For most people, removing an old air conditioner and replacing it with a new model will be the most difficult moment of their life. Even more so if you live in New York City and the window in question is above a heavily-trafficked street with pedestrians and cars. God forbid there are convertibles or babies in strollers. Or, more unlikely, there are babies driving convertibles.

Fear not. The following tips will greatly reduce the chances of something tragic occurring.

1. Buddy up

This is a two-man job (or two woman or one man and one woman, of any sexual orientation). As long as one person is really big and the other person is kind of wirey, you can replace an air conditioner.

Ideally, you need three people, especially if you live in New York City. This will be explained later. Whether you get one, two, or three people to come help you, all should have health coverage and you should have your homeowner's insurance paperwork handy.

2. Prep the area

Wear gloves and footwear that protect your toes. Have drop cloths laid out nearby to place the old unit on and protect your furnishings should someone holding one end lose their footing and tumble into the end-table you inherited from Grandma Stone, and turn it into kindling.

3. Devise a plan

Everyone’s role should be discussed beforehand, so that my brother doesn't barrel in like a bull in a China shop and grab the damn thing even before I turn it off and unplug it. Sit down with herbal tea and explain the importance of everyone’s part. Deep breathing always helps.

4. Turn off the air conditioner and unplug it

Not only should it be unplugged, but remove the front cover before handling. Best if the water is also drained from it first. We learned it’s not fun trying to carry a 65-pound air conditioner on a wet slippery floor.

5. Position a lookout

A third person should be standing below on the street, preventing anyone from walking underneath the dangerous window. This is the most important step to remember—in our case, we were removing a unit from the sixth floor, too high up for passersby to hear me scream that there is an air conditioner hurtling at them from above.

Your lookout should be standing between parked cars so as to not be under the window herself, but also not in the middle of the street. Nor should she be texting her friends, but instead looking for delivery bikes and people running by, but I can’t tell my wife what to do. Being between cars allows one to scrunch down below the height of the cars for protection should the unit carom off the side of the building and spin outward.

6. Remove broken device

Unscrew the side panels to access the sides of the air conditioner. Have the heavier person stand on the unplugged cord, as he places his hands behind the outside portion of the unit. Standing on the cord will not stop the air conditioner from falling, but will buy you a few seconds to scream something like, “Look out below!”

The lighter of the two of you should stand on the side, grabbing a part of the unit and using a free hand to lift the window once the fatter person’s got a good hold of the beast. Once it’s free, pull the air conditioner up over the window's sill lip and inside onto the drop cloth. Make the sign of the cross.

7. Brackets

Now is the time to add a bracket you expected to find underneath the old unit. I reused the old bracket I found in the hedges six stories down.

8. Read instructions for the new device

While one person cleans the window area, the other should read the manual, and not just say, “We got this,” leading to having to take the air conditioner down twice because we didn’t add the proper piece the first time.

9. Take pictures

The safest way to do this is with a fourth person. That was my mom’s job but she doesn’t know how to use an iPhone. My air conditioner was repackaged and missing a vital part which compromised its safety. We went back to the store with the pictures and explained that we had to replace the metal clamps on the base with electrical tape. We were given a 15% refund and no promises regarding the unit’s stability.

10. Place new air conditioner in window

Place the weight of the unit on edge of the window sill. Again have the fat guy (or gal) step on the cord. The skinny person is to grip the top of the unit and with a free hand open and close the window down on the air conditioner to keep it from falling out of your apartment.

Use a level to make sure your expensive air conditioner is leaning precariously out the window. The machine will not operate properly unless the water is draining out and it looks like it’s very unsafe. As our unit was teetering in place, we learned of this problem and I had to rush around looking for lumber to place under the inside portion to lean it back. I found two hockey sticks in the front closet which I broke over my knee, but you can use a two-by-four.

11. Turn on the unit

The new unit has been successfully installed and the time has come to test it. Place a plant or a knick-knack on the unit to see if it shifts at all from the weight. You’ll need to re-read the instructions to figure out why there are a few extra parts and about fourteen confusing buttons where your old air conditioner had two. Text your lookout person that it is relatively safe for neighbors to walk under the window. Then take the old conditioner to the super and recycle the packing material.

As thanks to my brother and mom, who drove out all the way out from Long Island to help, I served them watermelon and black and white cookies.


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