption went to space heating and air conditioning. (Exact spending varies by region.) Given these numbers, consumers should look for the most efficient, cost-effective, and sustainable system available.

Depending on how big a room you want to heat/cool, a portable heat pump can cost between $300 and $700 for a reasonably efficient model. The higher the efficiency, the more costly the heat pump—but also the less electricity it uses and thus the cheaper it is to operate.

Depending on how much you plan on using the unit, a moderately efficient portable heat pump may be more cost-effective than a high-efficiency one. Any SEER rating above 20 or HSPF above 13 may end up costing more than the value it can give. The more you plan on relying on the heat pump for heating/cooling, however, the more reason you have to buy a higher-efficiency heat pump, since you’ll be saving more money in the long run.

Also, consider the factors external to the machine itself: the quality of the installation of the heat pump and, even more importantly, the energy efficiency of the space being heated. Install the hoses and seal the windows properly to prevent air leaks in or out of the window. Consider getting a home energy audit to find weak points in your home’s “envelope.” Investing in double- or triple-paned windows, or adding extra insulation into wall cavities, may save you more money than purchasing a heat pump with higher SEER and HSPF ratings.

Potential Rebates and Credits

The 2022 Inflation Reduction Act includes tax credits for the purchase and installation of heat pumps, and there may be state and local government incentives for your purchase as well.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • How efficient are portable heat pumps?

    The efficiency of a portable heat pump depends on several factors. Consumers should not only consider the SEER rating and HSPF of a particular model but also the quality of the installation and the energy efficiency of the space itself. Heat pumps, in general, are especially efficient when compared to natural gas heaters.

  • Does a portable heat pump need to be vented?

    Yes, a portable heat pump must be securely vented in order to work properly.