It’s that time of year again – the leaves are changing color, the temperature is dropping, and winter is just around the corner!
Now is the time to think about preparing your home—and specifically your air conditioner—for winter. Just like you need to take care of your HVAC system during the warmer months, your AC unit requires some love before the cooler months.
How Do You Winterize Your Central Air Conditioner?
If you have a heat pump or a reversible air conditioner, this won’t apply to you because you will still be using your unit through the winter. Have a look at your owner’s manual to read about preparing your heat pump for the cooler months.
The air conditioning unit outside your home contains the condenser and the compressor. It is constructed to withstand all sorts of weather, but there are some other precautions to that need to be taken before the first snow.
Here are some tips on how to prepare your air conditioner for winter:
Step 1: Turn Off The Power
Turning off the power will ensure that the AC isn’t accidentally switched on during its hibernation.
This can be done at either at the box near the unit or at the main power box.
- If there is a box, look for a switch to turn off the power, or there may be a disconnect key to pull out, turn over and push back in. Make sure the box is securely closed to keep the weather out.
- If there is no outside switch to flip, locate the main circuit breaker box. It will likely be in a utility room or garage. Once you have found it, open the box and look for the breaker that is labeled “AC.” Flip this breaker to the “off” position. Now, go to your thermostat and turn it off. You may also want to unplug it from the wall to ensure that no power is going to it.
Step 2: Cleaning
- Clear away any debris for at least a foot all around the unit itself. This includes leaves, twigs, and other yard waste. If there’s anything blocking the vents in the spring, this can cause problems with the air flow.
- Rinse off the entire unit to remove any dirt or grime.
- Clean the unit’s coils and fins. These can get clogged with dirt and debris, which can prevent proper airflow. You can use a garden hose to spray them off; use a low setting so the fins won’t be bent or use a soft brush to remove buildup.
- Dry the unit with a clean cloth.
Step 3: Apply A Protective Coating
Apply a coating of car wax to the outside of the unit for extra protection, not including the louvers. Allow the wax to dry and then wipe it off.
Step 4: Cover Your Air Conditioner
Should You Cover Your AC In The Winter?
Most people think that they should cover their air conditioner in the winter, but this is only necessary if it is going to be exposed to severe weather conditions, such as heavy snow or strong winds.
If you live in an area with mild winters, there’s no need to worry about covering your AC. In fact, it’s actually better to leave it uncovered so that any moisture can evaporate, and the unit can stay dry. So, unless you’re expecting bad weather, there’s no need to cover your air conditioner in the winter.
How To Cover Your AC Unit For Winter
If you live in an area with harsh winters, you may be wondering about covering your AC unit when you winterize it. Should you cover it and how?
Everyone agrees that the top of your outside unit needs to be covered to protect the fan and the inner workings. Winter storms can blow debris into the fan, which sits at the top of the unit, facing the sky. Also, since outside AC units are generally near the eaves, it is in the hit zone for falling icicles, which can damage the fan and the inside of the unit.
However, there are two schools of thought best way to cover your air conditioner in winter.
Principle 1: Top Cover Only
One belief is that covering it with a tarp or purchased cover will only provide protection for mice, rats and squirrels and they may do damage to the unit. So the first opinion is to cover only the top of the unit. All AC units are built to withstand the weather, it’s only the fan and the inner workings that are at risk.
- Cover your outside unit with a piece of plywood and weigh it down with bricks to keep it in place. This will protect the fan, which faces upwards.
- Check the cover periodically through the winter to make sure it’s still in place.
If you’d like a cover that can sit on your AC unit all year round, here is one.
This very highly-rated outside air conditioner cover comes in a choice of 3 sizes so it will fit most central air units. It'll protect your unit from rust and garden debris. It’s a great way to protect your investment and keep your unit looking new.
The cover is made of a heavy-duty open polyester mesh, which allows airflow and helps to reduce moisture inside the air conditioner outdoor unit. It also features 4 elastic bungee cords and metal hooks for a snug fit.
Being mesh, it'll keep the critters out of your AC.
This cover is sure to prolong the life of your air conditioner and can be used all year round, even while the unit is running.
One reviewer mentions an unexpected benefit for when the unit is running. That is it stops small animals, such as frogs, from committing accidental suicide when they hop onto the AC.
