Do you feel it, that autumnal tentacle wrapping itself around our little heat island, making everything all damp and clammy and fall-like? Although it is only August, and everyone knows summer now runs through September, the air this week is almost...cool? Sometimes? Occasionally suggestive of an end in sight? Yes, okay, fine, we will probably endure at least one more swampy stretch, a blast of sweltering air that causes said tentacle to recoil as if scorched by an actual blowtorch, before the seasons change. But one day, summer will be over, and you will be left only with your memories...your memories, plus that A/C unit you all but welded into your window last May.
Now, in the home stretch, you have lots of things to think about when it comes to that air conditioner. Lots of far-fetched (are they?) frights in which to marinate during the eleventh hour of your time together. What if, in all your night-thrashing, you manage to boot it out your window because you, a genius, decided the best place for this 40-pound death trap was right next to your bed? What if you don't even need to unwittingly pummel it in your sleep in order to dislodge it, because you did such a slipshod job of wedging it in there that it simply abandons ship of its own accord? What if a Superstorm Sandy repeat rips it from its moorings? What if exposure to The Weather's wrath fills it with mold and water bugs, which then come flying out when you turn it on next summer? How do you even get yourself into these situations? Why does this happen to you every single time?
Some, like the NY Times, would say that you have only one viable option and it is to remove your AC unit. The Times reminds you, definitively, that "come fall, you will want it out," both because its blocky form obstructs the natural sunlight that may be at a premium in the matchbox you call home, and relatedly, because it is "unsightly." Window air conditioners can also let in a draft. If you can control the heat in your apartment, you might not want that, but if you can't and your bullshit management company has decided you should live in a 90-degree environment all the time, you might!
Still, none of that compares to the one ominous possibility a management company representative raised in the Times article, which is that "all it takes is one air-conditioner dropping out the window and killing someone." The rep did not expand on what "it" was, but perhaps you fear a catastrophic screw-up during the de-installation process. Then again, you might worry that Extreme Weather could batter the fragile system you've rigged to hold it all in place.
"What should I do with my air conditioner in the winter?" turns out to be a surprisingly fraught question. Mercifully, the argument for removing it seems mostly cosmetic: According to Joseph Lakien, of Brooklyn's Best AC, "There is no issue whatsoever with leaving an air-conditioner outside in the elements year round." The materials that likely constitute your air conditioner—aluminum, copper, styrofoam—"are built to withstand pretty much all weather conditions that NYC throws at" them, Lakien explains. If your window is stationed under a tree, its falling leaves and pollen pollution could clog the machine, but according to Lakien, AC units are generally hearty enough to survive in any season.
Further, window units are no more likely to fall out of windows when whipped by blizzard winds in the winter than they are when pummeled by sideways rain in the spring and summer—provided they are installed correctly. (I.e., ideally atop a safety bracket attached to the building itself, perhaps by a licensed technician.) NYC provides guidelines on AC installation, which may or may not be appended by individual landlords. Do your research before you try anything at home, please.
Anyway, it's possible that one day you could be walking along, eating an ice cream cone and minding your own business, when a disembodied creak draws your eyes to the sky and the rogue AC unit hurtling down from above. It's happened before. But as Lakien points out, death-and-injury-by-falling-AC-unit is such a rare phenomenon, "there's isn't even a statistic for it." (An AC unit in free fall does not appear to have killed a New Yorker since 1988.) From a safety perspective, then, you have little to fear from leaving your unit in place all year. From a more practical perspective, there is the constant trickle of cold air to contend with in frigid months, but maybe you enjoy being refrigerated while you sleep. If you don't, beef up the insulation around the unit and consider sealing off the window with plastic, it might help.
Because according to Lakien, you could run a greater risk of ruining your air-conditioner if you remove it from its window home: Faced with few convenient storage options, many New Yorkers may choose to stash their units in their buildings' basements, only to find the machines' guts moldering away come spring. Provided it's securely stuck in the window frame, it seems the best thing to do in this scenario may just be the lazy thing: leave your AC unit where it is and don't worry about it until sweat season rolls around next year. Just make sure you unplug it in the interim, AC units are notorious energy vampires.