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How to Winterize Your Air-Conditioning Unit the Right Way

There’s nothing worse than being stuck at home on a hot, summer day and finding that your air conditioner isn’t working well enough to cool you down. AC units can be fickle machines that refuse to work well when their owners fail to take care of them.

Even though AC units are designed to live outdoors, they still need your attention in order to brave inclement elements. Whether you plan on living in your home long term, or you’re currently exploring different mortgage options for your next home, winterizing your air conditioner is a crucial step in caring for your unit.

Even though the start of fall brings cooler temperatures, shorter days and a host of new responsibilities that may make you want to abandon your chores, don’t neglect your AC unit because you’re feeling burnt out already. Preparing your air conditioner for winter is far easier than you think – there are just four simple steps that you need to accomplish before the weather gets too cold.

Why Is It Important to Winterize Your Air Conditioner?

Throughout the winter, water, ice and debris collect in and around your unit. If your air conditioner is not protected, it can clog, rust and deteriorate.

Air conditioners are pricey, and you want to make sure that yours lasts as long as possible. If you ignore your AC unit all winter, you’ll find that you need to make costly repairs – or worse, replace your entire unit – when next summer rolls around.

What Steps Do You Need To Take To Winterize Your AC Unit In A Cold Climate?

Before you start to winterize your central air conditioner, make sure that you have all the supplies required. To properly care for your air conditioner, you’ll need:

  • A clean rag
  • A waterproof cover
  • Bungee cords, vinyl rope or plywood and brick
  • Foam pipe covers (including elbow-shaped pieces)
  • Duct tape

As soon as you’ve gathered these items, you’ll be ready to go through the steps listed below.

Clean Your Unit

Over the course of the year, your unit has probably collected quite a bit of dust and dirt. Therefore, the first thing you should do is clean off all the gunk that’s accumulated.

Take a wet cloth and run it over the unit. You’ll need to make sure that your air conditioner is completely dry before you continue the winterizing process, so you should try to do this on a warmer day.

After you wipe it down, remove all of the debris you find around the unit. Any sticks or leaves that you find near the base must be disposed of since they tend to encourage small animals to burrow in units over the winter. The last thing you want is for furry families to end up nibbling on your wires during the off-season.

Turn Off The Power

Before you do anything else, be sure to turn your air conditioning unit off. You can shut off the power by walking over to the outdoor system and finding the on/off switch. Typically, the switch is located under a metal or plastic lid. Flip the switch to the off position.

Warning: Although it may be tempting, do not use the thermostat to turn off your AC unit. When an air conditioner is turned off from the thermostat, it has a tendency to switch back on whenever the room gets a bit toasty. If the AC unit turns on in the middle of the winter, water may get pulled into the coils of the unit and freeze, leading your AC to corrode or rust.

Cover Up Your Air Conditioning Unit

Before you wrap your air conditioner for the winter, you need to make sure that it’s dry. Once it is, you can cover the unit with a plastic or vinyl cover that is specially made for protecting outsideair conditioners or you can use a tarp. If you do choose to use a tarp, make sure that it’s big enough to cover the entire unit.

You’ll need to ensure that the cover is secured so that it can withstand strong winds. It’s recommended that you use bungee cords or vinyl rope for fastening the cover, but if you prefer, you can also secure the cover with a piece of plywood and a brick.

Insulate The Pipes

It’s essential that you cover your pipes as well as your unit. Without proper coverage, your pipes can freeze and burst when temperatures drop. So make sure you don’t accidentally skip this step.

You can protect your pipes with foam pipe covers. Begin by taking premade elbow-shaped foam covers and installing them on the corners of your pipes. Some elbow-shaped foam covers are made with adhesive, so all you have to do is remove the backing strip and squeeze the cover to the pipe.

Once the corners are covered, measure the exposed pipe remaining and use a sharp knife to cut the foam to fit the length of the pipe. The foam cover should fit snuggly around the pipe. If you find that the foam is loose, wrap duct tape around it to keep it in place.

It’s safe to keep the foam covers around your pipes year-round. So if you find that your pipes are still adequately covered next year, you won’t have to repeat this step.

Keep An Eye On The Unit Throughout The Winter

After you’ve covered your pipes, your work is done. That being said, you’ll still need to check on your unit throughout the winter. Try to inspect your air conditioner every couple of weeks – and any time you experience bad weather.

Each time you check on it, you should brush off any snow, ice or water that may have collected on top of the cover. Also, be sure to remove any debris and keep all animals away from the area.

If you find that your cover has moved at all, make sure to adjust it appropriately so that it continues to protect your air conditioner.

What Steps Do You Need To Take To Winterize Your AC Unit In A Warmer Climate?

If temperatures in your area do not get below freezing, winterizing your AC requires fewer steps. You’ll still need to clean your unit and turn off your power, but you won’t need to cover your air conditioner or pipes.

In warmer climates, it’s best not to cover your unit because there’s an increased possibility that mold or mildew may grow underneath the cover due to excess moisture. If any kind of fungi builds on your coils, it will block airflow and make your unit less efficient in the future.

Regardless of your climate, following these simple steps will ensure that your air conditioner is ready and able to blast out cool air when the weather turns warm again.

Just make sure that if you’ve covered your air conditioner, you remove the cover before you try to use your unit. If you turn your AC back on and fail to take off the cover, your air conditioner can overheat and cause severe (and costly) damage.

If you have any doubts about what actions to take to ensure that your HVAC system is winterized correctly, review the suggestions provided by your HVAC manufacturer. If you follow their instructions and find that your unit still doesn’t work, your home warranty will usually cover the cost of repairing or replacing your unit.

Summer should be about rest and relaxation. You don’t want to worry about your air conditioner when you could be enjoying the sunshine. So spend some time taking care of your AC now and save yourself the hassle later. If you have any questions, leave us a note in the comments.

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Many years ago I also believed in covering the outside unit only to find it made a great home for mice. Now I have left mine uncovered in Michigan for 22 years without a single issue.

  2. Maybe you should explain to people who have a heat pump to not do this. I’m sure many don’t know they even have a heat pump.

    1. Hi Gary:

      I’m not an expert in air conditioning, but we try to find you the answer. According to some of the guides I see online, you should cut the power to the condenser. Hope this helps!

      Thanks,
      Kevin Graham

  3. Very useful, I enjoyed reading. Good points, especially about covering the top of your unit with plywood…not many people realise this.

  4. I live in a wooded area where leaves and acorns are always falling into my air-condition unit I took a snow saucer flip it upside down, center over the screen with 5 inch risers spray painted it silver to match the carrier unit it is now winterized and runs all summer like this you really need a picture of this

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