How to cool off my basement apartment this summer?
March 12, 2016 2:09 PM   Subscribe

Summer is coming! I love my apartment. It is large, it is in a wonderful neighborhood, it is affordable, it is also in Brooklyn (miracle!). However, I am from a Midwestern clime, and am hopelessly intolerant of summer heat. I have a basement apartment, so the windows that I have all have bars on them.

The landlord is not willing to install the special A/C adaptable bars, and I know that "portable" A/C units are (i) expensive (ii) inefficient and (iii) don't work that well. So, is there any alternative? Is there a such thing as a reverse window air conditioner (i.e. the bulk of which is indoors, without causing a flood/lots of condensation)?
posted by laduper to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I got a portable one that I got for $100 on Craigslist that I hooked up in the bedroom, then outside the bedroom I placed a box fan than blew the cool air into the rest of the apartment. Not the most attractive set-up but it worked really well.
posted by greta simone at 2:13 PM on March 12, 2016

There are little stand alone units, that are entirely inside, and vent outside with one 6 inch accordian hose. They are kinda like RR2D2.
posted by Oyéah at 2:16 PM on March 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

There are little stand alone units, that are entirely inside, and vent outside with one 6 inch accordian hose. They are kinda like RR2D2.

We had one of these for years, and it worked pretty well. In order to fit and seal the hose to whatever window opening you have, you might need to jury rig a slat of plywood to hold it sealed and flush.

Given that you're in a basement, it'll be less of a waste of energy than it would be if you're in an upper floor with lots of extra heat load from sun beaming in through larger windows and cooler air escaping to a lower point.

The standalone units have a reservoir to collect condensate. The units are rigged to shut off the compressor if the reservoir fills, but to be on the safe side, you might want to run it only when you're home.

The reservoirs can get a bit heavy when they're full of water, so depending on how you are with hefting it to empty it into the tub, you might want to empty it more frequently.

Consumer Reports review here.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:33 PM on March 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Have you actually lived in this apartment in the summer? I have lived in basement apartments in Central NY for over a decade and only very rarely felt the need to turn on my AC. Like you, I am extremely intolerant of excess heat, but I am also intolerant of excess electricity bills. So I learned a bunch of tricks to save money and be more comfortable in the summer.

1. During the day all of my blinds and windows are closed. Basement apartments are usually well insulated, so keeping the heat and light out in the first place is extremely helpful.

2. I bought one of those tall, quiet rotating fans with a breeze setting that varies the amount of airflow. It feels very natural and it has a remote, so I can adjust it without moving from my comfortable spot.

3. At night, once it dips below 78 or so, I open all the windows and shades. On hot nights I don't open the windows or shades at all, and just rely on a fan to keep me comfortable.

4. I have a single ceiling fan set to counterclockwise that I run all summer. (I reverse the direction in winter.) The hotter it is, the higher I set the speed.

5. I don't take super hot showers/baths in the summer. Even with the door closed and the vent turned on, I find that the extra humidity can make the bedroom attached to my bathroom feel uncomfortable.

Try these things. Even if you get a portable AC unit, I bet you'll find that keeping a basement apartment comfortable is not nearly as difficult as keeping the penthouse apartment comfy in the heat of summer provided that you're a stickler about closing up during the day.
posted by xyzzy at 2:33 PM on March 12, 2016 [9 favorites]

A tip on buying portable ACs: they are wicked expensive new, but they are also really awkward to move farther than across town, so put the word out among your friends that you're in the market for a used one. Make sure you are buying a real Air Conditioner and not an Evaporative Cooler (swamp cooler), which will do you zero good in New York's muggy summers. Also watch Amazon closely and check their Warehouse Deals.

They do cool, as long as they're functioning properly. We use one in our (large) bedroom, where side-sliding windows and screens mean a window-unit would require a lot of rigging. The little window-doodad that holds the exhaust hose doesn't cover the entire window, so I built one out of Amazon-box cardboard and an old towel that's nicely insulated and doesn't let hot air back in. Like, it'll do the job. They aren't sleek or quiet, but they work.

Of course, the upside of basements is that they're at least partially underground, and the ground doesn't get hot like the air. So if you have not lived in this place during hot weather, it's entirely possible that you will be perfectly comfortable in all but maybe 5-10 non-consecutive brutally hot nights every year, and you can get through those with an ice pack and a fan.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:38 PM on March 12, 2016

Think about getting a dehumidifier instead of an air conditioner. It'll make the place feel less soupy.
posted by kate4914 at 4:16 PM on March 12, 2016 [6 favorites]

I have a stand alone AC unit that someone gave me. It's an older model but works perfectly. It vents to a window and is large and bulky.. So kind of a pain in the ass but it keeps my bedroom and living room very cool. I have it setup to blow from the bedroom into the living room. I have hung drapes (ikea) across my living to shut it off from the rest of the house. It keeps both rooms nicely cool and it is worth every penny, about a dollar more a day in my case.
posted by cairnoflore at 4:22 PM on March 12, 2016

Look on craigslist for a gently used portable a/c unit. Also consider offering to split the costs of the new a/c and the bars with the landlord - even offering to cover 1/4 of the costs could be compelling. We upgraded our dishwasher substantially a few years ago by offering to split the cost with the landlord (we determined that we broke even after 14 months due to the cost of operation and the reduced need for repeat washes - YMMV but a portable a/c is going to be a lot less efficient than a window unit).
posted by arnicae at 4:57 PM on March 12, 2016

Personally, I would offer to pay for AC-compliant bars because summer in New York is pretty much the most rotten thing ever. But we also stayed in a basement one summer with a portable one and it was okay ... though not as cold as a real AC.
posted by dame at 4:58 PM on March 12, 2016

Best answer: Good news! There actually is an easy, cheap DIY fix for this.

