Introduction: Air Conditioner Grate Hack

Picture of Air Conditioner Grate Hack

One of the hazards of office spaces for wimpy people like me are runaway air conditioners. Since we moved to a new office space at Pier 9, I've been struggling against a high-tech air conditioning system that points a devastating arctic vortex straight down onto my desk. To battle against it, I started wearing fingerless gloves. Then, I bought a warm, fuzzy winter hat. Finally, I brought in a blanket — an electric blanket. Me and that electric blanket have since become fast friends, but this week I decided to win the war against this wintry jet stream once and for all with a sly bit of office subterfuge: a faux vent grate.

The tools you'll need

  • A camera or smartphone with a decent camera functionality
  • A printer of some sort, preferably one that can print sticky vinyl or similar adhesive paper
  • A graphic design program like Pixlr Editor
  • A ladder

Step 1: Take a Photo of the Grate

Picture of Take a Photo of the Grate

People will probably be looking at the grate from different angles as they walk by (if they ever look at all), and since you can't solve for all of those angles you might as well take a good photo straight on. I used my iPhone 5S to take a picture of the air conditioner grate.

Step 2: Clean Up Your Photo

Picture of Clean Up Your Photo

Since my photo was taken head-on, you can see a light reflected in some of the grate holes. That's light bouncing off the back of the vent. You'll want to clean your image up a bit with a graphic program. Don't have one? Use Pixlr Editor, a free online image editor. I used Pixlr Editor to select those areas using the Marquee tool and darkening that area by decreasing the brightness.

You may also need to adjust the overall brightness or darkness or other details of the grate picture to make it look as realistic as possible. Sharpen it a bit if it's blurry. Do the best you can with the skills you have. It's doubtful that anyone will ever look at this closely, but give it your best shot.

Step 3: Measure the Grate and Resize Your Photo

Get up on a ladder or something more stable than the raised desk I stood on and measure the size of the grate. Mine was almost exactly 10"x6". It was a bit shy of 10" but I knew that I could use the extra bit to overlap the edges when I stuck my fake grate on.

Resize your photo to fit the size you need. If you are dealing with a lower resolution image or aren't sure how to get it the right size, check out one of the numerous calculators online that can hopefully help you determine the perfect size (e.g., in pixels if you are working only in pixels).

Step 4: Print Your Fake Grate, Stick It Up, and Pat Yourself on the Back

Picture of Print Your Fake Grate, Stick It Up, and Pat Yourself on the Back

I am fortunate to have access to a pretty sweet vinyl printer where I work at Pier 9. It's the Roland SP-540i, and it can print on giant rolls of paper. Or in this case sticky vinyl. But you can easily find adhesive paper or stock that will work in almost any printer. You will want a full color printer, and if your vents are metal — as they most probably are — you'll want a glossy type of material. I'm mimicking silver metal so I want all the reflective power I can get in my fake grate print. This vinyl printer is great for that.

As you might expect, you'll want to carefully apply the sticker and avoid bubbling. Work from one corner and tighten the sheet before affixing it to a new corner. Smooth out the material around the edges with a strong hand. Our air conditioner is actually quite strong, so I really needed to make sure it stuck well.

Once you're done, pack up your electric blanket and enjoy a more moderate existence — one that is all the sweeter knowing you beat the system without having to be that person who always complains that it's too cold in the office. It'll be our little secret.


Boost (author)2014-02-22

This is grate!

supereric (author)Boost2014-02-22

So grateful that someone went there with that pun.

Mielameri (author)2014-02-21

LOL (very literally). And I loved the first picture of you in polar-vortex A/C fighting gear :9

mikeasaurus (author)2014-02-21

I'm notifying Facilities of this!

GenerallyOdd (author)2017-03-12

Cool! Could you stick the sticker to one of those magnetic vent covers? Or just stick a transparency over it with magets...

BryanKelley1998 (author)2015-07-05

Send it up to the Lake Oswego office!! ??

Well, I would, but I guess in the end I have to admit it had a flaw I didn't anticipate. All that cool wet air that flowed through would collect in teeny tiny droplets on the sticky inside surface of the sticker paper. So, it worked for a long time, but eventually it failed. I leave it to you to create V2 and a warmer world.

notimeoff (author)2014-02-24

If you and a few other people do this...Mr.AC go's "kaput" , I am a facility manager and if your the one who killed the AC...have a nice time at unemployment this summer. Tell someone about the problem and most of the time it can be fixed.

supereric (author)notimeoff2014-02-24

I'm certainly not advocating that everyone in the office do this. I feel like I'm performing the equivalent of closing a vent that doesn't have a louver. If your solution to this problem is firing people, then I'm very glad I don't work at your office. Sounds like a very un-fun place!

notimeoff (author)supereric2014-02-26

Any place I work if you ask for something to be fixed or changed because its a problem ...I'm on it !....if it's not working for you , then it's not working!

