I guess that it took snow flakes flying in the wind this weekend to get me to think about posting this
The deep freeze is near, and you’re probably running through your checklist to make sure you’ve got a supply of salt, a snow shovel or two and everything else in place for winter. One question I often get asked by homeowners is how to get their air conditioner unit ready for Winter. There’s not really much involved, but it’s good to be aware of the do’s and don’ts.
The main thrust of this article is going to be on central air units since more and more homes have these. I’ll touch a bit on portable and window units at the end, though.
What to Do Before the Snow and Ice Hit
There are several steps to take once the cool weather starts and the onset of the cold begins.
First, clean your unit thoroughly while the temperatures are still mild. Get rid of any grass clippings, twigs and leaves on or around it - be sure to check underneath too, if it’s raised even a tiny bit off the ground. Wipe off any bird droppings, dirt and whatever else may have accumulated. Take the garden house and spray through the unit as well. To be thorough, do it from all sides. Then allow it to dry out.
Once the unit’s had a chance to dry, you can turn it off. We know how volatile the weather can be and that there’s likely to be that one warm day that would kick the air conditioning back on. But that would push water back through which could then freeze as soon as the temperature drops back down again.
You’ll also want to cover the pipes with pipe insulation. This foam is already shaped for the pipe; you just have to cut it to the right length. This kind of insulation is available at practically any hardware store, and the store should be able to recommend the right diameter for the pipes on your model of air conditioner. Helpful hint: it’s easiest to get the right fit if you cover the corners and “T”’s first.
When Should You Use An Air Conditioner Cover
There are a lot of air conditioner covers on the market. At the same time, there’s not a lot of agreement on whether you should use them. My own recommendation is to not use them for the whole winter. Instead, just toss them all when needed. Let’s look at some reasons.
Air conditioner units are built to withstand the elements. They’re constructed as sturdy, outdoor equipment. So they don’t need a lot in the way of extra protection.
Covering them can also trap moisture inside. That can lead to mold and mildew on the inside of your unit. Definitely not ideal when it has a chance to grow for four or five months protected from the frigid temperatures.
That bit of shelter from the elements can also be attractive to mice, rats and other small animals, who may find your air conditioner now makes a great place to stay relatively warm. You may end up with a nest and even a new, unexpected family of rodents.
None of that is to say you should never use an air conditioner cover. If a bad storm is predicted, a cover can be a great way to provide protection for your unit. Even if it’s just high winds, it helps keep out leaves and dirt, as long as it’s a high-quality cover that fastens down securely.
After a snow or ice storm, clean off the cover (or the unit itself), including brushing out the vents. Also, shovel around the base to create a little distance. Try to be alert to any drifting that might occur in the coming downs and keep the unit unblocked.
Once you remove the cover, make sure you leave it somewhere so that it can be spread out and allowed to dry as well.
By following this advice, you’ll have a unit that has the protection it needs and is kept in great shape from season to season.
What About Window Units?
Not everyone has central air, of course. Or there may be a part of your house where a window unit or portable air conditioner just works better. Let’s look at those cases.
A portable unit vents through the window. This is the easiest to stow since there’s no heavy equipment to remove. Just remove the hose and the vent from the window. Be sure to drain the unit according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Clean it up and store it.
A window unit should be removed if it all possible. These air conditioners allow a great deal of cold air to pass through the unit itself as well as through the accordion panels on the sides.
Remember that these are heavy and awkward pieces of equipment. It’s not a one-person job. Be sure to have at least one other person around who can help with removing the units.
Store the unit on a flat surface. It’s not a good idea to store it on its end because all the refrigerant inside will run to the wrong section. To keep it clean, you can toss an old bedspread over it.
If you absolutely cannot remove your window unit, be sure to invest in good insulation for it. There are a variety of brands available that can be used on the inside or outside of the unit. Using both can be great, although sometimes it’s impractical to use the outside cover - like when the unit’s in a 2nd- or 3rd-floor window.
In this case, you can leave the cover on all winter, since it serves as insulation, not just protection for your unit.
Your air conditioning unit definitely should be part of your preparation for the cold weather. Cleaning it up and making sure it’s ready to face the bitter Michigan winter is important, but fortunately it’s not complicated. Take the time now while the weather’s still mild to start the process and help extend your unit’s life!
This is a guest post by Bob Wells, a retired HVAC tech who now dedicates himself to sharing knowledge on his website HVAC Training 101. Bob worked over 30 years in the field, 23 of which he ran his own contracting business. He’s dedicated to keeping up with the latest developments in the field and helping others to learn the trade better and advance their own careers.
Bob is on Twitter with the handle @hvactraining101 and you can also find him on Facebook.