Get the drop on the drips of an AC unit

SATURDAY'S HERO

June 06, 1998|By Rob Kasper

AIR conditioners drip. This is one of the verities of life. A goal of every right-thinking, air-conditioned American should be to avoid getting dripped on.

I grappled with these heavy philosophical concepts recently as I installed a heavy, window-unit air conditioner in our home.

Air conditioners remove moisture from the air. This is good. Especially in Baltimore, where "taking in the summer air" often feels like trying to breath through a warm wash cloth that has been plastered to your face.

Without delving into the technicalities of air- conditioning theory, let's just say that a good air conditioner removes the wash cloth. In the process of doing this, water condenses inside the air conditioner. When all works well, this water either evaporates or trickles away.

Around Baltimore, when the air conditioners get turned on, the dripping season begins. In homes equipped with central air, the headwaters of air-conditioning drip can be found at the compressor -- that noisy metal box usually found in a back yard. In the early days of summer, the flow from a central air compressor is slight, resembling a small, meandering stream. By August, it looks like the Potomac River at flood stage.

I have always thought that you could tell how hot it is in Baltimore by looking at the drips from the local air conditioners. If the drips are really falling, it is a sign that the weather is very hot and humid. If, on the other hand, you see only an occasional drip, it means the weather is not so bad. I call this method of weather detection the trickle-down theory.

When installing a window-unit air conditioner, you must consider where its drip will fall. The other day, when I carried an air conditioner up to the top floor of our rowhouse, I considered putting it in either of two windows.

If I put it in one window, the air conditioner would drip on the front steps. For some reason, this placement seems to be popular here. Lots of homeowners stick their air conditioners in second-floor windows positioned right above front doors. Lots of business owners stick conditioners in the front-door transoms.

Either way, anyone who comes near the front door stands a good chance of getting dripped on. I guess the front-door drip discourages loitering and door-to-door salesmen. But I don't like the idea. It seems inhospitable.

So I chose to put the air conditioner in another window, one that would let the water trickle onto a nearby roof. However, when I put the air conditioner in place, it trickled the wrong way.

Instead of flowing onto the roof, it trickled inward, soaking the floor underneath the window. To reverse the trickle, I had to reposition the air conditioner in the window.

It was tricky work. I had to postion the air conditioner so that it would lean away from the house. But if it leaned out too far, the unit would fall from the window.

I realized that having an air conditioner fall out of a window in the front of the house would not be a good idea. It might discourage loiterers, but it could also encourage a lawsuit from passers-by. And the fall would, no doubt, be hard on the air conditioner.

Grappling with these thoughts and with the air conditioner, I eventually got the unit in the window, with the proper lean. Next, to make sure that no fresh- air freak would throw open the sash and thereby send the air conditioner tumbling from the window, I put a piece of plastic pipe at the top of the sash. The pipe prevents anyone from opening the window.

Once the air conditioner was in place, I switched it to "low cool" and waited for it to start trickling. After about 15 minutes, I saw a few drops of water fall from the air conditioner and roll down the roof. The drip problem had been solved.

A new problem, however, soon surfaced. When I switched the air conditioner to "super cool," the lights in the room dimmed. Air conditioners drain electric current, especially when you push them to their maximum cooling performance. I knew this. It is another verity of air-conditioned life.

I made a mental note to get an electrician to upgrade the amount of power flowing to the outlet used by the air conditioner. In the meantime, I have issued orders that the air conditioner should be operated only on "low cool." I can only handle one verity of air-conditioned life at a time.

Pub Date: 6/06/98

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