8,500-10,000 BTU A/Cs with a >=23" Installation Width?
July 15, 2006 4:45 PM   Subscribe

Please help me iron out two weird quirks relating to the purchase of an air conditioner, says the Chicago MeFite looking at a 104-degree heat index coming down the pike. (And even if you don't have an answer, check out two simple corollary queries you might be able to help me with at the end.)

I have a 500 square foot studio apartment, which means about 10,000 BTUs. I was all set to buy a particular model until I learned of two problems: the three windows in my main living area are just narrow enough to screw me, and the window in the kitchen/dining area is not only nowhere near an electrical outlet, it's far enough away that even an industrial extension cord (you shouldn't use normal extension cords with A/Cs) couldn't reach, and even if it did, would be prime tripping material. And the landlord's electrician advises me that there's no wiring anywhere near the window in question, meaning a new outlet can't be installed without gutting a good part of my apartment's drywall.

I'd ideally like to see if I can find a good, reliable air conditioner that nevertheless fits the physical requirements I need to fit it into one of my living-area windows. The window I need to put it in looks like this:

The first "frame" of the window is 23 inches wide. The next step in measures 22 inches. across. The width of the screen window, when opened, is 19-20 inches. Essentially, this means that I need an air conditioner that installs in a 23-inch window, and is physically no more than 19 inches wide. The physical width of an air conditioner is usually discoverable online, but its installation width is often only in the manual. Amazon has quite a few A/C manuals, but not a comprehensive selection.

A couple of quick notes:
  • The installation width is not the same as the physical width of the unit; it's usually larger.
  • many air conditioners have a minimum installation width of 24". This will not fit -- unfortunately, that extra inch does screw things up. I know this from experience with a recently purchased twin window fan.)
  • If decreased BTUs will decrease the size, I'm open to suggestions. I don't think anything below 8,000 BTUs would adequately cool the space, and I'm not wild about decreasing the BTUs, but, if that's absolutely the only solution ... I suppose I'm open.
  • I'm aware of casement air conditioners and portable air conditioners, but they increase the cost significantly from all research. They are a fallback option.
  • I'm not willing to put a "normal" air conditioner on its side. I've heard of people doing it and shoring it up with plywood, but my understanding is that not only is it physically unsafe, but it can screw up the way the unit both works and drains.
Now for those corollary queries. Even if you can't help with the specific question above, I'd appreciate (a) casement air conditioner recommendations (with prices and/or links, if you have them handy), and also, (b) the answer to this question: for MeFi apartment dwellers, how do you guys handle storing window air conditioners in cooler weather? Do you leave them in the window with covers around them, or do you store them somewhere in your place (and if so, how do you keep them from getting in the way?

Thanks, guys. (Crammed a lot into this post, didn't I?!?)
posted by WCityMike to Home & Garden (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I dunno, WCityMike, maybe you see problems I don't, but what would be the problem with 2x of the 6,000 BTU Fridgidaire units as pictured near the bottom of this Web page? At $109 each, 2 of them cost almost exactly the same as 1 10,000 BTU unit, and the width dimension of 18 1/2 inches certianly sounds like it would work in your situation.

There is probably a very slight difference in energy efficiency that 1 bigger unit would achieve over 2 smaller units, and the bigger unit might have features such as remote control that the small units don't, but at the end of the day, BTU's are BTU's. Over the course of the summer, any difference in operating cost is going to amount to maybe $10, worst case, and maybe less if you can cut down to one unit at night.
posted by paulsc at 5:05 PM on July 15, 2006

While we're waiting for a glimpse, here's a link with rundowns on Fedders, Maytag and Airtemp models, including installation sizes. Looks like you want a "Q" or "V" chassis for a 10K BTU model.
posted by rob511 at 5:06 PM on July 15, 2006

I've got a storage unit in the basement I keep my air conditioner in... before that, it was stored in a closet, with the other 3 air conditioners of my roomates. That apartment had about 3 closets, though.

