Three Ways To Protect Your Central Air Conditioner's Outdoor Unit During Winter

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The winter can be hard on your home's exterior, and it can also cause damage to your exterior air conditioning unit should you fail to take proper precautions. The exterior unit houses the condenser coils and the system's compressor, along with wiring and hoses connecting the various components; all of these can be negatively affected by wintertime conditions. That's why you should spend time preparing your exterior unit for winter and conducting periodic inspections to be sure there are no unforeseen problems brewing. Here are a few hints on how to properly care for the outdoor unit of your central air conditioning system during the coldest part of the year:

Cover the exterior unit

While the outdoor units of most central air conditioners are built to handle a variety of weather conditions, the extremes of winter can take a toll on the unit's internal parts. The process of freezing and thawing causes contraction and expansion, and this leads to cracking of metal parts and can also cause rubber and plastic to become brittle.

A good way to provide extra protection against the cold is by covering the unit with an insulating cover. You can purchase specially-made covers from home improvement centers and air conditioning supply stores, but a sizable tarp will make a decent cover.

Adding two or more tarps will provide additional insulating value to your cover by introducing heat-trapping air pockets between layers. When shopping for tarps, purchase the darkest color available, but avoid silver or light gray colors; the dark colors will allow the unit to absorb radiant heat from the sun and maintain that warmth during the coldest times.

When installing your tarp, be sure to tightly strap it down with elastic straps, bungee cords or high-quality rope. Pay close attention to the corners of the tarp by tying them down; any wind could cause the corners to flap and possibly loosen or tear the cover. Finally, don't bind or pinch any hoses or cables when cinching the tie-downs.

Disconnect the power supply

Many people don't realize the outdoor unit has a separate power supply from the inside central air conditioning components, such as the evaporator and blower. This makes it convenient for homeowners to disconnect the electrical power during the winter months. Disconnecting the electrical supply to the outdoor unit prevents an accidental start-up of the unit during weather below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures below this threshold can cause damage to the compressor due to its high lubricant viscosity.

Disconnect the power is easy; simply locate where the outdoor unit power cable attaches to the home's exterior via an electrical box, then pull out the power disconnect handle. Just be sure to place the handle in a location where it won't be lost when it comes time to reconnect the power.

Prevent animal nesting activity

Another concern to address when performing cold weather maintenance on your outdoor unit is to prevent animals from nesting. Squirrels, chipmunks and other small animals may see your outdoor unit as an ideal winter home, but this can lead to serious problems should they chew on wires or hoses. That's why you should be sure to seal all possible openings with copper wool; rodents avoid chewing on the thin, metal strands. Don't use steel wool, since it will rust and may stain your unit's exterior.

When the weather warms to the point where you are ready to turn on the air conditioning, it is a good idea to remove the exterior cover and perform a closer inspection to be sure there has been no animal damage during the winter. Check pipes, hoses and wiring, and while the cover is removed, also take a look at the seals around the compressor to ensure no lubricants are leaking.

For more information on protecting your outdoor unit against the winter, contact an HVAC company like Getzschman Heating, LLC.

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