All around, people looking half dead/Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head
June 9, 2008 6:40 PM   Subscribe

Yet another air conditioner question...please hope me.

So I buckled today and bought a window air conditioner after a week straight of near-sleepless nights in my second floor apartment. Bought a 5000 BTU window unit, the kind meant for a window to shut down on top of it. My neighbor (in my building) has the same windows, same window a/c unit, and said it didn't cause him any problems. So I lugged the stupid thing home, nearly got heat stroke installing it, then hit a brick wall. Well two.

The first (and most important) thing is that the outlet nearest the two windows which would fit it (incidentally, in the kitchen) does not seem to have sufficient power to make it work. To test it, I set it on the edge of the counter and stretched the plug across to the outlet the fridge is plugged into...worked. This was fine to make sure the unit itself worked but there is no way the cord will reach that far, and if it did it would span the length of my kitchen.

So now I'm stuck with a unit that I can't power. I live in a bachelor apt and vaguely remember my landlord explaining to me that there wasn't an oven because there wasn't an outlet to plug it into and that she was going to have an electrician in some day (this was last sept). So now what? I put in a peeved voicemail with the landlady, she will likely take her sweet time on this, to the tune of me getting air conditioning some time next fall. My neighbor suggested an extension cord but that seems like a sketchy proposition at best. I've read the previous air conditioning askmes, but they were mostly about playing with wiring (something I will not and am not allowed to do). Any other workarounds you can suggest?

Secondly, should I ever get the power source issue taken care of - the window is a slide-sideways kind of window, the panes of which pop right out for easy cleaning. So while the unit fits in there, it's got about five or six inches of "head room" which covered up with cardboard for the time being. What's the best way of permanently (or at least seasonally) blocking off this area? And how to seal it up so cold air stays in and warm air/hornets/squirrels stay out?

Thanks in advance!
posted by SassHat to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've used extension cords with my AC in two apartments. Six years in my previous place (with an 8000 BTU AC), and now in my current place with a 5000 BTU AC. Never had an inkling of a problem.
posted by kimdog at 6:53 PM on June 9, 2008

if you get a heavy-duty extension cord, you'll be fine (get one long one--don't daisy-chain them or use them with a power strip, because each connection is an additional possible point of failure). i've done this in a previous apartment and am doing it right now. have yet to go up in flames. go for it!

as for the window space, you might be able to measure it and then go down to home depot and geta piece of plywood cut to fit. how did your neighbor fix it?
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:00 PM on June 9, 2008

If you are going to use an extension cord, go to a hardware store and get an extension cord meant for high-power appliances. Don't use one of the dinky little ones you may have lying around. Those big honking orange ones are specially made to prevent problems. Ask at the store what sort you should buy for this sort of situation.

Sealing: I use a combination of cardboard, the plastic sheeting meant to seal windows for winter, and duct tape. Basically, you're going to have to rig something up. Duct tape is awesome.
posted by decathecting at 7:02 PM on June 9, 2008

Yeah, get an AC-specific extension cord. Twelve or ten gauge. I couldn't wire an outlet on my outside (brick) wall, so I had to put the outlet in the nearest inner wall, and the cord makes it possible.
posted by notsnot at 7:16 PM on June 9, 2008

Best answer: To seal the gaps get a sheet of coroplast, a piece of 2" extruded polystyrene insulation (Dow blue board or similar not the white stuff composed of little balls), a can of BoeShield, a can of 3m super 77 spray adhesive and a can of latex door and window spray foam.
  1. Spray the window frame with BoeShield. The BoeShield is to make clean up next fall easier. You can probably use any kind of spray lubricant.
  2. Install the A/C unit in the window.
  3. Cut two pieces of coroplast to a friction fit to the opening above the window.
  4. Spray these pieces with the super 77 and then stick them on either side of your insulation.Let dry.
  5. Trim the insulation to the coroplast.
  6. Install the coroplast-insulation sandwich into the hole using a bit of tape to hold it on place if it isn't tight enough.
  7. Run a bead of the spray foam between the window frame and the A/C unit. If the coroplast-insulation sandwich isn't tight fill the gaps between it and the window or A/C unit with the foam.
  8. Let the foam dry and Robert is your Father's Brother.
The stuff I specified I have on hand, feel free to mix it up. It's important to protect the polystyrene from UV which is why the coroplast. Any weather resistant cover on the outside and appealing covering on the inside will work but coroplast is cheap and easily cut with a knife. If you can make the hole plug and the A/C unit tight enough you could skip the latex foam and BoeShield and just use caulking to seal the gap.

