The Goal: Disguise A Window Unit Air Conditioner

After sharing with y’all the other day about some comments I’ve received about my air conditioner, so many of you have tried to help me come up with a solution to disguise the ugly thing.  (Thank you!)  🙂

window unit air conditioner

Suggestions have ranged from a decorative folding screen, to a plant stand with a big gorgeous plant, to a radiator cover design adapted to an air conditioner.

I thought I’d search around and see what amazingly creative solutions others have done before I formulated my own plan, so I spent about an hour researching “decorative window air conditioner covers” and everything related to that that I could think of.  Do you know how many great ideas are out there that the average homeowner could and would want to adapt to their own homes?


I mean, I saw some brilliant ideas (yes…sarcasm) like “cover them with curtains.”  Really?  That thing that’s supposed to be blowing cold air into the room so that I don’t die of a heat stroke inside my home as the August temps surge to 100+ here in central Texas day after day after day? I’m going to cover it with curtains?  What the…?


Why are there are so many beautiful ways to cover up a radiator, but evidently the idea of disguising a window unit air conditioner (in a way that still keeps the thing actually usable) is foreign to seemingly the entire population of the planet?

So yesterday, determined to come up with a radiator cover-inspired plan for my window unit air conditioner, I headed to Lowe’s to pick up some supplies so I could whip one up really quickly and show y’all my creation today and undoubtedly dazzle the entire world with my groundbreaking creation.  I had something simple like this in mind:

radiator cover - 1Traditional Bedroom by Denver Interior Designers & Decorators Nadia Watts Interior Design

Simple, right?  A few 1 x 3’s, some radiator cover panels, a bit of trim, a plywood top, prime, paint, done!

Yeah.  Except that no store in this area carries that radiator cover screen stuff. And that’s when I realized that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a radiator in a house in this area.  In fact, I don’t think I had ever seen a radiator in person until I traveled to Europe.  I could be mistaken, but I just don’t think homes in my area (I’m in central Texas) have radiators.

So there went that plan.  No quick and easy radiator cover-inspired window A/C cover to dazzle the world today.  But maybe tomorrow.  🙂

After returning home from that disappointing shopping trip, I checked out a few other radiator cover designs that don’t require that decorative mesh, and that I think would work equally as well adapted to a window A/C unit.

This one is probably my favorite…

radiator cover 2Traditional Living Room by Minneapolis Kitchen & Bath Fixtures Steven Cabinets

And then this one is a close second.

radiator cover 3Contemporary Hall by Dublin Architects & Designers Optimise Design

The goal is to come up with something that will disguise the window air conditioner, and perhaps provide a cute little shelf area where I can place a plant or (the more likely scenario) where my cats can sit.

The challenge will be coming up with something that blends into the background rather than being a decorative something that commands attention and competes with the fireplace.

So stay tuned, because if the internets can be believed, you’re about to witness something that has never been attempted before.  This will be epic.  😀

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  1. Kristi, I’ve seen smaller sections of the decorative metal sheeting for sale at Hobby Lobby. If I remember correctly, at my local store, they were near the wall stencils and such. I wouldn’t have thought to look there, so I thought I’d mention it. 🙂

    1. Yes! They are using them in those chalkboard, whiteboard, magnet board organization units! Do you have Ben Franklin’s in Texas? (or other stores similar) they are usually where they keep all the decorative knobs, vinyl decals and chalkboard/whiteboard/blackboard blanks. Depending on the size you need- you might even check Scrapbook Stores for the metal mesh- It’s the SAME thing! But will most likely be 12×12 .
      Because 12x12s are so universal. 😀 Again- used for the same DIY magnet board/knob organize-y thingies.

  2. I know AC window units and radiators are ugly, but they do have a purpose. I’d be interested to know how much those radiator covers slow down the process of heating a room.

    Thank goodness for the invention of central heating/cooling. 🙂

  3. I, too, have seen the decorative screen at HobbyLobby and think it might let more cooling through than the wooden ones. I do like the look of wood much better so you can always try that and see how it works for you. I hadn’t thought that there are no radiators in Texas but I suppose that is true. : )

    1. just an aside to a great answer – with the crazy weather everywhere, including Texas, anymore, I imagine people are starting to wish for radiators!

