Is It Necessary to Cover Outdoor HVAC Unit Equipment When It Gets Cold Outside in Louisville?

Outdoor HVAC units such as air conditioners and heat pumps are built to withstand the elements, standing up to year-round direct sunlight, wind, heavy rain, snow, ice, and more. Despite this fact, many homeowners in Louisville worry about protection for the AC unit amidst harsh winter weather conditions. An air conditioner cover is an easily obtainable product that provides an extra layer to protect outdoor units over the winter months – but is it necessary to cover your air conditioner?

Jarboe's Heating, Cooling & Plumbing shares some information on AC covers you should consider before covering your air conditioner once the weather turns cold. Using an AC cover can cause more harm than good if you aren’t careful. Learn how a heat pump or air conditioning unit is made and how these units operate, as well as the problems air conditioner covers can lead to within your HVAC system, including moisture damage, rust, corrosion, and mold growth.

How an Outdoor AC Unit Is Designed

Air conditioning units and heat pumps that are part of split heating and air conditioning systems in Louisville homes are designed to be installed outside the house. The outdoor AC unit or heat pump is paired with an indoor unit, either a furnace or air handler. The indoor and outdoor unit are connected by refrigerant lines that run through the wall of the home.

System Design

If you have an air conditioner or heat pump outside your house, rest assured that it was designed with this installation location in mind. AC unit manufacturers know that an air conditioner or heat pump will be exposed to years of year-round weather conditions, from heavy rain in the spring and direct sunlight in the summer to wind and rain in the fall along with snow and ice over the winter months. Outdoor hazards that may impact AC units are considered as well, such as tree debris and limbs that could fall on the unit.

Any air conditioning unit is manufactured using strong materials, with durable parts inside the air conditioner and a tough shell to protect them. Stainless steel and other metals that are water-resistant prevent rust and corrosion so the equipment is able to run for many years. Every part throughout the entire unit is made to stand up against long-term exposure to the elements, as air conditioners have excellent protection built into their design.

Importance of Airflow

For any air conditioner or heat pump to operate, proper airflow is essential. The exterior cabinet of an AC unit protects inner components while allowing air to move in and out of the unit freely. Fins encase the unit with very small spaces between them so air can flow through while the fins screen out dirt and block grass, mulch, leaves, and other tree debris from clogging up the unit’s interior.

Proper airflow is important not only to the operation of an air conditioner but to prevent any buildup of moisture inside the AC unit. Moisture combined with dirt and other organic matter can lead to mold growth inside the air conditioning unit, restricting the air conditioner’s efficiency and even harming the home’s indoor air quality. Rust and corrosion may also form when moisture is trapped inside an AC unit, causing the entire unit to degrade at a faster rate. Debris and items that block airflow through the AC unit easily trap moisture inside which will lead to these problems developing.

What Is an Air Conditioner Cover?

An AC cover is a product that homeowners can buy at local home improvement shops or even online. An air conditioner cover may be made of water-resistant material like canvas or plastic tarping, or the AC cover may consist of a mesh-style fabric that looks like a screen, which is a breathable cover option.

The AC cover can be installed over the air conditioning unit, covering the top and sides of the air conditioner or heat pump. Buckle straps are used to hold the air conditioner cover in place around the unit.

Does an Air Conditioning Unit Need an Air Conditioner Cover When It’s Cold?

Because air conditioner covers are readily available, many homeowners believe this product is beneficial and will protect outdoor air conditioning equipment from harsh winter weather conditions once the cold winter season arrives.

The fact of the matter is that it isn’t necessary to cover your air conditioner for winter or cold weather, or at any other time in the spring, summer, or fall. The outdoor unit is designed for outdoor installation and can withstand even extreme weather, including rain, high wind speeds, snow, winter storms, and ice. The outer cabinet of the air conditioner or heat pump provides the protection each unit needs to block out moisture accumulation while allowing airflow access.

The choice of covering your air conditioner is entirely optional. You are free to install an AC cover. In order to prevent damage and protect your outdoor unit, just be certain you understand what could happen to your air conditioner.

Is It Harmful to Cover Your Air Conditioner?

Covering the outdoor unit has some natural consequences that can be harmful to the air conditioner or heat pump. Covers trap moisture inside and restrict airflow – these issues can lead to rust, corrosion, mold growth, and other damage to your unit.

Moisture Problems in the Outdoor Unit

Covers made of materials such as canvas and plastic don’t have the small spaces needed to allow airflow through the air conditioner. While these barriers may be water resistant and claim to block out moisture, they can easily trap moisture inside if there was already moisture within the AC unit. A covering that isn’t water-resistant will allow new moisture to enter the system throughout the winter season. Due to a lack of airflow, water, and condensation from rain, snow, and ice just sit in the unit and lead to damage.

AC units can have dirt, organic matter, and other debris that build up inside, and these particles create an excellent food source for mold growth when paired with trapped moisture. Mold can grow along the condenser coils and other components, which will diminish the performance of the unit as well as lower the air conditioner’s efficiency once the system is in use again.

A covering traps moisture inside the air conditioner for the entirety of the winter season. Sitting moisture in this part of your heating and cooling system can lead to rapid rust development and corrosion. This damage can impact individual components, requiring repairs or replacement. If moisture damage is too severe, you may be better off replacing your entire unit following the long winter season.

Airflow Hazards

Lack of proper airflow due to an AC covering worsens moisture problems and will lead to another issue with AC cover use. If any cover is installed, it should always be removed once cold weather passes so air can move through the unit and help alleviate any moisture issues.

Once winter is over, you absolutely must remove the cover before using your air conditioner again. If you attempt to operate an air conditioner with a covering in place, any protection you were hoping to provide will be swiftly erased. As the cover creates a block to air movement, you’ll be running the AC unit with little to no air movement. Running the outdoor unit under such conditions will add incredible stress to components, which they may not be able to withstand. This AC covering mistake can lead to extensive repair needs or even make it necessary to replace the whole outdoor unit.

Protect Your Air Conditioner Safely This Winter

If you want to cover your air conditioner to protect it from damage caused by limbs and other debris that may fall onto the outdoor unit in a winter storm, there is a better solution than using commercial covers. A simple, breathable cover can be constructed using just plywood.

Cut a sheet of plywood to fit the top of the AC unit only. Secure the plywood to the top of the unit for the cold winter months and remove it before summer comes and you need to run the air conditioning system again. This type of cover allows for continued airflow in and out of the unit over winter so moisture doesn’t build up inside. The cover will also protect against damage and stop leaves and other debris from entering through the top of the unit and settling inside the air conditioner, which can clog condenser coils and contribute to mold development.

Winter Care for Louisville Heating and Cooling System Equipment

We hope that with the information above, you can make an informed decision about whether or not to cover your air conditioner this fall and winter. Your air conditioner was made to withstand snow, rain, dirt, debris, and other hazards all on its own!

If you do experience damage to the outdoor unit of your heating and cooling system this winter, don’t risk more harm to your system by ignoring it! Call Jarboe's Heating, Cooling & Plumbing today to make an appointment for heating and cooling system repairs.

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