Friedrich has been in the refrigeration business for more than a hundred years. They have a lesser known, but still trusted brand in the United States. They remain the only residential air conditioner company still operating a manufacturing facility in North America, although it is in Mexico, not the US.1
The Kuhl brand is used for most of their window air conditioner products2, but the Friedrich name still appears on their portable air conditioners. There are three models sold. These differ by cooling capacity more than features.
What distinguishes Friedrich Portable ACs?
There is a fundamental difference between Friedrich portables and many others on the market. While all portable air conditioners run a hose to vent hot air outside, Friedrich uses a dual hose system. This increases the price slightly, but offers an engineering advantage over single hose models.
Because a portable air conditioner has to remove hot, moist air from a room while cooling, when a single hose is used, the air that is vented outside comes from the room itself. In a sense, some of the cooling capacity is lost because this air has already been chilled and it ends up getting exhausted outside. With a dual hose system, one hose pulls air in from outside and the other vents that same air back. The heat exchange doesn’t pull any air out of the room itself.3
This same design difference comes into play when trying to dehumidify a room – keeping outside and inside air separate gives Friedrich units an advantage, but it does raise costs. Dual hoses also allow faster cooling because no room air has to be vented. One final advantage is the ability to filter air better – since new pollutants aren’t introduced from outside air, the same volume of air undergoes multiple passes through the filter.
There are three models currently listed at the Friedrich website.4 They do not sell units directly to the public, but offer a look-up service by zip code for authorized dealers.5 One tip is to call first – not all dealers carry the entire Friedrich line, although they can order products on request.
All of the models below are listed under the ZoneAir designation.6 This name reflects the usual use for these models – as a temporary, or “gap-filling” solution, to cooling needs. Although they can be used as the primary temperature/humidity control, portables have an advantage in that they can be put in use, moved around or stored as needed, depending on variable requirements. For important installations, they are a ready back-up for emergencies.
P09B – Cooling Capacity: 9,300 BTU/h; Energy Efficiency Rating (EER): 9.4; Air Movement: 212 CFM; Moisture Removal: 5.0 Pts/Hr. Power Supply: 115 Volts; Net Weight: 80 Lbs. Price: $454.007
P12B – Cooling Capacity: 11,600 BTU/h; Energy Efficiency Rating (EER): 8.8; Air Movement: 235 CFM; Moisture Removal: 6.0 Pts/Hr. Power Supply: 115 Volts; Net Weight: 86 Lbs. Price $551.008
PH14B – This unit is a true heat pump and has both a cooling and heating function. Cooling Capacity: 13,500 BTU; Heating Capacity: 10,700 BTU; Energy Efficiency Rating (EER): 9.5; Air Movement: 250 CFM; Moisture Removal: 6.0 Pts./Hr. Power Supply: 115 Volts; Net Weight: 78 Lbs.; Price $735.009
Bucketless design is common to all models. This refers to how condensation is handled in the Friedrich units. “Bucketless” just means there is no removable water tank, not that water doesn’t accumulate. However, a dual hose portable air conditioner does have an advantage in that it can use air drawn from the outside as a place to “dump” water – by evaporation, making the exhaust airflow more humid and helping reduce water build up in the machine itself. This does not work in heating mode, so the PH14B, when used as a heater, will require draining and has a pump as part of the unit.
On other units, there is a water level sensor that kicks in and turns the unit off if there is too much water collected. This is to prevent leaks and possible damage to the floor. All units include a drain hose for this purpose. Units without an internal pump just use gravity.10
All models: LCD remote control; Environmentally friendly R-410A refrigerant; Cools or dehumidifies; Exhaust hoses that extend from 24″ to 60″ and a window kit included; 6-foot long power cord; washable, anti-microbial filters available, 3 fan speed; dual hose design give an advertized 40% faster cooling.
PH14B — 4-in-1 System: Heat-Cool-Fan-Dehumidify; Built-in drain pump to remove condensate in heating mode; 24-hour timer; Auto restart after power outage.
Reviews are very polarized on these models. Those that like it really like it. Those that don’t complained about noise and the inability to cool properly. Some also mentioned an inability to get repairs.
The reason for the two extremes seems to revolve around two considerations. The first is trying to use it where inappropriate. Portable air conditioners do not cool as efficiently as window units. This is because air has to be moved the length of the hose and there is some unavoidable mixing – this is unlike a window unit where half of the machine is outside the room being cooled. Dual hose portables do the job better than single hose models, and the shorter the hose length used the less a unit has to work, but rated cooling capacity may still not meet buyer expectations.
The noise issue depends on two variables. The first is the background noise in a room. In even slightly louder environments, the noise from these units isn’t noticed as much as, for example, in a quiet bedroom at night while trying to sleep. The floor also matters, with carpeting being the quietest and a hard tile or wood floor acting as a vibration amplifier – making the unit noisier.
Repair complaints may have to do with a manufacturing issue with Friedrich. They upgraded units in the 2009 – 2010 model year and older designs did suffer from a fan problem – it wasn’t as durable as it should have been. Since then, models have once again regained their reputation for high quality and durability. Since repairs are handled locally through the Friedrich dealer network, it may be important to find a dealer that is reliable and easy to deal with. The customer experience reflects this locally variable aspect more than anything about Friedrich itself.
When used as designed – outside venting, appropriate sized room – these units do provide value for the money. Their closest competitor, Sharp, can be cheaper in some areas and prices vary with sales and rebates periodically available.
Warranty is one year on everything and up to five years for sealed systems.11 Some dealers offer an extended, in-home warranty for as little as $30. This is an attractive option because, although the units are portable, they weigh 70+ pounds and may be difficult to transport to a dealer location.