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HIGH END Portable Cooling With LOW END RELIABILITY/SERVICE
on August 11, 2014
Pinguino "WE" series have been around for quite a while. But the old short flat-topped ones, with a removable water jug filling system, were the most compact and serviceable. That's because you could take it apart like a kids' toy and clean it up by hand, scooping out dust and crud from the drain trays and the water lifter-elevator, and the cooling coils. Those babies lasted about ten years until the hard water deposits ate through the copper cooling coils and the unit would finally fail to hold coolant. The new ones like WE-130 have superior filters placed strategically to lessen dust collection, but eventually the insides will get clogged. Another improvement over the shorties is the "descaling filter" which helps suck out harsh, harmful lime deposits out of your hard water. When you start using your WE-130, you have to run a litmus test on the tap water and then assign a hardness level to the control panel info storage system. This enables the unit to gauge filter efficacy over time. Kind of kludgy really. The filter looks like a catalytic converter about the size of a large gloved hand, and it contains those little brownish beads that you see sold as high-tech aquarium filter media. Culligan also uses it in their raindrop shower head system. It's a great idea except that the filter is bolted in on the bottom surface of the air conditioner. Yeah, it's absolutely NO FUN to have to tip this baby over safely and swap out that filter module, without damaging your floor, furniture, porch, or your own well-being. The GOOD thing is it only THINKS it needs a new filter because the 750-hour timer tells you that it thinks it is clogged. It may be or may not actually be, so you can cheat by resetting the timer without changing the filter. And did I mention that it's nearly impossible to find anyone selling this filter module. If you know what to search for, you may find it on Amazon for around sixty bucks, but I've seen some parts houses asking up to $120 for the same item. Ouch.
The water series Pinguino coolers have fantastic cooling performance. That's because new models use an atomizing process that coats the coils with clean, de-scaled condensate water as well as your added water (tank on bottom pull-out filler drawer holds 2.2 gallons) and the water is thus turned into heat-energy-sucking steam and is blown out your ... exhaust hose. This makes the cooler way efficient and even reduces somewhat the temperature of the exhaust in that rear 5" diameter plastic hose. (BTW, be sure to wrap that hose in some sort of styro or air bubble type insulation material, to discourage the heat in the hose from re-entering your living environment, which would reduce your overall cooling effectiveness -- do this with ANY brand of portable air conditioner!)
My first BIG GRIPE with Pinguino is the apparent lack of knowledgable SERVICE after the sale. Seems a few HVAC stores claim to service Pinguino, but the main factory/distributor back east seems to have no clue what to do about repairs. Or ERROR CODES for that matter; you're better off scrounging the Internet for hints if your Pinguino goes down. My WE-130 arrived with no printed manual; it seems they were so anxious to get 'em out the door in 2010 that they didn't bother to print literature. I phoned the company, I think it was in New Jersey at the time, about error codes, but there was no one there who knew the meanings of the codes. They told me to just call around till I found any HVAC store who could order a repair document.
Second SERIOUS failing with this model, and perhaps all the new water models (?): After about 3.5 years of use, my WE-130 went into a limp-along fan-only mode after throwing an uncorrectable "PF" error. Pinguino's latest online manual says this means "call a service center for help". It really means "send this machine to the dump and buy anything else". After doing hours of research, I believe this error was caused by the failure of a six-dollar part, a sensor, that clips to the coil assembly to detect freezing of the coils. The part is simple, cheap, and not made to last very long. If you have skills, you can probably take the WE-130 apart and replace this part by yourself, assuming you find a parts joint that stocks it (some do). Another bonus issue with Pinguino is that parts houses may show a listing for many Pinguino parts, but the listings are followed with "discontinued - not available" next to most of the parts. But at least you can still get hold of the pricey main board and some small plug-in capacitors and weird sensors. This means that YOU are a better tech than the guys employed by DeLonghi.
I've just ordered YET another WE series to replace my blown WE-130. Yes, I'm now spoiled by the excellent cooling performance, and I'm willing to get slapped around AGAIN by frakkin' DeLonghi. But this time I'll opt for the WE-125, which is identical except it's rated for slightly less performance (about 500 BTU lower in all modes) in the hope that the internal components are detuned so they don't burn out so fast. The WE-125 also has higher-pressure variants that run on 220 volts and use R-290 natural gas coolants, but are sold in Europe -- so maybe (pretty please!) the internal components are more robust that the stuff found in the WE-130. Good luck to you. Fingers crossed.