1 - Get a few of these plastic window insulation kits.

2 - Put the AC in the window, prop it up with whatever you like (wood, textbooks you'll never use again, etc.) so that the AC is tilting towards the ground outside.

3 - Close the window down on top of the AC.

4 - Put the double-sided tape from the insulation kit on the window frame around the open area.

5 - Put more strips of tape on the top and sides of the AC as close to the face of the unit as possible. Use an additional strip on the bottom edge of each AC side to connect the bottom of the side tape strips to the strips on the window frame.

6 - Lay on the plastic! Start with the top strip on the window frame then make sure the plastic is taut as you lay it down onto the AC unit's top strip. Starting at the top like this will force the rest of the plastic to remain taut as you press it into the rest of the strips. You'll have plastic that extends into your apartment beyond the tape. That's fine, you can slice it off once you're done.

7 - You're done! You've now created an air seal that vents the heat and condensate outside (as long as the plastic is taut and the AC is slightly tipped towards the outside) and pipes the cool, condensed air into your apartment!

BONUS - On super nice summer days, this still allows you to bring down the top pane of the window and let in fresh air without having to shift or unseal the AC.

ANECDOTAL - I've been doing this for years without any problems. It works like a charm and only takes about 20 minutes to do.
posted by greenland at 6:48 PM on March 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Have you or the landlord considered a wall-unit air conditioner? No window required, and works rather better than most portable units. Downside is that the landlord would have to be involved for installation and whatnot. But it wouldn't require any changing of window bars, at least.
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 8:07 PM on March 12, 2016

I lived on the top floor of a walk-up for many years. I also hate the heat. I'm from NYC. It's not that hot there!

You're in a basement apartment? Keep the air circulating and the sun out during the day and you'll be FINE.

I live in Los Angeles now, which is basically reclaimed desert... I use my AC a lot in the summer, and any time we have a heatwave. Like a few weeks ago :(

There may be a few days overall that are uncomfortable, but I swear on a stack of bibles the thing folks are complaining about in NYC with heat is (was? it's cleaner now) the wonderful aroma of baking piss and concrete. This is something I actually miss! It smells like home!! But no, you won't die of heat....

For one thing, you are near water pretty much everywhere in NYC which really cools things down. Also, you are entirely insulated in a basement apartment. Sure, have a plan. But don't freak out in March. Subway cars without air conditioning are a slice of hell, tho. I'll admit to that.

Even on the top floor in NYC, it was never as bad as my current shaded first floor apartment in LA. You're still in the North East, and surrounded by water. Don't panic yet, or at all.
posted by jbenben at 10:05 PM on March 12, 2016

Shoot! Forgot to add that those portable units work GREAT - and I only encountered them in LA, where the heat is actually brutal and mean.

They work here, they will probably keep your basement apartment super chilly. Especially considering the insulation factor...

If you can open the tops of your windows a crack to let out the hot air, so much the better! I just want to reiterate that of all my days on Earth, the most miserable heat-wise were not in NYC by a long shot. In fact, I can only remember one day in particular in lower Manhattan that was especially brutal and I went to an air conditioned afternoon movie at a theater for relief. Days spent in LA where it was too hot to exist without air conditioning? The list is endless.
posted by jbenben at 10:12 PM on March 12, 2016

Best answer: If you get a portable unit with two hoses, it will work fine and be nearly as efficient as a window unit. The main issue with the portable ACs is that without the separate intake hose they are creating negative pressure in the space, which sucks in hot air from other rooms and, ultimately, outside.

Neither of the LG units my landlord provided have ever required emptying the condensate tank. They sling the condensate onto the hot coil, which cools the coil (thereby improving efficiency) and evaporates the water into the exhaust air. Even with Miami's humidity water doesn't ever fill the tank. They definitely don't work as well as a decent window unit, though.
posted by wierdo at 12:43 AM on March 13, 2016

I sublet a studio in NYC with a portable AC last August. They are LOUD (I couldn't fall asleep without earplugs, though I'm generally not a "sleep with white noise" kind of person) but effective in cooling.

Also, I just wanted to say I really sympathize with you and want to ask if you wouldn't mind reporting back once you've figured out a solution. I think a lot of this has to do with where you grew up, but jbenben's experience of NYC vs. LA is 100% the opposite of mine.

I find summers in NYC to be sweltering hot and completely miserable, and the mugginess -- there is absolutely no question there's more moisture in the air in the entire Northeast in the summer than in Los Angeles -- makes it worse. I grew up in a house in Los Angeles with no air conditioning and simply didn't experience the stifling, impossible-to-sleep muggy nights that I have subsequently experienced in Chicago, Boston and New York before I broke down and got a window AC unit.
posted by andrewesque at 5:54 AM on March 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Another portable AC users - I have a single hose, which was what I could get locally when I needed it with new apartment, but which turned out to be handy because people smoke outside my window (basement apartment, looks out into a little courtyard area), so the single hose means I'm not pulling their smoke into my space.

I have an insulating cover that goes over the hose that helps make sure the heat doesn't get dumped back into the apartment. The cover also makes me feel more confident the cat won't decide the hose is a toy.

I run the AC in my bedroom, and a dehumidifier in the living room/kitchen area: combined, it's about $75-100 electric a month for about 400 square feet between the two in the Boston area. I also have a Vornado fan to help move the air from the corner where the AC goes to the other end of the room, where my bed is (about 15 feet).
posted by modernhypatia at 8:07 AM on March 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone! Yes, I have lived in NY in the summer, and this apartment since August. I really could use some AC. I will let you know what happens (and how it works)... still trying to convince the landlord that fitted bars are reasonable :).
posted by laduper at 7:41 PM on March 15, 2016

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