An air conditioner installed in a window.

Installing a window air conditioner is a sweaty job, so you might be tempted to simply open the window, boost the air conditioner into place, close the window, and hope for the best. Not a good idea, for a number of reasons. 

To help you get this job done right, we asked CR’s resident air conditioner expert, Chris Regan, to walk us through the steps for making sure your AC is safely installed (these things weigh 40 pounds or more) and positioned to save energy and avoid air leaks. He’s been installing and testing window air conditioners at CR for 15 years and knows a thing or two.

Quick tip: Consider getting a support bracket, especially if you live several floors above street level in an apartment building. These attach to the outside wall directly under the window for your AC to rest on, and cost around $30 to $100. (For more window AC tips if you live in an apartment, read our AC guide for apartment dwellers.)

One other note: You should still read through the manual for your particular AC model. “Do as we do and always follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions and use the hardware that comes with the AC," says Regan.

Steps for Securing a Window AC

Step 1: Check That It Works!
When you unbox the AC, make sure to remove any foam blocks, tape, and plastic fasteners. And be careful: “The backside of the unit has very thin metal cooling fins that can easily slice fingers,” says Regan. Place the AC on the floor and plug it in to make sure it works. You don’t want to go through all the installation steps just to find out that the thing is a dud.

More on air conditioners

Step 2: Attach the Panels 
Unplug the AC and screw or slip on the two accordion-like side extensions (these expand so you can close up the spaces on either side of the unit once it's in the window to keep the cool air inside and the warm air outside). Most models also come with a separate metal rail that you'll need to screw on to the top of the unit, which acts as a guide track for the side panels and helps hold the AC in the window.

Step 3: Position the AC in the Window
Raise the window sash, and screen, if you have one. Center the AC on the windowsill. Most of the weight will be hanging out the window, so be sure to keep a firm grip on the unit (you may need an extra set of hands). Pull down the window so it rests on the top of the AC unit directly behind the metal rail. Keep downward pressure on the window to prevent the unit from tumbling out the window. 

Step 4: Make Sure the Unit Can Drain Properly 
When the AC is on, it creates water condensation, and that water has to go somewhere. Some newer models have a slanted drain pan built into the unit and you have to make sure the AC is perfectly level. Others come with a windowsill support for the outside of the AC to make sure it sits at the right angle for water to drain (to see which models come with a windowsill support, see our air conditioner ratings). If your AC has neither, you’ll need to tilt it back in the window ever so slightly so the water drains outside rather than into your apartment. 

Step 5: Lock It In 
Your AC comes with a sash lock, which is an L-shaped bracket that you attach to the top of the lower window sash and the side of the upper sash to prevent the window from being opened—either accidentally by someone at home or by an intruder from the outside. Use a cordless drill (or a screwdriver) to fasten it in place. If you have vinyl windows and don’t want to screw into them, Regan suggests cutting a block of wood to fit snugly in the space between the top of the opened window and the top of the window frame to prevent the window from being opened. A wooden curtain rod or thick dowel would also do the trick.

Step 6: Close Up the Gaps 
Pull out each extension panel on the sides of the AC to close up the spaces to the left and right of the air conditioner. Screw each one to the window sash to keep them in place. (There should be screw holes to show you exactly where to fasten them.)

To seal out hot air and insects from the outside, stuff the thick foam weather stripping that came with your unit into the gap at the top of the window sash that's holding your AC in place, between the two panes of glass. If your unit also came with insulating foam panels to place over the side accordion panels to minimize air leaks, cut the panels to size and place them over each extension. 


Best Window ACs From CR's Tests

Which ACs are great at keeping you cool all summer long? Check out the top-performers from our extensive lab tests, organized by the room size you want to chill in.

ACs for Small Rooms (100 to 300 square feet)

For a small bedroom, home office, or guest room, look for an air conditioner with a capacity of 5,000 to 6,500 Btu. You’ll want one with good scores for comfort and noise. Here are three top picks to consider.

Top Picks

1

Comfort
Ease of use
Brownout

2

Comfort
Ease of use
Brownout
Unlock Air Conditioner Ratings
Become a Member or Sign in

Best ACs for Midsized Rooms (250 to 400 square feet)

To cool a bigger or busier room, you’ll want to step up to a midsized air conditioner rated at 7,000 to 8,500 Btu. If it’s for a bedroom, heed our noise scores. Here are three top picks.

Top Picks

1

Comfort
Ease of use
Brownout

2

Comfort
Ease of use
Brownout
Unlock Air Conditioner Ratings
Become a Member or Sign in

Best ACs for Large Rooms (350 to 650 square feet)

For a living room or family room, you’ll want a large air conditioner with 9,800 to 12,500 Btu, especially if you have an open floor plan. Here are three good choices.

Top Picks

1

Comfort
Ease of use
Brownout

2

Comfort
Ease of use
Brownout
Unlock Air Conditioner Ratings
Become a Member or Sign in