NEW YORK — If there's one month of the year when you need an air conditioner in New York City, it's August.
So unless you're one of the minority who has decided to survive summer in the city without a cooling unit, buying an air conditioner is one of those things that requires a conversation with an experienced salesperson. Pick a store that's been around a long time and has installed many units in different urban-dwelling scenarios. (My favorite is RCI on the Upper West Side. They've been in business since 1934.)
Really good independent appliance stores can have decent installation deals, too, but it's worth comparing prices.
When you go to the store, bring these key pieces of information:
1) Approximate cubic square feet you want to cool;
2) Estimate of how much direct sunlight the room gets;
3) Window's measurements;
4) Photo of the electrical outlet you're going to use.
I know nothing about electricity, but your apartment should be wired so that there's a dedicated air-conditioner outlet. Instead of figuring out how much voltage your outlet has, take a photo or be prepared to describe the shape to an installer.
In deciding what window to use, remember that it's against the law to put an air conditioner in your fire escape window. Pick a window that sacrifices as little natural light as possible, and also consider having the unit installed at the top of the window.
There are also options where you can have the air conditioner installed and still open and close the window without the unit falling out. When booking an installer, ask about getting a metal bracket cut to size and drilled into the window frame to allow you to anchor the unit while using the window above.
Considering that the ozone-depleting refrigerant HCFC is being phased out gradually by the U.S. government (and is already illegal in many countries), you might want to consider purchasing a brand that is not contributing to global warming.
Frigidaire and Kenmore models are ubiquitous in city apartments, but Friedrich is really the Cadillac of cool air.
We had the same Friedrich for more than 20 years in our prewar co-op. If you can spend a little extra on this company's latest model, it's worth it.
I have the old Frigidaire that came with my current apartment, but my dream air conditioner is the Friedrich Kuhl series — and the guys at RCI recommend it, too. It's the sleekest unit on the market. You can control it with your smartphone and program its settings on a seven-day schedule.
I grew up thinking that air conditioners always had those awful plastic accordion extensions on either side. And that dreadful, drafty foam. Not so. Plexiglass is the solution for all window air conditioners. It costs slightly more, but it keeps the cold air in and makes the air conditioning unit less of an eyesore.
Every time I watch an air conditioner being installed in an apartment window, I wonder why there aren't more falling out. Those things are heavy and precarious, so use caution.
City rules worth knowing:
► Make sure the air conditioning unit is installed securely. Support the unit from underneath, or firmly fasten it from inside with metal brackets, mounting rails and the like.
► Supporting metal brackets or interior angles should be structurally fastened to the building and must be strong enough for the size and weight of the machine.
► Secure all leveling objects to prevent movement and shifting due to vibrations from the unit, wind and other weather conditions.
► Install your air conditioner so it remains in place when the window is opened, or affix it so that the window can’t be opened accidentally.
► Tilt the unit slightly to provide water drainage, but don’t over tilt.
► Do not use loose objects — such as wood blocking, bricks, telephone books, gypsum board or cans — to support the leveling of the air conditioner.
► Do not place anything (TV antennae, satellite dishes, plants, etc.) on top of unit.
► Do not block fire escape windows or other exits .
► No permits are needed for the common unit, unless it exceeds 3 tons or 36,000 BTU per hour.