How Do You Protect An Air Conditioner In The Winter? Make Your AC Last

Your air conditioner protects you and your family from intense heat and exasperating humidity during the worst of summers. Naturally, you also want to do all you can to protect your AC come fall and winter time. This way, you maintain its efficiency and make your unit last for years. So how do you protect an air conditioner in the winter?

how do you protect an air conditioner in the winter

One crucial way to safeguard your air conditioner is to cover it during winter. How does this simple act of covering preserve your unit? How do you correctly cover your unit and what are the things to avoid? Where can you buy quality and suitable covers for your air conditioner?

Let’s “cover” all the bases to answer these questions. 

Why Do Air Conditioning Units Need Cover in Winter?

Unlike the furnace and most ventilation systems, air conditioning units (central AC and split types) are the type of HVAC that have an outdoor component. It is commonly referred to as the condenser.

This part of the AC system that is placed outside the house contains some of the most critical components of the cooling system: the electrical components, heat exchange coil, motor with a propeller blade, and of course, the compressor.

Why do condensers have to stay outdoors? While the indoor elements of the air conditioning system draw in the heat from your home and remove it through circulating the refrigerant, the extracted heat has to be directed elsewhere. The condenser provides an escape for the heat as it gets dispersed outward.

Since the condenser does not have the protection of the four walls of your home, it is more susceptible to external harm. Natural elements such as rain, snow, hail, dirt, and foliage are a few things your outdoor unit is exposed to.

If left uncovered, fallen leaves, small branches, seeds, tree needles, and other debris can easily fall into the air conditioning unit’s crevices and get stuck. This may lead to blockage and a significant increase in moisture inside the device. The combination of clogged water and metal components is bad news as it results in rust and corrosive damage.

Additionally, if the heat exchange coil inside the condenser gets dirty because of the fallen debris or gets frozen because of trapped water or snow, it will lower the efficiency of your air conditioner. 

The important role of the condenser coil is to hold the refrigerant when it is in a liquid state and transfer the heat outdoors. Refrigerant (oldtimers refer to it as the commercial brand, Freon) is a magnificent chemical compound that switches from gas to liquid throughout the cooling process.

Now that we are convinced that we should by all means shield our AC from outdoor elements, let’s take a quick rundown on how to appropriately cover your unit and the big no-nos.   

The Right Way to Cover Your Air Conditioner

Yes! There are indeed RIGHT and a WRONG ways to cover your air conditioning device. What you do with the outdoor part of your central air or split-type unit will impact its indoor cooling performance. 

  1. Plan ahead about covering your AC as fall approaches. If you are only considering covering your unit when it is winter, you are more than a little late. Although you are excited about amping up your furnace as the cooler climate breezes in, make sure that your air conditioner that worked so hard throughout the summer is properly protected and maintained.
  2. Take the time to choose the right kind of cover for your unit. While most air conditioning processes are similar, the cooling units themselves come in different shapes and sizes. Simply picking any new cover that is on sale without considering your AC’s specific needs will not only be pointless but may be damaging to your device in the long run.
  3. Turn off the air conditioning at the breaker panel before putting on a cover. It is only safe to cover your cooling device when it is not operational. If someone in the house accidentally turns on the air conditioning when it has been covered, it may cause some harm to the unit. The best way to ensure that none of this would happen is to terminate the power from its source, the breaker panel. 

How NOT to Cover Your Air Conditioner

  1. Covering the entire unit with non-breathable material. While covering air conditioners in the fall and winter has its benefits, you should also never overdo it. If you cover the entire unit or use a material that is impenetrable by air, condensation may build up inside the condenser with no way to escape. Trapped moisture is a primary cause of rust damage to your system. This will compromise the integrity of the cooling system and will affect your home’s indoor air quality the next time you use it. You can skip ahead to the section below on the best possible cover brands to see some very good options.  
  2. Making the mistake of covering a heat pump, not the air conditioner. You may find this a bit of silly advice. Who will confuse a heating system for air conditioning? Apparently, this is an easy mistake to make because a heat pump is a unique HVAC system that can work as air conditioning, but it can reverse its function and also provide heating. The difference between a standard air conditioner and a heat pump is that the latter should not be covered in the winter as you will be using it as a heating source.
  3. Forgetting to remove the cover before turning the unit on. When the winter is over and the need for air conditioning comes around again, never ever forget to remove the cover at least 24 hours before you actually have to use it. Some cooling systems needed a full day with running electricity to it before they can revive from their long slumber. Once the unit is operational, it has to be free from any obstruction to dissipate the heat outdoors. But if the cover is left on, you are looking at an air conditioning repair in the coming days.

Where to Buy an Air Conditioner Cover for Winter

There are many great and affordable choices in the market for reliable covers during winter. You can find them at your nearest Walmart or shop online at Amazon for ease.

Here are some brands that I personally have positive experiences with and can confidently recommend: 

  1. Sturdy Covers AC Defender - Universal Winter Air Conditioner Cover

The smart design of this product only covers the top of the air conditioners so it serves the purpose of protecting your unit from harmful debris and the outpour of water or ice. But at the same time, it is totally open on all sides letting the air flow freely. There will be no excess moisture stuck inside nor will small animals and pests will be attracted to seek refuge inside your air conditioner. This brand also comes with a 3-year warranty, so less worry about repair or replacement charges.

  1. Kool Kap Condensing Unit Protective Cover / Lid Size Large 30" Across

This type of cover is fitting for homeowners who are anxious that they will forget to remove the cover before turning the machine on. You may need to follow the installation instructions very carefully or maybe seek professional help, but it totally will pay off as this material is intended to stay on throughout the entire year.

Check out also this previous article for a more in-depth discussion of these products.

If you are not into purchasing a new cover for your air conditioner, you can always customize your own using plywood topped with bricks to keep it in place. Some use a type of awning cloth or waterproof tarpaulin. 

Why an Air Conditioner Cover Isn't Always Necessary

To err on the side of caution, it seems only fair to also mention here some arguments made by some against covering your air conditioner or at least deeming the air conditioner cover non-essential.

Your Air Conditioner is Made to Withstand the Elements

To be fair to air conditioning manufacturers, modern AC designs are built and tested so that the outdoor unit can bear up against the harsh elements caused by the winter season such as rain, snow, or even ice falling on them. If you are only worried about these and there are not many trees that could shed their leaves on the outdoor part of your unit, then you may do away with the cover.

AC Covers Can Trap Moisture

You may be tired of hearing this but it is very important: DO NOT cover your entire air conditioner, especially with non-breathable materials. If you forget this key point, you will be subjecting your unit to concealed moisture that can corrode the metal components of the device. Covering your AC with the wrong kind of material will only result in more repair bills.

AC Covers May Cause Pest Problems

This is another risk of picking the wrong variety of air conditioning covers. Small animals like mice, raccoons, or squirrels may want to seek refuge inside your fully-covered AC. Because they want to also protect themselves from the cold, they would definitely find your air conditioning unit cozy if it is covered on all sides, top to bottom. Seriously consider the options provided above as they cover only the top but are not that too ideal for tiny creatures to live in.

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ABOUT Robert Bradford

I'm Robert Bradford. I've been in the heating and air conditioning industry for 30 years. Over 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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