Adventures In Audio

At last - affordable air conditioning for your studio

by David Mellor

Until now, air conditioning that you could actually afford simply didn't exist. And in a soundproofed studio, it's something you really need. But now you can get proper air conditioning at a sensible price.

Apologies to readers from hot countries. I know you can already get air conditioning at reasonable prices. But elsewhere in the world where there are only a couple of hot months, air conditioning can be damnably expensive.

The problem is that people don't generally see air conditioning as something they need at home, and for a business to spend $3500 on a system isn't out of line with their other expenses. So historically the market has been 'conditioned' to pay high.

But things have been changing recently. I remember when portable air conditioners first appeared, they cost around $2000, and some models still do. But now you can get quite a good one for $500.

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The problem with portable air conditioners however is that they are noisy. They are noisy because they contain a powerful compressor and fan which necessarily must be located in the room you want cooled. I do not recommend a portable air conditioner for a studio.

What I would call a 'proper' air conditioner is a so-called split system. In a split system, there is an outdoor unit that does most of the work and can, within reason, be as noisy as it likes. The indoor unit of a split system does have a fan, but it is much quieter than a portable unit as it doesn't have to work so hard.

The problem with a split system is not just that it is expensive in itself, it also needs to be professionally installed. You can't just buy one and plug it in. This is because the units have to be connected via two copper pipes, one carrying liquid coolant, the other returning heat-bearing vapor to the outside unit.

Connecting copper pipes is normally regarded as plumbing. And of all of the DIY (do-it-yourself) skills, plumbing is regarded as second only to plastering in degree of difficulty. And then, once plumbed, the system has to be charged with coolant. To do this requires specialized equipment and skills that are simply beyond home handyperson level.

Except... I know different.

As I write, it is a hot sweaty day in the Oxfordshire countryside in England. But I am as cool as a cucumber. In fact I might just have a cucumber sandwich in a moment.

Cool, thanks to my newly-installed split system air conditioner that cost me less than $500 (£250). If I had engaged a contractor to supply and install a system, I would have paid closer to $4000 (£2000).

So how did I do it?

Well first, I was getting so fed up with being hot and sticky while I work that I was really considering paying all that money. Not that I can't afford it, but it's the cost of a nice tube microphone or preamp. One has to have priorities. To try and bring the price down I thought it might be useful to see what was available on eBay, and that's when I struck lucky. I found a split air conditioning system available for a mere $600 NEW!

I was planning on buying the system, then paying through the nose to get someone to install it. I got a quote of $1500 for that (the weather was getting warmer by this time, and aircon contractors apply the law of supply and demand to raise their prices). Then I noticed something interesting in the listing. Apparently you could install this unit yourself. Hmm, how could that possibly work?

To cut a long story short, yes indeed this unit is pre-gassed and can be installed by a raw amateur, such as myself. I trawled the Internet some more and found the same unit available for $500, so I bought it. It was delivered a couple of days later and I started reading the installation instructions.

There were a few things in the instructions I had never done before. I have drilled holes through the walls of my house before, but never 70 mm in diameter, so I had to research the type of drill I would need for this. It turned out to be quite easy to do.

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Handling the copper pipes was more difficult. I thought at first I would need a pipe bender, but it turned out that these small pipes bend quite easily without collapsing, if you are careful. The trickiest part was making flares in the ends of the pipes. This is where the copper splays out to make a gas-tight seal inside a compression fitting. I bought a cheap pipe flaring tool from eBay and practised. Yes, I needed the practice, but after a few tries I found I could flare successfully.

So I connected the system and followed the instructions precisely on venting the air in the pipes. I connected the electrics and powered up.

Hey - instant cool! And as for noise - I have computers that are noisier.

So cheap air conditioning is now at last available even in the UK, provided you are prepared to have a go yourself at installation.

I should mention that in addition to the $500 for the system, I also had to buy a torque wrench, pipe flaring tool, crows' feet, core drill and a few other items that altogether came to around $200. Still, I'll have them handy for my next aircon installation.

Now, on to the next domestic problem. How do I stop horses from eating my kids' sunflowers?

Monday July 3, 2006

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David Mellor

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Adventures In Audio.

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