Ruggedizing and Bug-proofing a Window Air Conditioner for Tent Camping





Introduction: Ruggedizing and Bug-proofing a Window Air Conditioner for Tent Camping

My wife and I have an unexpected week off together next week where we are dropping off one of our kids at camp in one state and picking up the other one in another state a week later. We are going to be travelling through Florida so I decided to try to book a room or condo at the beach last minute but there wasn't anything available that wasn't prohibitively expensive. I pitched the idea of camping on the beach to my wife and bless her heart she agreed! We have a small 2-3 man tent we got for the kids last Christmas. The campsite is at a Florida State Park and it has power, water and and an air-conditioned shower and bathroom facility but I became a little concerned we would be rolling around in our own sweat every night in that little tent in hot, humid Florida. I briefly investigated purchasing an indoor or portable AC unit but they are much more expensive than regular window units and frankly I don't think we have room in the tent for one. I read with great interest this instructable by zmatt (Thanks Matt!) so I did a little research and found this cheap, little GE window air conditoner that gets rave reviews at my local Wal-Mart for $98. The only problem is that since it is a window unit, it is not designed to be carried around so the aluminum fins of the condenser unit on the back are exposed and can be easily bent or damaged during transport. I came up with a cheap solution to protect the fins and ruggedize our new little camping air conditioner.

UPDATE: We just got back from our trip and the air conditioner worked even better than I thought it would. The first night my wife asked me to turn it down because it was a "tad chilly". lol We were nestled in our sleeping bags too! Not too many bugs showed up but the laundry bag saved the air conditioner one day when a monsoon passed through the campground and the water pooled at the condenser end. So much so that the fan blades were slapping the water and I was thinking "Oh no! It is splashing dirt and debris all over the inside of the air conditioner!" but after the rain I took the bag off and it had kept all the dirt and debris out of the air conditioner. The door of the tent didn't zip snug against the side of the air conditioner so there was a little wedge of daylight there so I stuck a little soft cooler in the crack to seal it. OK, gotta go add a 5-star review for this air conditioner at! Best money I ever spent!

Step 1:

The air conditioner I bought is a General Electric 5,050-BTU Window Air Conditioner.

Step 2:

I tested it and it puts out a lot of really cold air for such a small unit and cools our little tent very well.

Step 3:

The problem is that the aluminum fins of the condenser on the back of the unit are exposed and can easily be bent even with just finger pressure.  I wasn't sure how I could transport it unboxed in the back of the car without damaging it and I was also worried about kicking it when entering and exiting the tent using the doorway flap since I didn't want to cut a hole in the side of the tent.

Step 4:

I decided to try to find some kind of cheap, durable grate roughly 16"W x 12"H to mount on the back of the air conditioner to protect the aluminum fins of the condenser so I went looking at Home Depot for a replacement charcoal grill grate of some kind but instead found this Brinkmann Stainless Steel Grill Topper for $15.97 that was the perfect size!

Step 5:

I drilled three holes into the lip of the grill topper on both sides since self-tapping screws wouldn't pierce the stainless steel.  I then slipped the top lip of the grill topper underneath the lip of the sheet metal at the top of the AC unit and then used six, short self-tapping screws to screw the grill topper to the back of the AC unit.  Do not use long screws or you risk puncturing the copper tubing inside containing the AC's refrigerate.  Shine a flashlight through the side vents to make sure you won't be screwing into anything other than sheet metal.

Step 6:

The heavy gauge stainless steel is tough by itself but the raised edges really add a lot of rigidity and allows a little extra space between it and the condenser so even if it gets kicked or banged around a little it will not hit the condenser.  The extra space also prevents the grill topper from restricting airflow.  One last thing to do...

Step 7:

During my research I read here that if there are a lot of bugs where you are camping, they can get sucked into the AC unit by the condenser fan and clog up the condenser from the inside.  I was going to tape some sort of screen to the outside vents but then came across this Mainstays Mesh Laundry Bag at Wal-Mart for $1.87 and decided just to slip the entire thing over the back of the unit to keep the bugs out.  I hope it works!  Thanks for looking!



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    30 Discussions

    So this Instrucable is 6 years old, and Home Depot no longer sells that grill topper.

