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Hide Your AC Unit With a DIY Air Conditioner Screen

Want to hide your AC unit outside? Learn how to hide an HVAC unit in your backyard with an easy removable DIY air conditioner screen.

Hide your HVAC unit with a DIY air conditioner screen!

Hi guys, it’s week 3 of the One Room Challenge, and I’m sharing the full post on the utilities area screen I gave you a peek at in last week’s ORC update. I’m going to share how I did it, but I’m not going to share a complete step-by-step tutorial. It’s unlikely that anyone (except my next door neighbor) has exactly the same layout and needs as we do.

But you can easily replicate a project like this for your own DIY air conditioner screen. I’ll also give you a couple of things to keep in mind when designing yours. So let’s take a look at what it looked like before…yuck:

ugly hvac unit outside


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And here’s how we made our DIY air conditioner screen!

(Remember to wear a mask and eye protection while sanding and working with wood, and wear an appropriate mask while working with stains and finishes. Follow the directions and warnings from your particular brand. Do not use any tools without proper training, precautions, and supervision. Read my full terms of use here.)

Step 1: Measure, Shop, and Cut

First we measured how big we wanted the screen to be. We decided to shape it like an L and have it come up high enough to cover other utilities, not just the AC unit. (If you make a project like this, make sure it does not interfere with anything that requires air circulation or regular reading like an electric or gas meter.)

After deciding on measurements, and knowing we wanted each screen slat to be 1 inch apart, we calculated how much 1×4 we’d need. Once we had the final height (14 pieces of 1×4, each an inch apart), we cut the four pieces of 2×4 to height. (That’s a diaper and a package of wipes in my purse. Times have changed my friends!)

Lumber for the screen at Home Depot

How close can a screen be to an AC unit?

I did a lot of research on how close a screen can be to an HVAC unit, and I have found…a lot of conflicting answers. As with a lot of things 🙂 HVAC unit performance depends a lot on air circulation. The units essentially work like this: they take in air through the sides and push it out through the top.

That means that air flow needs to be relatively unobstructed for the units to work their best. I am no HVAC technician, but from what I read, the most important part of this process is the exhausted air—so the stuff that comes out of the top of the HVAC unit. Obstructions in exhausted air can degrade the unit’s performance, ultimately leading to a shorter lifespan.

I found a variety of guidelines for how much space you should leave between an HVAC/AC unit and fences, decks, and screens. The unit has a decent amount of space between itself and our house, as well as the fence on our property line. I’ve read that anywhere from a few inches to several feet are needed around the sides of the HVAC unit to ensure it can perform as well as it is designed to perform. And like 6 feet above the unit for optimal exhaust.

This is what led us to wider gaps between the slats on our screen—and to the design of an “L-shaped” screen that didn’t wrap around the entire unit. If we added 1-inch gaps between each slat, it wouldn’t totally hide the unit, but it would obfuscate it, which is what we were going for. It would also help with air circulation. So that’s what we did—your situation, home, and HVAC unit might be different.

DIY air conditioner screen

Step 2: Sand and Finish the AC Unit Screen

Ok, back to the tutorial. Next I gave each piece a quick sand using my orbital sander. Then I wiped the whole lot down and stained everything using the Varathane wood stain in Kona. I also drilled pocket holes in one of my 2x4s to create the main corner support (but didn’t attach them yet).

This, coupled with the next step, was by far the most time consuming. (But was faster using a small roller instead of a paint brush.) I was VERY GLAD at this point that I hadn’t used 1×2 like I’d originally wanted. That would have been painful.

Once I had stained everything and it had dried according to my instructions, I gave each piece a few coats of the Minwax Helmsman Spar Urethane in Satin. Oof, talk about a slow process. (See my post on how to stain and finish wood.)

And one that took over my garage for several days. Luckily the urethane dries in about 4 hours, so that helped me get two coats in on one day. This would have been sooo much easier with a sprayer, but I hate the idea of cleaning oil-based products out of a sprayer.

In the garage staining

Step 3: Assemble the AC Screen Sides Separately 

We began working on the longer side of our L-shaped screen first. Board by board, we spaced and nailed using a nail gun. We mostly eyeballed this process. I wanted it to look nice and evenly spaced, but I wasn’t about to be a spaz about it.

By we, I mean my dad, who came over with his nail gun to help me complete this project. Ramona was up, so I held her while she watched from inside. She loves grandpappy.

pieces of wood on a deck
pieces of wood on a deck
baby with a blanket
DIY air conditioner screen

We did a 3/4″ overhang on the left side. You’ll see why in the next step. Once the longer side was done, we did the shorter side. For those pieces, we did a 1.5″ overhang on the right side.

DIY air conditioner screen

Check out my tips for how to hang globe string lights under a deck, how to clean an outdoor rug, and how to hang plant pots from deck and fence posts!

Step 4: Assemble the Whole Screen

After assembling the smaller side, we stood the screen up to make sure everything looked right. Now here’s where the pocket holes came in handy. We attached each side to one another by driving 2.5″ pocket hole screws through the pocket holes.

Since we also built an overhang in on each side, the sides fit together perfectly. It looks really nice from the outside! And here it is in place. It fits perfectly over the L shape of pavers we laid and is perfectly level.

DIY air conditioner screen
DIY air conditioner screen

I am super pleased with how this one turned out. It may have been time consuming, but it was worth it! And it matches the outdoor coffee table we made as well. (We have a matching DIY paver side table as well!)

And for any comments about blocking access to utilities, because we have gotten a few—the electrical can be read through the slat spaces (or just by peeking over if you’re average height or taller as you can see above). Our gas meter is not back here. The only other thing back here is Comcast, and we typically know when they’re coming by, so we can just slide the screen out of the way in advance.

DIY air conditioner screen
DIY air conditioner screen
DIY air conditioner screen
Tiny beautiful backyard

For more photos of our tiny backyard, check out my full post of the backyard in 2019, as well as how I put our little space together for 2020!

Pin my DIY air conditioner screen!

collage that says DIY hvac unit screen

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  1. Kim says:

    Wow! Such a crazy transformation already! I can’t wait to see all of the finishing touches as the big projects get knocked out!

  2. Donna M says:

    I’m very impressed. You have given me some ideas . . . I’m inspired. Thank you so much.

  3. Kristin salazar says:

    It’s perfect, need to make 2 of these for our ugly ac units!

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