Covering a sliding door for an air conditioner
July 24, 2018 3:43 PM   Subscribe

It’s apparently never going to be pleasant in Seattle again, so I am looking at how difficult it would be to get a portable air conditioner for our apartment. Difficulty level: sliding glass door that we use daily.

The trade we make for our below market rent is that our apartment has no air-conditioning and is miserably hot for most of the summer. We’ve taken to sleeping in the living room so that we can sleep in front of the open patio door at night. (Our bedroom has one very tiny window, with no way to install an air conditioner in it.) Ideally, we would install the air conditioner in our living room and cool the room so that we can sleep at night, and make the apartment less oppressive if we have people over. The problem is our living room has no windows – only a sliding door. And we go out this door once a day to water the plants on our balcony.

A quick Google shows me that kits for covering a sliding door opening for an air conditioner are a thing. However, many of them seem very fiddly and seem to rely on the assumption that you’re not going to be going out the door much if at all. If you have any experience covering an open sliding door in order to hook up an air conditioner, I’d like to hear about it. Any suggestions for how to do this, whether it’s buying a kit or making something ourselves, would be greatly appreciated. Also, recommendations for portable air conditioners would be great too. Thanks!
posted by skycrashesdown to Home & Garden (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would be looking at a portable air conditioner (not an endorsement, just an example) with a long vent that could be run out of the living room to someplace with a window. It would probably be possible to extend its reach with some dryer vent. My experience is that this style of air conditioner does not work as well as a window-mounted one, but they're a lot better than nothing.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:51 PM on July 24, 2018 [6 favorites]

Consider a swamp cooler/evaporative cooler. You can get portable ones that do a great job of cooling rooms while allowing you to keep doors and windows open. I've used them in weather that's near 100 degrees with great success. They're ideal for Western States as we have lower humidity. They also are more energy efficient.
posted by quince at 4:08 PM on July 24, 2018 [4 favorites]

What are the actual dimensions of the smaller window? Both Portable air conditioners (mentioned) and possibly smaller, but powerful blower or 'whole house fan' designed for windows could be mounted if the design and dimensions are correct. I mean, its getting into the 60's in seattle at night, so if you can crank a whole house fan for an hour or so in the morning, you might be able to drop the temperature low enough to have it feel pretty cool until the final hours of the day. We're down in PDX and use a couple similarly powerful fans, and it keeps the house completely livable.
posted by furnace.heart at 4:27 PM on July 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

What are the actual dimensions of the smaller window?

Hmmmm, that was my thought. How about a portable air conditioner that vents out the small window? It's normally just a big flexible hose with maybe a manifold you could mount to the window in some way and you may be able to mount it more securely/efficiently than anything in a door that you use. Additionally, you can use it as a fan to supplement the open patio door if it is not air con worthy.

I have used one similar to that and it doesn't do two bad in a relatively small space that is insulated to some degree. If you insulated the air outlet hose from the portable air conditioner (to prevent that extracted heat getting back into the room once extracted from the air) it may work pretty well.
posted by Brockles at 4:32 PM on July 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think you could install it on the side of the non-moving door. It would decrease the usable doorway by about 10 inches, but since it's opposite the moving door, it should be stable. Here's a youtube video that shows how to invert sliding glass doors, which is basically just overkill for getting the outside stationary door loose to install the sliding door air-conditioning vent.

The biggest drawback to this is security. But if you're confidently sleeping with your patio door wide open, that might not apply to you.
posted by politikitty at 4:32 PM on July 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

This is the kind of manifold that could be installed in the bedroom window (assuming it opens?).

Lots of options like that for various installations, even with clear plastic so you don't block out too much light.
posted by Brockles at 4:35 PM on July 24, 2018

All the neighbors in my complex have been trying to figure this out because it's stupid hot now and we all have sliding windows. One neighbor discovered that you can buy extra, pretty long, tubing for the portable ACs so that you could potentially vent it out of a window not in the living room. (I know this because she bought a 15 foot tube and has been cutting it up and giving pieces to other neighbors) You'd just have to make sure the tubing could stay fairly straight.

You could potentially buy a portable AC, vent it out of the bedroom window, and then move it in between the living room and the bedroom.
posted by lunasol at 4:46 PM on July 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

Cutting a hole in the wall and putting a window unit in it is the standard solution in CA. Landlords are often surprisingly amenable to this/ do it themselves as it means they can rent the place in the future as with an A/C.

Keep in mind your electric bill will go up tremendously though
posted by fshgrl at 4:51 PM on July 24, 2018

Right now my sliding door is done up with a cardboard and duct tape panel attached the wall, and The hose at the bottom of the cardboard. It looks atrocious, but we have curtains and it lets me sleep in this heat wave. I’d hook up the ac in the smaller bedroom, fan the living room and retreat into the bedroom and turn on the ac when the heat becomes too bad. Saying that, I’m now he’d up in my bedroom on my phone instead of doing something useful, so take my words with a grain of salt.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 5:01 PM on July 24, 2018

I am in the same situation and got one of these. It looks ugly but works like a charm and I can still get out to my balcony easily.

You can also get a smaller version for windows, which might work on your bedroom one.
posted by rpfields at 5:25 PM on July 24, 2018

Agreed, the market is actually terrible for air conditioner fittings, including for conventional window units. I once came up empty for one to go in a horizontal sliding window and had to cut a wood panel. Someone could really make a killing doing these products.

