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How to Cover an Air Conditioner for Winter to Prevent Damage

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Last Updated on April 28, 2016


As the winter approaches, you may be wondering if your outdoor air conditioning unit needs protection from the elements. The answer is, yes it does! Falling leaves as well as snow and ice can get into the condensing unit and cause damage. So how should you cover an air conditioner for winter? First we’ll tell you why it needs protection, and then we’ll get to how to cover an air conditioner for winter safely so that you don’t make matters worse.

Why cover your outdoor air conditioner in winter?

Here’s why it needs protection, and why it’s important to know how to cover an air conditioner for winter the right way:

  • Dried leaves and flying debris can get caught in the sensitive fins of your outdoor air conditioner’s condenser coil. When that happens, it won’t be able to release heat to cool your space. Leaves and dust can cause a big problem; besides knowing how to cover an air conditioner for winter, you must also know about cleaning the coils before the cooling season. (More on that in a minute.)
  • Inches of accumulating snow can encase the unit. It’s ok to have a light layer of frost on the outside of the unit, but don’t let it become encased in a thick layer of snow or ice. The fan blades and the coil fins can be damaged.
  • Falling ice can hit the unit with a surprising amount of force, causing damage to the outside of the air conditioner, or worse, damaging those sensitive coil fins.
  • Dripping water from trees and gutters can get into the unit. Later when the temperature drops, that water turns to ice that expands and damages the fins.

Now that you understand why, let’s cover the dos and don’ts of how to cover an air conditioner for winter.

How NOT to cover an air conditioner for winter (the WRONG way)

IMPORTANT: Never wrap your air conditioner in plastic! And beware of commercially available air conditioner covers made of plastic. Why? Because plastic does not breathe. This is the most crucial tip about how to cover an air conditioner for winter.

It’s true that one of those plastic covers will keep out falling leaves and snow. The problem is, they also trap condensation from escaping. When that happens, your air conditioner can develop rust or mold growth. Those plastic covers can also encourage insects and critters to escape from the elements and take up residence in your air conditioner.

How to cover an air conditioner for winter (the RIGHT way)

Here are some suggestions for how to cover an air conditioner for winter in a way that doesn’t trap moisture inside, yet still keeps the unit protected:

  • Use a cover made of breathable material.
  • Put plywood over the top of the unit only to shield from snow and ice, weighing it down with bricks or rocks to keep in place.
  • Install a wood awning or shelter attached to the building that covers the top of the unit.
  • Plant shrubs around the unit to protect from wind and blowing snow. Check with your air-conditioning service company about the proper clearance for air flow, which is essential for proper operation in the summer.
  • Build your own shelter for the unit that provides protection in winter and shade in summer. You can find clever designs on Pinterest and other web sites. When thinking about designs for how to cover your air conditioner for winter, make sure you have adequate clearance around the air conditioner for air flow.

Read this related article for some ideas that can also work as air conditioner shelters: 15 Creative Ways to Hide Your Outside Air Conditioner

What to do to protect your air conditioner come spring

Once you know how to cover your air conditioner for winter, don’t stop there! You also need to know a thing or two about protecting your air conditioner during the cooling season.

  • Flooding around the base of the unit can impede drainage and cause electrical damage. Mount your unit on a slab rather than on the ground to protect against minor flooding.
  • Too much direct sun makes it harder for the unit to do its job of releasing heat from your space. If you use an awning or build a shelter for your air conditioner as recommended above, you’ll also provide some shade for the unit in the summer to keep it working efficiently.
  • Don’t neglect coil cleaning and preventive maintenance. Cleaning the coils gets rid of any dust, leaves and debris that may have gotten into the fins before you start up your system in the spring. And preventive maintenance is essential for protecting your system from unexpected breakdowns, enhancing comfort and saving energy. Think maintenance is too expensive? Think again! Read this article to learn more about how preventive maintenance saves you money: Air Conditioning Maintenance Doesn’t Cost. It Pays..

It’s smart to find out how to protect your air conditioner during the cooling season as well as how to cover your air conditioner for winter. Want to learn more about taking care of your air conditioner so it takes care of you this summer? Grab our free guides for more information:

Coil Cleaning Could Save You Big $$$. Download the Free Guide