Summer is here, and once more, higher-than-average temperatures are expected pretty much everywhere, which is fun. That means a lot of people are dreaming of air conditioning in their homes — but there are some drawbacks, especially if you lack a central air conditioning system. Window units can often seem precarious, remove a source of fresh air, and block sunlight. Portable A/Cs don’t work so well and also take up window space. And mini-split systems are great but can be expensive to install.
If you’re stuck with window units (or have a windowless room you’d like to cool down), you have one more option: an in-wall air conditioner. This is exactly what it sounds like: An air conditioner unit that goes through the wall instead of a window. This solution gives you the best of both worlds: a perfectly effective air conditioner and a window you can still open and that still lets in plenty of light. And it’s easier to install an in-wall A/C than you might think.
The benefits of an in-wall air conditioning unit
Installing your air conditioner through the wall has a long list of potential benefits:
- Window access. When you install your A/C through the wall, you can still open the windows on cooler days, and you get your due allotment of sunshine. You can also cool down rooms without windows using this method.
- Easier maintenance. An in-wall air conditioning unit doesn’t need to be removed during the winter months. If installed properly, it will be insulated and the edges sealed to keep the cold out.
- More flexibility. Once you remove the window from the equation, you have a lot more options for locating your air conditioner. You can place it up high on the wall to keep it out of the way, or choose a spot on the wall that opens up the maximum amount of floor space.
- Improved security. It’s much more difficult for someone to push a through-wall A/C unit in and climb into your house.
What you need to install an in-wall air conditioner
So, the days are getting hotter and it’s time for some A/C. Here’s what you need to install an in-wall solution and keep those windows clear:
- A/C unit. You can buy A/C units designed to go through your wall. You can also generally install any window A/C unit through a wall simply by purchasing a properly-sized sleeve. An air conditioner sleeve is just a metal box that is installed into the wall for your A/C to slide into. Keep in mind that while most window A/Cs can go through the wall, units designed for in-wall installation generally can’t be placed in a window.
- Tools. You don’t need anything fancy. You’ll need a way to cut the drywall, a reciprocating saw, a drill, a studfinder, and a caulk gun.
- Materials. You’ll need some framing lumber, screws, and exterior window caulk. Having some expanding foam insulation on hand is also a good idea.
How to install an in-wall air conditioner unit
Installing the A/C is pretty straightforward:
- First, you’ll need to choose where the A/C will be installed. Choose a spot where it’s unlikely you’ll find wiring or pipes, and where your A/C will have easy access to a power outlet. Once you know generally where you’d like the unit to go, locate the studs in your wall. You’ll want to locate the opening between two studs. Measure the unit you’re installing — keep in mind you’ll be adding some wood framing around the sleeve, so incorporate the 1-½ inch thickness of 2 x 4s into your measurements — and mark the opening on the drywall.
- Next, cut out the drywall to expose the studs. Remove the insulation and inspect the wall — if there’s any hidden wiring or plumbing, you might need to choose a different spot. If you’re good to go, whip out that reciprocating saw and cut out any studs that are blocking the opening. This might seem terrifying, but your house is not going to collapse, and you’ll be installing some extra framing to compensate.
- Since you’ll also need to cut out the opening on the exterior of the house, it’s a good idea to drill through to the outside at each corner. You can use these holes as a guide when you cut.
- You’ll need to install a new header to support your wall. For this project, this can just be a 2 x 4 cut to fit between the studs on either side of your opening, with two jack studs sistered in to support it. Alternatively, you can build an entire frame out of 2 x 4s and slide it into the space you’ve cut (assuming you’ve taken the width of the framing into account).
- Now, cut out the opening on the exterior. Clean everything up, insert the A/C sleeve according to the installation instructions, secure it to your framing, and caulk all around it on the exterior. The sleeve should fit snugly in your new opening; if it’s a bit loose, you might need to use some expanding foam insulation to fill the gaps.
That’s it! It really shouldn’t take more than an hour or two, and doesn’t require any real carpentry skills beyond the ability to measure twice, cut once, and drive a few screws. Adding some trim to the interior to make it look nicer is optional, or might be included with the A/C sleeve kit you purchased.
Now you can enjoy cool climate-controlled air any time you want while having plenty of natural light and access to fresh air.
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