For the extension cord a 12 gauge cord would be best but at only 5000 btu you could probably get away with a 14 gauge cord. It depends on the amperage draw of the unit which you can find on the data plate which is usually behind the front cover. However you don't want to plug it into the outlet powering your fridge. If they both kick on at the same time you could trip your breaker which will take out your fridge until you can reset it and it sounds like you may not have access to the panel.
posted by Mitheral at 7:30 PM on June 9, 2008 [4 favorites]

I have a heavy duty extension cord running my window a/c that shuts off if it gets overloaded/hot. (There's an on/off switch on one end, too.) Just a little extra peace of mind.
posted by Liosliath at 7:45 PM on June 9, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your suggestions.

Mitheral - I don't have another plug other than the one the fridge is plugged in to. The outlet directly below the window doesn't work. The other outlets are on the opposite side of the apartment...and I'm guessing they won't work either.
posted by SassHat at 7:54 PM on June 9, 2008

You should be able to get an adapter that will allow you to plug both the fridge and AC into the one outlet...but even if not, I'd unplug the fridge when I got home and put the AC on high. Just try to keep opening the fridge to a minimum. A Home Depot or the equivalent should be able to direct you to a safe alternative.
Alternatively, a Water Cooling System will cool yr sleeping area considerably. Not cheap, but will run on regular current, unless you get a beast of a machine.
posted by dawson at 8:28 PM on June 9, 2008

This is not the one I'm using, but seems s bit similar. Should knock at least 10 degrees off in any given room.
posted by dawson at 8:37 PM on June 9, 2008

Response by poster: Ok so I can get an adapter and then plug an extension cord into that? Or is that a bad idea? Because the cord does not even reach the plug to the fridge currently.
posted by SassHat at 8:53 PM on June 9, 2008

Best answer: I'm no electrician (though I've wired a few houses, which is actually simple and gets checked out by an inspector anyway), and I do advise consulting one. That's much cheaper if you go to a Home Depot type store, or even a local electrical supply. There are always lots of guys hanging around shooting the shit who know the legal codes and etc and in my experience like to spill all kinds of minutia.
But yeah, I was suggesting a heavy duty, rated extension cord as mentioned above and an equally heavy duty adapter.
Don't jury rig, but you can do a bachelor-pad-fix that would be safe, except for tripping hazard with the cord or whatever. Your main danger if you use something that's not heavy enough to carry the load is fire, and that's not something to play with obviously, as you realize. But there is a viable short term solution I think with adapter and extension cord.
Hope you get things working soon!
Re the length of the cord, that's not an issue, the cord does the same as the wiring in yr walls.
posted by dawson at 9:11 PM on June 9, 2008

Wait, are you saying that you have one outlet, as in one single socket into which to plug an appliance, and you're considering getting a splitter and plugging two things into that one socket? Or do you have one wall plate that has two sockets in it, one of which has the fridge plugged into it and the other of which you're proposing to plug the extension cord for the AC into? Because the former is a bad idea, while the latter is just fine.

If you only have one socket where the fridge is plugged in, get a longer extension cord and run it across the apartment. Tape it to the wall or the ceiling to get it out of the way and prevent cord damage or fraying, but don't plug two high-power appliances into the same socket. If you can find an outlet that is on a different circuit from the one the fridge is on, that's even better. Plugging two power-heavy appliances into the same socket could, at best, trip your circuit and cause your power (and anyone else's power on the same circuit) to go out periodically. It could at worst start a fire. Using two different sockets reduces the risk, and using different circuits, if possible, reduces the risk further. (IANAElectrician, IANYE)
posted by decathecting at 9:16 PM on June 9, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you to all who helped, luckily enough a answer to my crosspost at MetaChat was the trick that did it. Hopefully my house will not burn down in the meantime. Thanks!!!
posted by SassHat at 9:45 PM on June 9, 2008

Everyone's saying get a heavy duty extension cord without giving any real meaning to that.

Your air conditioner will, probably both on the unit and the manual, have a rated current in amps (amperes, if the label is verbose). You want to make sure that the extension cord is rated for at least as many amps.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:45 PM on June 9, 2008

Great SassHat! I was feeling inept and sorry that you were getting conflicting advice and melting in yr apt when I felt like there was a simple solution...
so anyway, sleep in coolness.
posted by dawson at 9:49 PM on June 9, 2008

Response by poster: No truly truly thank you for your help, I definitely learned a few interesting things and I may have to return to this thread as a resource!
posted by SassHat at 9:51 PM on June 9, 2008

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