I have no suggestions for air conditioner models, I'm in the "I'll take whatever hand-me-downs I can get" state of mind (and finances).
posted by ruby.aftermath at 5:25 PM on July 15, 2006

paulsc writes "I dunno, WCityMike, maybe you see problems I don't, but what would be the problem with 2x of the 6,000 BTU Fridgidaire units as pictured near the bottom of this Web page?"

And if you decide to go this route, you might want to try a single 6,000 BTU unit before doubling up. The last time I bought a casement air conditioner, I found that the recommended energy/area ratings were significantly higher than necessary...
posted by mr_roboto at 5:41 PM on July 15, 2006

Response by poster: The photo should be visible now.

Paul, appreciate the heads-up on that, but the problem is that I just don't have the outlets for two air conditioners, I think. Of the three main living area windows, only the rightmost is within a normal cord's reaching distance of an outlet. It does look as if a roughly equivalent model on Frigidaire's site would fit in a 23" window, and it looks like that particular chassis goes up to 8,000 BTU — not great given that that's supposed to cool up to 350 square feet, but a consideration.

Rob511, the Maytag Q Chassis looks promising. (The V chassis is a casement and would have the corresponding price increase.)
posted by WCityMike at 5:49 PM on July 15, 2006

Response by poster: BTW, out of curiousity, from your empirical experience, as someone who's never owned an A/C, how much can I expect my power bills to go up? I'm paying Chicago's ComEd $15-$25 per month — another $5 or $10 more, or is it going to be a really significant jump?
posted by WCityMike at 5:51 PM on July 15, 2006

Response by poster: Looks like the Frigidaire FAC104P1A and FAC106P1A might be practical possibilities — and I could get the latter model (which is Energy Star-compliant) at Lowe's — problem is that I just got off the phone with Lowe's, and the units are "special order," meaning I'd have to wait 2.5 weeks to get 'em. Damn.
posted by WCityMike at 6:13 PM on July 15, 2006

Response by poster: Looks like I might be able to get the Frigidaire FAC104 or FAC106 through ABT Electronics — they advertise free Chicagoland delivery, too. (The latter'd be special order, though, but it'd be Energy Star.) I'll have to investigate that.
posted by WCityMike at 6:20 PM on July 15, 2006

On the storage solution: I keep mine in the manufacturer's box in the closet, or at worst, stuffed in a corner somewhere. I keep the box just so I don't have to worry about (1) damage to the air conditioner and (2) stubbing my toe on one of the sharp edges.
posted by brina at 7:06 PM on July 15, 2006

If it comes down to dying of heat or having a messy cord in my apartment, I wouldn't worry about the messy cord. Plug two industrial cords together if you have to. Big deal. I'd rather be nice and cool.

As for winter, get it out of the window. Otherwise you will freeze to death. I don't care what kind of cover you'd put on it, your window won't be airtight. I stuff my A/C's in a closet (as someone suggested above).

Go down to Home Depot or something similar with your tape measure and see what they've got. If you dither too long, they won't have anything left!

Good luck.
posted by bim at 7:13 PM on July 15, 2006

As for the bills, my NYC no-AC bills are $35-40. Summer 2005 (I don't have bills for a whole month of AC for this summer, since I'm away.) bills were $86 and $83 for June and July. I really blast the thing, though, less than $2 a day for two months of not suffering is fine by me.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 7:26 PM on July 15, 2006

If you go with two AC units you might check that you have two outlets on different circuits. Nothing makes your heart sink more than plugging in your brand new AC and having the power go out in half your appartment. I speak from experience!
posted by drmarcj at 7:48 PM on July 15, 2006

I'd say I'm suffering through the same heat, but luckily my apartment has central air. :-)

As for your questions about a/cs, when I did use one: I made sure to take it out as soon as the weather was decent enough not to need air. It just got stuck in a closet until the next season needed.

I didn't turn my air on too often, mostly just at night. If you take other precautions (keep your blinds down during the day, drink lots of water, etc.) the jump in bills shouldn't be too bad.

Just one other precaution: though it looks like from your picture you wouldn't have to worry about it, make sure if you're within reach from the ground that you bolt your air conditioner in or otherwise secrure it - a friend of mine had his taken from his first-floor apartment window just the other day. He's lucky the thief didn't then use the open window to get into the apartment...