  4. Kristi,
    Your plant stand reference triggered a vision. Can you too see an adaptation of a garden stool (openings positioned for maximum circulation) complete with potted plant atop? I’m sure you can masterfully create a unique piece that lends itself to adding softness (think demi lune) in the corner without competing with all the squares/rectangles in the room. Also, will we see the new location of your beautiful mirror soon?

  5. Great idea! Maybe you could piano hinge the top or the side for “secret” access to the controls? OR, make the front “rails” in two sections so you can slide one behind the other to get to the controls?

    I’ve always hated window units, but they sure do make a room nice and COLD! I lived in Texas for 30 years, so I understand the function overtakes appearance …. especially in July and August!

    Good luck with the project …

  6. I am one who has a window air in the living room and hate the way it looks. I am anxious to hear what you come up with! I think the radiator cover idea may work if it doesn’t block too much air. Btw, I have a radiator too.

  7. Hi, I live in Liverpool in grade2 listed shipping merchants river house we had to abandon radiator covers as they made the heating output from the radiators so low …. Basically the hot air doesn’t escape well so have had to spend a fortune getting column radiators that are cast iron made …. I’d be wary about covering unless it had sort of plantation shutter type door that you could open back !!!!

    1. I was thinking plantation shutters too. If the front is made from plantation shutters you could open them wide when the unit is on and close them up for complete coverage when the unit is off. I’d be concerned that a metal mesh may not let enough airflow through. I’m in Florida – I understand the heat! 😉

        1. Shutters were my idea’ too. I agree with others, don’t block the unit when it is in use. In Deep East Texas, we need all the cool we can get!!

  8. I’m not sure what the hoopla is all about regarding that air conditioner. Sure it isn’t the most attractive thing in your room, but as you have told us it is a necessity in Texas. In my opinion,your blog is real life, not a magazine photo shoot. That being said, I can’t wait to see your solution. I am trying to picture a radiator enclosure transformed by your hands. I had to “google” how to disguise an air conditioner. My favorite from this site was the one with the tiles in the metal frame, and the paper one is kind of cool and kooky at the same time. Keep up the fabulous transformations. http://nymag.com/homedesign/features/48311/

  9. Kristi – I went on line because I thought for sure Lowes had something in our store and we live in So. Florida. Anyway, I didn’t find anything at the Lowes on line site but did find a company called McNichols and they have many beautiful decorative screens in a lot of different finishes. Thought you might what to check them out (I didn’t research anymore so I don’t have ANY idea of the cost, but it might be worth checking them out anyway). Here’s a link to the product http://www.mcnichols.com/perforatedgrilles

  10. Radiators radiate heat; but any kind of AC requires air to flow freely across coils. Preventing or even slowing air flow cuts down cooling and could burn out the unit. Be sure any thing on the front of the decorative cover allows good air flow. Don’t think radiator type material will do. Think shutters, or other wide spaced material.

  11. When I saw this post of yours, I was reminded of something that Sarah from Thrifty Decor Chick used for a craft project. It was metal sheeting she got from the hardware store. It was “holey” so air would be able to flow through and it was really pretty decorative as well. She said it was inexpensive. Anyway, you can go check out her post here http://thriftydecorchick.blogspot.com/2013/12/metal-sheeting-candleholders.html to see what it is she used and if it might be something you could use for your air conditioner cover project. Hope this helps.

  12. Maybe I have different thoughts than most. But if I was going to remodel a house, the first thing I would do is install a central unit. ( even if I had to borrow the money for a few months) and too my husband would not live one day without central air! To me that is as important as have a good water and electric supply. Then if I had to, I would do the rest of the remodel as I had the money. Just saying.

    1. I live in Iowa, and I have central air, but during the hottest months, we still need an air unit for our second floor. The central air just isn’t always enough. I couldn’t imagine how bad the heat could be in Texas.

      With the fireplace box just to the left, I can’t imagine another similar boxy thing over that window. I was thinking… could you install a tall widely slotted screen in front of it and then attach bookcase type shelving in front of that for a few items like a picture frame or a vase?

  13. Lowe’s has a piece of decorative aluminum sheet metal that is 24 x 36″. They have several design choices. Is around $30.00. I used it to made a cover for an old ceiling fan/light in my bathroom. Item #: 103626 is the clover design

  14. Kristi, on the first design that uses the mesh, what about that white plastic stuff used in some florescent light fixtures? It comes in 2’x4′ and 4’x4′ pieces and is cheap, so if it doesn’t work out, it’s not a huge investment.

