How to Winterize Your Outdoor Air Conditioning Unit
When the temperatures drop and you are enjoying the cozy heating, don’t forget about your air conditioning system. Spring and summer will be here before you know it—don’t let your expensive AC system falter.
While these winter air conditioning maintenance tips will help protect your unit and extend its lifespan, there is no replacement for professional bi-annual HVAC maintenance.
In addition to the HVAC winterization tips below, don’t forget to schedule heating maintenance in the fall and air conditioning maintenance in the spring (ideally before you first turn on the systems for service).
Prepare Your Outdoor AC Unit for Winter
Warning: Make sure you turn off power to your HVAC unit from the electrical panel (breaker box) and/or outdoor disconnect before performing any maintenance. Do NOT attempt any HVAC repairs on your own—this can be dangerous and void any warranties you may have on the unit. Contact a qualified technician, such as Pacific Heating & Cooling, for all HVAC repairs.
Make sure you have a central air conditioning unit and not a heat pump
If you have a central AC at home, it’s a good idea to protect it during the winter months. However, if you have a heat pump that you rely on for heating during the colder months, do NOT cover it or turn it off. You can tell if you have a heat pump by looking at the M/N (model number) on the manufacturer’s sticker/label. If it has the letters HP in the number, you have a heat pump. If you are unsure, write down the M/N number and look it up online.
Turn off air conditioner for winter
Make sure you turn off power to your central air conditioner unit during the months you are using your heater. If you have a dedicated circuit, you can shut off power from your circuit breaker. If not, look for a small disconnect box/panel near you’re outdoor AC unit and make sure it’s in the “off” position. When you turn power back on in the spring, give it 24 hours before running the air conditioning.
Cover top part of outdoor condenser unit (not the whole thing)
While many manufacturers recommend against covering the unit completely since it can provide shelter for critters and develop mod and moisture problems, it’s still a good idea to cover the top portion of the outdoor unit.
You can construct a little roof/awning 2 feet or higher above the unit to protect the system year-round or just cover it during the off-season with a piece of plywood and bricks to hold it in place.
The covering during winter protects your unit from falling limbs, icicles, hail, and other objects that can damage your outdoor unit.
Warning: In order to avoid overheating and potentially damaging your air conditioner, it’s important to make sure there is nothing covering the top of the unit while your air conditioning system is in use. Make a calendar reminder for the end of winter to remove any AC covers before you first turn on your air conditioner.
Do NOT block access
Even though it may seem tempting, don’t block access to your outdoor or indoor HVAC unit.
Try to leave a minimum 3-foot clearance around the unit. This allows proper airflow and keeps your unit from getting dirty and clogged up. You also want to make sure your HVAC technician has a clear path to the unit. Store your garden hoses, rakes, bikes, and garbage cans in a different area.
Prune bushes, shrubs, and plants away from the unit. Learn how to beautify your outdoor HVAC unit here.
Clean and protect the unit
Use a hose to clean the unit to keep it free from dirt, leaves, and other outdoor debris. Make sure power to the unit is turned off first. Use a gentle hose setting to prevent bending and damaging your condenser fins.
Protect the unit from rust with an anti-rust, anti-corrosion spray. This will help prevent damage from wind, snow, salt, and rain.
Check gutter system for damage
Additionally, remember to check the gutters and areas above your outdoor air conditioning unit to make sure there is no damage or leaks. If you have a leaking gutter or water runoff problems around your air conditioner unit, get them fixed immediately.
Click here to learn how to prevent icicles and ice dams around your eaves. If your home experiences ice dams, that is a clear sign of a serious air leak problem. Contact your local HVAC expert for assistance with attic air insulation and air leaks.
Bring in window AC units
If you are using window AC units, you have to either remove them or cover them in order to avoid leaks. We recommend completely removing them to protect them and prevent any additional window air leaks this winter.
By taking proper precautions this winter, you can extend the lifespan of your HVAC system and prevent premature breakdowns.
Protect your manufacturer’s warranty
As HVAC equipment gets more complex and standards improve, there are more and more requirements for maintaining your HVAC manufacturer’s warranty. In order to keep all of your warranties intact, follow our HVAC maintenance recommendations and contact a professional for bi-annual tune-ups.
We highly recommend signing up for an HVAC Maintenance Plan so you never have to remember these important home maintenance tasks.
- Common Furnace Problems to Watch Out For
- Furnace Maintenance Checklist
- Professional Furnace Tune-Up Checklist
- Furnace FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions
To get your heating and cooling system ready for the winter weather, contact Pacific Heating and Cooling: (253) 292-3995
Since 1984, we’ve proudly served homeowners throughout Federal Way, Graham, Spanaway, University Place, Steilacoom, Sumner, Lakewood, Puyallup, Tacoma, and Gig Harbor.