Do I Need a Cover For My HVAC System In The Winter?

HVAC Maintenance in Sugar Land, TX

Should You Cover Your HVAC Equipment This Winter?

Air conditioner and heat pump condensers are always outside. They never get a break from the weather, and they’re constantly subject to the natural elements. Whether exposed to direct sunlight and massive amounts of solar heat or battered by heavy wind and rain, the condenser remains a critical part of your home’s heating and cooling plan. Thus, as winter rolls in, you might be tempted to cover it. Following is everything you need to know about protecting your outdoor HVAC equipment in Houston, Texas.

Air Conditioner and Heat Pump Condensers Are Built to Last

Lower temperatures and increasing precipitation make winter a special challenge for everything stored outdoors. However, air conditioner and heat pump condensers are designed with the challenges of winter weather in mind. Moreover, when HVAC companies choose heating and cooling equipment for Houston properties, they look for models that are guaranteed to hold up well within the local environment. As such, when temperatures plummet and strong winds blow, your AC or heat pump condenser should be just fine.

If you’re worried about the need to cover your condenser during winter, take the time to read through your owner’s manual. Surprisingly enough, you may find that the equipment manufacturer advises against covering the condenser at all. If you don’t find the information you’re looking for in your owner’s manual or if you still can’t make an informed decision, give us a call or contact the manufacturer directly.

There’s a Right Way and a Wrong Way to Use HVAC Covers

Condenser covers exist, and they regularly fly off store shelves. It makes sense to assume that they must have both benefits and a defined purpose. When properly designed, these products can be excellent barriers against severe storms. You might want to put a condenser cover on to protect this unit during times of hail or during other extreme weather events. However, you should only put a condenser cover on just before a storm arrives. Then, you should take it right back off after the weather event has passed.

Even when condenser covers have an adequate number of holes or sufficient mesh for keeping them ventilated, they can trap large amounts of moisture. If a condenser cover is left on for too long, this moisture won’t evaporate in a timely fashion, and it will set the stage for mold and rust formation. Some homeowners have had the unfortunate experience of covering their condensers at the beginning of winter as part of their winterization efforts. When they took these covers off after winter’s end, their condensers were so rusted and mold-riddled that they were no longer usable. At most, your condenser can remain covered for about 48 to 72 hours without problems. After three full days of coverage, this unit needs to breathe.

Store-Bought Covers and Plastic Tarps

In addition to using covers correctly, homeowners should also choose them wisely. There’s a big difference between applying a condenser cover that was made specifically for the heat pump or AC model you own and fashioning a makeshift condenser cover by yourself. One common mistake that homeowners make is grabbing large sheets of plastic or heavy tarps from their local home and hardware stores and then using these as covers. Makeshift covers do not have air holes. They do not have mesh elements or other features that allow air to flow through them. These shortcomings increase the likelihood of both corrosion and mold.

Mold, Mildew, Rust, and Critters

A condenser that’s designed to stand up to the local elements year-round will fare far better without a cover than it will with a cover that’s either improperly designed or left on for too long. Mold, mildew, and corrosion are problems that condensers are resistant to by design. Efforts to prevent these things by applying a cover can actually make this unit more appealing to critters. Soft-sided covers don’t render condensers inaccessible to small animals. They simply create a warm, sheltered space that doesn’t get battered by rain and cold winds. Thus, if you put a cover on and keep it there, you may have a small infestation of pests waiting for you when you finally decide to remove it.

Your Manufacturer Warranty and Your Home Warranty

Some condensers have manuals that clearly advise against using condenser covers. Others have information on choosing an acceptable cover type and limiting its use to special circumstances. After you’ve checked your owner’s manual, be sure to read through the policy documents for your manufacturer’s warranty and your home warranty too. These agreements might strictly forbid the use of condenser covers given the damage that they’re known to cause. Although not all policies do, it’s best to make sure that you’re in the clear before taking the risk of having important protections become void.

Preventative Measures That Actually Work

A well-designed condenser cover might prevent this unit from sustaining severe damage during a hailstorm. In some instances, soft-sided covers can prevent fins and coils from being bent or crushed, and they may keep a condenser’s own hard-sided cover from being scratched or dented. But there are many wintertime risks that soft-sided covers can’t protect against. For example, if you have patio furniture, a play structure, a barbecue pit, or any other heavy, unmounted items in your yard, strong winds could blow these into your condenser. Forceful, impact events like these can cause serious condenser damage.

One of the best ways to protect your condenser this winter is by simply removing unmounted, freestanding structures of this type. Store your patio furniture and your kids’ outdoor playthings. Put your grill in your shed or chain it to a post and cover it. Your belongings will thank you. These things are less resilient in cold weather than most condensers are. More importantly, when heavy winds blow through, they won’t go hurtling into your condenser.

It’s also important to take good care of your trees. Have them limbed in autumn. Tree care specialists can remove weak and dying branches that might break off and fall due to the weight of precipitation or harsh winter conditions. This will protect your roof, keep you protected from premises liability claims, and protect your condenser.

Installing a Hard-Sided “Cover”

If necessary, you can even consider having an open, hard-topped condenser cover installed. This is a free-standing structure that essentially places a roof over your condenser without walling it in and without blocking ventilation. This might be a good choice if your condenser is surrounded by conifers that drop pinecones and pine needles year-round, or if your condenser isn’t directly abutted by an exterior wall or fence.

Finally, have your condenser serviced before winter arrives. Autumn service will prime your AC condenser for a prolonged period of inactivity. If you have a heat pump, it will prepare this unit to operate in reverse for home heating. This is also an opportunity to receive needs-specific information on weatherizing your outdoor equipment.

Custom Comfort Air has been a trusted name in HVAC service since 1969. We provide heating and cooling system installation, maintenance, and repair services. We also provide indoor air quality service, smart thermostats, and precision tune-ups. If you need help getting your AC or heat pump ready for the cold season in Houston, Texas, give us a call now!