Should You Cover Your Air Conditioner in the Winter: What to Consider

Nobody wants their air conditioning system to fail in the middle of summer. Each year, as winter approaches, homeowners across the country consider how to prepare their air conditioner from the falling leaves, snow, ice, and other threats.

You might wonder, should you cover your air conditioner in the winter to protect it until the snow melts at the start of spring? The answer to this question is a qualified yes – but be sure to do it the right way to avoid inadvertently causing more damage to your air conditioner.

Before deciding what to do, consider the benefits and drawbacks of covering your air conditioner. Below, Air Unlimited Heating and Cooling, one of the leading Overland Park AC service contractors, offers their perspective on covering air conditioners.

Advantages of Covering Your Air Conditioner

Some of the advantages of covering your air conditioner are self-evident. Covering your external AC unit prevents leaves from falling into the unit and obstructing airflow. You might think that it would also prevent ice and snow from causing the AC unit to rust, but as we’ll see, that might not be the case.

Disadvantages of Covering Your Air Conditioner

Paradoxically, covering your air conditioner with a plastic sheet or tarp could promote rust because it prevents water that is already present from evaporating. Water will corrode metal and damage wiring. Even worse, when the weather turns cold, the water will turn to ice, damaging the condenser coils.

Water brings other risks, such as mold and animals looking for shelter in the winter. Small animals can drag in debris and chew on wiring as they make themselves at home.

Due to these risks, covering your air conditioner might void the manufacturer’s warranty on your air conditioning unit. AC units are built to withstand all weather, so manufacturers typically don’t recommend covering them.

Why Your Air Conditioner Needs Airflow

Air conditioners work by collecting and radiating heat. The evaporator coil takes heat from the air in your home, while the condenser coil releases heat into the air outside your home.

If air can’t get to the coils, they cannot function properly. Heat could build up in the condenser coils, causing the AC to fail and the AC unit to become hot. The heat could damage the condenser coils.

Leaves and debris can obstruct airflow, but so can snow and ice. If ice surrounds the compressor coils, they cannot convey heat to the outside air. Ice is a surprisingly good insulator, which is why igloos made of snow and ice can stay warm inside on cold days. Water also expands as it freezes, bending the coils into positions that disrupt airflow.

Without airflow, the stagnant air traps heat and cold. The evaporator coils freeze instead of cooling air, and the condenser coils overheat instead of releasing heat. The motor and fans work continuously in a futile effort to make the air conditioner work.

Before covering your air conditioner in the winter, ask yourself what you are doing to airflow. Anything you can do to keep the coils correctly positioned and clear will help to keep your air conditioner in good condition when spring returns.

Tips on Covering Your Air Conditioner

AC contractors are conflicted on the issue, so should you cover your air conditioner in the winter? If you do cover your air conditioner, keep the following suggestions in mind:

  • Use a breathable cover that keeps leaves and pine needles out but lets water escape.
  • Do not cover the sides or base of your air conditioner. Doing so will trap water, increase ice formation, and damage compressor coils.
  • Clear debris around the base of your air conditioning unit.

Some experts recommend erecting a temporary awning or permanent roof. Keep in mind that the roof should not be so close to the unit that it interferes with evaporation.

One method of covering your air conditioner that strikes a happy medium is to buy a wire mesh cover. The wire mesh keeps out debris and, depending on its shape, might direct some snow and meltwater away from the air conditioning unit. However, the mesh does not hinder evaporation or obstruct airflow.

If your air conditioner unit is more than 15 years old, consider replacing the unit rather than squeezing another few years out of it. It might be worth the expense of replacing a unit to reap the benefits of lower fuel costs, less noise, and higher efficiency. Local Overland Park AC contractors such as Air Unlimited Heating and Cooling would be happy to discuss the latest models with you.

AC Problems to Watch out for during the Winter

Stray leaves, ice, and snow aren’t the only problems your air conditioning unit might face.

To save yourself from repair bills in the spring, make sure your air conditioner doesn’t become a home for local squirrels or other wildlife. Especially if you have sheltered it from the elements, an air conditioning compressor can be an attractive hiding place. The bedding that they bring in with them can obstruct airflow.

Remember what the air conditioner sounds like when you turn it on in the spring or summer and compare that to how it sounded before you turned it off for the winter. If the fan is straining to overcome obstructions or if the motor is worn out, it might sound noisier or different than what you are used to. Tell your air conditioner maintenance technician about any changes since they can be clues to the source of common problems.

What to Do with Window Unit Air Conditioners in the Winter

The above recommendations are for people with mini-split, central air, or HVAC systems with an external, fixed compressor. Homeowners with window-mounted air conditioning units should remove them from windows during the winter months. Moving them inside protects them from moisture, storm damage, and yard debris during the winter.

 As with external compressors, try not to let wild animals get to them and keep them away from moisture and humidity. As long as you store the air conditioner in a dry place, you can cover the air conditioner or store it in a box until you are ready to use it again in the spring,

Be careful when removing or installing a window-mounted AC unit. Keep pets and children away from the ground beneath the window in case the air conditioner falls. Don’t try to lift or install a window-mounted air conditioning unit yourself.

Why Regular AC Maintenance Matters

Whether or not you cover your air conditioner, changing temperatures, water, and everyday wear and tear will eventually damage your air conditioner. Regular maintenance by a reputable and qualified air conditioning contractor is the best way to make sure that your system is in working order.

Don’t wait until the middle of summer to fix air conditioning problems. Protect your investment in your home by scheduling regular maintenance for your air conditioner. This prevents small problems from turning into bigger ones.

Quality AC Maintenance by Air Unlimited Heating and Cooling

For homeowners in the Overland Park area, Air Unlimited Heating and Cooling can inspect your heating and cooling system, fix any issues, and replace any components that aren’t working the way they should.

Should you cover your air conditioner in the winter? Maybe not, but you should still take steps to protect it. If you have any problems with air conditioning, call Air Unlimited Heating and Cooling at (816) 286-7258 to schedule an appointment today. 

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