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Fresh Hell

Can I Install an AC Unit in My Fire Escape Window?

Yes, if you meet these two conditions.

A view of a NYC fire escape with AC units next to it.

(Daryan Shamkhali / Unsplash)

While Hell Gate's official editorial policy dictates that air conditioners shall not be installed until at least July, we understand that extenuating circumstances (extreme heat, maintaining domestic bliss, etc.) may prompt you to take action earlier—say, Memorial Day weekend.

For many of us tenement-dwelling New Yorkers, it's a seasonal pain in the ass to lug your dust-covered 50-pound breeze machine up from the basement and properly install it in one of the precious few windows in your apartment.

But what if most of—or yes, all of—your apartment windows open out into your fire escape? Is it OK for you to install a window AC unit in one of these?

The City's default position here is: Absolutely not, as nothing should be blocking access to your wrought-iron fire escape. The FDNY doesn't even want you to keep any potted plants or knickknacks out there, because it will be just your luck for you or one of your neighbors to trip on your life-sized, laminated cardboard cutout of Kurt Russell in 1991's "Backdraft" when your building is aflame.

However, according to the Department of Buildings, there are exceptions to this rule. New Yorkers may install a window unit AC into a window that leads out into a fire escape "in cases where egress is not being obstructed (there is a second window in the same room to the fire escape, and the unit does not obstruct the path of egress)," a DOB spokesperson told Hell Gate in an email. All of this is enshrined in Chapter 10 of the City's fire code. "If DOB inspectors find that the fire escape is being blocked by any items, which has compromised egress for building occupants, we may issue violations to the landlord," the spokesperson added.

From the NYC fire code

When we contacted the FDNY about this, department spokesperson Jim Long gave us the standard answer about AC units in fire escape windows: "Never, negative, not a good thing, don't do it."

But after we read him Chapter 1027.7 of the code, he agreed that it could be done. "But if those two conditions can't be met, you can't do it," he said. Long wanted us to remind our readers to use the required safety brackets, so the unit doesn't fall out into the street, and to never plug your AC (or any other large appliance, really) into an extension cord.

So you can legally install your AC unit into a fire escape window if you have a second window in the same room AND if your unit doesn't jut out into the fire escape and prevent people from passing—but you might want to print out Chapter 10 of the fire code come inspection time, just in case.

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