I work from a proactive position.

the_burrito_master (author)2014-02-24

Haha this is funny

If my dad saw this (he works in HVAC) he'd probably laugh his ass off, and get mad because if you restrict airflow in a cooling system the AC coil can freeze up and flood.

treq (author)2014-02-23

What about all the other people in your office? Did you ask them if they were uncomfortable? I have a problem at work with the AC too. My problem is that I'm comfortable at 60-65 deg in shorts and a tee shirt, while others are in parkas . when the temp goes over 72 I start to get very uncomfortable, but I can't change my wardrobe to compensate because I'm already in shorts and a tee. At least you could put on a sweater. All I'm trying to say is, I hope you aren't making others uncomfortable just so you don't have to wear warmer clothes.

Penolopy Bulnick (author)treq2014-02-24

He did ask us :) Those of us that are affected by this air conditioner, did not want it blowing on us.

treq (author)Penolopy Bulnick2014-02-24

Good. The clandestine nature of the hack suggested that he didn't, and it's something I have to deal with on a daily basis. I work in sothern California and people are real wussies when it comes to cold. I still can't believe that people wear winter jackets and hats in 60deg weather here. Anyway, glad this isn't leaving anyone "out in the cold" as it were. :)

altomic (author)2014-02-24

brilliant Hack. god job

I work in an office and half the floor is frozen and the other half is just right.

It's summer here in aus and I am in brisbane which has high humidity, so I work in a fridge and step out into a furnace.

people have small heaters at their desks to keep themselves warm against the cold.

heaters in australian summer!!!!

ColonelColt (author)2014-02-23

My suggestion would have been to remove the face grating and place a plastic sheet under it before screwing the grate back down. Gallon sized bags work great for this.

leifforrest (author)ColonelColt2014-02-24

That'd be a heckuva lot simpler.

rcody (author)2014-02-24

I've have similar issues many years ago with "smart" building systems. It was way to hot and were told that the building management system controlled the temperature in our area. As we could not get the building facilities folks to adjust thermostat (not a good idea in a building full of engineers). We simply located the sensor and placed a small 7 watt incandescent lamp under it at just the right distance to warm it. This tricked the system into turning on the AC to the temperature we wanted. And the few times it was to cool we placed an unopened can of cool soda on the sensor so the cool air would trick it into heating when we wanted it. Problem solved without making changes to the vents. Today I would just use a small peltier device to produce heat/cold making my own secondary thermostat. You could even make it wireless and control it from your phone. :-)

supereric (author)rcody2014-02-24

Brilliant! I love these A/C hacks.

DNAgent (author)2014-02-24

I don't recommend this. This'll be a massive headache for the HVAC tech who has to troubleshoot the air balance. Call the pros first, this "fix" could cost thousands. Despite what you've said, HVAC isn't a muddy science. There are precision instruments that the pros use to make sure that temperature, humidity, and air changes are optimized. If you're freezing, something is wrong and a professional should be called to troubleshoot and fix it. I can only see this making things worse for the building owner and whoever has to pay for the repairs.

dbenjamin6 (author)2014-02-23

Your idea is brilliant, I must add! The grill opposite yours will have the same adjustment. I'd suggest closing both a little because balancing air ducts properly is expensive and tedious. Going too extreme will effect everyone else and eventually, with enough closing down, will damage the system. Good luck and have fun!!

supereric (author)dbenjamin62014-02-24

Okay, that balanced part is good to know. I know that HVAC is a science of a sort, but it also feels sort of a muddy science that has a lot of unknown variables that maybe can't really be known in the end. I know that some of it can be high tech, but some of it also appears to be arbitrary. I appreciate your balanced approach: don't break it but have fun with it. If I have any evidence I'm harming the system, I'll definitely unstick this sticker.

Sharkseatmore (author)2014-02-23

Ummm.... Wouldn't plain black paper installed behind the grate been easier? It's only 2 screws

supereric (author)Sharkseatmore2014-02-24

That's a great idea, actually. Maybe cardboard. I didn't approach this as logically as most people would. I guess part of my goal was to not tamper with the system, and unscrewing things felt like tampering. This feels like I'm subverting or fooling the system, which is kind of the fun part of it. But I think you've got the best solution to this so far.

james.rasa (author)2014-02-24

how about adding a piece of black paper cut to size behind the metal grate? if you're lucky you'll just have to slide it in instead of removing crews.

synapsis (author)2014-02-23

Here's what I use to keep both the hot workers cool and the cool workers from becoming meat popsicles:

dbenjamin6 (author)2014-02-23

In your photo of the grate, in the lower left corner is a silver thing. A different angle would show that it's actually a flat head screw driver slot specifically designed to open or close the damper (black vertical metal) behind the white horizontal and vertical louvers. This way you can close it a bit or a lot based on your needs.

