Does a shallow air conditioner exist?
June 10, 2008 7:49 AM   Subscribe

Can anybody suggest an extremely shallow in-window air conditioner, that I could possibly install in a window that has bars across it just a couple inches outside the screen? And don't waste your time suggesting a portable unit, as I'll describe inside.

I'm DQing a portable unit because I just got one this weekend, and frankly, whatever gets suggested here would replace it because it just plain doesn't work. My room is only 140 sq ft and it barely drops the temperature by more than four degrees. Plus it fills up with water every three hours and has to be emptied. It's completely untenable.

In any event, I'm not sure the perfect unit exists, since only about three inches of the bulk could stick out the window, and in my experience most A/Cs need much more projection than that to vent properly. But maybe somebody knows of something I don't? I've seen past AskMeFi questions in which people claim to be running their A/C units almost completely inside the window; does anybody have any specific tips on how to make that work?
posted by logovisual to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
A through the wall unit is what you need. They vent externally only to the rear. However they don't come with any of the window baffle bits so you'll have to plug the remaining opening and you'll have to support the unit with a set of legs or a table of some sort.

You'll probably need to go to an appliance store rather than the local borg to buy one.
posted by Mitheral at 8:22 AM on June 10, 2008

I just had to cut through the burglar bars this past Sunday because of the situation you mention (they are on the 1st floor). My tenants wanted to install an AC unit but could find nothing shallow enough. The other option is a "swamp cooler" type of AC unit that sits on the floor. These were, according to the tenants, decidedly more expensive. I cut out the bottom crossbar, through which all of the vertical bars were slotted and then each vertical bar (about 20 inches from the bottom of the sill). I was then able to take the crossbar and re-slot the vertical bars into it. Ultimately, I will need to put a few welds in place to make the crossbar absolutely secure. Right now, it is held by friction. I think that the bars are still a deterrent as one would need to climb up a ladder, push in the AC and then attempt to shimmy through a 20 inch high gap (under the cut steel edges).

Apparently a past tenant had placed an AC unit that did not extend out all of the way. The boards under the sill were rotted because of the continued exposure to water.

If you are going to place it mainly inside, you want the condenser outside of the sill and angled down toward the ground outside of the window. You can use blocks of wood, duct-taped newspapers or old paperbacks to get the right height (and securely placed). Don't leave any open gaps between the AC unit and the window frame. Use a cardbord box and cut a piece that will fill the space. The tighter the seal, the less likely you will have the hot air given off by the condenser blown back into your apartment.

Good luck.
posted by zerobyproxy at 8:30 AM on June 10, 2008

I don't know of a shallow window AC.

If you can't cut the bars, you could look into a dual fan that exhausts the hot air from inside your house and draws in fresh, cool air. It won't work if you live some place that's super hot day and night. If you live somewhere with warm days, but cool evenings it's a good alternative. You can cool off the house pretty well by getting the stale, heated air out of the house.
posted by 26.2 at 9:23 AM on June 10, 2008

I'll second everything Mitheral said. If you only have 3 inches of clearance you'll need a back venting A/C.

I also just bought a through-the-wall A/C because I have crank-operated windows (although I actually have it installed through the wall - works great if that is an option for you).

The cheapest unit I saw 2 months ago was $400 at PC Richard (Union Sq.) and was fairly large at 14" wide (and about twice the BTU I needed for the space). I was going to buy from a specialty store called Gringer's in the East Village but they wanted closer to $650 for a similar unit. Through the wall A/Cs are sometimes referred to as "sleeve units" because they are generally made to fit metal sleeves (like the Fedder's Buildings).

Last thing I'll say is that if you want to try this you really have to make sure to angle the unit so water and condensation drain outward and not into your apartment or onto your sash.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:32 AM on June 10, 2008

Some friends of mine live in a historic museum (OK, they rent a house from Colonial Williamsburg) and are not allowed to have an AC unit protruding out the window at all. They have a normal, back-venting window unit on a sturdy stand in front of the window, with the back of the unit pressed right against the screen. Other than taking up a big chunk of their living room it works fine. I did not look close and am not sure how they drain the condensation out of the unit, but as Zerobyproxy warns, it is important to make sure it is draining clear of the building.
posted by LarryC at 9:59 AM on June 10, 2008

Wall/Sleeve units usually have an actual drain tube projecting from the rear of the unit. As long as the front of the unit is a smidge higher than the back the condensate will run out of your house.
posted by Mitheral at 10:07 AM on June 10, 2008

I have the exact same situation- first floor room with vertical bars on the window that do not curve out to accommodate an a/c unit. In addition, my window is about 4 or 5 feet wide- which calls for additional wood panels to be installed on either side of the A/C unit. I had rigged a crazy system last summer that really wasn't efficient at all. This year I decided to just have a through-the-wall unit professionally installed. I used a company called Air Wave. It cost about $590 for the purchase of the A/C from them and the installation. It can also easily be un-installed once summer is over. My only complaint (besides how expensive through-the-wall units are) is that the 2 men who came to install it were extremely rude to me. Luckily the installation only took about 15 minutes and now I have a great A/C set up. Feel free to contact me if you'd like any more info- or if you want to hear about the old set-up I had, which was certainly cheaper but more of a hassle.
posted by dm_nyc at 12:13 PM on June 10, 2008

I'm going to chime in here on the portable units anyway, because frankly it sounds like the one you got was absolute crap, and that may be tainting your opinion of them in general. I'm sitting in our 180 square foot office right now, with a bunch of servers and a portable air conditioner venting out the window. Including all the extra heat load of these servers, it works fine and keeps us nice and cool around 21C even when it's 34C outside.

A few points:

1) Don't expect to pay less than $450-$500 for a portable unit and have it actually work. As I said, the cheap ones suck and are worse than useless
2) Get an auto-evaporating one that blows the humidity out the exhaust vent instead of collecting it in a drip bucket. One less thing to worry about, less work for you.
3) As someone upthread mentioned, to get quality you may need to go to an appliance store specifically. That's where I got ours. Expect to pay a bit of a premium, but it's worth it. Appliance stores generally don't deal in crap as they want repeat customers.
posted by barc0001 at 12:28 PM on June 10, 2008

Costco sells (well, sold) the Sharp CV-P12LX portable unit of which I have one. I use it in my upstairs, sun-facing office of about 160sq/ft and which has three significant workstation computers that are nearly always on. I have been quite happy as the unit provides ample cooling, vents the water back outside and works well as a plain fan or dehumidifier. It's also surprisingly quiet. I've had it for two years.

The only drag is that the power requirements are great enough that you may need to dedicate an entire 20A circuit to the AC unit. I didn't but was lucky enough to have the office room's outlets spread across two circuits so I am able to run the computers off of one and the AC off the other. This doesn't always work for, occasionally, my SO will plug in the vacuum out in the hall and trip the breaker upon which the AC unit is drawing. I will, someday, maybe, run a dedicated circuit and a single heavy duty 20A T-Slot outlet for the AC.

The only drawback I see beyond the power requirements is that the unit has a wireless remote control without which the unit will not function. I fear that someone will walk off with the remote.
posted by bz at 1:44 PM on June 10, 2008

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