Whenever oppressive heat waves hit during the four summers since they bought their lovely home in Huntley, Marilyn and Richard Webel always found relief by popping a small air conditioner into one of their bedroom windows.
"Neither one of us can sleep when it's humid," says Marilyn Webel, 61, who notes that they brought along their bedroom air conditioner when they moved from their home in South Elgin. "We have central air, but you know how it is. We've closed vents and everything, and (cold air) just doesn't travel up."
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The little portable air conditioner worked great when temperatures rocketed into the upper 90s earlier this month. But it didn't make things as chilly as the notice the Webels recently got from their Heritage of Huntley Homeowners Association.
"The hot spell had ended, and we took the unit out of the window, and my husband got the email," Webel says.
The correspondence alerted the Webels to a March 27 addition to the association's regulations. "No window air conditioners are allowed," it read, warning that violators are subject to fines of up to $100 a day.
"It's basically appearance," says Bryan Thomas, president of the homeowners association in this subdivision where visitors enter through a covered bridge. "It's in the front of the house, and we have a lot of standards we like to keep up. … We're trying to maximize the property values."
Does a small air conditioner in one window of one house during a few hot spells really lower property values?
"It's not like we have a refrigerator on our front porch," says Webel, whose immaculate home sports a U.S. flag flying above her landscaped front yard and a flowered trellis in back. "You do have to laugh, but it does have an effect on you."
All four windows in her second-story bedroom face south and overlook the street. She keeps the blinds closed and figures she'd get some relief from the sun by installing awnings, but the association already banned awnings.
Webel has butted heads with Thomas and the association leadership before. She thought the board skirted association rules setting a $10,000 limit on payments without a full vote of homeowners by breaking up a $30,000 landscaping expenditure into several smaller projects. The Webels' home is the only residence among the 329 in the subdivision that uses a window air conditioner.
"We don't want to see an article going in the paper that makes us look like the Big Bad Wolf," says Thomas, who says the board only approved the air conditioning ban after receiving complaints about the look of the Webels' window unit. "The issue is the air conditioner."
Webel, whose son Keith Kuhns did two tours of duty with the Marines in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, thinks the board "went too far" in limiting her freedom to cool her house as she sees fit. But, noting that she has "nice neighbors" and likes her home, she's wilting in this battle. This week the Webels purchased one of those newer air conditioners that rolls across the floor and only requires a small vent that is flush with the window and hasn't been banned as of today.
"Luckily we can afford the $600 to buy it," Webel says.
While Thomas notes that homeowner associations have "a lot more discretion" to set aesthetic boundaries, the village of Addison once passed legislation that by 2010 would have banned all window air conditioners that face the street.
"We did get quite a reaction from apartment building owners," says John Berley, Addison's assistant village manager and director of community development. Berley says the village wanted to stamp out those window units that were propped up with beer cans or duct-taped to cardboard sides of old Pampers boxes to keep out bugs.
People squawked about the cost of installing central air, building sleeves to hold existing air conditioners or updating to those modern portable units.
"They got to us. What can I tell you?" Berley says with a chuckle. "We backed off."
The Addison ban now only is in effect from Oct. 15 through May 1 and in the summer requires that window units be installed according to the manufacturer's specifications.
"We're practical," Berley says, noting the "manufacturer's specifications" wording is key. "They don't usually specify propping these up with a Pabst can or beer of your choice."