    I like the other two options but wonder if they’ll block too much of the air blowing into the room?

    And since you’re going symmetrical in this house, whatever you build, you’ll probably have to double the cost and do a matching one on the other side, of course. I’m wondering if you can make the a/c side have the mesh at the top (like the second cover but mesh instead of slats – I like the panels on that one) with a fold-down or door so you can access the controls, and on the opposite side, a matching mesh fold-down or door that can hold stuff out of sight but easy to get to, like your changeable decor or a stack of books that aren’t pretty enough to display but are easy to access to read? Just “ponderating”. 🙂

    Of course, not your style, but the EASY way would be to buy sets of upper cabinets and replace the door panels with mesh or screening or alternate materials that allow air to come out. A nice top, pretty pulls and voila! Storage, too!

  15. I just recently came across your blog and I love your ideas. I am curious to see what you come up with for your AC unit. My master bedroom is an add on and does not have central air like the rest of the house so we use a window unit. My problem is my window is up high on the wall. I would love to cover my as well. My vanity table is right below it and insects seem to fly in often and land there. Not much fun putting on my make up with bugs around. lol Unfortunately that is the only space in my room where I can keep my vanity. I’d like to know if you have had this problem with your unit and if so what steps have you taken to keep insects out. I’m sure whatever you come up with to cover yours up will be amazing. Thanks for sharing your ideas!

  16. An AC unit is built to function as-is. Making any type of cover could imped what it was designed to do and actually cause the unit to malfunction and cease to work. The best solution would be to disguise the accordion panels and the cord and leave the rest of the unit alone.

  17. First of all I love the idea, and cannot believe that they don’t have an option for this….

    Second,,,,perhaps if you adapt what ever you choose to use, on both sides, it would even it out and look more complete?????? IDK,,,,just a thought (I’m so OCD, and everything has to balance itself out). This way it might look like “window shelves”.

    Third – be careful on your choice of wood finishes, as the humidity from the AC unit may infiltrate the wood and cause it to warp, and or start to grow mold as well. Perhaps plastic, treated with that chemical that prohibits mold?

    Just my kind of brain thinking here,,,,,

    good luck!

  18. I agree with the matching unit on the other side. Maybe as an extension of the fireplace surround with a built in bookcase look to it that would give it the depth needed. Create a decorative open weave box to set over the unit, one top of the shelf base, and once central air is installed, that box can be done away with and the bookcases would remain 🙂 Or you could just place plants or cat-proof decor on either side of the unit to disguise it slightly.

    Our Lowes has some great metal mesh panels that would work beautifully. I even have a massive Shutterfly box to send them if you really need it!

    1. Love this idea! You can put all sorts of stuff in front of it that might camo it. Can top the bookcases with art work made out of the mesh – put mesh squares on a base, frame it out, and place in front of the window on the shelving. To make a ‘box’ to place over just the unit seems to make the thing more obvious. Can’t wait to see what you come up with!

  19. You could also use screening (as for screen doors). you want to be sure that the air circulates properly, and that may not be the case with the wood ones. BTW, I live in a circa 1880 home in Boston, and i have radiators covers throughout the house, with the special radiator grating. Keeps us toasty AND provides a good surface for gloves, hats, etc. and in two rooms, comfortable seating in bay windows! I’m sure you’ll come up with a great solution to share! Good luck. Whoops, forgot to add that I think you can order online at Lowe’s pretty much anything, and have it shipped to your local store. i have done that w/them – – ordered online and picked up.

  20. Before covering the front of your window ac unit with ANYTHING, you might want to call the ac pros and inquire as to whether a cover might cause any kind of malfunction to the unit. If the air flow is impeded in any way, I can see some kind of backup of pressure forming that could result in a blow-out (or even overheating and a fire) of the unit. That said, it seems to me that the solution offering the best air flow would involve shutters of some sort, that could be opened wide enough for best air flow. You have what it takes to figure out the best – and safest – solution. Oh, and along with all your options, factor in the age of the unit. It could make a difference.

