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I really like this A/C unit and its width is exactly the width of my window panel (21.5"), but the "Window opening minimum width" in the specs is 23". From what I've seen in the Q&A for this Frigidaire unit, is that The side panels, fully compressed, add 2" to each side. However, other A/C units (LG), on the same retailer site, have their width equal to the window open minimum.

Are side panels necessary?

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In my opinion, no they are not. they are conveniences added to the unit to fill the space of various window sizes.

Their main thing is to stop the transfer of air into the room

If you remove them, be sure that the openings (louvers) on the sides of the AC unit are not blocked by the thickness of the wall since the fillers used for a wider window opening would maintain some space automatically.

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If unit specs are 23" minimum width, then I think you should assume the mfgr has a reason for giving that. The reason may be that the side louvers are so close to the front of the unit that the extra clearance is necessary unless the window is in the plane of the outside surface of the wall.

I have one window which is like that--glass is in the plane of the outside surface of the trim of the cedar lap-and-gap siding. But other windows are in brick walls and the brick trim extends 4 to 6.5 inches past the plane of the glass.

Nnother possibility is that if the side louvers are bent out, the actual width of the unit louver to louver is greater than 21.5 inches and it could not be slid out a window of width 21.5 inches.

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Here's a Haier Serenity unit mounted without any side panels. It is flush to the wall on the right and fits in the window panel with only a few millimeters of space that had to be filled in with foam.

Haier Serenity

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