Principle 2: Full Cover
The other line of thinking is that the whole outside unit should be protected so that it will last longer, so a full cover, such as a tarp or a purchased cover is used.
The trick is to tie it off at the bottom with rope or bungee cord so that the critters can’t get access.
And then check the cover on non-storm days to check it is still bound up tight and that nothing has got in.
The highly-rated Covermates Air Conditioner Cover for Outside Units is a great way to protect your investment.
The air conditioner cover is made of durable weather-resistant material that will safeguard your AC unit from the elements.
The elastic hem keeps things out and mesh vents for airflow. It has a buckle strap a the bottom to secure it and a snap closure for easy access. This cover is available in a wide variety of sizes to fit most standard air conditioners.
It's also available in 6 colors, but among these colors, there are 3 levels of durability.
- The Ultima cover comes in black, tan, or gray and has a massive 7-year warranty. It is made of 600D polyester, which is dyed in a protective solution, making it extremely durable. Its hardware is rust-resistant and the thread resists rot.
- The Elite cover selection comes in charcoal or beige khaki, and is made from 300D standard polyester. Its warranty is 3 years.
- The green cover is their Classic 12-gauge commercial vinyl version, which is the cheapest and has a 2-year warranty.
What Happens If You Turn On The AC In Winter?
Is it bad to turn the AC on in winter? If your AC is not reversible, then the answer is that turning on the AC in winter is not advisable.
- Check your owner’s manual to know what temperature is the level at which it becomes a damage risk to turn the AC on; it varies between about 50F and 60F.
- Also check if your AC has a temperature safety sensor. If it has a “low ambient sensor”, it will prevent you from turning on your AC in the unsafe temperature range.
Using Your AC In Winter In The Danger Zone
If you use your AC when the temperature is BELOW the safe level, you’re risking costly damage to your investment:
- The oil that is meant to lubricate the unit will be thick due to the temperature. Can you imagine the damage you will do to your AC if you operate with no flowing lube vapor?
- The inner workings will be frozen and attempting to use the unit while this is the case will cause damage to the inner coils.
- You may do damage to the compressor because it will work its heart out to try to perform as it does in summer, but it’s just not designed to operate below the safe temperature level.
Using Your AC In Winter In The Safe Temperature Zone
If the temperature is a safe level and your low ambient sensor allows you to turn on the unit, there can be some benefits:
- Running the AC can reduce humidity in your house when it’s overheated.
- The lubricating oil will be able to circulate.
- You’ll be able to spot any problems that need to be fixed before summer.
Consult the owner’s manual regarding switching your AC on in winter.
- What To Do Before Turning On The AC After Winter
It’s finally warm outside and you’re ready to ditch the heavy sweaters and boots for shorts and sandals. But before you turn on your air conditioner for the first time this season, there are a few things you should do to make sure it’s running efficiently. Here’s a quick checklist:
- Remove the protective cover and put it away for next year.
- Clean or replace the filter. A clean filter will help your AC run more efficiently and prevent dust and dirt from building up in the unit.
- Inspect the ductwork. Look for any cracks, holes or damage in the ductwork which could cause cool air to escape.
- Check for leaks. Inspect all of the connections, hoses, and coils for any leaks. If you see any, tighten the connections or replace the hoses, or call in a professional.
- Check your owner’s manual regarding turning the AC system on again. If you have a “disconnect” that pulls in and out of your outdoor unit, you need to take extra care. When you flip the “disconnect” over, don’t turn on the AC immediately; give it a few hours. By going back to the “connect” side of the switch, you’ve set your AC to prepare its processes and lubricant for being turned on and it needs time to complete its tasks.
- Give it a test run. Once you’ve done all of the above, turn on your AC and make sure it’s cooling properly. If not, call a professional to take a look at it.
Winterizing Your Portable Air Conditioner
As most of us know, maintaining our homes during different seasons is important to prevent costly damage. The same goes for portable air conditioners. Here are a few tips on how to winterize your unit:
- Unplug and clean the unit, including the filters, following the manufacturer’s instructions. This will prevent mold and mildew from building up over time.
- Drain any water that’s left in the tank or reservoir. If water is left in the unit, it could freeze and damage the system. To ensure that the inside is dry, put your AC on for a couple of hours in fan-only mode.