  21. Have you thought of replacing the window unit with a windowless one? I don’t know if anyone had brought it up before or not but they come in all shapes and sizes for different sized rooms and you can put it in a closet or something when you don’t need it or make a cover for it that you take off when you need to use it and it’s just another table etc. when you don’t.

    1. I’ve been looking at those for our lake cabin. They have pretty good reviews and are affordable.

    1. This is GORGEOUS!!! I love the decorative curves…I don’t have an air conditioner, but I’m inspired to make wall art out of this. Love it…

  22. i would do what ever you do for the air conditioner window i would do to the other side too. that way have two i like the fireplace will stand out more.

  23. Just be careful that whatever you put in front of the air conditioner is open enough to allow the cold air to get into your room and for e unit not to overheat. Some of the pics with wood looked great, but I am not sure how much more effective they would be than putting a curtain in front of it. Good luck! I am sure whatever you design will be beautiful AND practical.

  24. My son made several of the decorative screen radiator covers for their D.C. row house, and they are quite attractive. I did wonder if they hinder the distribution of heat, but row houses are also easier to heat (with the exception of those on the corner of a row) because they only have two outside walls. I like the idea of building around a plantation shutter for both style and practicality. I’m looking forward to seeing where you come out with this project.

    1. I agree with your lattice idea, but would prefer painted wood (cost difference is minimal) painted to match the walls? Kristi’s idea of an enclosed a/c cover is definitely attractive, but perhaps too heavy looking, and has the potential to block air flow. Kristi’s a/c appears to blow forward, so it shouldn’t be a problem to put a shelf above it for a cat perch/throne.

  25. Our church helped a family with their house and we installed the air conditioner in an exterior wall. During the cold months, you could make an art piece that would cover it. I have a picture if you would like to see it.

  26. My biggest fear would be making sure that the air conditioner couldn’t catch fire from over-heating while it is covered and being used. If anyone can figure that one out, I’m sure you can! Can’t wait to see what you come up with.

  27. I was actually pondering a similar problem for some HUGE ugly HVAC vents we have that are very visible and no, I refuse to just paint them the same color as the wall and leave it at that and call it disguised 🙂 although I will do that first, but I came across this blog post and it got me thinking in a new direction for me…. may do the same for you ? I liked that she checked with a HVAC person about it.


    I was born and raised in Australia from the 60’s until my mid 30’s, I “get” heat and how crappy it is in houses better than anyone 🙂

  28. Kristi- I’m thinking about your post regarding real life…and my years in a Denver, CO house with no A/C. When I was pregnant with my son in the heat of summer, my husband broke down and put a window unit in. I thought that was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen! Sweet relief. In our current house, in Georgia, we installed a huge new heat pump and I shared its beauty on Facebook! ! Honestly, I never gave your unit a second thought- and it’s hidden by the chair! Your room is beautiful AND functional!

  29. I live up in cold Canada and a few old, old homes still have ‘rads’. You need to remember that they provide radiant heat that gave low heat constantly, provided originally by boilers. Nice, silent operators that were meant to provide long, slow, and silent heating for the room.

    A portable AC unit isn’t the most energy efficient way to cool a home, especially if it has to run constantly and then you have to deal with the issue of the noise it creates. Also, be careful not to block the airflow or you’ll never be able to shut it off. You’ll go crazy listening to the constant roar and your electrical bill will be outrageous! Our summer temps go just as high where I’m located and I was only able to stand the noise for a month before we bit the bullet and installed central AC.

  30. Btw, I love what you do! I can’t believe how fast you come up with ideas and get them them all implemented. You’re a fireball and tire me out just trying to keep up with your posts.

    I can’t wait to see how you find a solution to this little wrinkle in your room!

  31. Really like the matching bookcase idea with camo for the actual unit. I share the concern that an enclosure might create a damp space. But maybe not.

    On the other hand, please don’t feel you have to listen to the snobbish types who think less of you for not investing in central air right off the bat. It’s a variant of meangirlism, and I advise you to wipe these opinions off your radar screen. Do what feels right for the room now and in the context of the other projects that you and DH might want to finish first.

