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Do Cincinnati Homeowners Need to Cover Outdoor HVAC Unit Systems During Colder Months?

snow on hvac unit

Outdoor HVAC units are exposed to the elements year round, as they withstand direct sunlight, heavy rain, wind, snow, hail, sleet, and more during the spring, summer, fall, and winter. Tree debris including limbs that fall, leaves, twigs, and other debris from around the property commonly collect along the air conditioner, and dirt can make its way into the very small spaces along the exterior cabinet of the outdoor unit, whether it’s a heat pump or an AC unit.

Harsh winter weather conditions and outdoor debris cause many homeowners worry over the winter months, as they fear their outdoor AC unit or heat pump may need an extra layer of protection this time of year. Air conditioner covers are available to purchase, covering the entire unit to screen materials or cut off access to the air conditioning units so potential hazards and harmful conditions don’t impact the HVAC system.

When it gets cold outside and the weather takes a turn, is it necessary to install an outdoor AC cover on heat pumps or air conditioners? Thomas & Galbraith Heating, Cooling & Plumbing provides Cincinnati homeowners with information about air conditioner cover products and what they really do to outdoor units over the winter. While using an AC cover may seem like a good idea to protect the air conditioner or heat pump unit installed outside of a house, covering your air conditioner may cause more harm than good if you don’t understand how to use them correctly.

Read more about air conditioner cover accessories and their impact on AC units so you can make an informed decision about covering your air conditioner this season. If your outdoor unit becomes damaged over the winter, call Thomas & Galbraith for expert repair services.

Your Air Conditioning Unit Is Made Tough

A split air conditioning system is a common AC choice for a house in the Cincinnati area. Split systems include indoor HVAC equipment as well as an outdoor unit. An air conditioning system may be configured with an outdoor air conditioner paired with a furnace indoors, or a heat pump outdoor unit that matches with an indoor air handler. The indoor equipment and the outside air conditioning unit or heat pump is linked by refrigerant lines that run through the exterior wall of the house.

Whether you use an air conditioner or heat pump cooling system, the outdoor unit is built to withstand many years of constant exposure to the elements, year round extreme weather conditions, tree debris and other debris that naturally occur. The exterior cabinet of the air conditioning unit or heat pump provides protection for the critical system components housed inside the unit, safeguarding these parts from damage and wear caused by direct sunlight, wind, heavy rain, snow, ice, and even limbs and other debris that fall onto or around the unit.

Strong materials are used to make all parts of an air conditioner or heat pump, as these materials must endure hazards that the indoor system never sees. From the condenser coils to the cabinet, water resistant metals such as stainless steel and copper are used to block corrosion and rust formation as much as possible, so constant contact with moisture doesn’t degrade the unit.

Maintaining Airflow

Not only is the design of an air conditioner or heat pump meant to be durable, but the unit is constructed to facilitate proper airflow through the system. Airflow is a critical component of the air conditioning cooling process and without it, the outdoor unit and entire air conditioning system will be unable to correctly operate. So that airflow can make its way through the unit’s exterior and circulate inside, a breathable cover for the air conditioner or heat pump is a must. If you look at the exterior of your outdoor unit, you’ll notice metal pieces with space between them that create a cover that looks almost like a screen – these are the fins, which make it possible for air to freely move in and out of your air conditioner.

If materials block the fins of an outdoor unit, the air conditioning unit or heat pump will have difficulty cooling your home due to lack of proper airflow. Fins are spaced out enough to allow air in and out but are positioned fairly close together so that they can block large pieces of debris and screen out fine dirt particles so that these contaminants don’t settle inside the unit.

Dirt, leaves, and other tree debris that enter the unit and settle along condenser coils and other components, restrict performance. These blockages can also trap moisture inside the outdoor unit. Paired with moisture, these elements can cause mold growth. The buildup of dirt and other debris along with mold in the unit can drastically diminish the air conditioner’s efficiency as well as indoor air quality inside the home – not to mention their negative impacts on the cooling process!

