This CM12 ceiling-mounted air conditioner from Spot Coolers can be used where space is limited.

The trends in portable cooling are similar to those seen in other sectors of the HVAC markets: energy usage reduction strategies under the green umbrella; more sophisticated controls for operation and service ease; and everything possible to help contractors keep their customers happy.

This, in turn, adds to the increasing influx of portable HVAC units in the U.S. air conditioning market. “What is probably changing more drastically than the equipment itself is overall acceptance by the marketplace,” said Clark Michel, vice president, Atlas Sales and Rentals Inc.

“Portable air conditioners are much more accepted than they were 10 or 15 years ago as a reliable source of cooling, not only for emergencies but also for permanent applications such as primary cooling in data centers.”

Atlas Sales and Rentals is a Preferred MovinCool distributor and a GSA-Certified MAS contractor.


“Any size contractor can benefit,” from using portable a/c, said Garth Tagge, national sales manager for manufacturer Spot Coolers Portable Air Conditioning. “We do business with the biggest mechanical contractors in the U.S., as well as with progressive mom and pop shops everywhere. However, commercial and industrial contractors (versus residential contractors) are the ones who use us. Only an occasional residential contractor uses us, and that’s typically if they do some percentage of light commercial or commercial work.”

When it comes to portable units to provide supplemental cooling in computer rooms, “The contractor rents the product from us while he shuts down the dedicated computer room or equipment room a/c to replace it, service it, repair it, or perform some preventive maintenance to it,” said Tagge. “The portable a/c allows the contractor to work on the a/c unit while the computer, server, or other type of equipment is kept up and running (versus shutting the customer’s equipment down due to no air).

Contractors can also purchase the equipment outright, to have on hand as a dedicated a/c system for small- to medium-sized server rooms, computer rooms, copy rooms, etc. “Because our systems are portable, the installation costs are often much less than that required of small dedicated a/c systems, which must be installed in the ceiling or wall,” said Tagge.

“The installation costs of these systems can often be much more than the equipment cost,” he continued. “The contractor can sell the portable as a lower cost alternative to an installed system to his customers that are price sensitive.

“In addition, an installed a/c system typically becomes a leasehold improvement in rented space and remains with the landlord should the tenant leave. The portable, if used as a dedicated a/c unit, can be taken to a new site or relocated in the existing site easily, should equipment rooms move or expand because it is not affixed to the building and therefore not the landlord’s property.”

Units also can be used to supplement an existing a/c system, such as an office building, hospital, nursing home, etc., that has maxed out its a/c system capacity due to internal loads. “They often use spot coolers to supplement their a/c, particularly during heat waves,” said Tagge. “Portables are rented and spaced out to provide localized cooling and airflow on patients, tenants, elderly, etc.”

In emergency situations, units are rented out for temporary and emergency cooling issues. “These constantly arise,” said Tagge. However, “the term tends to be a little shorter in response to a bad economy. For instance, the customer may return units a little sooner to help defray costs.” The economy has also affected the purchase of units for maintenance and engineering department tool cribs, for quick response to emergency cooling needs.


After-hours cooling is another application for portable units.

“One trend we are seeing is the use of portable air conditioners as a green solution for after-hours cooling,” said Michel. “When you need to use an office suite or meeting room during nights or weekends, a spot cooler allows you to turn off the building’s central system and just direct the cooling where you need it. The energy savings can be huge.

“The same logic applies when facilities close down for summer vacations or holidays and still need to keep server rooms cool,” he continued. “The week between Christmas and New Year’s has become one of the busiest of the year for portable cooling companies as a result.”

The use of more sophisticated controls in these systems is helping to increase their applications in multiple trends. “There is a trend toward more sophisticated programmable controls that help to regulate temperature and maximize energy efficiency,” said Michel.

“Spot coolers are also edging up in capacity,” he added. “Five tons used to be the upper limit, but now we are seeing some bigger portables that enable customers to cool larger areas using fewer units.”

Portable air conditioning can benefit a smart HVAC contractor, he said, by simply keeping the customer happy. “Delivering emergency cooling during a failure of the central HVAC system is the most obvious example, but it’s not just about emergencies anymore.

“If a new HVAC installation is running behind schedule, let’s say because a part is delayed, portable air conditioning can fill the gap and keep your customer cool - both literally and figuratively,” said Michel.

“If you are shutting down an existing system for renovation or service, portable cooling can be brought in on a planned basis during shutdown. Or, if your customer has increased cooling loads by adding equipment or floor space, the permanent addition of portable cooling can be a cost-effective choice. These are the kinds of smart solutions we hear about from contractors.”

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Publication date:06/30/2008