Portable AC Unit

Portable Air Conditioners Get New Energy Guide Labels

On October 1, 2017, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) officially rolled out changes to the Energy Guide labels for portable AC units. This change largely flew below the radar. To help provide some clarity for both consumers and manufacturers, we’ve outlined some of the most common questions that this change may present.

What Changed?

The Federal Trade Commission introduced new Energy Guide labels for portable air conditioners that more accurately reflect the energy efficiency of each unit. This specific change to the labeling is intended to have two immediate changes:

  1. The Energy Guide Labels are more accurate.
  2. Retailers and manufacturers have to update their marketing materials to help consumers.

However, the recent change to the Energy Labeling Rule was more of a reaction to another change made by the Department of Energy (DOE).

How New Energy Testing Forced a Change in Labeling

This proposal from the FTC actually stemmed from new energy testing guidelines that the Department of Energy implemented for both single-hose and dual-hose portable AC Units. The new energy test was initially proposed on February 25, 2015. After a few changes to the initial proposal, the new testing procedure went into effect on June 1, 2016.

New Testing Methods for Portable AC Units

While the new testing methods from the DOE were largely considered to be a step in the right direction for consumers, there were numerous unintended consequences that had a direct effect on the Energy Guide labels. The main concern was the inconsistent testing results that had the potential to mislead consumers comparing portable AC units to other types of room air conditioners.

Portable Air Conditioner

The energy efficiency testing made a few significant changes.

  • Introduced the concept of Seasonally Adjusted Cooling Capacity (SACC).
  • Made revisions to how the DOE calculates and determines Combined Energy Efficiency Ratio (CEER).

Despite rigorous debate from numerous manufacturers, the FTC concluded that the new DOE efficiency model painted portable air conditioners in a favorable light. Due to variables within the new testing procedure, the Energy Guide labels portrayed portable AC units to be more efficient than they actually were.

To mitigate this, the FTC proposed a new rule change with the intention to create more accurate Energy Guide Labels that will help guide consumers as they shop, and help them make an educated buying decision.

When Did the Changes Start?

Officially, the changes to how portable AC units are labeled and marketed by retailers went into effect on October 1, 2017. However, while this may seem out-of-the-blue for consumers, these changes actually been long in the making. With even more changes possibly coming in the years ahead.

The Federal Trade Commission initially proposed a broad change to the Energy Labeling Rule back on September 12, 2016. It was at this time that the FTC requested feedback in writing from manufacturers, reatailers and the general public. This feedback was due on November 14, 2016.

You can read the full notice in Vol. 81, No. 176 (PDF) of the Federal Register.

Does it Only Affect Portable AC Units?

No. This specific change to the Energy Labeling Rule was not aimed solely at portable air conditioners. The proposed change to the rule also included different types of ceiling fans and electric water heaters.

What is the Energy Labeling Rule?

In a more general sense, the Energy Labeling Rule applies to a wide variety of appliances found in your home. It requires that a bright yellow “Energy Guide” is adhered to new appliances upon purchase. It is an estimate that specifies how much energy that appliance will use annually, as well as the overall cost of operating it in your home.

On these labels, you’ll find three important ratings:

  • An estimation in how much it would annually cost to use the appliance.
  • The energy efficiency rating and overall consumption of energy (determined by testing methods from the DOE)
  • An energy comparison of similar models, with a range of low to high energy expectations.

This recent change does not affect all appliances, however, only the few mentioned above.

How Does This New Labeling Affect Me?

In theory, the new labels would make it easier for the average consumer to make the best buying decision when they are trying to shop, compare and buy a portable air conditioner. Because they are marketed as an appliance that can cool a single room, they often get compared to other types of room air conditioners, which far exceed portable AC’s in energy efficiency.


The new changes to the Energy Labeling Rule now requires all portable air conditioners to list their cooling capacity based on ASHRAE standards (PDF). This is determined by the new energy efficiency testing procedures by the DOE.

So, now as you shop for a new portable air conditioner, you will should see ASHRAE ratings listed per each unit. If you do not see ASHRAE ratings, then that particular retailer is not in compliance with the FTC.

