Admittedly, it’s not hard to figure out how to build more ruggedly than the home itself, be it a window air conditioning stand or any other project, when the domicile in question is a thin walled tin can shelter aka 45 year old mobile home. From 1997 to 1999, Pam and I hung our hats in an aged mobile held together with little more than wadded up newspaper and copious applications of duct tape, so this isn’t our first rodeo. But we’ve all seen them, even in stick built homes, window air conditioners hanging their tails out in the air, supported by nothing but the window frames themselves.
There are quite a few of those in our current home town of Deer Lodge, Montana. I’d have taken a few photos but figured the homeowners might not appreciate it. The air conditioners don’t all sag or tilt, but it’s a mystery to me why they don’t…and some of them do. Today, I noticed one in the neighborhood that sags sharply and has two guy wires attached to the metal frame, running tautly to near the roofline while barely keeping the unit from ripping out of the window casing completely. When we moved into our place, the window AC unit was stored in the garage. We won’t ever use that one, not knowing where it’s been or with what it might be contaminated. We do, however, have a brand new 8,000 btu unit ready to do its thing. It had been a spare at the Border Fort in Arizona; we’re pretty sure it’ll find lighter duty and longer life in Montana. Since such a brand spanking new AC machine deserves the best, I took down the two lousy two-screw shelf brackets that had supported air conditioners in earlier years and got ready to set up a Baker Bilt AC stand.
“Baker Bilt” meaning built by me, as new readers might not know. Nobody else in town–possibly nobody else in the state–sports an AC stand that sturdy. Truth be told, I’ve never seen one anywhere that I’d trust to hold its shape long term…unless I built it. On the other hand, I don’t doubt for a second that casual observers of my project might think things like, “Over built. Ridiculous. Who needs a fortress to hold a fifty pound air conditioner? Not worth it.”
It’s worth it to us, though.
Good news: At some point in the past, the mobile home wall had been modified to accommodate window air conditioning. Thick strand board layers were screwed firmly to the studs, both inside and outside, sandwiching the original wall and providing a pretty solid wood-framed cut-through opening. The first two 4″ x 4″ posts didn’t even need to be modified; they were simply used to tamp the earth beneath them and then fastened to the wood framing (OSB strand board, same stuff I used in building the Border Fort in Arizona).
A 2″ x 4″ crosspiece is then deck-screwed to the two house-side vertical posts, serving as a mini-girder supporting the deck boards.
Next, two posts are set up 18″ away from the building…but since there is no OSB strand board support for them, a 4″ x 4″ piece, 31″ inches long, is cut to serve as a “landing board.” The two yard-side vertical posts, having been shortened enough to look “cool” and also to provide the landing board, are then deck-screwed firmly to the landing board.
The posts-plus-landing-board (yard-side) were then marked at the appropriate height (this requires a reasonably good eye and a level) for the application of a yard-side deck support girder (2″ x 4″)…and after that, they were eased over so they could lie down while the crosspiece (2″ x 4″ girder) was deck-screwed in place.
With the rectangle of post and board pieces back into position, all that’s left is to cut and install the deck boards themselves. In this case, that meant two 2″ x 10″ pieces and one 2″ x 4″ piece, each piece being 19 inches in length. Once the boards are deck-screwed into place, the project is finished. Unless a coat of paint is desired, but paint is strictly optional due to the durability of the treated lumber “as is” and the happy fact that the reddish-brown lumber color goes well with the home, especially the nearby front steps.
Installing the air conditioner on the stand (and in the window, of course) was pretty simple–as long as the various instructions were ignored at will. Pam and I both cracked up at the admonition to never use an extension cord to power the unit. At the Border Fort, this exact same model has been hooked up just that way for years…and not to just any old extension cord, either, but to a fifty footer.
Which was admittedly an improvement over the hundred footer that started the ball rolling in 2011.
We agreed to trash the little plastic accordion style side curtains that are designed to fill in the gaps between the air conditioner hole-in-the-wall and the machine itself. Note: One of those no-no warnings also screeched a heads-up about the “fact” that this appliance could not be installed in a hole-in-the-wall or through-sleeve but only in a double hung window! It’s pretty obvious the tech writers and legal beagles for this manufacturer (Haier) are extremely short on creative rednecks and the various ways to utilize duct tape!
However, they do wisely admonish the homeowner not to let the air conditioner fall out of the window during installation. In bold print, no less. It’s clear that when it’s installed precisely according to instructions, the only thing keeping it in place is the lower edge of the frame of the window. Frankly, it’s one of the dumbest “supposedly official best way to do it” arrangements I’ve ever seen, though countless such setups are in place all across the United States of America as we speak.
So, moving on to the Baker Bilt version of window AC installation, by the numbers:
1. Set the appliance on the newly built deck with the front sticking through the hole in the wall.
2. Check with a level to see which way storm water is going to drain. Yep, it tilts down toward the back end just a little, which is better than going the other way–which would encourage water to pour toward the house instead of away from it.
How much is “just a little” in this case? Um…roughly 1/8″ drop, front to back.
3. Install the two little anchor clips designed to keep the air conditioner from shifting out of position. With the Haier, these attach to the sides, down low, with an “L” that should rest on the window casing…but it doesn’t. The brace/anchor is too short, leaving more than half an inch of space between clip and wood. With that in mind, I dug around and found a couple of longer screws for anchors, allowing the tips to penetrate an inch into the wood.
4. Fill in between the unit and the wall casing to prevent air, water, and/or bugs (especially yellow jacket wasps, which are plentiful here) from traveling into and out of the home. This was done with a combination of cut-to-fit hard foam pieces (the kind with foil backing, left over from another project), softer cut-to-fit foam (another leftover), and generous application (on the interior side) of Gorilla tape, which is a black, heavy duty version of duct tape.
The stores were closed by the time I finished, but tomorrow a tube of clear silicone sealant will be purchased and beads run to seal everything up tight on the exterior side. We don’t plan to remove this appliance every fall and reinstall it every spring; come October or so, I’ll build an insulated “half hutch” that can fasten down over the air conditioner during the winter months and head back to the garage every summer.
5. Plug in the unit and turn it on to see if it works. This would normally be done before going to all the work of installation, but we’ve got faith in this company, at least with this model…and our faith was not misplaced.
Does that “final” interior view look a wee bit unfinished? Yeah, I thought so, too. But I’m not telling Pam until I’m ready to rectify the situation. Sitting here, staring at it while typing (the AC unit sits a mere two feet forward of my office computer desk/table and three feet to the left), I just got an idea how to do it, though:
1; Stuff the remaining “trench” around the appliance with more insulation, possibly simple fiberglass batting (though I’d not care to buy a whole roll of insulation for those few linear inches).
2. Tuck a tight-to-the-unit framework of wide moulding around the metal. In the end, it should look built-in, not like an afterthought.
But that’s for later, after we’ve taken care of a number of other high priority improvements to our new-to-us Deer Lodge domicile. In the meantime, our lawn guy (Chris) showed up on Friday as usual…and didn’t even notice the new addition, the rugged air conditioner stand, until it was pointed out to him. So it must not stand out like the proverbial sore thumb, and that’s a good thing.