Should You Cover Your Air Conditioner When It Gets Cold Outside?

When outdoor temperatures turn cold, Cincinnati homeowners don’t have much use for the home’s air conditioner. The AC unit sits unused until the following spring or summer arrives and cooling is once again required indoors. Because the unit is dormant over the winter months, it makes some sense to think that covering your air conditioner with an air conditioner cover would be beneficial. Covers are used for grills, patio furniture, even unused vehicles that sit outdoors over the winter, so couldn’t the air conditioner get protection from covers, too?

Air conditioners are designed for outdoor installation, so an AC unit is made to be able to withstand all types of weather, including harsh winter weather conditions – rain, snow, ice, and other forms of moisture. AC covers are not necessary to protect this equipment as it is sidelined over the winter months.

If you want to cover your air conditioner, you can go out and purchase an air conditioner cover. Air conditioners may receive some protection from AC covers when it comes to accidental damage. If debris fall due to wind or extreme weather in a winter storm, an air conditioner cover may help to block limbs and other items that could collide with the unit and lead to structural damage.

If You Cover Your Air Conditioner, Could the AC Cover Cause Harm?

While covers for air conditioners could offer some ability to protect the unit over the winter, covering an air conditioning unit generally will lead to more harm than good. AC unit equipment can actually sustain damage due to the use of covers. The covers can trap moisture inside and block airflow through the unit, which can lead to mold growth, rust, corrosion, and damage to components inside air conditioner and heat pump units.

Moisture Inside an AC Unit or Heat Pump

When you cover your air conditioner, you install an extra layer that insulates the AC unit. Covers extend over the top of these units, also covering the sides. Airflow is obstructed through units so any moisture inside the equipment is going to stay there.

Mold Problems

Dirt inside units combined with moisture lead to mold that can grow on the condenser coils and other parts in the unit, as well as on the cover itself! If the mold is not cleaned out of the system and the unit treated before summer, mold growth will impact the operation of your air conditioner, reducing the air conditioner’s efficiency and stressing components so they consume more power and sustain more wear as they run.

Moisture Damage

When covers trap moisture inside an air conditioner, prolonged moisture exposure over the winter months can lead to faster development of rust and corrosion. Rust and corrosion damage AC unit parts like the coils, compressor, fan motor, and more, which can lead to the need for repairs or even component replacement. A cover made of water resistant material can trap moisture in the unit before installation, while a breathable cover can allow new moisture inside the unit from rain, snow, and even melting ice.

Airflow Blockages

One of the biggest dangers that can occur when you cover your air conditioner is the damage that can be done if you turn the AC unit or heat pump on before removing the covering. When covers block all sides of the AC unit, no air can move through the unit. When you turn on the air conditioning unit again, the severe lack of airflow will place components under extreme stress. They can burn out or be damaged – repairs may be possible, or you may need an entire new AC unit.

A Better Way to Protect and Cover an Outdoor AC Unit

Though your air conditioner can withstand the cold, snow, rain, and sleet, you may still wish to protect the AC unit from any debris that might fall in a winter storm. Instead of buying an AC covering that will cover all sides of the unit, simply cut a piece of plywood to fit the top of the air conditioner. Fit it into place and secure it using buckle straps. Plywood covering just the top of the unit can protect your air conditioner from debris that could fall from trees while keeping dirt and other particles out of the unit’s interiors. Once the cold and snow have passed, just be sure to remove the cover before using your heating and cooling system, or your measures to protect the unit could be damaging.

Safely Protect Cincinnati Air Conditioners

Your outdoor air conditioner or heat pump doesn’t need any help to withstand snow and freezing temperatures, so covers are not necessary for heating and cooling equipment. If your AC unit is damaged by the use of an AC cover or other causes this winter, call Thomas & Galbraith for fast, reliable air conditioning repairs in Cincinnati.

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