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Should You Cover Your Air Conditioner in the Winter?

As a conscientious homeowner, you probably have an annual to-do list you pull out when the weather starts turning from hot to cold. Winterizing your home means you’ll experience fewer technical difficulties when the weather is at its worst and most inconvenient. You’ll also have a better idea of repairs or improvements you want to make when spring comes along again. But what about your air conditioner? It would make sense to protect your air conditioner from the elements. Should you cover your air conditioner in the winter?

Well, there are a couple of schools of thought on that. This very subject has been an ongoing debate in the HVAC industry, and the benefits and drawbacks all have good points. It may also depend on where you live, so we’ve tailored our answers according to living in Oregon and Washington. Following is a discussion of the pluses and minuses of covering your air conditioning unit in the wintertime.

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Covering Can Protect the AC From Natural Elements

External air conditioning and HVAC equipment are meant to be hardy so it can withstand the weather we might see in the Pacific Northwest. Usually, air conditioner unit parts are made from aluminum and copper, which are both sealed from moisture and will resist deterioration. All manufacturers test their products rigorously to make sure they’ll work again when the weather turns from hot to cold and back again.

Oregon doesn’t typically receive consistently harsh weather during winter like some other states. For example, mountainous and Midwestern states enjoy frequent blizzards and snowstorms between October and May or even hailstones the size of softballs. But we still do see natural weather-related phenomena every year. For instance, a tree branch might fall on your external air conditioner in a windstorm, or dirt and debris might be blown or dropped onto the unit. We also get occasional ice storms, and though it’s not usually softball-sized, we do get hail here. With greater frequency, we also see temperature extremes now, which could produce wear and tear on your condenser—the big box that sits outside.

Covering Your Air Conditioner Has Its Hazards

It’s important to note that covering your air conditioner in the winter may have the drawback of trapping moisture inside the unit. A high-humidity environment isn’t great for any machine, much less an air conditioner. This sort of situation has been known to create rust and corrode parts within the mechanism. Remember, an air conditioner runs on electricity, and trapping moisture in there with the wiring connections and circuit boards could cause problems. At best, it’s annoying because you have to clean it up in order to start it again in the spring or summer. At worst, however, it could be dangerous, as you could have wet electrical connections and circuits.

An air conditioner is designed to be open to the air, so venting out moisture is rarely a problem, even in the Pacific Northwest, which has a reputation as very humid and rainy. Most manufacturers don’t recommend covering your air conditioner in the winter or the summer. These units should be able to withstand most problems the weather will throw at them.

A covered air conditioner could also be a draw for a family of rodents. A covered air conditioner could look like shelter, warmth, and safety for a family of mice, rats, or other animals. And with rodents inevitably comes the damage associated with them, as they strip electrical wires to line nests and chew on electrical wires. This can cause some ugly surprises when you discover it—such as when you try to turn on the unit in the heat of a day and discover you need to call someone to repair or replace parts. Better to not cover it up, in this case.

There Are Some Additional Benefits to Covering Your Outdoor Air Conditioner

If you do have the correct kind of cover, the coils inside of the machine will be a little cleaner when you go to boot it up again in the spring, and you may find your unit may run a little more efficiently. A cover will prevent yard debris from blowing into it, such as falling leaves from your trees. We live in a beautiful green area, with lots of trees and foliage, but when those leaves fall, you can’t deny that they make a mess.

If you cover your air conditioner in the winter, less extra moisture will freeze onto the coils as well. When water rests directly on the coils and freezes in the winter, it could damage the coils. While air conditioners are built to withstand this kind of damage, in the long run, you could be saving your air conditioner some wear and tear.

So Which Is It?

It isn’t a simple do-or-don’t situation. In the end, you may cover your air conditioner if it’s right for your situation and if you do it correctly. If you find yourself sweeping lots of yard debris, pine needles, or branches out of your condenser every year because it sits right under a tree, you may need some kind of cover, if only to be more efficient in the spring. Some air conditioner models may have an added accessory you can purchase that fits over the top of the specific unit without impeding the airflow within. Check with the manufacturer to see whether there is an all-weather protective attachment for your condenser—it could be that easy.

If it isn’t that easy, or if you’re looking for a less pricy solution, you could also simply cover the top of the air conditioner with a slice of plywood. It may not look pretty, but it’s cheap, keeps the debris from going in the unit, and leaves the sides of your air conditioner open to the air. If you want a prettier material to cover your condenser, just make sure that it’s a material that breathes and doesn’t restrict airflow.

Final Words of Advice

The best protective measure you can take for your air conditioner is regularly scheduled maintenance from the skilled professionals at Entek. Contact us today.


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