  32. I think the radiators tolerate items in front of them much better than an air-condition, which is why you don’t see such things for air-conditions. That said, I have a similar problem (my A/C is near the ceiling though), and after a lot of thought I came up with two solutions – one was that I was going to hang a short crystal curtain of sorts, the other was to use these: http://www.aliexpress.com/store/product/Free-shipping-Brief-hanging-screen-pvc-film-wall-decoration-hangings-muons-marriage/715719_959194658.html

    Maybe you could put a shelf over the A/C and hang a few of these panels under it?

  33. maybe if you overlap some wood so you can not see in but the air can come out ! ¡ ! ¡ ! ¡ or -_-_-_ or / / / / / / … dieing to see what you will come up with!! :O

  34. I cannot wait to see this Kristi! If anyone can do it, you can. Next week is March Break for us teachers to the north so I’m tuning in everyday to see how this all unfolds.

  35. How about making a “mesh” covering out of machine caning (the stuff that comes in a roll and is used for chair seats)? You could paint it if you didn’t want natural. For the piece itself, I would also agree that you have doors that open (hinged, sliding, folding, whatever) to allow the AC full access to the room and close it when you’re not using.

  36. The air conditioner serves a purpose. It’s practical. I know you want a beautiful and comfortable home. But between the sofa painting expense and this air conidtioner expense. Plus the expense of the mini-kitchen redo….it seems to me like wasting money. Why not focus on saving for fhe floor leveling, completing that. Then moving onto the next of the list. I think you are such a hard worker. Everytime I read your blog. I leave thinking…you are the toughest lady out there!

  37. I am an Australian fan of your page and would love to know how to cover this up. It is basically a standard issue in our houses to have air conditioning in every room…. bit like having an oven or toilet. . 😛 we MUST have air con!! So I think you have given me an idea but if you find something. .. please post it!!

  38. Have you considered moving the air con to the top half of the window instead of at the bottom.
    Your blinds would hide it when it’s not in use and it won’t obstruct the few as much when it is.

  39. Build your box with the wide top, use plantation shutters on the front. You will get more air plus you have acess to clean the filter and the ac unit. I would take it a step further and do it on both windows. I would put matching brass lamps on the top of each, with a dark or leather shade. A few other items and you are good. Don’t forget to drill holes in the top and bottom of side for lamp cords to be hidden.

  40. I have an old post on architectural salvage that had a beautiful iron radiator cover. I think something like this iron cover might be nice because it isn’t as heavy as a thicker wood radiator cover… Possibly with a glass top (so it doesn’t feel heavy or take away from your beautiful fireplace and mantle). See the post for the radiator cover photo: http://anyonecandecorate.blogspot.com/2013/03/decorating-with-architectural-salvage.html

    I can’t wait to see what you do!

  41. I might be insane but; how about something built out of window shutters? They have slats and if you position them to circulate the air and it can be open to access the controls; it serve the purpose. Or that beautiful furniture weaved rattan type of fabric ?

  42. So many great reader ideas! I like the plantation shutter-ish ideas and also the one that would have matching solutions on both windows with one faux … Can’t wait to see what you dream up and then actually make! ‘Cause I’m great at dreaming but not so great at doing.

  43. Have you thought of possibly building off the fireplace on both sides? One side a/c cover, the other a bookshelf or fabric seat for cats?

  44. I like the idea of disguising it for when company comes by, but honestly anything in front of it will obviously slow down the airflow!

    I think my biggest thing is I’m in love with the whole “equilateral ” look so having something in one window and not the other would drive ME crazy. I thing the best look would be to just have a beautiful full plant on a stand in that corner that can partially distract from it or you could slide it directly in front when company arrives 🙂

  45. Kristi,
    What if you could move it the conditioner back alittle and use plantation shutters. You could use them on lower half of the window or cover the whole window for a clean look. That way air would come through the slats and you could also direct the air flow with the slats. I live in a home built in 1924 and have over sized window I had to add some extra moulding to my windows to build them out so the shutters would work and believe me they looked fine. Hope this helps. Love the painting and frame.

