Introduction: Air Conditioner Grate Hack

About: Just me.

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

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

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

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.