My husband and I had a window air conditioner in our bedroom. We were lucky to have a relative come over and install it for us. At the time the work was done, everything looked great. The years were not kind to this air conditioner, nor the perch it was sitting on.
What we didn’t realize, until we had the air conditioner removed, was that it was very likely making us both sick. My immune system sucks, so this probably hit me harder than it did my husband.
If you have a window air conditioner, you probably don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about it. Why would you? When the weather gets too hot, or uncomfortably humid, you turn it on. Then, you ignore it until it is needed again.
I don’t entirely remember where this particular air conditioner came from. If I had to guess, it may have come with when we moved across the country to California. It wasn’t a brand new one, but it still worked.
We did not think to have it immediately installed until after suffering through several summers with heatwaves. We learned that opening the windows did not allow a breeze to come through, due to the close proximity of the other mobile homes in the park.
Eventually, we had enough. The only window in the home that would accommodate the air conditioner was in the bedroom. The rest of the windows, in this old mobile home, were too big and opened in ways that would not make it possible to put in an air conditioner.
Having the air conditioner in the bedroom proved to be a good idea. It was a place to escape to when the heat was too high, and it made it easier to get some sleep. Once, when we were having a terrible heat wave, my husband and I picked up our cockatiel’s cage, walked it down the hall, and brought them into the cool air of the bedroom. The birds really seemed to appreciate it!
The rest of the rooms continued to be overly warm and miserable. There were times when it was impossible to get any work done. This was problematic, considering that we both worked from home.
One year, we had park managers who were really odd. The demanded that we paint the perch that the air conditioner sat on. They also demanded that we paint the front and back porch steps. Everything had to be white. We were not compensated for the cost of the paint, the brushes, or the free labor.
That was in 2010, not incredibly long after we had the air conditioner installed. My hope was that the paint would help prevent water damage from weakening the perch that held the air conditioner up.
As the years went by, the air conditioner slowly deteriorated. It had accordion-like appendages on either side of it, that were designed to block the remaining portion of the window. Those pieces cracked, or shifted, or otherwise would let the wild world in.
Spiders made webs inside the window, catching some of the bugs that entered in through the gaps. One time, we discovered that a spider had caught and killed a wasp.
Whenever we noticed a gap, we either tried to slide the accordion-like pieces over, or found another way to close it. Foam, sprayed out of a bottle, filled the holes. Sometimes, duct-tape was the best solution. The foam turned awful colors over the years.
Eventually, the air conditioner had aged enough where we weren’t sure if it still had any Freon in it. The fan part still worked, so we tried to use it to cool down the bedroom a little. We stopped turning it on when we started noticing a mold smell. Was that coming from the air conditioner?
There were times, especially when we had days of what counts as “heavy rain” in California, when I was certain the air conditioner perch would break. I imagined the air conditioner hurtling itself out the window and onto the hood of my car that was parked below it. Or worse, it would go straight through the windshield!
This never happened. I stopped worrying about it after I donated my car to Habitat for Humanity. My fibromyalgia made it too difficult for me to drive anymore.
My husband and I, like many couples who live in older homes, have several repairs on our “wish list”. We got as far as having the bathtub removed in one of the bathrooms, in favor of a shower. The wood underneath had rotted, and the worker we hired was able to replace it. He also put up everything that was needed on the walls. But, we had to get someone else to put the tiles in.
This got put off, for various reasons. We have another shower in a second bathroom that is usable. Finishing the shower is a priority, but could wait until we had the money for it.
In the past few months, I got very sick. This isn’t unusual for me. It was the perfect storm of chronic illness. Fall pollen season had started. I accidentally “got glutened” from food that I thought was safe. My period started, making me go from borderline anemic to definitely anemic. I lost weight from being unable to eat, and my body was struggling to digest the small amounts of food it would accept.
Somewhere towards the end of this awful, endless-seeming, illness, we had the window air conditioner removed. My husband hired a worker, who came over, took some measurements, and could do the job.
It didn’t occur to me why my husband suddenly prioritized having the window air-conditioner removed (and a new window put in its spot) over the incomplete shower. I was too sick to care.
One day, I looked out the window and saw that the wood that held up the air conditioner had broken completely away from the waterlogged and brittle piece of wood that the air conditioner sat on. It was a few days before the worker was going to return to do the job.
My husband had been opening the curtains differently than before, so I wouldn’t see that. I’d been too sick to go outside (except to go to the dentist a few times), and I never bothered to look at the air conditioner. I’m glad he didn’t tell me about the broken perch. I would have worried about it – and that would have set off my fibromyalgia.
The worker did an excellent job. He started by taking out the air conditioner, and the perch it precariously sat on. He used a loud power tool to cut away some parts around the window, and removed a sheet of plastic that we had above the air conditioner.
The power tool was plugged into our kitchen, and the cord extended out the door. We couldn’t shut the door, or the screen door, while the worker needed to use that tool. Around noon, he left to go get parts. I didn’t look, but I assume it was the new window, and possibly some other stuff. He mentioned silicon.
I was home, and wearing a dust mask, in the hopes of avoiding whatever particulate matter was in the air. We had an open door and a large, window-shaped hole in the wall of our bedroom. Stuff was coming in, including pollen and whatever else was in the air. There was nothing to be done about it.
The worker returned, and picked up where he left off. My husband and I both loved the work he did. This guy has talent! We gave him a little extra money when we paid him.
He mentioned that the wall had “rot”. It turned out that the window that held the air conditioner wasn’t sealed at all the first time around, and water got in and caused the wood in the wall to rot. My first thought was he found mold – which I’m very allergic to.
Fortunately, the worker took care of that for us. He took out the rot, replaced what needed replacing, and made sure the window had a proper coat of silicon around it. We now have an actual, functional, window – with a screen – that we can open or close as needed.
It took two days before I noticed that I was waking up feeling a bit better than typical. I usually wake up with sinus pressure, or itchy eyes, or other allergic reactions. That had stopped, and did not come back.
I think the mold in the air conditioner – and in the wall – was making both of us sick. I felt its absence more strongly than my husband did, mostly because I’m a super-allergic person.
Before this work got done, my husband bought a portable air-conditioner. You put a hose from it out the window (long story short) and the exhaust goes away. It sits on the floor and can be moved from room to room. We are more than prepared for the next heat wave.
This whole experience makes me wonder. What would my health have been like, these past years, if we had figured out that there was mold not only in the window air conditioner, but also in the wall?
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