Preservation Pop Quiz: The A/C Question

Still hot where you live? It certainly is here in Vermont. So, let’s revisit Friday’s pop quiz, which asked you to describe the issues in this image:

The comments seemed to focus on the architectural conservation issues and maintenance problems of the over-the-door air conditioning unit. While those are all good points, it wasn’t exactly what this question was getting at. It was meant more in the vein of this post about air conditioner units in the window of historic houses. If you missed it over the weekend, here is the second image to help you with your answer.

Less drastic than the first example, perhaps, but the same issue remains.

In this image, the air conditioning units are at least screened rather than exposed. Does that help? Without maintenance issues, what is really going on with air conditioning units installed in doorways? Think about it for a second. Doorways often have sidelights and transoms, yes?

These air conditioning units are installed in the place of the transom. The glass transoms are so often removed in favor of the units. So often they are not concealed like the first image; but, even in the second image, they are still visible to anyone who is looking.

In other words, there is a loss of architectural integrity on many storefronts. We often talk about the downside of replacing windows, but how often do we mention doorways? Frequently entrances are altered to meet modern building codes, which sadly can be a devastating change to fenestration. Architectural integrity aside, when has an air conditioning unit ever been attractive? It never seems like a friendly way to greet customers (and the stability, or lack thereof, seems to worry many of you, based on the comments!).  Obviously, this is a preservation pet peeve of mine. It might be one of yours now, too.

What are the other options aside from installing air conditioners in the transom? Are there none, or is it just the easiest thing to do?


15 thoughts on “Preservation Pop Quiz: The A/C Question

  1. jane says:

    I thought about a comment on the lack of grace, cohesion, sympathetic detail. None of the parts of the entry in the original post fit easily with their neighbors.The new entry is contemporary Colonial Revival – note those glass corners. As such it is on its own.

      • Kaitlin says:

        Well, true, the doorways may have been altered already, but that doesn’t necessarily give us license to continue altering everything on a building. After all, incremental change is often the worst enemy of integrity.

        I suppose these are just some examples I’ve seen, rather than the most outrageous examples. But still, both of these doorways are located in the same historic commercial block. So while storefronts may have been altered a bit, additional changes caused by the addition of air conditioner units and transoms add to that incremental change and loss of historic integrity.

        • Thomas Rosell says:

          Sorry my pet peeve is fenestration and doors. Please forgive me as I was all to quick to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

          I once saw a building with a quatrefoil window in the attic that had a window AC unit jammed it to the opening. I have forgotten everything else about the building (where it was, or why I was there) but that round hole with the square peg of an AC unit is still stuck in my mind.

  2. Preservation and Place says:

    Now that it’s been pointed out, I’m going to notice this everywhere.

    I’m sure sticking the AC unit(s) up in the transom is probably one of the easier things to do, but I’m wondering if a standup unit could fit somewhere. Then again, that could create a whole other issue as those need exterior venting too, and a pane from a sidelight might be what goes away to create that vent (if not the whole sidelight itself).

    • Kaitlin says:

      Yes, you will notice it everywhere! It’s so disappointing. Another type of unit is a good idea. I’m not opposed to air conditioning itself, but when the units take away from the building’s integrity, then I’d rather go around telling people to just keep the windows open!

  3. Scott Sidler says:

    Agreed that it is ugly as sin, but I don’t see any sign that things will change. It’s a cheap and easy fix.
    I think the best way to prevent this is to educate the building owners of the value of the architectural elements they are removing. Hopefully then the capitalist in them will find a better solution.

    • Kaitlin says:

      I think that’s the problem, indeed. Those small, portable, removable air conditioners are easy. Unfortunately, they always seem to go on the building’s facade. I suppose it’s time to come up with a good campaign idea.

  4. carlindenton says:

    Was reading up on the Philippines Department of Justice a while back (don’t ask) and ran into this neoclassical with the air conditioners sticking out the front:

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