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ac maintenance

How to Winterize Your Air Conditioner – A Step-By-Step Guide

How to Winterize Your Air Conditioner – A Step-By-Step Guide

It’s easy to forget when it’s working, but frequent AC maintenance is one of your most vital responsibilities as a homeowner. As the most expensive appliance in many homes, a poorly maintained system can quickly run up the utility and repair bills.

You may turn your maintenance focus to the furnace as we enter the year’s colder months. But even though it won’t be used for a while, this is a crucial point to consider for AC maintenance for the winter season. Without proper attention, you could face an unexpected failure when you fire up your air conditioning for the first time next summer.

Why Winterize Your AC?

For most customers, seasonal HVAC maintenance means taking care of the system that will be putting in the work. AC systems get attention in the spring while preparing for hot days ahead, and furnaces get ready in the fall as the weather cools.

It makes sense, so what’s the point of taking care of your AC if you aren’t be using it?

Our winter might be a little warmer this year in Missouri, but we’ll still see plenty of days dipping below freezing. Winter brings harsh weather and frigid cold, which can damage an underprepared AC unit.

If left unprotected, debris can enter and trap moisture, causing rust to develop and damaging system components. When you turn your AC on for the first time next summer, you could be surprised by a non-functioning unit.

How To Winterizing Your AC

There’s a long checklist of tasks to complete to button up your home for the drop in temperature. Along with your HVAC inspection and tune-up, there are essential duties to improve your house’s heating efficiency, including:

  • Fixing air gaps around doors and windows
  • Getting humidifiers ready
  • Checking attic insulation
  • Sealing air ducts
  • Reversing ceiling fans to spin clockwise

When protecting your AC, most of your attention will be on the outdoor half of the system, the condenser unit. External components will be unused and exposed to the elements unless you have a heat pump. Follow these tips to keep your condenser unit safe during the winter.

When Should I Winterize My AC Unit?

The best time to prep your AC unit is in early fall when you start to close your windows to turn on some heat.  Its best you choose a warm day to perform this service.
Several layers of protection ensure your AC doesn’t turn on or draw power by accident during the winter.

Start at the circuit breaker, where a double-pole breaker will be labeled for the outdoor unit. Turning this off will power down the condenser but leave the indoor air blower and furnace operating. You’ll see a single-pole breaker labeled for your furnace or indoor unit.

There’s another shut-off near the condenser as well. Look for a metal box with a door attached to the outside wall of your house next to the unit, and turn the switch off. Remember to turn everything back on before starting your AC next year.

Keep Your Condenser Unit Clear

Air ConditionerThe condenser fins are essential to your AC’s ability to dissipate heat, but they collect dust, pollen, grass, and other debris throughout the summer. Cleaning it before the winter begins will keep you from dealing with a year’s worth of grime when springtime maintenance rolls around.

Use a stiff bristle brush outside the unit to knock large debris loose. Be careful to brush up and down to avoid bending the fragile fins.

Remove the top by unscrewing the fan guard and carefully pulling the fan out. Vacuum out any leaves from the bottom of the unit.

Clean the condenser with your garden hose, spraying it from the inside out to keep water and debris from getting in the unit.

To prevent buildup during the season, clear away any vegetation, piles of leaves, or anything else that might get kicked into the AC from the winter wind.

Clear an area at least two feet around your condenser unit. Check any tall bushes or trees nearby, and remove any branches that may fall and cause damage.

Cover Your Condenser Unit

Your outdoor unit can withstand most of the abuse thrown at it. You may feel like covering your condenser unit from top to bottom, but that can be unnecessary and potentially harmful. Completely sealing your unit can allow moisture to accumulate and pests to take refuge inside it.

At the same time, you also won’t want your condenser filling up with snow or ice. You can get a suitable cover by laying a piece of plywood on top.

Cut a piece of plywood slightly larger than the top of the condenser unit. Position it on top of the condenser to cover it, so you have a slight overhang on all sides. Use some bricks or bungees to hold it in place.

Check on your unit throughout the winter. Sweep off any snow from the cover after a heavy snowfall and adjust it as needed. No matter how you cover it, remove it at the end of the season to prevent damage when your AC turns on.

Adjust Your Thermostat Settings

Adjusting Thermostat

Adjusting your thermostat adds extra protection for your AC and your thermostat.

Change your settings to “heat only” to keep your thermostat from turning on the AC during a random warm day.

Consider taking the opportunity to upgrade to an intelligent thermostat to improve your system’s efficiency.

Check and Clear Your Gutters

Your gutters protect your foundation and your AC condenser from water. Fall can fill them up, so cleaning them out and repairing any leaks is crucial.

By preventing moisture around your condenser, you’ll keep it from icing over and failing. If you use a heat pump, avoiding ice dams and icicles from forming above the outdoor unit is critical.

Manage Your Water Pipes

If your central HVAC unit is in the basement, it may be exposed to water damage if your pipes burst. The same is true for your condenser unit if it’s near the outdoor spigot for your hose.

Insulating your pipes with foam tubing can protect your pipes from freezing and bursting during a cold snap. If you aren’t using specific water sources, like outdoor faucets or sprinkler systems, turn off the water supply and drain the lines.

Prepare Your Furnace

Furnace Tune-Up

If you have a heat pump, your fall maintenance looks after your heating and cooling simultaneously. You still use the same blower and ductwork with the traditional furnace arrangement. Regardless of your setup, taking care of your fall heater maintenance will also benefit your AC.

A furnace technician will inspect and clean your heat exchanger, burners, and furnace electronics to prepare them for the winter.

While there, they can also check your ductwork, looking for installation and cleanliness issues. They can ensure it’s well-insulated and free of air gaps that might cause problems.

Your maintenance technician will also check the blower motor and make necessary adjustments. They may need to lubricate motor parts, tighten or replace belts, and clear out the air handler.

All of that makes your HVAC run more efficiently during the winter and extends the life of your system parts.

The Importance of AC Maintenance

HVAC system maintenance is crucial throughout the year to improve efficiency, lengthen its lifespan, and maximize performance. A tuned-up HVAC will save you money, time, and comfort.

Bi-annual professional inspections and tune-ups are the most effective steps in keeping your HVAC working correctly and lowering costs.

The cost to repair AC systems can range from under $50 to over $1500, depending on the nature and extent of the issue. The national average is around $300 for a single service call. That’s a repair bill you can expect to see a lot more often as soon as you start neglecting your HVAC system.

HVAC inspections are much less expensive than an average repair bill. They can catch issues early before they turn into costly system breakdowns. If your system is relatively new, you also maintain your warranty by having yearly professional maintenance.

Get Your HVAC System Maintenance Done Today

If you haven’t completed your fall season HVAC chores yet, it’s time to start. Heating and AC maintenance can’t wait until after the first cold night, and fixing any potential problems will be much easier while we still have a few warm days.

Schedule your local HVAC company to perform a seasonal AC tune-up, and follow this AC maintenance checklist to ensure your AC survives the winter.

When it’s time to set up your HVAC service or install a new HVAC system, Crystal Heating & Cooling experts are ready to help. Contact us for information on our heating and cooling services, and schedule your maintenance today!

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