Your 3-Step Guide to a Perfect AC Installation, Every Time

New York City's latest vengeful summer is in full, red-lining heat wave mode, and that means it’s time to get serious about installing that air conditioner. Because walking into a sweltering apartment after days of walking in sweltering outdoor heat makes about as much sense as walking into traffic, here’s our ultimate guide to evaluating your apartment, purchasing the right air conditioner, and installing it like the champ you are.

For those hot and bothered

If you don’t already have an air conditioner, know that your arguments against getting one wither in the sun with the passing of every day. As Daniel Engber pointed out in Slate, anti-AC cooling arguments often amount to moralizations held aloft by shoddy science. The cheapest options you could get from spots like Home Depot or Amazon start at just over $100 -- though you will want to pay a bit more for the long-term savings (and environmental karma) you’ll get out of an energy-efficient model. The startup Geizeer is even working on a portable air conditioner they intend to sell for $97. Gadget The Sweet Home called LG’s $240 LW8016ER model its pick for the best air conditioner, based on extensive testing. Lastly, if you’re concerned over whether or not the energy costs will break the bank, try using an online energy calculator to get an idea of the cost based on the output of an individual unit. 

For those who have an AC already

Once you have an air conditioner, installing it is a trickier prospect than you might realize. For one, there are certain regulations you’ll have to make sure you follow. For two, you don’t want to slice your hand open. Avoid doing that.

What you’ll need

  • Window-unit air conditioner
  • Manufacturer’s instruction manual
  • Grounded, three-prong outlet (no extension cords, no adapters)
  • Power drill
  • Screwdriver
  • Foam seal

Step 1: Assemble your unit

Most residential window units are made with a top rail and accordion-like panels that will help keep bugs and rodents out.  You’ll want to use your screwdriver and follow manufacturer instructions to screw the top rail securely onto the top of your air conditioner. For the side panels, you’ll typically slide the accordion-like panel into a track or slot on either side of your AC. (Be sure to insert each panel on the correct side, as inserting them backwards on some models can be an irreversible rookie mistake.) The plastic or metal frames of your panels should slide into the rail you fastened to the top of your unit.

Step 2: Set the AC safely in your window

As always, lift with your legs when hoisting your air conditioner into your window. Be careful not to cut your hand or arm on the sharp metal grate that is common on the back of most models. Your air conditioner should rest over the edge of your windowsill at a very slight downward angle. This helps with drainage of condensation as the air conditioner removes moisture from the air. Fit the bottom of your AC onto the rail of your window and close the window behind the top rail of your AC, and extend the side panel. (While there is no strict requirement in New York City to use a metal bracket to support your air conditioner from the outside, it is widely considered a best practice and will give you peace of mind, and many landlords may require or supply it themselves.)

Step 3: Secure the unit

Here’s where the power drill comes in. All units should come with small metal brackets -- or at least holes for screws in the unit’s construction -- that allow you to lock the AC into your window frame. With the side panels extended, attach the metal brackets to them on either side, drill pilot holes into the window frame, and fasten your screws tightly. Do the same for any plastic holes you can get along the side panels. At this point, your air conditioner should be securely installed. We’d definitely recommend inserting a foam seal between your two window panels to make sure your cool air doesn’t escape. You can get one for less than $15 and they often come with the packaging.

As an added precaution, you might also consider fastening a small metal strut like this to ensure your top window sash does not slip down behind your lower sash in the window frame.

Prevent your worst nightmare

Throughout this process, do not let your AC unit fall out of your window, especially if your apartment faces the street. Using the aforementioned secure metal bracket will go a long way to assuaging everyone’s fears of this. It actually doesn’t happen that often. Typically the owner of the unit is liable for any injury or damages sustained via falling air conditioner -- not the superintendent or building manager who might install it for you.

If that freaks you out...

You could also just get a pro to do it. Or ask your super. Or cool off in other ways. If you live in New York City, you can hit any of these beaches without a car, or a pool, so long as you’re aware of the health risks of public pool facilities. Box fans are cheaper and consume far less energy than air conditioners, so there’s no reason to say no to them. And if all else fails, booking a lake vacation or hiking on a glacier are never bad ideas.

Just stay frosty.

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Eric Vilas-Boas has never let an air conditioner fall out of a window but -- as with glacier hiking -- there’s a first time for everything. Take your morbid curiosity to his Twitter feed.