I think the way to go for a quick fix for a *portable* AC (duct going outside) is pick up a piece of foam board, about $15, at someplace like Home Depot and cut it to size. It won't keep burglars out and you'd need to take it down if you want to secure your door, but if you just want to get it cool at night, this will work.
posted by rolypolyman at 5:50 PM on July 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

Our portible AC is hooked up to the vent our old gas heat vented through in the winter (it broke, Landlord didn't replace and just put a plate over the vent connection. We did not modify an actual working heat system, which would be significantly more dangerous). A dryer vent would work equally as well. Took some measuring to seal but works great.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:16 PM on July 24, 2018

The regularly-used sliding door is hard to deal with, unless you want to/are willing to move the AC manifold every time you use the door. If you've got a really small window, you can probably run the hose to it and cool your bedroom that way.

We had friends in grad school who used the cat door in their tiny apartment to vent their portable AC, which worked pretty well for them.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 6:32 PM on July 24, 2018

No one has A/C in Seattle. Get a pair of these quiet fans and you should be good.

Before you start thinking about buying an A/C unit, make sure that your apartment has circuits powerful enough for it. If it is an older unit, it probably doesn't.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:09 PM on July 24, 2018

a/c rec - we have this one which works well for us except that the cat stands on it and hits the buttons sometimes. We have it set up in a sliding glass window with some plastic over the open space. The room its in is a particular challenge as it's top floor with very poor insulation and afternoon sun. FYI they don't cool nearly as well as window air conditioners I've had with similar BTU ratings but it does help a lot. On the day it got up to 106 it managed to keep the room 90 and below and it was cooler if you sat right in front of it.
posted by oneear at 8:04 PM on July 24, 2018

(I posted this and then immediately forgot about it.) I’m definitely willing to move the cover once a day to water if it will stand up to that. As far as venting through another window, to put the unit in the living room with a vent in another room would require probably 20+ feet of tube and running it down a hallway. One member of my household has occasional mobility issues and is sometimes on crutches so impediments in the hallway are dicey. A window unit in the bedroom would be literally less than a foot from our pillows - the window is practically behind our headboard. A portable unit could be doable with a tube to the window but the bedroom is so cramped that there’s nowhere to put it that isn’t heavily trafficked. It’s a very awkward apartment I’m afraid.
posted by skycrashesdown at 8:53 PM on July 24, 2018

May not work for a sliding door, but I’ve been investigating something like this for a weirdly big window that we leave open at night to cool the house off. It’s some kind of Velcro secured barrier that you can zip the vent hose into.
posted by forkisbetter at 9:42 PM on July 24, 2018

It seems strange to me that this is a problem. Our roll-around AC unit came with a sliding door insert that accommodates both vent hoses. It’s two nested pieces that slide up or down, tightening with a thumbscrew, to fit the height of our kitchen sliding glass door. The seal is by no means tight, but it’s fine. We have a sliding door lock that tightens with thumbscrews that we leave in place so the door can be opened a few extra inches. We don’t go in and out our sliding door much, and when the insert is taken out it requires a little fiddling to get the vent kit back into place, but it works OK.

Ours is a Soleusair, probably a 12,000 BTU, that we got at Fry’s in Renton four or five years ago. Until we moved to a townhouse apartment a couple of months ago, it sat right in the living room because that’s where the sliding door was; drove my wife crazy, but being hot drove her crazier. Now it’s in the kitchen, blows through to the living room, is still noisy, but better. We use fans to vent the upstairs, and it’s still bearable at night.
posted by lhauser at 9:45 PM on July 24, 2018

I use an evaporative cooler in this area and it works ok. The trick is to leave it running all day with doors and windows open. It knocks about five degrees off the top which makes the difference between tolerable and not at night.
posted by bq at 9:53 PM on July 24, 2018

If this were me, I would make a frame to set in the sliding door that could accommodate the vent for the portable AC that would stay in place when I opened the sliding door. Barring that, I might start with a pet door insert for a sliding door and use the flap to vent. With a portable AC, the shorter you can make the venting hose, the better. You will also need to insulate that venting hose and probably shore it up with metallic ducting tape. This is a klugeable thing, just keep in mind that portable AC's are expensive and notoriously shitty at their job. Do your research before buying. I think Wirecutters has some reviews.
posted by Foam Pants at 12:29 AM on July 25, 2018

The pet patio door would be my suggestion, too. It's super easy to get in and out (as easy as if it was just a regular patio door) and it locks. Now, it's not the most secure lock but unless I was going out of town, it wouldn't worry me to leave it in and I am super cautious about safety to the point of absurdity (I lived in a non-A/C unit in Seattle too, and was too paranoid to have the windows open when I was home and in another room.) It might be a surprisingly good fit with a door made for a larger dog.

By the way...everyone is always down on portable A/C units but we used one last summer for some brutal heat in Portland before we moved to a house with central air and IT WAS AMAZING! It cooled down the entire upstairs of our house and our electricity bill barely suffered even using it all the time for the better part of a month. We were prepared for the bill but it wasn't that bad. I guess if you're used to central air, yeah, sure, it's obviously not as efficient as that but let me tell you, just getting some moisture out of the air and having blissfully cold air blowing on you feels great. Get the A/C. (Don't get a swamp cooler. Go for the A/C.) Our unit was on loan from a family member so I can't tell you the brand but it wasn't top of the line by any means.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 2:32 PM on July 25, 2018

This picture is what I would ideally do: a custom insert with a casement window AC stuck in it

I am with the thorn bushes have roses. A portable AC is better than no AC. Just don't expect it to cool a big room and be prepared to find the ducting to be a pain. I am sitting in a little room I am cooling with a portable right now. But, ya, I have kluged the shit out of the ducting and I am containing the cool air with some strategic insulating curtains. Old houses are the bomb!

You could add security by cutting a broom handle to lay down in the track of the sliding door so it can't slide anymore than it needs to accommodate your insert. Just pick it up when you need to get through the door.
posted by Foam Pants at 2:41 PM on July 25, 2018

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