How to prepare an air conditioning unit for winter


Many homeowners mistakenly assume that outdoor air conditioning units can be left as they are for the winter months without any significant risk of damage. While nothing catastrophic is likely to occur if you neglect to winterize your air conditioner, you do run the risk of shortening your appliance's lifespan, increasing your heating bills or even finding that your unit is broken next spring. True, those in the southern states don't have too much to worry about, but if you live in any state where temperatures can hang below freezing for days or weeks on end, you'll need to keep this in mind.

Winterizing an air conditioning unit is quick and easy with the right materials. One trip to the hardware store, 10 minutes in your backyard and you'll be ready to go back to sipping a fall brew and enjoying the football season.

What you'll need:

  • Foam insulating strips
  • Duct tape
  • Plastic/vinyl A/C cover
  • Rope or bungee cord

Step 1: Shut off the air conditioner
The first thing to do is to manually shut off the air conditioning unit. Next to or near your unit, you should find the circuit switch that controls the appliance – it is usually covered by a waterproof lid made of metal or plastic.

Switching this off prevents the air conditioner from turning on during a warm winter day. While it might seem like the air conditioner would be desirable should temperatures actually get up that high during the winter – an event that is not unheard of – you would then run the risk of introducing water into the unit, which could subsequently freeze and damage the appliance.

Step 2: Wash the appliance
For the sake of general maintenance, take a moment to wash off your air conditioner. This prevents exterior damage from occurring and ensures that you will have less work on your hands when you bring the appliance out of retirement next year. Pull out any sticks or leaves and hose the unit off. Wait an hour or so for it to dry before you move on to step four.

Step 3: Cover the pipes
There should be a few pipes running between the air conditioner and your home. These pipes contain water, so it is a good idea to ensure that they are not directly exposed to freezing temperatures. Wrap the foam insulating strips around the pipes and secure them with duct tape.

A more permanent option is to cut foam blocks to fit around the shape of your pipes and duct tape them into place. While this takes a little bit more time, you will likely be able to reuse the same blocks year after year. Solid foam is also an even better insulator of heat.

Step 4: Cover the unit
When the air conditioner is completely dry, cover it with the plastic or vinyl A/C cover to prevent snow, water or debris from getting into your unit over the winter. Ensure that the cover fits entirely over the unit and is completely waterproof. Using rope or bungee cords, secure the cover around your A/C.

Step 5: Kick back if you have a home warranty
When you've finished winterizing your air conditioner, it's time to relax. Even a properly winterized air conditioner isn't guaranteed to keep on working year after year, and the cost of repairs or replacement can be very expensive. If you have a home warranty plan, rest assured it will be there to help fix or even replace any broken down covered item should the need arise.

The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.