Opened in the early 1990’s, first in Texas and then in California, Sunpentown International started as an importer of goods primarily for the American-Asian community. This population was looking for induction style cookware and other products more familiar to Asian households, many of which were unavailable in the U.S. Since then, Sunpentown has made inroads in a broader marketplace, including commercial food preparation products and a particular niche in the air conditioning market1.
The Sunpentown portable air conditioners are well known in the RV industry. These units are ideal for cooling small areas – like a camper – with the advantage of space savings.
Two units manufactured by this company rank highly. Both are 9,000 BTU/h models, the less expensive (at $270) doesn’t have a dehumidifier built in and the costlier version ($350) does. The more expensive version also moves more air (277 CFM vs. 217 CFM). Each comes with a one-year warranty. The models are WA9020E and WA1010M. Reviews can be seen here2.
These units are sold at Target stores and online. The major complaint about them is that they are louder than expected – this may be an issue for light sleepers. These units do not have automatic drain capability.
Advantages and disadvantages
All portable air conditioners, including Sunpentown, share some issues.
- Cooling capacity – because portable air conditioners run a vent hose out a window or other opening, the amount of air they can effectively push is limited. Some units have two hoses (intake and outflow) to minimize this problem, but this costs more. Sunpentown portables come as both single and dual hose models. For the single hose models, hot air has to be exhausted through the same tube that outside air is drawn through and this limits the speed and the overall ability to cool a room.
- Energy efficiency – there are no standards for portable air conditioners, so they will not have a SEER rating (common for other types) but will be marketed as “energy efficient” – a term that should be taken with a grain of salt. On the plus side, these units run off a regular outlet and don’t require special wiring.
- Water collection – because air conditioning units gather condensation (a plus when used as a dehumidifier) water will collect in them. More expensive units will come with a built-in pump and hose that can be run to a sink drain. Sunpentown models do not have this feature, but they sell an accessory pump (about $95) for this purpose. The problems arise when the units are left unattended for extended periods. Either the water collection tank will fill and the unit will shut off, or it will fill and overflow. Overflow can lead to water damage to carpets or floors.
- Filters – There are usually two types installed. The first is an air filter that collects dust and particles from the air. This is not the same high-grade filter that will remove smoke or very fine particles, but it does remove dust. The second filter is a carbon impregnated type meant to help reduce odors. Odors can build up from both room sources (cooking, sweat, others) and in the unit itself. Any environment that is heated and moist will tend to build up mold and musty smells. The carbon filter helps combat this. In Sunpentown units, both filters are available but only the non-carbon filter is washable.
- Dehumidifier – All portable air conditioners will reduce moisture in the air. However, some can be run to do this much better. Because reduced moisture will make the room feel cooler, this is generally an advantage – except for the water buildup problem noted above. Sunpentown portables usually have this function.
- Noise and form factor – aside from the raw scientific data about BTUs and cooling capacity, user experience is also important. Portables are considerably noisier than some other types. This is because everything that is running is right there in the unit. The “form factor” refers to the look of the unit – is it attractive and pleasing to the eye? Unfortunately, Sunpentown doesn’t rank highly on these considerations3.
- Heater function – Many of the Sunpentown units can function both as an air conditioner and a heater. This is an advantage in areas where the days are hot and the nights cool.
- Application – the word “portable” is a bit misleading. Units require power and venting within reach (and maybe somewhere to drain). This makes them best only in circumstances where other air conditioning solutions will not work.
For many customers the expectations they have for a portable air conditioner are unrealistic. These are relatively expensive for the room size they will cool (as much as four times the price of a window unit) and they are not prepared for the inconvenience of running an exhaust tube (and maybe a drain tube). They are often surprised at the weight as well. Although these units are on wheels, even the smallest of the Sunpentown units comes in at about 70 pounds4.
Another problem cited is the distance the exhaust hose can reach. The physics dictate the engineering here. A longer hose means more work (electrical energy and fan power) to push air. Many customers are surprised that they only have five and a half feet of hose.
Without understanding the differences between fixed and portable air conditioner options, consumers are bound to be disappointed. A first step is determining how large a unit is required for the space that will be cooled. Charts showing data for portables should be consulted5. The rule of thumb is to go one unit larger than recommended for two reasons. A larger unit will cool faster with less energy use and circumstances change – a larger unit gives more options. As a bonus, it also increases resale value, and that brings up a final point – it may be appropriate to search the secondhand market for an acceptable unit at a significant cost savings.