Through-the-wall air conditioners are one of the most popular air conditioner types. These units sit within the wall such that the front, which houses the air handler part, is visible from inside the house while the back, which houses the condenser section, is visible from outside the house.
However, these air conditioners also depend on wall sleeves to fit seamlessly into the wall and remain stable throughout operations. Otherwise, the vibrations during cooling can cause damage to both the air conditioner and the wall.
Below we discuss the role of the air conditioner wall sleeve, wall AC sleeve sizes, and how to choose the right sleeve for your air conditioner (or vice versa).
Are All Through the Wall AC Sleeves the Same?
No. Most through-the-wall air conditioner manufacturers produce sleeves in standard sizes to make replacement a little ease. Standard sleeve sizes mean you can easily acquire a new sleeve for an existing air conditioner or fit new AC into an existing sleeve. That said, though, different AC brands have different sleeves sizes.
How Do Through the Wall Air Conditioners Work?
Through-the-wall air conditioners are almost similar to window air conditioners. They are all-in-one units that package the condenser, compressor, and evaporator into a single “box.” This box is then installed inside the wall, typically within a metal sleeve.
They work almost the same way as window air conditioners. Fresh air from outside the house enters the air conditioner through back vents (outside the house) and goes through a filtration system that traps germs, dust, and other airborne particles.
Then the fresh and now-clean air runs through coils cooled by the compressor and exits via supply vents located at the front end (inside the house) as conditioned and cool air.
The cooling cycle begins when the thermostat calls for cooling and stops when it says it’s enough.
Differences Between Through-the-Wall and Window Air Conditioners
However, don’t confuse through-the-wall air conditioners with window air conditioning units. The two differ in several important ways.
- Vent locations: First off, through-the-wall air conditioners have vents on the back of the unit. This is because only the back and front are visible in any case. Meanwhile, window air conditioners have vents on the sides and the back.
- Through-wall units sit flush with the wall: Through-the-wall air conditioners sit relatively flush with the wall. A few models protrude, but only an inch or so beyond the wall surface. On the other hand, window air conditioners protrude several inches from the window panes.
- Through the wall vs. through window: Finally, you must also remember that through-the-wall air conditioners install into a hole in the wall. Meanwhile, window air conditioners install into an existing exterior window.
Remember that through-the-wall and wall-mounted air conditioners don’t mean the same thing.
Whereas wall-mounted units, typically mini split air handlers, slide into a bracket screwed onto an interior wall, through-the-wall units go into a hole bored through an exterior wall.
What’s an AC Sleeve?
An air conditioner sleeve is a metallic box that holds a through-the-wall air conditioner within the wall. When installing a through-the-wall air conditioner, you must have one because the wall alone cannot effectively support an air conditioner.
Moreover, imagine how exposed the AC would be to dust and debris if it were installed without a sleeve!
Wall sleeves help securely hold the air conditioner in place so that it’s protected from dirt and weather elements during the cooling season and off-season.
Many through-the-wall air conditioners arrive complete with the wall sleeve. However, sometimes you may need to purchase the sleeve separately. A through-the-wall air conditioner sleeve costs $100 to $200.
What’s the Role of the Wall Sleeve?
A different way to ask this question is – can you install a through-the-wall air conditioner without a sleeve?
The answer is – no. This is because the sleeve plays a critical role.
- Carries the AC weight: If you attempt to install a through-the-wall air conditioner without a sleeve, the wall will crumble. Why? Because the wall alone cannot carry the weight of an air conditioner. Instead, the sleeve helps distribute the weight, allowing the AC to stay in place.
- Provides an airtight seal: Although though-the-wall air conditioners are some of the least energy-efficient, the manufacturers still try to make them as efficient as possible. One way to maximize the efficiency is by providing an airtight sleeve to prevent the loss of conditioned air around the AC unit.
- It protects the AC: The sleeve also guards the air conditioner against several factors, including weather elements, human damage, accidents, and many others. For instance, the sleeve shields the AC unit from a direct dust attack. It also protects it from pebbles, such as when you’re mowing the lawn.
- Adds aesthetic value: Finally, through-the-wall air conditioner sleeves add a touch of class to the air conditioner. The average air conditioner can be very uninspiring beauty-wise. However, a functional and stylish sleeve combined with a beautiful grille changes everything.
AC Sleeve Types
There are two main types of through-the-wall air conditioner sleeves – slide-out chassis sleeves and through-the-wall sleeves.
Slide-Out Chassis Sleeves
A slide-out chassis sleeve is a built-in sleeve that comes with the air conditioner and is characterized by louvers, or vents, on the back and sides of the sleeve. This means the air conditioner draws air from all four sides of the sleeve plus the back.
Slide-out chassis sleeves are a little difficult to replace because you must find the exact match. They are not interchangeable.
If you want a through-the-wall air conditioner that’s easy to replace, you should choose one with a through-the-wall sleeve.
Through-the-wall sleeves are universal sleeves that fit a wide range of air conditioners. They’re typically sold separately. You’ll know you have one if the sleeve has a rear grille and only vents at the back.
You only need to purchase the rear grille when replacing a through-the-wall sleeve. Rear grilles come in standard sizes for easy replacement.
Just remember that you may need a baffle adaptor kit if your through-the-wall AC sleeve is deeper than 16 ¾, such as the Fedders B sleeve, which is 19 3.4 inches deep.
AC Sleeve Sizes
Most through-the-wall air conditioner manufacturers produce sleeves in standard sizes to make replacement a little ease. Standard sleeve sizes mean you can easily acquire a new sleeve for an existing unit or fit new AC into an existing sleeve.
