Should You Cover Your Air Conditioner in the Winter? 3 BIG Warnings!

Isn't it beautiful? Your shiny new air conditioner! Well, not really but you spent a lot of money to keep you and your family cool and comfortable during the summers. It makes sense you'll want to do all you can to ensure a long life for your AC, especially if you have harsh winters. So should you cover your air conditioner in the winter to protect it?

Benefits Of An Air Conditioner Cover

Think of what your air conditioner unit has to endure from the elements all year long:

  • Snow
  • Ice
  • Leaves
  • Tree seeds
  • Pine needles
  • Sticks

Air conditioners are built to withstand extreme weather conditions but exposure to these inevitable natural occurrences can take their toll. As they accumulate inside the unit they can cause unnecessary damage. In extreme cases can decrease your air conditioner's efficiency.

By making sure that your air conditioner is clean and protected from the elements, you can help extend the life of your HVAC system. It can also help ensure it's operating efficiently so your energy bill will be as low as possible.

Energy Star, a government-backed program for energy efficiency that provides unbiased information for consumers mentions this about air conditioning covers: “It will help prevent dirt, leaves, and other debris from getting in the condenser fan and the coils. It might help extend the life of the condenser unit or just make it easier to clean in the spring.”

The best covers keep most debris from falling inside. This might seem trivial, right? I mean, who cares if a couple leaves fall into the air conditioner? After all, we did put it outside. Shouldn't it be made to withstand something like that?

Again, although it's true that most manufacturers are doing a good job at producing AC units that withstand harsh weather conditions, they aren't perfect. In fact, those leaves might be doing a bit more damage than you'd think.

As debris piles up in the unit, it blocks the drainage and causes moisture accumulation, which leads to corrosion. Although we don't love the look of air conditioners, we definitely don't want them rusty and ugly.

That being said, if you have the wrong kind of cover, you could actually be doing more damage than not covering your air conditioner it at all!

3 WRONG Ways to Cover Your Air Conditioner

There are a few crucial things to know about covering your air conditioner that will help it rather than cause other problems. Listed are some important tips to know before you buy a cover.

First, leaving a cover on when the air conditioner is operating can cause damage. One of the best ways to prevent this is to shut off the power to the air conditioner at the breaker panel.

If someone forgets and turns the air conditioning unit on at the thermostat without removing the cover, the unit will remain off. Once the cover is removed you can turn the breaker back on.

With some AC units it is recommended to have power applied for 24 hours before use. So don't wait until the last minute to get your air conditioner ready for the season.

Second, the wrong type of cover can actually cause rust and corrosion. I strongly recommend not using anything that covers the entire unit. Or covers made with a breathable material that claims they can be left on year-round.

A breathable cover not only can it cause moisture to be trapped in the unit, restrict airflow and efficiency, but also can make the air conditioner a more attractive home for pests in the harsh winter months. And remember, trapped moisture equals rust and corrosion.

Third, you need to make sure you have an air conditioner, not a heat pump. Don't laugh. People can easily make this mistake.

The units look the same but a heat pump runs year round as your heating system as well cooling. It needs to be able to freely take in air on the sides and release air through the top. In other words, your heat pump needs to breathe!

If you are in doubt you could check with a local professional or find the model number on the outdoor unit and look up the information online.

The Best AC Cover for Winter

Hands down, the best cover for your air conditioner is one that is a partial cover designed to fit your specific unit and only cover the top opening.

I recommend the Sturdy Covers Winter AC Defender and have it installed on my own air conditioner. You can purchase this cover from Amazon here . With a 3-year no-questions-asked warranty, this cover is tough to beat.

Sturdy Covers AC Defender - Universal Winter Air Conditioner Cover

See On Amazon The cover does include four bungee cords for attachment but they are not covered under the warranty. Personally I prefer these marine grade bungee cords on Amazon here. Most will only need the smallest version (28x28) of the cover.

Remember, we are only trying to prevent debris from entering through the top opening of the HVAC unit. But if you are not sure a quick measurement of the top opening will confirm what size cover you need.

best ac cover
should you cover your air conditioner in the winter

This cover wins because it checks all the things we are looking for:

  • Inexpensive solution
  • Covers the top only
  • Prevent leaves and debris from entering
  • Does not trap moisture
  • Does not increase the likelihood of small animals making a home
  • Can withstand extreme weather
  • Easy to clean to prevent mold growth
  • Easy to install and remove

A custom AC cover is also a good choice. It will fit like a glove (think car cover) and will protect it well. It will be specifically designed to allow proper airflow so there is no moisture trapped inside.

It will be custom made to fit your specific Make and Model of air conditioner. Most Model numbers are printed on a label directly on the unit. They are typically easy to find, but you may have to remove a panel to locate it.

A good quality custom cover made from high quality vinyl will last a long time and are easy to keep clean. Some are even made with products that are mold and mildew resistant. One stand-out to check is:

Because these are custom made there is usually a 2-4 week wait time before you receive your cover so don't wait until the last minute to order.

Also, remember to look at their Air Conditioner Custom Cap Cover. Not the covers that surround the whole unit.

I Know I am Going To Forget!

If you are worried about forgetting to remove your air conditioner cover, look no further. There's a cover that is perfect for you.

Kool Kap is one of the only permanent covers out there that can be left on all year-round.

This cover is made from a blend of polymers that make it virtually indestructible, so you never have to worry about removing it since it can withstand all elements. On top of that, it's available in three sizes that fit almost every HVAC unit brand or model out there.

I have found the one downside of having this cover is that it makes an annoying “clunk” sound when the air conditioner shuts off and it closes. If you know you won't be bothered by this, I would recommend you to give it a try.

The other thing to keep in mind is when installing the Kool Kap you will need to be very careful where you place the hold down screws. If you pierce the coil of the air conditioner with a screw you might be looking at a whole new air conditioner.

For more information on Kool Kaps, check out this one-minute long YouTube video about how they work. You'll even notice the “clunk” at the end of the video.

DIY Air Conditioner Cover for Winter

If you would prefer having a quick DIY solution rather than buying a whole cover (some protection is better than no protection!), there are many ideas out there. Simply using a piece of plywood and bricks to keep the wind from blowing it away can work.

Another option is using a canvas covering halfway down and tied down. If you decide to make your own, just keep in mind that it's better not to wrap your entire air conditioner or have a loose fitting cover.

Remember, these aren't great solutions, but they will do something.

When Should I Cover My Air Conditioner?

There is a surprising amount of controversy about what the proper time is during the year to put on a cover.

I recommend putting on your cover (and shutting off the breaker) right before the nature in your area starts to drop the unwanted debris. This ensures the leaves and seeds that begin falling won't sneak into your HVAC unit.

Keep the cover on until the beginning of the air conditioning season. But don't wait until the last minute to take it off or you could have issues. It's recommended to have power applied for 24 hours before use so get your cover off and the breaker back in the on position a day or two before your area starts to warm up.

How To Care For Your Outdoor Air Conditioner Cover

Although you only have to keep your cover stowed away for one season, it's a good idea to clean it before you put it away. I recommend first wiping it down with a mild detergent and then using a protectant spray or wax on it. This will make sure it lasts through multiple seasons.

So, there you have it. Of course, you want to protect your investment and the best way to do so is to properly cover it. Now, all there's left to do is pick the right cover for you. Happy hunting!

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