0 thoughts on “Portable Air Conditioners Get New Energy Guide Labels

  • Robert Sollman says:

    my portable ac unit says 10,000 BTU for ashrae and 6000 BTU for doe. What is my simple BTU for this unit, just curious and my room is 165 sq ft plus the kitchen off the living room which is less than 100 sq ft. I just want to be sure I am not over working the unit. Thanks for all you do. The unit I purchased is the Black and Decker BACT10WD. Thanks again

    • The difference in the rating is due to the portable AC design. While it has a cooling capacity of 10,000 BTU (ASHRAE rating), it blows the hot exhaust air outside. This is an issue for portable ACs – that air has to be replaced somehow (if you have air blowing out of your house, then you have to have air coming in somewhere else). So, since you’ll be getting hot air from outside leaking in every crack in your house, down from the attic, and through any door / window jambs, the “effective” amount of cooling you get (the DOE standard) is only 6000 BTUs. From an electricity perspective, you are MUCH better off getting a 6000 BTU window unit. Since it’s “guts” are outside already, it is blowing outside air through the hot outside coil, and inside air through the cold inside coil. With no air moving from in the house to out of the house, you get to enjoy all of the BTUs.

      • nate says, June 19, 2019 at 2:09 pm, “The difference in the rating is due to the portable AC design……. ”
        nate yours is the best description I’ve seen describing why I’m paying the electric bill for 12000 btu’s, and only getting 6000 btu’s of cooling !!!
        The ONE HOSE portable air conditioner IS AN ABORTION, that NEVER should have happened. ONE HOSE customers should SUE FOR DAMAGES, and FORCE A TWO HOSE RETROFIT, at the manufacture’s expense…. Mine is a great suggestion, and someone should send me a check!!!

      • Inspector Jeff says:

        Some window ac use hot humid outside air to cool. The heat comes from the condenser and vent being in the house and putting off heat, instead of outside.
        And the units have weak fans so I always use metal blade fans to push the air to where I need it.
        Get 2 times the BTU size you think you will need. I have a 140000 btu Black and Decker in a 500 sf area and use 2 fans.
        I have a 8000 btu unit in a 120 sf room and a 4800 btu window unit in a bedroom.
        I run the bedrm unit 22 hours a day, run the 8k unit 10 hours a day and the 14k unit 24 hours a day.
        The electric cost is just a little more than my 25000 central unit.
        I am in Florida so I have to leave the 2 units on to prevent mold.

      • @nate – Fantastic explanation! Guessing you’re a teacher or have your own YouTube channel? If not, you should. Thanks for sharing. I learned something today.

      • What one can do with a one hose AC is put the AC outside and patch a thermo insulated duct to the cold air outlet (attached with polyester foam (for insulation and shaping the outlet to the a 6″ duct) and aluminum duct tape (to reflect outside’s heat from the sunlight) so it transport the cold air to what was before used as a hot air outlet, but in reverse. I did this in my living-room : the tape allows also for water insulation (although those units are usually well protected against water damage due to the inherent water evaporation and circulation happening inside constantly) and the cold air is blown directly to my living-room so I am closer to benefiting from the full potential of the cooling unit AND it is fully silent since the unit sits outside: it’s like a cheap and easy split AC installation.

  • I’m not sure I understand why there are two different BTU ratings. I’m assuming the definition of a BTU didn’t change… Is the difference based on the portable AC unit being within the conditioned space (unlike a traditional HVAC system) so its heat generation was deducted from the heat transferred?

    • yes, the conditioned air is lost to the outside by using it to cool the condensor and that lost air is replace with hot air from outside. teh best units have a dual hose- one to introduce outside air across the condensor and the other to discharge the same air to the outside.

  • This is a good article.. But could do more by telling us about the differences between ASHRAE and BTU ratings. As usual the government (Trump) has stepped on and added confusion. What else would you expect from this “President” ?

  • Junius Graham says:

    I find the new ratings system is more confusing than the old. The new system causes you to think you are getting more cooling power than you do. The Government always makes things worse, everytime the get involved!

    • Morty Steinfeld says:

      How do LOWER numbers make you THINK you are getting MORE? If anything, you’d think you are getting less, since what are essentially the same units as before are now given lower numbers.

      • Because the numbers aren’t LOWER. I just bought a portable that said it was10,000 btu, 5000 sacc. That’s deceptive. 10000 btu had
        a meaning
        before. Now they can hide
        the real cooling power behind
        alphabet soup. But I just bought a unit with HALF the cooling because of this “helpful” government AND overpaid for it. I don’t think there was any other purpose except to deceive.

