During a hot San Marcos summer, it can be difficult to remember that winter will arrive. However, winter will eventually come, and when it does, you’ll finally be able to give your air conditioner a break, at least for a little while. Many homeowners wonder what they should do with their HVAC system’s outdoor unit when their air conditioner is not in use. One option that many people consider is covering the unit. Although covering an outdoor unit does have potential benefits, it’s important to consider the pros and cons of this action before proceeding. To help you make a wise choice, the pros at Oak Island Heating and Air Conditioning are happy to offer some advice.

What Does an Outdoor Unit Do?

During the summer, your HVAC system’s outdoor unit is responsible for expelling heat that the refrigerant absorbs while it’s in your home. It does this by increasing the temperature of the refrigerant until it’s higher than the ambient air temperature so that thermodynamics can take over and remove the heat from your home. Increasing the temperature of the refrigerant is the job of the compressor. The compressor compresses the refrigerant, causing it to increase in both pressure and temperature. This compressor is the main component that’s housed in your HVAC system’s outdoor unit.

Pros of Covering an Outdoor Unit

One good reason to cover your outdoor unit is to prevent debris from getting into the unit during the off-season. Leaves, sticks, pine needles, dry grass, and other outdoor debris can find their way through the top grate on the outdoor unit and land on the condenser fins or compressor. If enough of this debris accumulates, it can affect the performance of your HVAC system and potentially cause it to overheat. Since cleaning out the unit can be tricky to do, it makes sense to stop this debris from entering the unit with a cover. Another benefit of covering your outdoor unit is that it can help to prevent the metal on the unit from rusting. Assuming your cover is waterproof, the unit will be able to avoid moisture during the rainy winter months so that it can look new for many years.

Cons of Covering an Outdoor Unit

There are a few reasons why Oak Island Heating and Air Conditioning recommends against covering your outdoor unit. One problem is that sheltering your outdoor unit also provides an excellent shelter for local wildlife. Birds, squirrels, mice, and other small animals might see the dry and warm environment that’s found under the outdoor unit’s cover as an invitation to set up a home. Given the damage that small animals can do when they chew on the wiring in your outdoor unit, there’s a lot to lose when covering your unit compared to the damage that leaves and sticks can do to the unit. Another potential problem with covering your unit is that the cover can trap moisture against the unit if the cover isn’t waterproof. This can make rust more likely instead of less likely. Additionally, you have to be careful to remember to remove the cover before the next cooling season to avoid a serious overheating problem.

An Important California Caveat

Being a proud California resident, there’s something important that Oak Island Heating and Air Conditioning wants you to know if you’re thinking about covering your HVAC system’s outdoor unit this winter. In San Marcos, even during the winter, it never gets terribly cold. This means that many of the HVAC systems throughout the region are ground-source heat pumps instead of traditional HVAC systems. These systems are able to reverse the flow of refrigerant in the winter so the system can pull heat energy from the outside air and pump it inside. If you have this type of HVAC system at your home, it means that your outdoor unit runs year-round. Instead of expelling heat, the components in the outdoor unit now work to ensure that your refrigerant is colder than the outside air so that heat energy will flow from the air to the refrigerant. These components need adequate airflow to do their job properly. This means that you shouldn’t cover your system if you have a heat pump. If you’re not sure what type of system you have, call Oak Island Heating and Air Conditioning for assistance.

How to Maintain Your Outdoor Unit

Whether you have a heat pump or a more traditional HVAC system, there are plenty of steps you can take to maintain your system’s outdoor unit other than putting a cover over it. First, if you see debris on or around the unit, make sure to clear it away. For larger debris, you can remove it by hand or use a leaf blower to get the job done. For small debris, such as fine bits of grass stuck on the condenser fins, you can use a garden hose to spray the fins and remove the debris. Additionally, make sure there are no obstructions within 12 to 18 inches of the outdoor unit. These obstructions could restrict airflow to the unit and cause it to overheat. Finally, make sure to schedule annual maintenance for your system so that a professional technician can check the unit and make sure it’s working properly.

Correct Type of HVAC Cover

If, after reading the above tips, you still want to put a cover on your HVAC system’s outdoor unit, there are some important considerations to keep in mind. First, make sure that the cover matches the outdoor unit’s exterior dimensions. A cover that’s too small won’t adequately protect the unit, and a cover that’s too large will allow too much debris to get under the cover and defeat the purpose of having the cover in place. Second, do your best to get a waterproof cover. This will allow water to run off the cover and onto the ground instead of absorbing into the cover and sitting on the metal exterior of the outdoor unit. Water that’s able to sit on the exterior frame could cause rust. Finally, make sure to buy the cover from a reputable manufacturer that uses quality materials so that you can get several years of use out of the cover.

When a Cover Makes Sense

There’s one final note that Oak Island Heating and Air Conditioning wants you to keep in mind. If there is a fire in the area, covering your system’s outdoor unit makes a lot of sense. Ash that’s carried by winds from the fire to your home can fall into the outdoor unit and cause significant damage to the unit if the system runs while the ash is inside. Although you can’t run your HVAC system with a cover in place, putting a cover over the outdoor unit during an ash fall event will prevent a lot of unnecessary cleanup and help avoid potential damage.

Your Heating and Cooling Professionals

At Oak Island Heating and Air Conditioning, we work hard to take care of our customers’ heating and cooling needs throughout the year. That’s why we offer furnace repair, air conditioner installation, whole-house fans, humidifier installation, and much more. With over 20 years of experience in the industry, we have thousands of successful repairs and replacements under our belt. On top of that, we’re continually receiving five-star reviews from our customers, testifying to the quality of the work we do. To learn more about taking care of your HVAC system, contact us at Oak Island Heating and Air Conditioning today.

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