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

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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.

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    49 Discussions


    5 years ago

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


    2 years ago

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


    Reply 4 years ago

    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.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    2 replies

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    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!


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    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.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    2 replies
    Penolopy Bulnicktreq

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

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

    treqPenolopy Bulnick

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    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. :)


    5 years ago on Introduction

    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!!!!


    5 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    1 reply

    5 years ago on Introduction

    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. :-)

    1 reply

    5 years ago on Introduction

    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.