    • Pearl, I believe you misunderstand. a BTU is a unit of heat. The ASHRAE number is the number of BTUs of heat removed from the air in the room by the AC unit. To cool the air the AC unit creates heat (like a car does to create motion), that heat must be removed from the machine by blowing air over a radiator. A WINDOW or WALL mount AC unit uses outside air to exhaust that heat. A PORTABLE unit cools itself with air FROM INSIDE THE ROOM. This creates suction in the room which sucks WARM AIR BACK INTO THE ROOM through cracks and crevices (if your home is well sealed much of that air comes from the attic where the temp can be 30 or 40 degrees warmer than the outside air. The net cooling is therefor MUCH lower for a single vent duct (AKA single hose) portable unit.
      Therefor a “13,000 BTU” wall AC is much MUCH more effective at cooling a room than a “13,000 BTU” portable AC. A more accurate comparison is between the wall unit (ASHRAE) BTU rating and the portable units DOE SACC BTU rating. For single hose portables the difference is often around 50% lower for the SACC rating. A 2 duct portable is still less efficient at cooling, I can only guess this is because the unit and its ducts radiate heat into the room, even if they don’t suck hot air in from the attic or outside.
      You are right that the government made it all too confusing for most of us – they should have insisted that the manufacturers get rid of the ASHRAE rating entirely for portables, tho that rating is useful if you have an unusual application or installation situation, something only a more technical person would be able to analyze.

      NOTE: if you live in an apartment the air will be sucked in from the hall, your neighbors’ apartments, and/or outside – a 2 duct unit would reduce shared air.

      • Sorry. But you’re explanation is pretty confusing too. The bottom line is this: If your room is 400 sq ft, what BTU amount would you need?

  • I have two AC units, one is portable 12,000 BTU (ASHRAE), and the other is a window 12,000 BTU. Both were use one summer and still newer. What would be the best placement for an apartment that has a combined living room/ kitchen combined 320 sq/ft, and two back bedrooms. Also I turn both off during the day while at work, because it only takes 5-10 mins to reach 75 degrees once turned on upon arriving home, even on hot humid days. I placed the portable in the living room, and window in bedroom. Should these be switched as per the previous suggestion in this comments section? Thanks for any inpur.

    • Inspector Jeff says:

      If it aint broken don’t fix it. The main concern is the electrical requirements to run the units. Feel the cord and the breaker to see if it is hot.

      • I need to cool a 200 foot bedroom area which is seperated from the rest of my studio by a curtain. I have several questions…are the btu recomendations in doe or ashrae, so do i need a 6000 doe? which is actually about 12,000 btu ashrae, and what happens if i use a 14000 btu ashrae, 10000 doe in terms of energy use and cooling in this space when compared to a 10000 ashrae, 6500 btu doe. Does a 14000 btu ashrae 10,000 doe use more energy then a 14000 btu ashrae, 8500 btu doe. Will the doe number increase if i insulate the exhaust tube? And finally would i use less electricty if i ran a 12000 btu 6500 with a 6.8 seer vs a 14000 btu, 10000 doe, 10 seer, for equal time? The problem is that room size and btu info is not enough, there should be a clculator for, price of wats in area, seer rating, doe, ashrae, room size, humity prediction, decibels, you get my point so that people like me after researching all over the net domt have to use message boards to get basic product information

  • Kathy Boucher says:

    Hi…My daughter moved to a studio apt that is 11×13 with a small hall and bathroom. I purchased a 8000 btu portable ac for her and it runs ALL the time and the hall and bath are still very very warm. I am returning it but just went and purchased a 10,000 btu Hisense that says it should cool a 300 sq ft space. I am wondering if you think I should have purchased the 12,000 that does 400 sq ft. These things are so expensive and her apt building wont allow window ones…..I won’t know until this weekend when I bring it to her if it will work better. I guess I am hoping to find out if i need to return it and get the 12000 before we even open this one. Hope for a speedy reply. Thank you

    • Inspector Jeff says:

      Purchase a 14000 black and decker portable if you can vent it out window. You will need to plug it in a minimum 15 amp dedicated single circuit such as for a washing machine, or one 20 amp kitchen receptacle as it uses 10.8 amps min. Or get 2- 8000 units.

      Close hall and bath of with curtain and use a fan to blow air around.

  • Hi. I live in the renovated attic of any old house that my family owns. I doesn’t have a bathroom or a kitchen. I’d like to keep only part of cool, ~250 Sq feet, due to the layout. It gets really hot up here… Much hotter than the rest of the house and much hotter than it is outside, especially during a heatwave. In my calculations, I’ve been treating the space like a kitchen and adding 4,000 BTUs. I don’t get direct sunlight in here. I’ve been looking 6,000 BTU window and portable units. I know ductless units are better but I can afford that now.
    Am I correct in my calculations?