    However, I find myself in the same situation in South Texas. Luckily ebay had a grill topper that looks like it will fit my new cheap window AC unit. Another week and I should be ready to roll!

    I put an ac unit in my tent last summer in Texas. It work great at night, kept the tent at 70 after the sun went down until sunrise. I used on of the units that stands up right and has an exhaust hose and a drain hose for condensation. Just ran the two hoses out the door and dug a small trench to collect the water and drain it away from the tent. Being able to get a good nights sleep made the trip that much better and a lot more relaxing for everyone.

    I like it!

    Sorry but there is nothing to apologize for if you need to air condition your tent to be able to sleep, or if you are physically unable to tolerate the heat and yet you want to enjoy a different view...(How many people air condition/heat huge amounts of space including rooms they don't even enter year round.)

    You mentioned it rained while were using this, and it worked out okay obviously...but it looks like it sits right on the ground and it made me wonder about how safe this combination is.

    SORRY but there is NOTHIN rugged about using an ac unit while camping

    Do you have an instruct able for the ingenious iPad device shown in one of the photos?

    1 reply

    I do! Here it is:

    This is the second instructable I am reading about air conditionning a tent...
    And I am still baffled about why on earth someone would want to do this.
    If you are to need an Ipad and air con, why don't you just get a hotel room or a mobilehome?
    Where is the pleasure of sleeping outside, sharing what nature has to offer (appart from the moskitoes of course)?

    May be this is a cultural or local thing, please unlighten me.

    4 replies

    If you read the intro, it says the only hotel rooms available were prohibitively expensive. So he's looking for cheap luxury, not an "outdoor experience".

    mguer133: I live in North Carolina now, but I *grew up* in Florida. Believe me, it is NOT NUTS...<G>

    One word "humidity" camping in the Florida Keys in July was unbearable.....will never camp in Florida without AC unit again.....unless it is like 40 degrees out. I think this is just a Florida thing. One of the tents in the group with us had the setup shown in this article and they were very comfortable.

    In this case sleeping in a tent was a means to an end which was to spend a week on the beach when there was no affordable hotel, house or condo available for rent on such short notice. If I had been planning for a traditional camping trip for the southeastern part of the United States I wouldn't have done it in July. lol

    amazing idea and well done. looks like the grate was made for your specific project too

    1 reply

    I know, right? I couldn't believe it when I first held it up to the AC and it was a perfect match!

    Wow talk about camping in style! I think that's not even camping? But I have one suggestion, the AC will get damp so try covering it up with a towel.

    1 reply

    It's a window unit so it is designed to be hung outside a window and get rained on and exposed to weather.

    An AC has two areas of circulation. One inside and one outside. The inside fan draws air from inside the room, or tent in this instance, and blows air across the cold evaporator coil on the room side of the AC to cool the air. It has an filter that can be slid out to clean periodically. The outside area of circulation pulls air from outside to cool the condenser coil on the back of the AC. This area has no filter so if you are camping in a area with lots of bugs or mosquitoes they can get sucked into the condenser coil clogging it up. The laundry bag pulled over the back of the AC acts as a bug filter for the outside area of circulation. It turned out to not be really necessary where I was camping since there weren't a lot of bugs but this person camped in a area with a lot of bugs and recommended a filter so that's why I came up with the idea to use a laundry bag...

    I've been noodling around with ideas for converting a van to a camper, with a/c to use at night - this idea would work great! Thanks for the inspiration!

    From the looks of that tent, you would have not had a problem with the portable A/C. It is more expensive - $250-$300. Another option would be those A/C units you make from a Styrofoam coolers filled with ICE and a fan blowing air across the ICE. Supposedly the ICE would last 4-5 hours - and you could use a 12v fan and a spare car battery (if there was no Electric). Although they might not touch the humidity.

    Wasn't there an issue with the tent walls being too thin? When I use an air conditioner to cool a room in my home, it works, but only because there's insulation. Does the tent stay cool for very long?

    1 reply

    Not at all. Our tent was only a 3-person tent so it actually got too cold and I had to turn it down. Another major benefit is that while the air conditioner cools the tent, it also greatly lowers the humidity which makes it much more comfortable and wet clothes dry much faster. That's why they call it an air conditioner I guess in lieu of "air cooler". lol