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Air Conditioning

How To Hide Your Air Conditioner Like A Pro

 April 30, 2020

By  Robert Bradford

While we love a BBQ on the patio or sprucing up the curb appeal with some beautiful flower beds, nothing can detract more from your outdoor living space than a clunky, ugly, and maybe even loud air conditioner. We are often asked if it’s ok to conceal an air conditioner and how to do it right.

You can use a variety of materials to beautifully hide your air conditioner. Some of the most popular and effective are wood fencing and/or landscaping. A word of caution though, if done incorrectly you could severely damage the air conditioner and even void your warranty. Here is how to prevent from doing it wrong.

The two most important factors to consider before putting anything around your air conditioner are: 

  • NEVER block airflow to and from the unit
  • Make sure there is a path to and enough space around the unit for a technician to service it when the need arises.

Unfortunately, most of the tutorials on Pinterest and home décor blogs break both rules! Though they often mention both of these concerns the examples shown end up violating their own advice.

Show Me The Pictures!

Honestly, if you’ve come here for some beautiful landscaping eye candy you might be disappointed.

There are great ideas to hide an air conditioner already available online. The problem is the bad ideas outnumber the good ones and even the good ones are often executed poorly. 

Great Ideas Can Be Found!

The problem is the bad ideas outnumber the good ones and even the good ones are often executed poorly. 

We want to help you distinguish the great ideas from the terrible ones! Additionally, we will equip you with the knowledge you’ll need once you find a great idea to implement it correctly for your situation.

Conceal Don't Constrict

The air conditioner is an important part of many homes especially once we hit the dog days of summer. It is also one of the more expensive components in the home. So before getting into the fun part of turning something ugly into something attractive, we need to discuss how to protect this costly equipment.

It won’t matter how pretty this area of the yard looks if hiding your air conditioner shortens its lifespan or leads to costly repairs. 

Go With The Flow

First, the most crucial thing to remember when concealing your air conditioner is that airflow should never be obstructed. The air conditioning system absorbs heat from inside the home and releases it outside. In part, it does this by moving air across the outdoor coils containing refrigerant. If air cannot flow freely around these coils it will cause numerous problems.

Not only would this be very inefficient, which would be reflected in your energy bill, it could also damage the unit. Naturally this tends to happen on the hottest day of the year when it’s working the hardest and you need it the most! 

Never Block Airflow Around Your Air Conditioner

Not only would this be very inefficient, which would be reflected in your energy bill, it could also damage the unit.

Whether you’re using vinyl or wood fencing, pallets, lattice, or trees and shrubbery, the most important thing is how much space you leave around your A/C. That is why it is crucial to know what type of air conditioner you own. Although they are similar in function, each air conditioner has its own specific requirements regarding maintenance and enclosure.

The best way to determine the specifications for your unit is to check the manuals that came with it. The details you need should all be listed: how much clearance above and around you’ll need, what areas of the air conditioner a technician will need access to, and what potential obstructions should you look out for. If you don’t have your user manual most are available online by searching for the A/C’s model number.

An example from one manufacturer, Trane, recommends a clearance of at least 12 inches all around the unit if the box is easily removable. However, that clearance does not include room for servicing the unit so if it’s a permanent structure you must have a 36-inch clearance on the access side of the unit.

Trane also states any overhead structure should be at least 60 inches above the top of the unit and some manufactures recommend as much as 96 inches of clearance above the A/C. 

Again, while these recommendations are pretty standard to most air conditioners it would be best to verify what your particular model requires.

No matter what type of air conditioner you have plan on keeping the top of the enclosure open. Several very attractive tutorials online show the air conditioner enclosed in a wooden box and the top of the box is used as a table. While that might seem useful, if you’re following the manufacturers’ instructions, you’d be left with a table that’s at least 7 feet tall or more. Plus, you’ll have hot air blowing on your potato salad – yuck! The bottom line is putting a top over your A/C is a terrible idea.

Once you have your space requirements planned out the world is your oyster as far as materials go. You can use whatever building supplies work best for you. One “professional” said that you could only use one-inch wooden slats spaced four inches apart. That would not hide anything! At that point, you are just putting your air conditioner in prison.

If you want to put a six-foot-tall, solid vinyl fence all around your unit that is fine…as long as you have the right distance between the unit and the fence. But if you want to provide a little extra airflow by installing lattice or other open spacing in your enclosure that works too. The key is the area between the enclosure and the unit.

The Key Is In The Clearance

You can use whatever material you'd like. Just follow proper clearances.

Our preferred method for concealing an air conditioner though is landscaping. One reason is plants also cool the area around the unit. Some plants and trees can provide some much-needed shade for your A/C, as well as, hiding it. 

One word of caution about using trees, shrubs, or other landscaping, you must maintain the distance from your A/C unit as they grow. Of course, you can allow things to fill out and provide better coverage around the air conditioner, but you want to prune everything back to keep at least the minimum required clearance all around and above your air conditioner.

This is especially important if you use vines around an A/C. These can grow into the unit and seriously block airflow.

If you decided to plant trees or bushes that will lose leaves, nuts, needles or the like then you may want to consider getting an air conditioner cover for the heating season. Read why we recommend those here.

Sturdy Covers AC Defender - Universal Winter Air Conditioner Cover

Can You Help A Brother Out?

Secondly, no matter how well you maintain your air conditioner including properly hiding the outdoor unit, it will likely need serviced by a professional technician from time to time. When deciding how to conceal your A/C consider how a technician and their tools will get to the unit so they are not trampling plants or unable to get a good look at it.

Like it or not, if you make it too difficult for the technician to work on your A/C they’re likely to charge extra or at the very least unlikely to give you a deal. Remember they charge based on how long a repair will take. An extra hour fooling around with poorly designed fencing will come out of your pocket not the technicians. 

If possible, we also suggest giving a little more room around the unit than the minimum space required. Though an average size technician might be able to fit in the minimum space around your A/C it would not be the most comfortable working environment. It’s a bit like having a desk the exact dimensions of your laptop. It does the job of holding up your main workspace but where do you put your second monitor or more importantly, your coffee mug!

So, help your technician out, they are there to help you too! Give them a path to your air conditioner so you do not have to worry about damage to the work you have put into beautifying the space.

Remember they drive around in large vans and trucks because they use a lot of tools and equipment to thoroughly clean, maintain, diagnose, and repair every type of unit they encounter. They need room to remove panels from your unit, bring in their tools, replacement parts, and themselves. That likely requires more than twelve inches even if that is the minimum required in your owner’s manual!

Do It Right or Don’t Do It At All!

When you are choosing how to hide your air conditioner you should do it in a way that makes you happy to see it! After all you’re the one looking at it when you are enjoying your yard. So, use whatever building materials or plants you love as long as you keep in mind these guidelines:

1

Check the owner’s manual for your model air conditioner.

2

Allow space for at least the minimum required distance between the outdoor unit and any enclosure or landscaping.

3

Do not put anything over the top of your unit.

4

Prune landscaping to maintain the distance required.

5

Allow space for a technician to easily access and repair your air conditioner.

Robert Bradford


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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