From Seriously Uncool to Subzero!
May 13, 2011 3:46 PM   Subscribe

Help me find the best/most cost-effective way to cool my apartment this summer! Special snowflake apartment and clueless renter here!!

One bedroom second story apartment in Chicagoland that is 537 sqft. I have a floor plan of my apartment with some sloppily taken dimensions here. The bedroom in the upper left corner has 3 windows with a southern exposure. I have another window in the living room that is right next to the lower right corner box that is a closet. Outside that window is the wall of another building that has other apartments' bathroom windows (I could stick my leg out and touch the other buidling--it's awkward). The kitchen is open to the living room as well. There's a ceiling fan in the bedroom and two in the living room.

I lived through September and October in this space with only my fans going at full speed, and it was only barely bearable. Earlier this week when the temperatures reached 86, I was dying inside. I've heard a lot of contradicting and confusing advise about what to get: a single unit that can cool 550 sqft installed in the larger space, two 150 sqft units, and getting unit(s) with additional BTU to account for the southern exposure/second floor/kitchen factors. From what I understand, not buying the correct BTU-age will either result in not extracting the moisture from the space or not being able to cool the space enough.

I never had window air conditioning units, so while shopping I discovered that they were surprisingly expensive! To add to the cost, my landlord requires that all units be installed by the maintenance team for a charge of $50 per unit installation ಠ_ಠ. Going rogue/DIY is not an option because there's a $100 fine and $25 removal fee for any units that are not installed by the management company. I'd like have a budget constraint of under $400 if possible. That is including the installation costs and the heavy-duty light colored curtains that I'll be getting to supplement the space (suggestions on curtains too?). If I purchase the wrong unit, I believe that I can return it but will have to pay for removal and another installation. Must avoid this!
posted by joydivasian to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Why not buy one off craigslist. They hold their value pretty well.
posted by TheBones at 3:56 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oh, I left out an important subquestion--what BTU quantity should I get for the best A/C experience?
posted by joydivasian at 3:59 PM on May 13, 2011

Best answer: I don't have any advice on the air-con, but I seriously recommend you get your curtains from Ikea. You can get a lot of curtain for not a lot of money there, they have a bunch of light colored options, and different choices for the top of the panel (grommets, pockets). Their curtains come long so you need to be prepared to hem them (they include some iron-on tape), but it's a plus that unless you have very unusual windows you won't have to worry about buying the right length. We have heavy white cotton Ikea curtains here in LA, they do a lot to cut down the heat, they're also machine washable. Oh, don't buy poles there though, buy them literally anywhere else! Try Homegoods or Target if you're on a tight budget.
posted by crabintheocean at 4:13 PM on May 13, 2011

it's not as difficult as you think it is. just get one or two within your price range. the longer you leave them on, the cooler the room gets. in my experience (in Chicago also), $100 is enough to spend on an a/c. got mine at home depot. if you have old windows make sure all the cracks and openings are well insulated to keep the cold in/hot out. home depot sells plumbing pipe insulation that is very cheap and can fit into weird old window openings after being sized and cut down.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 4:19 PM on May 13, 2011

Best answer: Regarding curtains, I have windows that look directly out to another apartment too, and it too is awkward. For the living room, I got two sets of curtains - one light sheer and one dark opaque. I also got two heavy duty tension rods to hold them up. I like the sheer ones because they let light in without letting my neighbors see me clearly, and the opaque ones get shut at night or if I'm feeling particularly private during the day. And I like the tension rods of course because you just stick 'em up there, no drilling holes necessarily.

I got my sheer curtains at Bed Bath & Beyond. I think they were under $20 per panel (I put only one panel on each window even though they recommend two - one is fine for me). They have sheer 63" ones. Kmart has a decent cheap selection, too, though the Eclipse curtains they sell there are not what I'd call blackout curtains, especially if you get a light color. Also, in my experience, they let off a weird smell when the direct sunlight really kicks in. So yeah, I don't recommend those. I don't know what kind of bargain stores you have in Chicago, but in Queens we've got some large discount places that actually have a pretty good selection of cheap, albeit not the most high fashion, curtains. Most of the curtains I put up are from the bargain stores, again under $20 per panel and they are effective.

I haven't bought an AC recently so I can't recommend specific ones, but in your situation I'd probably just get a big one and have them put it in my least favorite window. The ceiling fans will help circulate the air.
posted by wondermouse at 5:17 PM on May 13, 2011

Consider one of these.

Very easy to install, and will cool that area just fine.
posted by tomswift at 6:55 PM on May 13, 2011

One thing I find that helps a lot (both in our heatwaves and when I lived in a desert climate) was doing laundry on the hottest days, and hanging up my clothes indoors to dry. This works because it takes a lot of heat to evaporate water, so your heat will be used up drying these. A fan can help with this, depending on your airflow, to keep things moving and quite cool. When it was hot for a long time, I ran out of laundry, though.
posted by Listener at 7:06 PM on May 13, 2011

Best answer: Evaporative cooling does NOT work well in humid places- and that includes Chicago!
A 12,500 BTU unit should be OK for the space you have. A fan will direct cool air into the other room, so you don't really need two smaller units. Based on a quick survey of a popular consumer ratings organization, to which I subscribe, I'd recommend you check around for LG A/C's , specifically LW1210ER or LW1211ER. Frigidaire LRA107BU1 (maybe Lowes) is also worth a look. All are well under $400.
posted by drhydro at 8:24 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

How about a "portable" AC unit? A couple of hundred more than a box unit, but most come with a removeable attachment so you can vent the hot air out a sliding window or a sliding door, obviating the installation fee.

I got mine from craigslist a couple of years ago for ~25% of the price of a new unit. In April... well ahead of the hot season and a year before the "really hot year," here.

Things to look for; water tank (unit that needs you to add water, and will "burn" that water - much more efficient and will cost you less electricity and cool better/faster).

I've also found that a small "airmover" (small cheap turbine fan) to shoot the cool air coming from the AC to spread it around works well to rapidly cool in general or to shoot coolness into a specific room (while avoiding any noise from the cooling unit).
posted by porpoise at 8:58 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Following up on Listener's laundry drying idea, I highly recommend this laundry rack. It holds a lot of clothes (second photo) but when folded it takes up very little space. I keep mine in the space between the fridge and the counter. It also comes in extra handy in winter: I set it up over a bath mat to dry snow-soaked coats, hats and gloves
posted by bentley at 6:20 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

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