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Window AC Units Are This Co-op’s Seasonal Weather Vane

Michele Cardella in Building Operations on October 10, 2019

Tribeca, Manhattan

Window AC

The window AC unit is still in place; surely a cold snap is on the way.

Oct. 10, 2019

It’s 92 degrees outside, the hottest October 2nd ever recorded in New York City. Thankfully, my window air-conditioners aren’t in winter storage yet. For long-time shareholders in my building, dealing with these metal boxes is as much a part of the change of seasons as spotting the first yellow crocus of spring and the first red leaf of autumn. But for our newest neighbors, window units are getting the heave-ho. 

Like the majority of New York City buildings, ours was erected before the dawn of central air. When this 1930’s warehouse was converted to residential co-ops in the 1970s, buyers were offered raw space with only rough plumbing and no central air. As window air-conditioners were installed, residents who left them in year-round froze in the winter. Insulation was no match for the wind-tunnel effect outside our corner building. 

Decades and countless renovations and upgrades later, summer still finds my building freckled on the outside with air-conditioners that will disappear in the fall. To accomplish this, shareholders are at the mercy our co-op board’s one approved air-conditioner storage company. My neighbors and I grouse less about the significant cost of this service and more about how early in the season the company tries to schedule removals and reinstallations. The reason, a worker told me, is so they can get everyone’s units in, or out, before the business closes for its semi-annual vacations – which is like Santa starting deliveries on Halloween to make sure everyone has their presents by Thanksgiving so he and the elves can spend Christmas in Miami Beach. 

Not surprisingly, this seasonal dance is not attractive to prospective buyers who seem otherwise charmed by the authentic, amenity-free, downtown-loft-character of our building. Our newest neighbors are forgoing window air-conditioners in favor of installing their own central-air systems. This requires turning an entire seven-foot window into a metal-slatted condenser, dropping ceilings throughout the apartment to mount duct work, and allotting valuable closet space for the system’s mechanicals. 

Back in my primitive apartment, even while I applaud myself for holding off my window unit removals until later in October, I know from experience that no matter how cool the weather may turn, a heat wave will descend on the city as soon as my window air-conditioners are removed. And, of course, a run of frigid weather will blow into New York right after my air-conditioners are reinstalled in the spring. Author Kate Atkinson writes, “Coincidence is an explanation waiting to happen.” I think back to my one semester of physics and wonder if in a nearby parallel universe, seasons are determined not by the tilt of the earth’s axis, but by my air-conditioner service company’s mischievous day planner. 

Still, until new shareholders are in the majority and successfully lobby for building-wide central air, I will find comfort knowing that twice a year – during the worst of winter, when I despair of it ever becoming warm enough to take my grime-encrusted parka off and send it to the cleaners, and then in the thick of summer, when the unbearable heat and humidity limit my wardrobe to baggy sleeveless dresses – an email will arrive asking me to book my appointment with the air-conditioner storage company. And with it, the promise of better days ahead.

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