As I sit here writing in September 2021, it’s fair to say that the British summer has not exactly lived up to our hopes. Despite that, with the climate crisis in full swing, it’s undeniable that higher temperatures are likely on the way, and air conditioning is going to become a bigger and bigger concern.
If you don’t have built-in air conditioning – as many British flats and houses don’t – then a portable unit like this 9000BTU model from Russell Hobbs is a good alternative. You get the benefits of A/C when you need it, and the option to tuck it away in a cupboard when you don’t – and it’s a lot cheaper than a full installation.
Importantly, air conditioning is much more effective than simply buying a fan – although we’ve reviewed the best of them too – as it cools the air, rather than simply moving hot air around the room.
This Russell Hobbs unit (the RHPAC4002, for model number fans) is actually a 2-in-1, doubling as a dehumidifier.
Design and build
- Big white box
- Heavy at 29kg/64lbs
There’s not too much to say about the look of the Russell Hobbs portable air conditioner: it’s a big white box that isn’t much to look at.
To be fair, it is sleeker than some air conditioners on the market, and doesn’t give the impression of being cheap. It’s still not a looker though, and you won’t really want to show it off much.
It’s worth bearing in mind that it’s big too. The ‘portable’ bit of the name might throw you off, but make no mistake: this is not handheld. It stands 70cm tall, so it’s big and bulky, meaning you’ll want to make sure that you have space for it – especially given that it needs to be kept by a window (more on that in a minute).
More importantly perhaps, it’s heavy at 29kg. It’s enough that while you will be able to move it around, you probably won’t want to, and while there are castors to help you roll it around a little, you’re likely to still need to do some heavy lifting. It’s mostly designed to sit in one spot through the summer when you need it, and is portable in the sense that you can then move it away during the winter when you don’t.
If you’ll only be moving the unit once or twice a year then the size and weight are hardly an issue – but it’s important to keep in mind in case you envisage using one unit to cool an office during the day and your bedroom at night.
Setup and installation
- Simple setup
- Requires window access
- Designed for sliding windows, not pull/push
Setting the Russell Hobbs air conditioner up is simple enough – once you get past the logistical hurdles of its sheer size and weight – but there are a few complications when it comes to the unit’s exhaust hose which are worth bearing in mind.
Setup varies slightly depending on whether you’re simply air conditioning, or aiming to dehumidify too. For air conditioning, the primary concerns are simply getting the unit close to a window and installing the exhaust hose.
Said hose has to pipe hot air outside, so you’ll absolutely need to get the air conditioner near a window – if you can’t do that then this won’t suit your home. The hose is 1.5m long, which gives you a little leeway, but it has to extend upwards and isn’t especially flexible, so you actually get a lot less distance than you might think.
Attaching the hose is surprisingly tricky, with the rigid plastic difficult to slide into the brackets that attach it to the air conditioner and window seal respectively.
That window seal is a different problem entirely though. It’s designed to fit neatly into either horizontal or vertical sliding windows – a design that’s not common in the UK, although they may be elsewhere. If you have slider windows then this won’t be an issue of course.
The included kit is adjustable to suit different window sizes and shapes, although for very small windows Russell Hobbs simply advises that you cut the slider down to size, which could be tough going considering the sturdy plastic it’s made from.
Unfortunately there’s no way to adapt the kit for the more common push/pull windows, meaning my setup ultimately involved simply poking the end of the hose out the window and hoping for the best – leaving me having to deal with street noise and less efficient A/C, as I couldn’t keep the room sealed.
A quick look on Amazon reveals third-party window seals going for £15 or so, meaning that this is a problem you may be able to solve with a little extra expenditure. But I haven’t tested any so can’t vouch for their effectiveness, and either way it’s a disappointment that Russell Hobbs doesn’t provide an attachment in the box, especially considering it’s targeting the UK market here.
One quick aside: on Amazon UK the air conditioner is pictured with an appropriate window kit, but there wasn’t one in my box – and a quick look at user reviews on Amazon confirms that other customers don’t seem to have either. That means there may be some variation here, so you never know – you might get lucky.
If you want to run the unit as a dehumidifier, you don’t need to do any additional setup. But if you’ll be dehumidifying a lot you may want to set up drainage to save you from emptying the water tank too often.
