“Should I Cover My Air Conditioner in the Winter?” Liz in Citrus Heights, CA Asks an Expert

Published Date: September 21st, 2017

should i cover my air conditioner in the winterIt may not yet feel like it here in Citrus Heights, but winter is coming (as you no doubt know by now if you watch Game of Thrones). Liz is trying to get her yard in order after a long summer spent outside. She’s not sure, though, what she should do about the outdoor AC condenser unit in her yard. Liz asks:

“I live out in Citrus Heights because it’s close to Sacramento, but we have a little more room to breathe out here. One of my favorite things about my house is my yard. I think I spent most of my summer out there, swimming, reading on the porch, and playing with my kids—when it wasn’t 110 degrees of course.

I’ve successfully shut down my pool for fall and winter, and I’ve cleaned up the rest of the yard and landscaping before the cold weather and rain arrive. Well, I think I have anyway. What I’m wondering about is what I should do for my air conditioner. It served me well this summer—especially during those 110 degree days—and I want to make sure I do what I can to take care of it.

Should I cover my air conditioner in the winter? Or should I just clean it up and leave it exposed? I don’t want to risk damaging it, but, of course, I also don’t want to risk doing any unnecessary yard work, either. Thanks!”

Liz, I’m a big fan of Citrus Heights myself, mostly because it’s so central, letting you get to both Roseville and Sacramento pretty easily. But you’re right, another nice thing is that your yards do seem to be a bit bigger. I’m really glad you wrote in, though, because at this time of year I hear from plenty of folks just like you with big yards asking whether or not they should cover their air conditioner in winter. The answer is yes, you should put a cover on your AC, even if you have a smaller outdoor space—but, of course, the answer can get a little more complicated than that.

Should I Cover My Air Conditioner in Winter? The Short Answer Is Yes.

how to winterize your outdoor AC unitThink about it, you winterize everything else that gets exposed to the elements, including your car and your wardrobe, so why wouldn’t you winterize your exterior AC unit as well? It’s at risk for winter weather damage too.

So, the short answer, then, to Liz’s question is that yes, covering an AC unit for winter can protect it and help keep it running efficiently for years to come.

So, the short answer, then, to Liz’s question is that yes, covering an AC unit for winter can protect it and help keep it running efficiently for years to come. I recommend this to all my heating and cooling service customers.

Why You Should Winterize Your AC with a Cover

To understand why it’s important to cover your outdoor AC unit, though, you have to take into account the climate in our region. Northern Californians enjoy a Mediterranean Climate. We have dry, hot summers followed by cool, rainy winters. We don’t get much snow, though, unless you’re further up the Sierra Nevadas in places like Pollock Pines and Truckee.

…while the exterior unit is built to drain off water, its capacity to do that can be greatly diminished if it gets clogged by debris, resulting in far more serious (and expensive) issues, like fried electrical components and rust.

We do, however, get rain—sometimes a significant amount of it. And, while moisture isn’t necessarily a big problem for outdoor AC units (they’re built to withstand the elements, after all) what is a problem is the debris that winter rain storms might direct toward your unit. Twigs, leaves, and even stones may come into contact with your exterior air conditioner. If this stuff falls into your unit, it will just sit there throughout the winter, waiting to cause problems when our hot Northern California summers return, like they always do. And, while the exterior unit is built to drain off water, its capacity to do that can be greatly diminished if it gets clogged by debris, resulting in far more serious (and expensive) issues, like fried electrical components and rust.

An experienced HVAC professional can help you install a safety cover that you can leave on year round, one that won’t restrict airflow when you start to run the system again for the first time in the spring. So, yes, it’s important to winterize your HVAC system, including covering up your air conditioner for the winter. That’s the short answer. The longer answer, though, is that there is even more to do in order to make sure your AC will run efficiently the next time you need it.

Maintenance Tips to Winterize Your Air Conditioner

I know I’ve talked about end of season AC maintenance tips after a scorching summer before, but, as our high temperature was 111 degrees this year on September 1st, I think it’s safe to say your HVAC system probably worked tirelessly again this year. In other words, my advice bears repeating. So, let’s take a look:

  • Winter Tip #1: Decrease your AC use as the weather gets cooler. It’s easy to get in the habit of running your air conditioner all summer long. So easy, in fact, that you may still be running it consistently when the temperatures start to dip back into the 80’s toward the end of September. Don’t do this. It’s time to give your AC a break.
  • Winter Tip #2: Keep the area around the outdoor AC unit clear. Liz, the yard guru, has already done this. If you haven’t, you should clear debris from around the unit before calling a professional HVAC pro to help you install a cover. A cover won’t make a lot of difference if you already have debris and contaminants inside your AC unit.
  • Winter Tip #3: Know when it’s time to say goodbye. No matter how well you’ve cared for your HVAC system, its typical lifespan is about 12 years. If you’re still running an older unit, you’re in danger of a breakdown—regardless of how well you’ve tried to protect it during our rainy California winters.
  • Winter Tip #4: Schedule a home assessment with an experienced HVAC pro. Preventative maintenance is key to keeping your AC, and your furnace, running efficiently for years to come. Schedule a time to have a professional HVAC expert out to your home at the end of summer. Give your HVAC system a tune-up now, before the masses are all trying to do the same thing in the spring.

Yes indeed, Liz, I often get questions about whether or not homeowners should cover their AC in the winter, and my answer is always yes—in addition to regular maintenance, of course. If you ask me, which you did, what’s most important, though, it’s to get an experienced AC tech involved with all these decisions. He or she can advise you how to best care for your exterior AC unit, regardless of the time of year. That way, you can get back to enjoying your yard during the cooler winter weather, although you might want to think about a cover for yourself if you do given how likely you are to end up playing in the rain.

Learn more about getting a cover for your exterior AC unit—and all the other ways you can keep your HVAC in good shape for years to come. Contact the experienced professionals at Bell Brothers today. We take a whole home approach to HVAC health and energy efficiency.

Wondering how to finance a new HVAC system, windows, or plumbing? HERO is a unique financing option that helps California homeowners afford energy efficient upgrades to their home. Contact Bell Brothers, a HERO approved contractor, to learn more. Our local HVAC, plumbing, and window specialists will walk you through the entire process, from applications to installation.

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