You can add your air conditioning units to your apartment, but you must follow local city and state laws when doing so. Here’s what you need to know about air conditioning and how to choose the best AC unit for your apartment.
It might surprise you that many states don't require landlords to provide air conditioning for tenants. In fact, only 24 US states require air conditioning in rentals.
Check your lease first to determine what your landlord legally allows you to do to the apartment or condo. In some cases, you can upgrade by adding an in-the-wall unit, such as a mini-split. Others only allow portable units or window units.
When you know what the lease allows, read about your air conditioning options. Your air conditioning choice must not conflict with their heating system, so let’s look at what makes a good choice. Energy efficiency and cooling capacity should top the list of things to look for.
Even though a tenant can’t add a traditional central heat and air conditioning HVAC to your building, you have many options. Here’s how to decide the size of air conditioning units you need.
- Measure your room or apartment. Your room size contributes heavily to the size of the unit required.
- Consider your building’s insulation and the amount of sunlight your apartment gets. A well-insulated building stays cooler more easily. If your apartment has many windows, sunlight heats your apartment.
- Each air conditioning unit has a maximum cooling capacity expressed in British Thermal Units or BTUs. This BTU rating tells the consumer how large of a space the unit can cool.
- Look for air conditioning units marked Energy Star, which is a program run by the Department of Energy. Energy Star-certified units are more efficient than their regular counterparts. These energy-efficient cooling devices help to keep your utility bills, which can be critical given the soaring cost of living.
Rather than purchasing a higher BTU unit if you have many windows or poor insulation, consider upgrading what you can to reduce the amount of heat entering the apartment. Try three simple adjustments to your décor:
- Hang tapestries on the walls
- Caulk your windows
- Hang blackout curtains over your windows.
Doing all of these items will also help reduce winter utility costs and keep you warm during cold months.
Landlords reading this might want to install a central HVAC system in their building but not know how to convert a building. Whether the building has an existing boiler system or no heat or air conditioning, you can add air conditioning easily.
We’ll skip portable units designed for small rooms and floor units that would take up lots of space in a small apartment. Let’s consider the options for AC units.
Traditional Central Heat and Air Conditioning System
A traditional HVAC unit requires working with a professional contractor to design a system for your building. It contains an exterior unit, ductwork, an interior unit, a condensate drain line, a thermostat, and an exterior shut-off switch.
For a building of about 2,000 square feet, HVAC installation typically costs between $3,000 and $5,000, on average. In a major metropolitan area like NYC, the costs can be higher, so request a quote.
Through the Wall Units
A through-the-wall air conditioner offers a self-contained method of cooling a room or an apartment. They require an exterior wall for mounting, and they span from the inside surface of the wall to the outside surface.
If your lease allows you to alter the walls, this option offers air conditioning without blocking a window. It also works great in apartments that lack a full-sized window, such as basement apartments.
The units cost between $400 and $1,500, depending on the feature you choose. You must hire a professional installer, which costs an average of $700 to $800.
Installing a window unit saves floor space, but you lose that window. You won’t be able to open the window, and you’ll only receive partial sunlight from it.
Window units don’t cost much, though, and provide easy installation. Some operate quietly, and Energy Star models abound. Choose from units that cool a single room or air conditioners that can cool an entire apartment.
Split System Units
A ductless mini-split system installs on the wall without requiring ducts and vents. They offer a solution for single rooms that lack air conditioning or a large area with multiple zones, such as a triplex or quadplex.
Because each unit only affects its zone, a mini-split in either bedroom of an apartment can also stop fights at the thermostat. Mini-splits offer an energy-efficient option for apartment air conditioning.
Build a rapport with your landlord because good communication can help speed up results when something goes wrong. Let your landlord know when something goes wrong with the building or your apartment. Timely reporting helps them rectify problems quickly. It also distinguishes you from other tenants by coming across as a helpful person.
When making requests for changes, ask nicely and show them how the change would benefit them. Many remodeling projects reduce utility costs. For instance, if your landlord doesn’t provide air conditioning, show them how a central unit or set of mini-splits would save them money or building wear and tear, especially in all-bills-paid buildings.
Review your lease agreement and know what the legalese says.