So, although you should follow your product’s guidelines when replacing the sleeve or air conditioner, you can also check the brand’s sleeve size standards.
The following are standard sizes from the main through-the-wall air conditioner manufacturers. All the figures are in inches.
|Amana||15 5/8||26||16 7/8|
|Carrier (51S Series)||16 7/8||25 ¾||18 5/8|
|Fedders/Emerson/Friedrich (WSD)||16 ¾||27||16 ¾ or 19 ¾|
|Friedrich (USC Sleeve)||15 17/32||25 7/8||16 23/32|
|General Electronic and Hotpoint||15 5/8||26||16 7/8|
|Westinghouse/Frigidaire/Carried (52F)||15 ¼||25 ½||16, 17 ½, or 22|
|Whirlpool||16 ½||25 7/8||17 1/8 or 23|
How to Install a Through-the-Wall Air Conditioner Sleeve
Now that you know how to size through-the-wall air-conditioner sleeves, let’s discuss how to install the sleeve and the air conditioner.
You’ll notice that the installation process is significantly different from installing central air systems and even mini-splits.
What you need
- Through-the-wall AC kit
- Flat screwdriver
- Putty knife
- Philips screwdriver
- Tape measure
- Protective gear
*The installation kit typically contains all the components and accessories necessary for the installation, including the AC, sleeve, insulation seals, nuts, washers, and screws. However, you may need to separately acquire support blocks, a grounding wire, and a grounding screw.
Step-by-Step Installation Process
The exact steps for installing a through-the-wall air conditioner vary from one AC model to the next. However, the general steps are as follows;
Step 1: Prepare the Wall Sleeve
Follow the instructions in the installation manual to prepare the sleeve for installation. For instance, you must make sure you have the right size sleeve.
Does it even fit your air conditioner? Additionally, you must clean previously used sleeves thoroughly before using them. Also, make sure the
Step 2: Find the Right Spot for the AC Installation
The ideal location is 1-5 feet above the floor on an exterior wall with an electrical outlet. Keeping the unit at least a floor above the floor minimizes dust buildup and helps prevent condensation.
Meanwhile, a nearby electrical outlet means you don’t need to create a new electrical outlet for the air conditioner.
Step 3: Locate the Wall Studs
Use your studs-finder to locate 3-4 studs in the selected wall. Studs are 2×4 wood pieces that support the wall. They are typically 16 inches apart. Mark each stud location with a pencil.
We recommend using the sleeve to create an outline on the selected wall section to know your boundaries. You want to cut through as few studs as possible.
Step 4: Switch off Power at the Breaker
Locate the circuit breaker and switch off the power to prevent potential accidents as you cut a hole through the wall.
Step 5: Cut a Hole into the Wall
Use the sleeve (or your user guide) to trace an outline of the area you need to cut. A level will help ensure that your outline is as accurate as possible. Then draw another outline, 2.5 inches larger, around the first outline. The outer outline will provide room for the supporting frame.
When done, starting from inside the house, score along the outline with your drywall knife and then hammer the piece out or make a clean cut using your saw.
Next, wear your protective gear and cut the insulation as well. Then, when you reach the studs, cut them so that everything is flush with your outline. The exterior portion of the wall should still be intact at thing stage.
Step 6: Build the AC frame
Use 2x4s to build a frame to go into the hole you just created in the wall. Then, fix it in place by screwing it to the exposed stud ends.
Step 7: Cut the exterior wall
Working from inside the house, drill a hole into each corner of the now0framed hole. Then head outside the house and draw straight lines connecting the four drilled holes using a pencil and level.
Now, use a hole saw to cut the exterior wall material. You should ow have a flush hole from outside to inside the house.
Step 8: Install the Sleeve, then the AC
Install the metal sleeve using your owner’s manual as a guide. You may need to screw it into place. Once done, follow the manual to install the air conditioner.
Step 9: Finish up
You’re almost done. But before you test the AC, plug the large gaps around it with drywall and seal the remaining gaps with caulk. Then paint the surrounding frame for aesthetic reasons. You can now plug the AC, restore power, and test the air conditioner with that done.
Through the Wall Air Conditioner Sleeve Sizes FAQs
Are All AC Sleeves the Same Size?
Unfortunately, no. Not all through-the-wall air conditioner sleeves are the same. Slide-out chassis sleeves, in particular, are completely different. However, many brands offer standard through-the-wall sleeves, so you can easily replace your AC as long as you don’t change the brand.
How are AC Sleeves Measured?
Through-the-wall air conditioner sleeves are measured based on the height (vertical) x width (horizontal) x length (depth into the wall). The depth is arguably the most important measurement.
How Much does it Cost to Install a Through-the-Wall Air Conditioner?
The average cost to install a through-the-wall air conditioner is $2,400, including the appliance (AC) and labor. However, you can save up to $150 with DIY installation.
Can a Window AC be Installed in a Wall Sleeve?
Unfortunately, no. Window and through-the-wall air conditioners and their sleeves aren’t interchangeable. That said, a few window air conditioners can be retrofitted using special sleeves and used as wall air conditioners.
Do Some Wall Air Conditioners have Heat?
Yes, some through-the-wall air conditioners have electric heating strips, and a few have heat pumps. These two categories of through-wall air conditioners can be used for supplemental heating.
Through-the-wall air conditioner sleeve sizes vary from one brand to the next and even between different AC models within the same brand. It depends on whether it’s a slide-out chassis sleeve or through-the-wall sleeve, among other factors.
However, generally, the sleeve sizes range between 15-17 inches (height) x 25-27 inches (width) x 16-19 inches (depth).