Air Conditioner Covers: Do You Really Need Them?

Written by Robert Bradford

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 protect and ensure a long life for it.

You should use an air conditioner cover during the seasons you don’t need air conditioning. Without a cover, debris and moisture can collect in the bottom of the unit causing it to prematurely rust. But if not done properly, your air conditioner cover can do more harm than good.

Choosing an air conditioning cover can be very confusing. There is a lot of conflicting information out there so if you’d like to know how to pick a proper cover for your air conditioner, keep reading!

Benefits Of An Air Conditioner Cover

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

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

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 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 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? Although it’s true that most manufacturers are doing a good job at producing air conditioners that withstand outdoor 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 it to hold moisture, 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 it at all!

The Wrong Way

There are a few crucial things to look know about a cover that will help your air conditioner rather than harm it. Listed are some importants 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 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 air conditioners 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.

The wrong type of cover can actually cause rusting. I strongly recommend not using anything that covers the entire air conditioner. Or covers that claim they can be left on year-round. 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 winter.

Lastly, 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 and needs to be able to freely take in air on the sides and release air through the top. In other words, it 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.

What Covers Are Best?

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 hereWith a 3-year no-questions-asked warranty, this cover is tough to beat.

Sturdy Covers AC Defender - Universal Winter Air Conditioner Cover

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 air conditioner. But if you are not sure a quick measurement of the top opening will confirm what size cover you need.

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

  • Covers the top only
  • Prevents debris from entering
  • Does not trap moisture
  • Does not increase the likelihood of a pest making a home
  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to install and remove

A custom cover is also a good choice. It will fit like a glove (think car cover) and will provide good protection. 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:

AC Covers, Inc

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. 

The 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 air conditioner 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.

You can take a closer look at the Kool Kap on Amazon here.

DIY Cover

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 hold it down to cover the top so that nothing can fall into the condenser can be somewhat beneficial for your unit. 

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 air conditioner.

Keep the cover on until the beginning of the air conditioning season. With some air conditioners it is recommended to have power applied for 24 hours before use so don’t wait until the last minute to get your cover off and the breaker back in the on position.

How To Care For Your 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 cover it the right way. Now, all there’s left to do is pick the right cover for you. Happy hunting!

About the Author

I'm Robert Bradford. I've been in the heating and air conditioning industry for 30 years. Ov​​​​​er 40 if you count the years I helped my father as a kid. On this site, I share everything I've learned about finding the best HVAC contractors and equipment for your home. I'm happy to say that over the last few years, The Comfort Academy has grown into a trusted site with thousands of informed site visitors each year.

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