Go down to Home Depot or wherever and see what they have left. Hopefully they'll be able to give you instructions about installing it and insulating it if necessary.

Now back out into the heat...
posted by bibbit at 8:55 PM on July 15, 2006

Go to homedepot.com and look under appliances/air conditioners. They sell a casement a/c with a minimum width of 15.5" or portable a/c (basically the only part of the a/c connected to a window is a hose). Not cheap options, though $400 - $500 for either solution. Both of these are made by Fedders (the dimension of the casement a/c isn't listed on the homedepot web site, but can be on Fedder's web site).
posted by ShooBoo at 9:29 PM on July 15, 2006

When I'm not using the window ac/heater, our electric bill is around $30 per month. When we do use the window ac/heater it's over 150$. and that's with us turning it off when we've cooled/warmed enough, when we're not there, and when we're asleep (unless it's below zero outside, then we leave the heat on).

I'm in Philly. YMMV.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 9:58 PM on July 15, 2006

I have one old window unit to cool a whole 1200 square foot floor in Ohio. It's way undersized for the space, and can't get the temperature much below 80-82 when it's high 90s outside. But just lowering the humidity is a huge improvement, and it's quite comfortable inside.

You won't have too many 95+ days, so a smaller BTU unit that fits your window should be good.
posted by jjj606 at 3:08 AM on July 16, 2006

I'm in Chicago - we pay about $25-$35 a month for ComEd in the winter months, and about $50-$65 in the summer. That's running our two window units to keep our 850-sf apt comfortable, whatever that takes. Usually the bedroom unit is on 24/7 (although it's set to regulate the temperature at 75 degrees - it turns itself on and off to reach that as necessary). The kitchen unit has to cool our living room (we're stuck with skinny living room windows that are only 20" wide, so I feel your pain). That one's an older and less efficient unit, so we turn on and off as we see fit.

Your cooling cost is also going to depend on your apartment's location - is it top floor, with south facing windows, or bottom floor without lots of sun coming in? Ours is on the bottom floor and we get lots of morning sun in the morning in the living room - but drawing the shades and curtains keeps it from heating up too much.

It was hot as hell yesterday, and will only be worse today - hope you can find a way to stay cool.
posted by misskaz at 6:26 AM on July 16, 2006

What is the height of the opening? I just managed to squeeze a Samsung 8,000 BTU model from Lowe's ($159) into a window that is a full 2" shorter and at least 1" narrower than the recommended minimum installation width. In my case, the height was a much bigger deal than the width, but you may be able to figure something out...

I got around it with a little creativity - I removed the bottom pane of the double-hung window all together, and cut a length of 1x2 hardwood to fit under the top pane and above the A/C to hold it in place and provide security. I had to taper the ends of the board slightly to make them fit into the channels, but overall it really worked out. It's really solidly in there now - I'm not looking forward to getting it out, though...

One trick is that the minimum width always includes those expanding plastic accordian pieces, which (depending on the model) may or may not be necessary for your installation - pieces of wood or plexiglass might work, and would certainly take up less space.
posted by sluggo at 7:58 AM on July 16, 2006

they cost a bit more but portable models vent to the outside with a hose like a clothes dryer so they can mount in all sorts of windows quite easily. You will have to dump out the moisture trap several times on a muggy day.
posted by subtle_squid at 9:19 AM on July 16, 2006

Just to add some contrariness to the conversation: I had a window AC in my 700sf apartment for nine years and never once took it out. The unit (a Whirlpool 12,500BTU, IIRC) worked beautifully the whole time. The window was insulated with some foam around the edges, so I never got blasts of cold air during the winter either. I was happy to leave it in -- the thing was heavy as hell.
posted by CMichaelCook at 12:12 PM on July 16, 2006

This one is only 14.25 inches wide.
posted by TonyRobots at 7:29 AM on July 17, 2006

Oops. Try this link -- it's the Frigidaire FAK085Q7V. I'm sure there are others like it.
posted by TonyRobots at 7:31 AM on July 17, 2006

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