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How Loud is a Normal Portable Air Conditioner?

loud-noise-cover-ears-300Have you considered how loud your portable air conditioner is?

With so much noise pollution all around us these days it is important to consider the decibel levels of your home appliances including your air conditioner.

Most of us think of things like traffic, tools, construction noise, radios and loud concerts as the source of the noise in our lives, and seldom consider the appliances in our homes.

Portable air conditioner noise is one of those that we hardly ever consider, but we should. With the World Health Organization concluding that millions of people have hearing loss due to noise we need to take every opportunity to reduce the noise levels within our homes.

How loud is too loud? And what causes an AC unit to be too loud?

Measuring Sound

Noise levels are measured in something called decibels and unless you are really familiar with the metric system, decibels can be very hard to understand.

About decibels:

  • Known as dB the decibel is 1/10 of a bel. The human hearing range is between one and two bels so the fewer bels the better.
  • A decibel is a measurement or an expression of the sound pressure - in exact measurements- that reaches our eardrums.
  • Decibels are determined by comparing the pressure against a predetermined ambient pressure level as opposed to an objective absolute zero value.
  • This is however a subjective input as what is loud to one person might be barely audible to another.
  • Acoustics, environment and personal hearing loss are all factors in what any individual actually hears.

That said, the decibel level of any noise can be measured with a decibel meter and compared with other similar noise at any given level.

This results in a chart similar to the one below:


Anything above 90 decibels would be considered extremely loud, and anything over 100 would be damaging to the eardrum.

Still, sounds in the 50 to 90 decibel range can be harmful if a continuous noise affects the quality of life and stress levels of those exposed to it.

According to The National Institute of Health some of the dangers of exposure and overexposure to excessive noise levels might include things such as:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Hearing loss as previously mentioned
  • Stomach and intestinal issues
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Cardiovascular complications/constriction
  • Loss of sleep
  • Brain chemistry changes
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Negative impacts on child and infant growth and development
  • Increase pregnancy risk
  • Increase in stress levels
  • Negative impact on learning abilities.

Given the risks, the more you can decrease the decibel levels in your home the better it will be for you and your family. Therefore every appliance purchase should include research regarding the amount of decibels it puts out.

Normal Levels and Air Conditioners

These days most portable air conditioners have normal decibel levels in the 40 to 60 range.

This level can be affected by:

  • Where the AC unit is located.
  • The speed on which you are running it.
  • If there is any portable air conditioning soundproofing and noise absorption in the area where the AC unit is

It is particularly important that your living room and bedroom have the quietest levels of noise in the home. They are the rooms we use the most and they are the rooms we relax in the most.

If you have a portable air conditioner in your bedroom you need it to run quietly in order to sleep well.

In some cases, a little white noisefrom your portable AC might actually be a factor to help you sleep.

Where the appliance is going to be placed should be a major factor when you consider a new portable air conditioner for your home.

For appliances like air conditioners that will most likely be in constant, continual use, it is important to know what the manufacturer noise rating is and what it means.

Noise levels can depend on the room size and sound barriers in place where the air conditioner will go. For these reasons the manufacturer noise rating is becoming as important as the Energy Star ratings when evaluating different air conditioning units.

Questions You May Have:

  • Which ACs are the loudest and why?
  • What noise levels do they reach in terms of decibels?
  • How can you find out?

You have to do your homework. Do the research.

Find out from the manufacturers which units are the loudest and which are the quietest.

It is very difficult to say which AC units are the loudest because many manufacturers do not release dB levels based on the fact that hearing levels can be subjective as previously mentioned.

Some manufacturers claim new technology results in quieter operations but many of these are the same manufacturers who do not release their data.

Some of the features that minimize sound include a sleep mode, multiple speeds with different sound levels, and a programmable timer that will prevent the unit from running continuously.

Here are a few examples of the type of information you might find from the manufacturers who do publish dB levels:


You will notice how the price of the unit does not dictate the maximum number of decibels it produces. Neither it seems does the number of BTU's.

As you can see from this very small sampling, the portable air conditioner with the lowest decibel rating is also one of the lowest priced units researched. This is just an indication that it is really important to do your research before you buy. Units that run constantly at high rates of speed are likely to be the noisiest ones.

When AC Units Are Noisy

It is usually a maintenance issue when a usually quiet air conditioner becomes very noisy.

There are several components in any portable air conditioning unit that can contribute to or even determine how loud the unit is.

These same components can also affect the noise level of a central air conditioning unit.

Maintenance Issues

There are many possible causes and fixes for air conditioning units that are making more than normal levels of noise.

  • Some of the causes might include a problem with the compressor - perhaps it has seized up and locked.
  • Another cause of AC noise could be less than necessary electrical voltage either from the service provider, the electrical panel or bad electrical connections.
  • Other reasons might include a bad start-run capacitor or contactor relay.

The most important thing to do with any AC noise is to determine where it is coming from: Is it the fan, the air handler or the compressor? If the AC unit has a heat pump, is the noise coming from there?

If so you might have a larger problem with loss of cooling capacity or damage to the unit itself.

On the other hand a buzzing noise coming from the AC unit might simply indicate a loose part and not a major problem.

So determine where the noise is coming from and then if possible determine the cause. If you cannot determine the cause then it is time to call in a professional to do so.

Portable Air Conditioner Soundproofing

If the noise level coming from your portable air conditioner is not caused by a maintenance problem then it may mean that you need to do some sound proofing or sound absorption.

carpet-rug-wood-floor-300Here are a few things you could do to reduce the reverberation of the noise:

  • Carpet the room that the AC unit is located in as this will absorb any echoes or reverberating noises.
  • You can also use wall hangings to reduce your AC noise by absorbing the sound waves in the room.
  • You can also use old blankets or rags to wrap around the unit and create a sound barrier.
  • Another thing to do is to make sure all fastenings, screws, nuts and bolts are tight and there is nothing loose that can rattle or buzz.
  • You might also consider wrapping the unit in some high R-value insulation.

Finally this idea will not reduce the noise but will reduce your exposure to it and therefore your risk of illness or complications. When you are out of the house or out of the room, run your noisy AC unit, but turn it off or at least turn it down when you are in the house or the room.


It is normal for all household appliances, including the portable air conditioner to make a certain level of continuous noise.

This noise is not healthy for us and can lead to a variety of health issues.

It is important to understand decibels if you are to understand this noise level problem. Then research before you buy in respect to the maximum decibel level in a particular unit.

Soundproofing and sound absorption around the portable air conditioner is one way of reducing excessive noise from your unit. Rugs, carpeting, wall hangings and insulation are all possible means of noise reduction.

Maintenance can also be a reason for a noisy unit. The first thing to do is find the source of the noise and then attempt to diagnose why it is happening. A professional might need to be consulted.

No matter the reason, the less noise a portable air conditioner makes the better it is for you and your family.

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