How Much Space Should I Leave Around My Air Conditioner?

Noise, cost to maintain, and efficiency are just some of the things negatively impacted if you don't get the spacing around your air conditioner correct. It's important to get it right so your hard earned dollars stay in your pocket instead of needlessly going to your local utility or HVAC contractor.

So when you're placing landscaping, a deck or trying to hide your AC you'll probably wonder, "how much space should I leave around my air conditioner?".

how much space should I leave around my air conditioner

There is no set measurement or space to leave around an air conditioner that applies in all scenarios. Why? Because there are two major factors that will determine the needed air conditioner clearance.

1. The manufacturer guidelines which are often based on clearances for the best operation and servicing of the air conditioner. These clearances are often found in the installation manuals. An example of what those guidelines can look like from a manufacturer is located below.

2. Local codes or Homeowners Association rules. These are often based on national codes. But can also be based on the mood of some councilman or inspector in your area 50 years ago. In that case...you can't fight city hall so you'll just have to work within those limitations. Why? Because these codes or rules always trump the manufacturer guidelines.

Why The Space Around Your AC Matters

The clearance around your air conditioner makes a big difference in how efficiently the AC runs. The outdoor air conditioning unit for an HVAC system relies heavily on good airflow. So, what does this mean?

If there isn’t enough room around the condenser, the AC's ability to remove heat from the home is diminished. This causes the air conditioner to run longer, hotter and harder. This will often cause the temperature inside the house to rise and of course lowers the efficiency.

In addition, this can cause damage to the air conditioner if airflow is blocked severely. The AC is designed to move air across the outdoor coils. But if there is too much stuff piled up next to it, the air flow becomes restricted and the unit overheats. This can cause the compressor to shut down and could even lead to serious damage and an expensive repair.

An air conditioner too near to a house or wall can also produce unwanted noise which is one more reason to get the spacing right.

So, where do you start?

Recommended Space Required For AC Outdoor Unit

Again, while there is no set condenser unit clearance or space to leave around an HVAC system that applies in all scenarios, there are some general guidelines to get you started.

Clearance Around The Air Conditioner Condenser

The minimum distance between the ac outdoor unit and wall, house or other obstruction is usually 12" (or 30 cm). But more is required on the side that contains the operational parts that need regular servicing. 

How Much Space Should I Leave Around My Air Conditioner

Clearance Above The Air Conditioner

There is also a spacing requirement for the top of an air conditioning unit. The minimum space required for the unit is usually 60" (or 1.5 m). Any obstruction that is lower can cause the hot discharge air leaving the AC to circulate back into the unit causing multiple problems.

How Much Space Should I Leave Around My Air Conditioner

Additional Clearance Considerations Around Your AC

Surprisingly the recommendations and codes often do not factor in several other items. While these aren't usually mandatory, some commons sense will save you money if you keep them in mind as well.

How Much Room for Maintenance

Keep in mind air conditioner maintenance and repair. Just like the interior components, it requires regular cleaning and inspection.

Make it too difficult for an HVAC tech to work on your equipment and you could be charged more for repair and maintenance.

Here's a little secret...most HVAC contractors use a flat rate price book for determining what to charge for a repair. Those price books usually have a separate code for how difficult a repair will be. Make it hard on the tech and you will pay for it in many ways.

Landscaping around air conditioners

I get it...your air conditioning unit can detract from your beautiful landscape. You might think that installing some flowers or a few bushes will do the trick, but I've seen many cases where homeowners didn't take into account how close the plantings needed to be to the unit.

In addition, it's important to remember that while your outdoor unit is out of sight, it still needs to function properly. If it doesn't have enough space to breathe, it won't work efficiently. This is why manufacturers generally agree that plants should be kept away from the unit by no less than 12 inches.

As far as what type of plants go best, my favorite choice is an evergreen shrub that also provides shade for the summer months. They do a good job of hiding a unit and can usually handle the trimming that is needed to maintain the proper spacing. 

Can I Build A Deck Over My Air Conditioning Unit?

Most AC manufacturers recommend keeping at least 60 inches of clearance above the condenser to allow for the hot air exhaust from the top of your unit. This rules out most deck placements over air conditioners. 

If you're building a new deck, sometimes an existing air conditioning unit may already be installed in the location where the new deck will go. You best choice is to move the unit to a different location out of the way, if possible. It may cost you around $300-700 but will save you lots of headaches later.

If your deck is tall, you might be able to leave it there, but keep in mind the noise and heat from an air conditioner condenser could be bothersome.

Conclusion

You should always check your local code requirements for specific regulations. Some cities require additional clearance depending on where you live, while others don't specify any distance requirements.

If you're unsure whether your AC unit meets those requirements, contact your local HVAC contractor or inspector.

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