  46. I don’t know how much you know about HVAC so I do apologise if all I am going to say is obvious to you. Generally such a unit has two grilles on the inside of the house. One is an inlet (the hot air from the room comes in the unit to be cooled) and the other one an outlet that blow the cold air in the room (this one normally has blades that can get adjusted up or down to direct the flow of air). Putting something in front of a return air grille is not a problem as long as it is open enough. Putting something in front of a supply air grille is more of a problem as those grilles are designed to direct the air flow in the room so that it reaches far enough to make it comfortable (the grille throws the air out so that it does mix with the hot air in the room before it comes back to the return air grille). But most importantly if you put a screen in front of both your inlet and outlet the air will go in the gap behind the screen and recirculate directly back to the return air grille. Very little will reach the room were you are. The unit will stop working because it will sense that the air is cold enough on the return air because it senses what is behind the screen. This means the unit will not cool your room properly and there will be condensation behind the screen most likely. I can hear you say: but it works with radiators!!! Well, when we design radiators behind a screen we add 20% to the output for loss of radiation, also radiators are heating elements that use radiation and conduction a lot more than the AC unit which is convection ie air flow mostly (boring stuff – I know). Whatever you do, make sure you do not stop the supply air blow far into the room and you screen separately the inlet and outlet so the air does not recirculate (a partition behind the screen that isolates the return air flow for example). Just know that you will lose at minimum 30% efficiency (the room will be 2-3 degrees warmer) if not more because you have added something in front of the supply air fan and the fan will struggle so will not live as long as it should. Do you have a more detailed photo of your unit or its name (reference is written on it on a sticker normally)? I could try to draw something that might work and send it to you. Good luck with this anyhow!

  47. I’ve thought about using shutters in some way. You could open and close them easily. Or just open the vents.

  48. my husband is a welder and he said its too bad you couldn’t have someone fabricate you a front that you could then frame around. Like those older metal vent fronts they had for floor vents (hopefully you understand, i probably sound super confusing)… Anyhow, I really like your favorites too if I had to choose.

  49. I have the same concerns some others above expressed about putting something in front of the AC. I’m afraid the reason that there isn’t anything to cover them is because there are functional issues not because no one ever wanted to hide them. I think so many of the old houses around here have them that they don’t really jump out at me. It’s really the last thing I’d notice in your living room.

    I have seen the pierced metal grill stuff at both Home Depot and Lowe’s. At the stores I’ve been to, anyway, it was on the same aisle in the same bins with other sheet metal goods like diamond plating. Assuming you’re still looking you might ask where the diamond plate is and see if what you’re actually looking for happens to be close at hand there. I’ve had the experience in those stores before of them having what I’m looking for but not using whatever terminology they’d use to describe the same thing. But I bet they could find the diamond plate – ha!

  50. I just saw radiator screen at Home Depot the other day. I’m in Atlanta and have never seen a radiator here either. But at the end of one of the aisles was a whole display of the screen. I’m sure you can find it in Texas, check Home Depot.

  51. Especially with the wainscoting you’ve got planned for later, a “built in” unit like the last couple photos (but with more open slots for maximum air flow) will look really good and seamless, I think. Good luck!

  52. I think I’d just plan on it being a “cat perch” – make a nice, cat-friendly cushion to go on top of it. Maybe, if your cats decide they love it, it will keep them off your furniture.

  53. Enormous idea! I love the decorative curves. Thank for the innovation of central heating/cooling. Stay up the marvelous transformations and I am sure whatever you will design will be gorgeous .Good luck.

  54. I’m from the US isand territory of Guam. Because it’s basically summer all year round here it gets pretty hot(not a radiater to be seen anywhere here either). A window unit ac is more affordable than a split type. Ive spent days looking for creative and effective ways to disguise this ugly thing, then I finally saw your blog! I was like “yes! this is what Im talking about!”
    as someone did mention in a previous comment and as you stated about how just covering it with plain ole curtains would affect the cold air output, circulation and return, so would certain types of wooden cover ups. i think your idea about the mesh covering would be best. like the ones they use for screen doors. check your local home depot. I have even seen them come with designs imprinted into the mesh. or maybe you could possibly paint your own design onto the mesh.

  55. Hi Kristi–I’m also in HOT Texas, and have a backyard cottage without AC that I need to cool. I’ve avoided the window units because they are so ugly. But you’ve given me lots of things to think about, and some possible solutions. If the unit is on, and cooling, I probably won’t be obsessing about what it looks like. LOL. But for other times, I want it covered. I think using a shade that pulls down to the top of it, and some pull back curtains are the best solution as long as the curtains completely hide it. My window is an old, wide aluminum one (as in, UGLY), so I also have the issue of filling in the rest of the space beside the unit. UGH.