If sweltering days and nights without central air conditioning threaten your summertime comfort, consider putting a unit in the window. Installing a window AC is within the capabilities of most do-it-yourselfers if you follow the 10 tips here. You’ll get the job done safely and swiftly—and will soon be saying, “Ahhhhh!” no matter how hot it gets.
While most single-family homeowners are free to install a window AC, if you live in an apartment, condo complex, or a neighborhood with a homeowners’ association, check with management or the HOA board before investing in a unit. Some complexes don’t allow window ACs for aesthetic reasons (they’re not the most attractive additions to a building’s exterior) or because an improperly installed unit could fall from the window, creating a safety hazard.
Not every window is suited for an air conditioner. Almost all such appliances are designed for a double-hung window, meaning there is a fixed upper pane and a lower pane that slides up and down. Sliding windows that move from side to side, and casement windows that tilt outwards to open, aren’t options for these air conditioners.
You’ll also need an electrical outlet that accepts three-prong plugs fairly close to the window; most window units have a cord only about six feet long. Never use an extension cord for window ACs. This could void the warranty on many air conditioners and present a fire hazard if the extension cord isn’t rated for appliances.
Finally, for best performance, consider the area directly inside and outside the window. An air conditioner should be in a shady or partially shaded window, because direct, intense sunlight can decrease the unit’s efficiency by as much as 10 percent as it struggles to handle all that hot air. Also, remember that the air conditioner requires sufficient clearance for unimpeded air flow, so choose a window free of furniture, trees, shrubs, walls, or other obstructions within 20 inches of the unit on the inside or the outside of the window.
There are two sets of measurements you’ll need to choose the right window air conditioner: the height and width of the window opening and the square footage of the room the unit will cool. Normally, the air conditioner’s packaging will specify both the size range of acceptable windows and the maximum square footage the unit can cool, so make sure your measurements are within the guidelines for the unit you’re considering.
To measure the window, open it as far as it goes, and then use a tape measure to determine the inches both from side-to-side and from top to bottom.
If you don’t already know the square footage of the room you hope to cool, have a helper hold the tip of the tape measure against the wall as you extend the tape to the opposite side to get the length; then repeat on the other side of the room for the width. Then multiply the two numbers to obtain the square footage. For example, if your room is 11 feet wide and 12 feet long, it is 132 square feet.
You’ll need two other numbers, typically indicated on an air conditioner’s packaging, to purchase the right unit: energy efficiency rating (EER) and British thermal units (BTUs), which is a measurement of the appliance’s cooling ability.
EERs can range from 8 to 12: The higher the number, the more energy-efficient the air conditioner. The U.S. Department of Energy recommends an EER of 10 or more for the best efficiency and savings on your electric bill.
The larger the room, the higher the required BTUs to cool it. If the air conditioner isn’t powerful enough for the space, it will run continuously without reaching your desired temperature. Too powerful, and the unit will tend to cycle on and off too quickly, which won’t allow enough time to reduce room humidity effectively and leads to uneven temperature throughout the space. Generally, a window unit’s BTU rating will match the manufacturer’s recommended room size, but to calculate it yourself, try the online BTU calculators here.
Window air conditioners typically weigh between 50 and 100 pounds, so maneuvering the appliance into the window and then holding it in place while it’s being secured with screws requires an assistant. Installing a window AC on your own is an easy way to injure yourself, or accidentally drop the unit out the window.
Before installing a window AC, open the window as far as it goes, remove the screen, and clean the windowsill, glass, and window frame. Measure the width of the windowsill, and use a pencil to mark its center.
A properly installed air conditioner should sit securely in the window without an additional support bracket. However, very heavy units (those more than 100 pounds) do require additional support and some locations, notably New York City, require the use of a bracket for all window air conditioners regardless of weight. Generally, you’ll need to buy a support bracket separately. Most home improvement centers that sell window units also sell brackets, and you’ll also find them available online. Expect to pay from $30 to $100 for a support bracket.
There are different configurations of AC brackets, but most either resemble a small shelf or a pair of “legs” that extend slightly outside the window to help hold the unit firmly in place. These days, many window unit support brackets, such as the Ivation Window Air Conditioner Support Bracket (available on Amazon), require no drilling or screws for installation, greatly simplifying installation. The Ivation has an expandable bar that fits securely in the lower window frame while two rubber-tipped “feet” rest against the exterior wall to support the air conditioner’s weight.
Some window units come with the top and bottom mounting rails—which help hold the air conditioner securely in the window—already in place. If your unit does not, use the included screws to attach the mounting rails, making sure to tighten all screws completely.
Next, attach the accordion-style side panels by sliding them along the grooves on each side of the air conditioner. When the entire installation process is complete, the panels will fill in the gaps between the air conditioner and the sides of the window frame.
Once the mounting rails and side panels are in place, lift the window unit–with your assistant’s help–and set it in place on the windowsill. The bottom mounting rail should fit into the lower window frame, positioning the air conditioner correctly and helping hold it in place. Line up the middle of the air conditioner with the mark you made earlier indicating the center of the window. Now, have your assistant hold the window unit steady while you lower the open window sash until it sits on the top of the air conditioner, with the unit’s top mounting rail resting directly in front of the lower edge of the sash. This serves as another safeguard keeping the window unit in place.
Many window units require a very slight tilt away from the building to keep condensation in the drip pan outside the room, rather than puddling down the wall inside your home. Typically, the tilt shouldn’t be more than one-half of an inch, but check the installation guide for the manufacturer’s recommendation. Some newer units don’t require a tilt, as the manufacturer has installed the drip pan at a slight angle.
Have your assistant continue to hold the window unit in place while you use a power screwdriver or drill to install the L-brackets—the letter L-shaped pieces that serve as a final safety measure to keep the air conditioner securely in place. One side of each L-bracket screws into the lower edge of the sliding windowpane’s sash and the other side of the bracket screws to the side of the window frame, securing the sliding pane in place. This prevents the window from opening, which could cause the unit to fall out. Depending on the manufacturer, your air conditioner will come with one or two L-brackets.
Once the upper pane is secured, there will be a gap between the two panes of the window. Fill that gap with the foam seal included with the unit. Cut the seal if necessary to fit your window, and then press it into the gap. This keeps drafts from outdoors out of the room. Neglecting to fill the window gap with the foam seal makes your window unit work harder to control the indoor temperature, and potentially lets moisture, dust, and insects enter your home, as well.
For the final step, extend the accordion side panels of the air conditioner until they touch the sides of the window frame. Use the screws that came with your air conditioner to secure the side panels to the window frame, using a power screwdriver or drill.
Congratulations! Your new window air conditioner is safely installed. Plug it in, turn it on, and enjoy the cool relief from summer’s heat.