_denalee (author)2014-02-23

Nicely done, it looks great... let's hope your fellow "hot" employees don't see your work around.

- from a fellow cold blooded worker, that dislikes open plan offices for this exact reason, so I have a little fan heater under my desk, and no longer share an office! ;o)

treq (author)_denalee2014-02-23

See, the problem the "hot" employees have is there is no remedy for them. They can't get a little ac unit for under their desk. They have to wear at least a minimum of clothing. On the other hand, the "cold" employees have multiple options for staying comfortable (heater, warmer clothes, ect.) The office should err on the side of the "hot" employees for this reason, and that people get lethargic in warmer places and less work gets done.

_denalee (author)treq2014-02-23

LOL... touche! My "hot" co-workers/friends didn't begrudge me the
heater, I guess for the reasons you have mentioned, we all got to be
comfortable. Plus I was the only Payroll/HR guru, so they probably
wanted to get paid too, no point having your payroll person coming down
with colds every other week. ;o)

violentorchid (author)2014-02-23

Next time, just use a black price of paper and put it inside the grate. It will act like a one-way valve; and, it doesn't involve printing and adhesive that will let go if heated.

Nick70587 (author)2014-02-23

Scorn? Meh. Delight maybe. When your AC goes out because the added back pressure from this and the other office fixes killed the blower motor someone will be right there to charge you an arm an a leg.

kdavis44 (author)2014-02-23

love the ingenious, out of the box thinking. stay comfortable

JorritJ (author)2014-02-22

Great idea! Another option is to use magnetic paper in stead of sticky foil. You can print on this paper with an inkjet printer. No glue needed and easily removable!

supereric (author)JorritJ2014-02-22

Whoa! Magnetic paper? I never would've thought of that. Awesome idea, although that air flow is super strong. But if this one fails I'm breaking out the magnetic paper to see what happens. Thanks for the tip!

ekiessling (author)2014-02-22

This is sèriously screwed up!!! I am so shocked by the extreme conditions you have to go through to be warm in your workplace .

supereric (author)ekiessling2014-02-22

Heh. I just feel dumb that it took me so long to figure out where the air flow was coming from. The place I work is downright amazing, and I don't expect everyone is as wimpy as I am about the chill.

gcanders (author)2014-02-22

Funny. If you have time (and it looks like you might), you should make one for a faux fireplace, garage door, and the inside of a toilet seat. Imagine, a toilet that you never have to clean! The floor might get messy, though.

jmwells (author)2014-02-21

Wouldn't it have been simpler to unscrew the grate, and just put black paper inside it, the remount.

supereric (author)jmwells2014-02-21

Maybe. To be honest, I was just working with what I had at hand. I'm not as savvy as some of the other folks around these parts. Didn't necessarily go for the easiest way; wanted to try it in this kind of more fun way.

jmwells (author)supereric2014-02-21

My way the pressure of the air holds it in place. Even if the tape were to fail. As the glue dries out on yours it will eventually blow off.

supereric (author)jmwells2014-02-21

Excellent point.

Tex Arcana (author)2014-02-21


Todd Gehris (author)2014-02-21

That is fantastic. What an entertaining solution. I've worked in places like that.

caitlinsdad (author)2014-02-21

I think you are inviting the scorn of union tradespeople and HVAC professionals worldwide. The facilities management probably designed that system and implemented it based on exacting standards and criteria as found in blueprints, no doubt created on fine Autodesk software, specifically for the comfort of its demanding inhabitants. Just wait until the summer when they focus the solar glare on your desk. Is blocking the vent with a combustible material a fire hazard?

supereric (author)caitlinsdad2014-02-21

I may indeed be inviting the scorn of HVAC pros, but I'm not so sure the system is all that exacting to begin with. The other side of this big ole pipe has a vent just like it, so I expect the air will either keep moving through the pipe or will vent a bit more on the other side. I'm just happy it won't be blowing directly on me. Not sure if all that cold air being stopped by this piece of plasticized paper is a fire hazard, but that's always something to consider.

w1ng0 (author)2014-02-21

I am a hvac worker and it would had been simpler and less time consuming to turn the screw inside the grille to close off the air flow

supereric (author)w1ng02014-02-21

I didn't see that option, but I will check that out. Sounds like a simple solution if it works that way.

Johnny J (author)2014-02-21

Surely a simple flap to direct the air away from you would have been easier? Anyway, kudos for the effort. :)

supereric (author)Johnny J2014-02-21

I tried that. I built something out of canvas to change the direction of the air flow, but it was very conspicuous and didn't even work well. It fell off overnight.

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