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When Interior Renovations Become Exterior Issues Coping With Construction

The proliferation of new luxury condos in New York and other dense metropolitan areas has upped the ante on amenities and in-house services that buyers have come to expect, including high-end finishes and modern conveniences ready for immediate move-ins and years of enjoyment without the need for so much as a screwdriver.

But for the thousands of units originally built decades ago without the layouts, electrical capacity, and high-tech materials that today’s residents require, raising the bar to compete for buyers’ eyes can be a challenge. Even previous renovations may still fall short of the checklists that house-hunters have developed in the Streeteasy years, making creative solutions necessary. Residents who want to upgrade their aging units to current standards need to think outside of the box—or rather, outside the walls.

Keeping It Cool

Chief among missing amenities in older buildings is air conditioning. “Most pre-WWII buildings do not have central air conditioning systems,” says Ronald Erickson, principal engineer of RRE Engineering, “and it is nearly impossible to retrofit them for this feature.” But as anyone who has spent a summer in New York knows, some form of air conditioning is pretty crucial—especially as climate change and air pollution make summers longer, hotter, and less breathable. 

According to Erickson, there are three AC options for buildings without central systems: window units, through-wall units, or in-apartment central systems (also referred to as split systems).

The easiest—and therefore most common—of these is the window unit. Relatively inexpensive, these can be installed or uninstalled without need for any sort of filing or permit. Residents can usually install these units themselves without much hassle— though according to Erickson, proper installation requires about a quarter-inch of downward pitch to prevent condensate spilling into the apartment, while also preventing runoff from compromising the building facade, or worse, the unit itself falling out onto the street below. Building codes also require the use of “metal brackets, mounting rails, etc. [that are] structurally fastened to the building and must be strong enough for the size and weight of the AC unit.” Any leveling or positioning items also must be securely fastened. Except in the case of very small units, Erickson recommends a slide-in chassis for this purpose, because it allows the unit to be installed and removed most safely. 

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