- Wipe down the exterior of the unit with a damp cloth. This will remove any dust or dirt that has accumulated on the unit.
- Check the owner’s manual for the best way to store the exhaust hose, if you have one.
- Store the unit in a cool, dry place. Storing the unit in a warm, humid environment can lead to mold and mildew growth.
By taking these simple steps, you can prolong the life of your portable air conditioner and ensure that it’s ready to use when warmer weather arrives.
How To Winterize Your Window Air Conditioner
When the temperature gets down to about 60F, you’ll want to take a few extra steps to prepare your window air conditioner for the cold weather. The method depends on if you’re taking the AC out of the window or leaving it there. Either way, we’ve got you covered.
Can I Leave My AC In The Window During Winter?
It would be preferable to remove the AC from the window and store it somewhere dry for the winter, but this may not always be possible. There are all sorts of reasons, both in your control and not, why you need to leave the AC in the window.
No worries, you can winterize your window air conditioner even if it’s left in the window.
Winterizing When Leaving Your Air Conditioner In The Window
There are two reasons that it’s a good idea to remove the AC from the window, and we have workarounds for both of them.
Stop The Cold Air Coming Through The AC
The first consideration is that if the AC remains in the window, air can flow through it. Cold air will come in and the warm air will depart through the AC just when you need it. The answer is to insulate the outside of the unit.
- Lift the exterior cover from the AC unit.
- Cover it completely in plastic; a garbage bag works well.
- Make sure you cover the whole thing, including the sides.
- Tuck the ends of the plastic in.
- Replace the exterior cover.
- That should stop most of the cold air coming in, plus it’s also a bit of protection for your AC.
- Then on the inside, do something similar to cover the front of the AC. Drape something over it and then close the curtains.
Here is a suggestion for an easier and more attractive way to keep the cold air from coming through:
The Brivic Indoor Air Conditioner is made of embedded cotton blocks and will stop the air moving in or out. The inner lining is made of water-resistant fabric, and there's even a hole in for the cable to pass through!
It's available in black or white and it comes in a choice of 4 sizes.
It'll only take a few seconds to install - the edges are elasticized for a snug fit. Then use the adjustable straps on both sides to secure it.
Protect The AC From The Winter Weather
- You can use an old blanket or bedspread to cover the window AC.
- Use duct tape to hold the cover in place.
Or you could consider a purpose-built outside AC unit cover. This one has lots of great reviews, and you can use it whether you take the AC out of the window or not.
This highly-rated outdoor air conditioner cover is made from high-quality, durable 420D oxford cloth that will withstand the elements and keep your unit protected. It is waterproof and has UV protection with an inner silver layer.
The cover features two adjustable straps with a snap buckle for easy installation and removal. It's also washable.
It comes in 4 sizes, so one of these should fit any window AC.
If you're looking for an outdoor air conditioner cover that will keep your unit protected and looking great, the Luxiv Outdoor Window Air Conditioner Cover is a great option.
Winterizing When Removing Your Air Conditioner From The Window
- Retrieve the owner’s manual for information about removal from the window and cleaning the unit.
- Make a date with a friend who is willing to help you get the unit out of the window, and then later to put in its storage spot. DON’T try to move your window AC by yourself! It’s extremely heavy and its size makes it a bit awkward to handle.
- Wear gloves with good grip and strong shoes; no sandals!
- When you’re all set, turn off and unplug the AC.
- Decide where you’ll be putting the unit down to clean it before you try to move it.
- Put some towels down around the window and the path to where you will clean the AC.
- At the point that the AC is ready to come out of the window, tip it backwards just a little to drain any excess water out.
- Clean the filter, coils, water pan and the outside of your faithful AC unit, following instructions in the manual.
- Store the unit in the upright position in a dry, protected area, such as your basement. Cover the AC with an old blanket, and tuck the ends in. Keep the unit away from moisture and excessive cold. If you don’t have a basement or a suitable spot, you could cover the AC to disguise it and put it in the corner of the living room. You could use it as a table for your hot chocolate during the winter!
- You’ll need to make sure that the window is covered and insulated for the winter.
By following these simple tips, you can help ensure that your air conditioner lasts for many years to come. Don’t forget to give it a little TLC in the off-season and it will be sure to keep you cool when the mercury rises.