This is as simple as attaching the included drainage hose to the machine and running it along to a drain, or to something like a bucket if you just want to store the water there to pour away every now and then. Unfortunately there isn’t really any more elegant a solution than this.
Performance and cooling
- Can air condition or dehumidify
- Remote control for ease of use
- Night mode and timer options
There are three basic modes available here. The main one, dubbed ‘Cool’, is essentially just air conditioning. The unit will cool the air while simultaneously kicking in the fan to move it around.
You can control whether the fan oscillates (up or down, not side to side) or not, and set the fan to three different power settings or to an auto mode that picks a fan speed based on how close it is to the targeted temperature.
You can set the target temperature to anything within 18-32°C (64-90°F). That may not sound like much, especially on the lower end but, together with the fan, the bottom end of the temperature scale actually feels colder than you’d think, so don’t let that put you off.
There is one caveat here: I’ve been testing the A/C unit primarily in a room that’s around 11m2, below the 14-22 m2 range that Russell Hobbs recommends. That means it’s probably a little more effective for me than it may be if you use it in a larger room, although to some extent that will be compensated for by the fact that, as mentioned above, I wasn’t able to create a window seal.
If your room is already fairly cool and you want to save power, you can turn on the fan without using the actual air conditioning, with three speed controls.
You can also activate the dehumidifier, although on this mode the fan is set to Auto whether you like it or not. Bear in mind that this means you can’t use the dehumidifier without some cooling effect, so it isn’t a good option if you’re hoping to dehumidify in winter – it will work, but you’ll be pretty damn chilly.
Finally, there’s a timer mode that you can use to set the A/C to start or stop at a set time – ideal for making sure it turns off when you leave the house, or turns on a little before you get home. It’s too simple to set up complex recurring schedules though, as you can only have one timer active at a time.
In addition to the timer, there’s also a handy night mode, which covers some of the same use cases. This reduces the brightness on the unit’s display, lowers the fan speed to minimum, and slowly lets the room warm very slightly over the first two hours before maintaining that temperature for a further six, then turning off.
I do wish the night mode was a little more customisable – or perhaps simply turned off sooner than it does – but it’s a welcome addition nonetheless if you want to keep the A/C unit in your bedroom. Not that it will entirely counter the bigger issue there: noise.
Finally, as mentioned above, there is a remote control. This has all the same controls as the main unit, and works from up to 7m away. There’s also a handy spot on top of the main unit for the remote to rest when not needed.
- Loud when in use
- Noise level varies with the fan
The big downside of portable air conditioners is that the entire unit is kept inside your house – rather than being able to offload the noisier components outside.
In general use you should expect some pretty consistent low-level noise. The good news is that the bulk of this noise comes from the fan, so you can control this to some extent by dropping fan speed down (as it does automatically in the night mode).
Even at the lowest speed the fan is still fairly audible though – especially in a quiet bedroom at night. Worse is the change in volume every now and then when the conditioning element kicks on or off, which brings with it a more rattly noise.
At the end of the day, air conditioning is noisy business. This is far from the worst offender out there, and during the daytime it’s unlikely to be a serious issue, especially if you throw some music on to drown it out. At night, light sleepers may struggle, though if you’re a heavy sleeper (like me) then it should simply recede into white noise – who knows, it may even help you nod off.
Price and availability
That may sound like a lot, but it’s not much more than you’ll pay elsewhere for a similar performance level – especially if you’d rather stick to a name brand like Russell Hobbs.
The 9000BTU Russell Hobbs portable air conditioner is a decent option for Brits hoping to cool their homes throughout heat waves to come.
It’s powerful enough to cool most bedrooms and even living rooms, and the dehumidifier function will help keep moisture at bay. It’s noisy, but not unreasonably so, and touches like the timer and night mode help make it manageable.
The big downsides are that it’s nowhere near as portable as the name would suggest – so make sure you know what you’re getting into – and that Russell Hobbs makes no concession for the fact that slider windows aren’t common in the UK. That means most buyers will need to spend extra money elsewhere for a window seal kit in order to run this in a British home without extreme inefficiency.
If you’re looking for a dedicated dehumidifier, we’ve reviewed the Meaco Arete One.
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