    Thank you!

  • So is there anyone here that is against referring to the ashrae standard as a scam and hoax? Seems another marketing attempt by people who won’t admit their shortcomings.

  • I see a portable air conditioner I want that’s says 10,200 BTU (6,500 BTU DOE). Should I buy this for more cooling power or just get a cheaper unit that’s says 6,500? Or does it still make a difference in better cooling the higher BTU I get regardless of the BTU DOE?

  • I have an old portable the has a 10k btu rating (10 years old). Is that the same things as the deo number we see now? I want a more powerful one but worried that the 15k ASHRAE is the same as my 10k and I am not getting anywhere with it. Just curious.

  • Jerry Grubb says:

    SIMPLIFIED EXPLANATION: The traditional BTU ratings are a measure only of the air coming directly out of the AC exhaust, all of which you can only get if you sit immediately in front of it. The new ratings are a more realistic indication of how well the unit will actually cool the whole room, taking into account heat coming-off of the unit’s housing (motor/compressors get hot), heat from the vent hose(s) going outside, and other air leakages, all of which raise the room temperature, offsetting the ability of the unit to cool the room. If and how-well the housing is insulated, whether one or two vent hoses are used and how long each one is, among other things, can make a huge difference in how well your room will be cooled by different units having the same BTU rating at the exhaust. This is not meant to be confusing, but rather to give us consumers a better way to compare models and installation options before we buy them so that we aren’t surprised/disappointed. The most common complaint I see in user reviews is that their unit doesn’t cool nearly as well as expected. Personally, I will no longer buy a unit, especially one that’s portable, unless DOE/SACC BTUs are included in its advertised performance.

  • Something is fishy if u really these units by looking inside u would see that both draw their air from in the room. What do u think fills the filters its the air drawn from in the room

  • Ok, I read the article and all the comments. I kinda of get the BTU / DOE changes. Am I understanding correctly that a 2 hose portable unit is much better than a single hose? I live in an RV full time. No shade, full sun ALL day. AC went out 4 days ago. Using an 8000 btu portable, single hose, now in less than 150 sq feet (as I’ve blocked off 2 rooms)
    and this unit barely cools the space to 80°. Wanting the best bang for my very overpriced buck. Thanks

  • So, is yesterday’s BTU rating what I compare to today’s ASHRAE rating? I bought a portable AC before this standard and it was advertised as 10K BTU and it worked fine. So, by today’s standards, I’m guessing this would be advertised as 10K ASHRAE BTU and somewhere around 5 or 6K BTU, yes?

  • Gene DeJoannis says:

    The ASHRAE standard was designed for AC equipment that had all the hot parts outside the building. When these portables came along, they created the problem of delivering the ASHRAE cool air capacity but having a parasitic loss of cooling due to the hot parts inside the house. So the DOE number was developed for the NET cooling delivered when you subtract the heat radiated because all the machinery is in your house. THAT DOE value is what you should use when selecting one of these portable units. The ASHRAE cooling value is more related to the cooling you are paying for, and the DOE rating is related to what you actually get. If you want to calculate the EER = Cooling Btus divided by watts used, use the DOE value. You will see that the EER is rather poor for these portables, well below the minimum for window ACs or any other type. The single tube models are doubly bad because in addition to the heat from the internal hot parts, they exhaust cooled room air and throw it away whenever they are cooling. It’s like leaving your bathroom exhaust fan ON all summer. Cool air goes out and hot air leaks in to replace it. Even the best of these two-tube portables that use a separate outdoor air source tube, the EER is about 9 Btus/watt-hour. The worst window units give you 11 Btus/ watt-hour. I suppose these units could be designed with an insulated housing and enough cooling air to remove this heat out the exhaust tube, but that would require an EPA minimum energy standard based on the DOE rating, and the EPA has been MIA since 2016. They should at least BAN the single tube models. You can buy flex duct insulation tubes from a commercial HVAC installer to cover the plastic ones that connect your portable to outdoors and avoid some heat gain from them.

  • I just need to know what size portable A/C I need to cool a 175 sq. ft. bedroom, based upon DOE standards. What size DOE btu’s do I need?
    I can calculate the btu’s needed for this space, but that’s not DOE. I just need DOE btu’s needed.

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