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How to Winterize Your Central AC

Posted by Mike Cappuccio on Feb 3, 2020 8:00:00 AM

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As summer moves into fall, the days become colder, and you don't need to run your central air conditioner as much. Once you're done using your unit for the season, you should winterize your AC. This process prevents rust or damage, keeps animals out of your outdoor unit, and helps to ensure the unit works next summer. Check out these tips.

Clean outdoor AC unit for central HVAC system.1. Clean the Outdoor Unit

To clean your outside compressor or condenser unit, manually remove all debris such as grass clippings and leaves. Then, use a hose to rinse off the rest of the unit. If dirt is caked between the fins on the grill, you may need to use a fin comb or gently run a small screwdriver between the slats to dislodge it. Then, let the AC unit dry thoroughly before covering it.

2. Shut Off the Power

Ideally, you should cut the power to the AC so that it doesn't cycle on during a warm fall or winter day. If the air conditioner turns on and then the temperatures drop again, water droplets may freeze in the system, potentially bursting the pipes or leading to rust or corrosion.

There should be an AC disconnect or shut off box located near your outdoor unit. Also called a switch box or fuse box, this box contains the main controls for the air conditioner, and it protects the wires and switches from the elements. Often, the box is located on an external wall located near the compressor and conduit holding wires runs between the box and the unit.

Once you locate the unit, open its door, and turn off the switch. If you aren't sure how to locate your AC's shut off box, you can also cut power to the AC by turning off the circuit breaker connected to your unit.

3. Empty Condensate Pan

Condensation builds up inside your AC when it runs. These water droplets exit the system through the condensate pipe and run into the condensate pan. Locate your pan, empty the water, and clean the pan. This step helps to prevent mold from forming in the unit, while also ensuring that water doesn't freeze during the winter.

4. Insulate Pipes

Insulation around pipingTo safeguard against freezing, you may also want to insulate the pipes running from the outdoor AC compressor or condenser to your home. You can buy pipe insulation at most hardware stores or order it from a company online.

In most cases, you need a variety of pieces including straight pieces, elbows (bent pieces), and T-shaped pieces. Look at the pipes before you go shopping or get online so you know what you need. Pipe insulation generally features an opening along one side of the insulation so that you can easily slip it over the pipe, and the opening generally has adhesive running down the edges.

Position the insulation around your pipes, remove the strip from the adhesive, and press the sides of the insulation together. You can leave the insulation on when the summer rolls around and replace it as needed for next winter.

5. Cover the AC Unit

Once the AC unit is completely dry, cover it. You can use a tarp or buy a special cover made for this purpose. If you like, you can use bungee cords to secure the AC cover or place bricks on top to weigh it down.

6. Monitor the Outdoor Unit During the Winter

To fully protect your AC unit from damage, monitor it during the winter. Remove ice or snow that builds up on the cover and make sure animals aren't hibernating underneath your unit. As they make nests, they can crawl into the unit, leave droppings, gnaw on wires, and potentially cause other types of damage.

7. Schedule Annual AC Maintenance

Ideally, you should schedule routine maintenance for your AC annually. HVAC companies often tend to be the busiest during the summer and in the spring right before the cooling season starts. To save money, you may want to schedule maintenance outside of these time frames.

AC technician performing maintenance on outdoor unit for central AC.

An AC tech can change your filters, clean your condensate pan, unclog condensate lines, look for excess wear and tear, and advise you on repair issues. Consider contacting them before you winterize your unit to set up an appointment. 

To learn more about AC winterization or to schedule maintenance or repairs for your air conditioner, contact us today. At Air Conditioning Mass, we work with residential and commercial clients, and we help them to be as comfortable as possible by guiding them to the right heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems and handling maintenance, repairs, and upgrades as needed.

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